Text editors of Linux

Proceeding ahead with the different text editors found in linux. Sometimes we may need to manually edit text files and we can do this by using a text editor instead of graphical utilities for creating and modifying system configuration files. Linux is packed with choices; when it comes to text editors, there are many choices, ranging from quite simple to very complex, including:

  • nano
  • gedit
  • vi
  • emacs

One can create files without opening the full text editors by typing on some commands. If you want to create a file without using an editor, there are two standard ways to create one from the command line and fill it with content.

The first is to use echo repeatedly:

$ echo line one > myfile
$ echo line two >> myfile
$ echo line three >> myfile

Note that while a single greater-than sign (>) will send the output of a command to a file, two of them (>>) will append the new output to an existing file.

The second way is to use cat combined with redirection:

$ cat < myfile
> line one
> line two
> line three

Both techniques produce a file with the following lines in it.

Typing in echo and cat

nano and gedit

There are some text editors that are pretty obvious; they require no particular experience to learn and are actually quite capable, even robust. A particularly easy to use one is the text terminal-based editor nano. Just invoke nano by giving a file name as an argument. As a graphical editor, gedit is part of the GNOME desktop system (kwrite is associated with KDE). The gedit and kwrite editors are very easy to use and are extremely capable. They are also very configurable. They look a lot like Notepad in Windows. Other variants such as kate are also supported by KDE.

nano is easy to use, and requires very little effort to learn. To open a file, type nano and press Enter. If the file does not exist, it will be created.

nano provides a two line shortcut bar at the bottom of the screen that lists the available commands. Some of these commands are:

  • CTRL-G – Display the help screen.
  • CTRL-O – Write to a file.
  • CTRL-X – Exit a file.
  • CTRL-R – Insert contents from another file to the current buffer.
  • CTRL-C – Show cursor position.

gedit (pronounced ‘g-edit’) is a simple-to-use graphical editor that can only be run within a Graphical Desktop environment. It is visually quite similar to the Notepad text editor in Windows, but is actually far more capable and very configurable and has a wealth of plugins available to extend its capabilities further.

To open a new file find the program in your desktop’s menu system, or from the command line type gedit . If the file does not exist, it will be created.

Using gedit is pretty straightforward and does not require much training. Its interface is composed of quite familiar elements.

vi and emacs

Both vi and emacs have a basic purely text-based form that can run in a non-graphical environment. They also have one or more graphical interface forms with extended capabilities; these may be friendlier for a less experienced user. While vi and emacs can have significantly steep learning curves for new users, they are extremely efficient when one has learned how to use them.

Intro to vi

Usually, the actual program installed on your system is vim, which stands for Vi IMproved, and is aliased to the name vi. The name is pronounced as “vee-eye”.

Even if you do not want to use vi, it is good to gain some familiarity with it: it is a standard tool installed on virtually all Linux distributions. Indeed, there may be times where there is no other editor available on the system.

GNOME extends vi with a very graphical interface known as gvim and KDE offers kvim. Either of these may be easier to use at first.

Typing sh command opens an external command shell. When you exit the shell, you will resume your editing session.

Typing ! executes a command from within vi. The command follows the exclamation point. This technique is best suited for non-interactive commands, such as : ! wc %. Typing this will run the wc (word count) command on the file; the character % represents the file currently being edited.


The emacs editor is a popular competitor for vi. Unlike vi, it does not work with modes. emacs is highly customizable and includes a large number of features. It was initially designed for use on a console, but was soon adapted to work with a GUI as well. emacs has many other capabilities other than simple text editing. For example, it can be used for email, debugging, etc.

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