Coda

Find out why I am seriously considering abandoning the code editor I have been using for over a decade in favour of Coda for the mac.

I can’t remember when I first started using Dreamweaver but it would have been at least 1998. In those early days I was attracted to it because it could code all of the HTML soup that was necessary for table based design.

When I made the transition to standards I returned to hand coding but after some investigation I could find no better coder for me than Dreamweaver. It did everything I required and so I saw no reason to spend money on a new application.

I regularly look at emerging editors but nothing has tempted me to change. After all you cannot teach old dogs new tricks and changing editor seemed like too much work. That was until I came across Coda. I haven’t made the transition yet but I am seriously considering it.

So why am I tempted to leave Dreamweaver behind? What makes Coda so good?

Why Coda?

Screenshot of the Coda Interface

Its not that Coda is revolutionary. However, it is extremely well considered and has a clean, easy to use interface. They get the basics right including auto-complete, syntax highlighting and integrated FTP. However, in addition to this they add a number of extras which I am finding hugely useful.

Features

The following are the features that impressed me the most (even though they are far from perfect)…

Preview

One of the most impressive functions is the preview facility. I always liked the WYSIWYG function in Dreamweaver even after I moved across to standards based design. I could pull up the design view and click on an element to jump to the appropriate piece of code. On larger more complex pages this was incredibly useful. Unfortunately the Dreamweaver design view was far from WYSIWYG. It rarely rendered a page correctly, and so as my hand coding became more sophisticated it struggled to keep up.

Compared to Coda this looked positively prehistoric. Coda provides a constantly updating preview rendered by Webkit so it looks exactly the same as it would in Safari. What is more it provides basic debugging tools including a Javascript log and the all important inspector which allows me to click on an element in the preview mode and jump to the appropriate code.

My only criticism of the functionality is the constant page refreshes in preview mode. If you are working in split screen this can become distracting after a while.

Symbols

Talking of jumping to a specific place in the code there is also a great tool called symbols. Not the most descriptive name but incredibly useful. Symbols is an interface element that lists all the headings, divs with ids and comments in the current HTML page. You can then click on anyone of these to jump to the specific place in the code.

Clips

Two things I specifically like about Dreamweaver were snippets and configurable keyboard shortcuts. Snippets allowed me to keep a library of useful code that I could drop into the page. Keyboard shortcuts were excellent for quickly adding code without resorting to the mouse.

Coda solves these two problems using clips. Clips are essentially snippets but with the ability to add text expanding shortcuts. For example if you type ‘href’ and then press tab it will add a complete href link with the cursor placed at whatever point you specified when you created the clip.

Although clips are good they are not in my opinion quite as good as snippets in Dreamweaver. For a start you cannot organise your clips into folders which is important as the number of clips increases. Secondly although the text expanding function is useful it does not allow clips to be wrapped around an existing bit of code. This initially appears to only be possible by double clicking on the clip itself (requiring the mouse).

After some experimentation I discovered you could setup keyboard shortcuts in system preferences. However this doesn’t appear to be documented anywhere.

Find and replace

One feature that in my opinion blows Dreamweaver away is the find and replace interface. I have written before about how I like Dreamweaver’s find and replace functionality, however I think Coda’s is even better.

What makes Coda’s functionality so nice is that it easily allows you to add multiple wildcards into your search query. This allows you to be very specific about what code you wish to change and what you want to keep intact.

Unfortunately, although building the queries is a breeze, the scope of each search is seriously limited. You can only find and replace within the current document. Compared with Dreamweaver which allows you to search across all open documents, an entire folder or the whole site, this seems painfully limited.

Nice CSS interface

The final feature that has caught my eye is the CSS coding environment. I have to confess I am yet to put this through its paces, however what I have seen so far has impressed me.

Although it is possible to code CSS by hand there is also a graphical user interface which guides you through the process. I am not entirely sure how much I would use this but it does have some nice features. One I particularly like is that it provides an ordered list of all the styles in a panel at the side of the screen. You can then reorder them using drag and drop. Also, if you are in split screen mode, clicking on a style jumps you to the appropriate place in the code.

Will I, won’t I

So will this dog decide to learn a new trick? I am still not sure. At $79 the price is excellent, however when you have already spent several hundred dollars on one application, shelling out more seems unnecessary. Also the lack of site wide find and replace is frustrating and means that I cannot really get rid of Dreamweaver completely.

That said, I love everything else about this application. I will no doubt get comments suggesting I try Textmate and numerous other editors. Trust me, I have tried them all. However, nothing has managed to tempt me away from what I have been using for years like Coda.

Given a choice I would live with the application for a while longer. However, for some reason I only have a 12 day trial so I will have to make a choice soon. What I do know is that if I hadn’t already spent money on an editor and had years of ingrained habit, then I would definitely choose Coda.

  • http://suburbia.org.uk Rick Curran

    Hi Paul,
    There’s now a public beta of Dreamweaver CS4 available on http://labs.adobe.com, looks like there’s some improvements in WYSIWYG rendering, javascript code hinting etc.
    P.S. Hope you’ve recovered from Eurovision :)

  • http://woarl.com/blog Teifion Jordan

    I’ve been using Textmate for over a year now, moving to it from TextWrangler having moved to that from Dreamweaver and that from GoLive.
    I think that Textmate is “totally awesome” and “kickassedly cool” but I’m not suggesting that you use it (give it a try by all means but I don’t think it’s for you). Textmate seems to be more of a a program for power users while Coda is not. Coda combines several things together (preview, FTP and code) and I think that’s it’s main strength.
    Textmate was designed for Objective C and Ruby coding at first and seems to cater to programming before design (that’s good for me as I toy with PHP). I am interested to see what TM2 will have when it comes out.
    My suggestion on the trial is to email the guys at Panic, they are pretty cool and will probably tell you how to extend the trial or something.

  • http://www.bigredcircle.com David McGeorge

    I have been using coda for about 6 months now and on a mac it is defiantly the best web design environment. I could never go back to dreamweaver now.
    If you do switch to coda the multi-line tabbing is slightly annoying but once you get used to it you will wonder why all apps don’t do it like this.
    The upcoming new version of coda is rumoured to have SVN support and a few other frequently asked for features.
    Take the dive, pay the price its worth it!

  • http://www.dougstewartdesign.com/ Doug S.

    I switched to Coda a while ago from Dreamweaver and I have to say I’m very happy with the decision.
    The UI makes everything simple and easy to do and it’s a great. The only negative I can find so far is that Coda can’t preview things with PHP, even if it’s just an include. To do that you’re going to need MAMP, which sets up a local server temporarily on your Mac when it’s running.
    Of course I shelled out the extra cash for MAMP Pro which puts that in a nice interface as well. Between the two It allows you to do most of the major things Dreamweaver can but at a much cheaper price.
    Give it a shot, Coda has a trial mode that’s about 30 days long. Worst case you delete it after 30 days and be done with it. Best case you end up with an app makes your life easier.

  • http://www.aaronrussell.co.uk Aaron Russell

    I’m in a similar boat and have been using DreamWeaver for donkeys years. Am currently playing with a trial version of TextMate as im leaning Ruby on Rails and it seems a great tool for that. Coda looks brilliant for web stuff but you have to ask yourself, how many text editors does a man need?

  • Gary McCafferty

    You may want to look at the beta for Dreamweaver CS4, it’s using webkit for it’s preview engine now. I’m not a dreamweaver user but the new beta seems to have some nice features. There’s a code navigator (i’m guessing this is similar to coda’s symbols) and svn integration.
    I use a mixture of Coda, Textmate, CSSEdit, Transmit and Expandrive. As you can see I haven’t settled on any particular system yet but I think it’s really about using the best tool for the job at hand. Coda is great for HTML and CSS but I prefer Textmate for working on Django code. CSSEdit is great for really digging into stylesheets.
    Anyway here’s the link to the Dreamweaver CS4 Beta: http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/dreamweavercs4/

  • http://www.daveredfern.com Dave Redfern

    My vote is for textmate too.
    It isn’t as focused to web languages as coda is but still has all the features coda holds including fantastic snippets and live previews.
    I moved from dreamweaver after being sick of how bloated, slow and clunky it had become.
    Textmate is amazing and well worth trying before making a decision!

  • http://www.mac-cafe.com/ Eric Naujock

    I have been using code for about 1 year after using BBedit for 10 years. I have found that I like Coda much better but the online manuals have little value to me. I primarily work in PHP, HTML and CSS with a bit of ecmascript thrown in. This program has been great for the last year with my 2 display setup I have code on the main screen and then firefox running in the secondary screen. For me this allows the best of both worlds. I’m glad you like it. Keep up the good work.
    I would consider others like dreamweaver but just cannot justify the cost since the pages I write for are always a combination of a number of files to make the page. Much of it in Zend Framework.

  • http://boagworld.com Paul Boag

    lol… what is it with TextMate users. They cannot help but endlessly harp on about it. Even though I said…
    I will no doubt get comments suggesting I try Textmate and numerous other editors. Trust me, I have tried them all.
    they still can’t help but try and pursued me to use it! Perhaps I need to write a post ‘why TextMate is not for me’. I am sure its great but no program fits everybody.

  • http://akamike.net/ Mike Robinson

    When I started my new job a couple of weeks ago, I had to start using a mac and coda. I’ve found it to be much better for me than Notepad++ (which I was using on my windows laptop at home). I’ve found a few niggles like not being able to select a block of code and tab to indent (instead having to use command + ]) but otherwise it’s definitely better than anything I’ve used previously.

  • http://theearlybird.co.uk thesmu

    this is really interesting – there are several features there that may push me over too. i will have to give it a try :)

  • http://www.MattDempsey.com Matt Dempsey

    I whole-heartedly recommend Coda, it trumps everything I’ve ever used before, does much more than most of the applications I’ve used before, and it’s beautiful. What more do you need?

  • http://www.robertobaca.com Roberto

    Yeah, I want to ditch Dreamweaver as well. The little glitches that at first were kind of cute are unbearable annoyances now. And if I use another system or program to make changes to a file it goes and rewrites that file with the version it used last. Talk about persistence!
    Anyway, Coda is the only thing that makes me real envious of Mac users. Instead I use PSPad (wish its ftp was faster) and Notepad++, but I’m still looking for better alternatives.
    I guess I’m just not a one editor man.

  • http://jeffbridgforth.com Jeff Bridgforth

    I have been using Coda for over a year now. I really like it. I had decided to abandon Dreamweaver after hearing many designers talk about it’s failings at Refresh 06 in Orlando and then reading Andy Clarke’s book Transcending CSS. I had tried Textmate, which I like but it did not have the FTP built in. Coda brought the features I really liked about DW with built-in FTP and the ability to flag the files I have changed.
    Thanks for pointing out the preview pane. I am not sure why I have not taken advantage of that feature before. I usually upload to a development area on my server to test my pages.
    One thing I found helpful was a comment Jon Hicks made. Coda is not necessarily the best text editor or CSS editor but it is a great package and that is what I really like about it and what I really needed from a product. I still use TextMate for some coding and I have found that DW is good for make content changes or making new pages where I can cut and paste into DW and not have to type out code for the paragraphs.

  • http://esquareda.com Eric Anderson

    I too, did tons of research and switched to Coda about six months ago. I love it! One of the lesser known features is sharing via Bonjour… I can literally work on the same code at the same time as my developer. Yeah, same file same time – a joy for working efficiently with a team. Take the plunge Paul, you won’t be sorry.

  • http://www.blueriver.com Andy Ford

    @Paul,
    I switched to Mac about 7 months ago. With that switch I had to give up my beloved Notepad++ and start using Coda. I like Coda for its FTP integration, but feel it lacks some real “no-brainer” features that any text editor should have. The most glaring omission: code folding/collapsing. I really can’t believe they’d leave this out, and I’m very annoyed to not have it. Another missing feature (although not really a deal breaker) is line marking – most code editors will allow you to mark lines (with a star or dot or something similar) so you can easily come back to them… not Coda!
    I saw your anti-TextMate comment above, but I have to say I started using TextMate and it felt much more like a “real” code editor than Coda (in my personal opinion). Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t tried all the text editors out there (haven’t tried BBEdit, and don’t think I’ll go the Vim route).
    I agree 100% with you about your assessment of Coda’s preview function – it does get distracting quickly. One way you can handle previewing in TextMate is to hit “command R” which will refresh all active browsers.
    Well, I’ll quit “endlessly harping” on TextMate, but before I do, I just wanted to point out the TM screencasts in case you haven’t seen them – http://macromates.com/screencasts – you might want to have a look at ones with “HTML” in the title =)
    Also, after listening to your podcasts for over a year, I get the impression that you do a lot of CSS coding. While Coda, TextMate and others have good css support, I have to say that CSSEdit really rocks as a standalone css editor. I felt a little silly using a code editor that only handled CSS, but it really is worth it!
    I look forward to your “why TextMate is not for me” post (and the ensuing endless harping!).
    Thanks to you and Marcus for the great podcast!

  • Wes Pearce

    Coda is a lovely editor. The FTP integration is quite seamless, and the interface rocks. I do find it lacking several deal-breaking features, however. Chief among them: integrated svn support, multiple file search, and code-folding.
    I use Coda for my smaller personal projects. Perhaps that’s the target market anyhow?

  • http://shubox.net shubox

    I too would be interested as to why you don’t like TexMate. I think there’ll always be debate about which is the best editor – and of course none of them are best, it’s such an individul choice. I don’t like CODA beacause of its text editor, I find it much more restrictive for me than TexMate. I do like the FTP support, its CSS editor and the general layout of the interface. TextMate gives me so much control over how I produce work and over the last 18 months or so I’ve written many snippets that make writing mark-up or code very simple and almost enjoyable. Coda might prove as right for you Paul, as Textmate is for me – but anything that gets you away from that bloated monstrosity of Dreamweaver has to be a good thing ;)

  • http://www.daveredfern.com Dave Redfern

    just to continue the textmate love :P
    You say you have tried textmate but for how long? it really is the sort of application with hidden gems which you won’t notice until using it for a couple of days. it you read some of the tutorials and tips it speeds my work up hugely.

  • http://www.pixelsonline.ca William Knelsen

    I have tried Coda a couple times, and I simply could not tear myself away from Dreamweaver. There are just a few key features, as you mentioned, that I can’t do without. I was secretly hoping that when I bought my Intel iMac running Leopard, Dreamweaver 8 would not work properly, that way I would be forced to switch. ;) But, Dreamweaver works flawlessly in Leopard.

  • DCM

    Oh geeze, Try text wrangler or Smultron for mac if one must edit code by hand!

  • http://www.mattsnider.com matt snider

    I previously used Dreamweaver, but found the interface of Coda to be much easier to use, especially with CSS. The ability to use comments to break a large CSS file into management file-like chunks, negates having to have a build step to consolidate the CSS files for most of my small projects, and ultimately sold me on the product.
    The only thing I miss from Dreamweaver is the ability to do multi-line search and replace without having to write a regex.

  • http://www.justinviger.com Justin Viger

    I would love to see a why “Textmate is not for me” post. I tried using Coda (after hearing about it endlessly from John Hicks) but could not figure out how to use it properly. I had trouble adding css to a css file. It kept adding to the html file i was working on. I guess I also prefer having FTP separate. I use Textmate and cyberduck.
    Anyway, great post and locking forward to the next podcast.

  • http://www.mcbstudios.co.uk Martin Bean

    Damn it! You get me all excited with that beautiful piece of software you jusr reviewed and then knock me down when I find out it’s Mac-only!

  • Dan

    Paul,
    I spoke to the guys from Coda at Macworld and they said that sitewide find and replace is one of the biggest requests from users and that it is on their list of things to add to the program. Hopefully we’ll see it added. We purchased Coda after seeing the demo and we like it a lot.

  • http://www.peacockcarter.co.uk Richard (Peacock Carter)

    I found Crimson editor quite some time ago, and have used it since, though I’m slowly moving to Eclipse due to its SVN (versioning) capabilities. The FTP integration does sound very useful, though!

  • http://www.fluffypig.com Shaun

    I switched from clunky old Dreamweaver to Coda around a year ago and I can honestly say I have NEVER looked back.

  • http://ilovefishandchips.co.uk Timmeh

    Well I’m converted!
    After seeing this post a downloaded the demo at the weekend and now just purchased it. I was using Dreamweaver before which did everything I need (and more), but this is just feels so much better and well thought out.
    Dreamweaver as Shaun put it so well is ‘clunky’
    Oh and not forgetting the price difference!

  • bb

    Based on the features you list I get the feeling you never bothered to try BBEdit! You’ll probably still decide to go with Coda in the end but the features you list are more or less available in BBEdit. I haven’t used any recent Dreamweaver versions but I have tried over a dozen windows text editors last year and BBEdit has a MUCH BETTER find/replace dialog than all of them.

  • http://benspaulding.com/ Ben Spaulding

    Years ago I used GoLive CS2, followed by Dreamweaver 8, followed by Coda. I stuck with Coda for over a year and a half and loved it.
    Then about three weeks ago I decided to try something else, mostly for the sake of trying something else. First off was TextMate. Though a great piece of software, I am amazed that “the missing editor for the Mac” feels extremely un-Mac-ish. TextMate does have some sweet features, but I could not get over how foreign it felt.
    After a week and a half of TextMate I switched to Vim. Though it has a big learning curve, I have to say that I really enjoyed using Vim. It had everything that I liked in TextMate, but was integrated with the Terminal, which I was already comfortable with.
    With that, one might think I stayed with Vim, but not so. Just yesterday I switched back to Coda and it feels good to be home. If you are curious as to my reasoning and feelings regarding these different editors, I am currently writing a blog post on just that and it should be posted in the next week or so.

  • http://www.fieldii.com Ben Dunkle

    I’m also on the quest for the ultimate editor, and Coda may do it, but multi-file search is essential. I’m playing around with Komodo Edit, it seems nice, it’s free, and multi-platform:
    http://activestate.com/Products/komodo_ide/komodo_edit.mhtml

  • http://www.kobotindustries.com Bryan Kulba

    I have been using both Textmate and Coda for the last few months and tend to open Textmate before Coda simply because of its simplicity. I’m not a Textmate power user, taking advantage of all the fancy short-cuts, etc, but the short-cuts i do use (css, etc) definitely speed up development. I think Textmate’s simplicity has in fact improved my coding immensely.
    Coming from a Dreamweaver background, I miss the built-in ftp and the ease of connecting to databases, etc but can live without them.

  • http://www.feedyoursoul.org.uk Matt Newboult

    Has anyone tried Aptana (http://www.aptana.com/). It’s built on top of Eclipse which is rock solid. There’s a free version and a Pro version. A very nice editor with ftp etc. It’s written in Java so is available for Mac and PC.

  • http://www.tweakcast.com Josh Iwata

    Hey Paul, great review of Coda, I’ve been using it for over a year now and previously used DW for all my web design/development. I have been thrilled with the ease of use that Coda accomplishes with it’s beautiful GUI, as well as the streamlined approach to the applications functionality. In my opinion one of the best features of Coda is the built in ftp client, that seamlessly and quickly synchronizes with your server.
    My last attempt at conversion would be to point out the great search functionality Coda provides, which makes searching and replacing in your document quick and easy. Good luck, cheers!

  • http://www.careybaird.com Carey

    I am also a Coda fan, although I have been a bit concerned recently… it has been over 6 months since the last update when before that they were quite frequent.
    I would love to see it move forward with Search Scope, improve on syntax highlighting and a few other things.
    But overall, very happy. My previous editor was Zend Studio on Windows.

  • http://www.iskelekalipdunyasi.com demir fiyatlari

    My vote is for textmate too. Regards

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