Two Essential Tools for Running Websites: FTP Clients and Text Editors

by kristarella · 49 comments

When you run WordPress websites, you’ll need FTP software to get files from your computer to your web server. You’ll also need text editing software for adding custom code into your custom.css and custom_functions.php.

Now I know this sounds basic, but if you’re using a web-based FTP client, you’re wasting tons of time because, in my experience, it tends to run extremely slow. And furthermore, if you’re using WordPress’s Theme Editor or Thesis Theme’s custom file editor, you’re missing out on the time-saving features of more advanced software.

So, in the remaining part of this article I’ll tell you about some of the advanced software available for both FTP and Text Editing. Oh, and don’t worry, the software is either inexpensive or FREE.

FTP clients

Some of the benefits of using an FTP client, rather than the cPanel file manager or something simliar, include faster file transfers, the ability to bookmark different servers (this is great if you run several websites), and easier access to your local files (the files on your computer).

The question remains, which FTP clients are best? To answer this, I’m going to break this into two sections: FTP clients for Windows and FTP clients for Macs

FTP clients for Windows

FileZilla – FileZilla is an extremely popular FTP client because it’s free, open source, and quite powerful. Since so many people use this software, you should be able to find plenty of tutorials to help you get off the ground with FileZilla, if the interface isn’t guide enough.

FTPx – If you prefer a more minimal interface, FTP Explorer may be for you. It uses a window interface that is quite similar to the normal Windows Explorer, giving it a native feel that you may be more comfortable using. It’s not free, but you can download a free trial to see if you like it.

Cute FTP – If you’re looking for a premium FTP software, Cute FTP is it. It offers different secure file transfer options, a drag-and-drop interface, and tons more advanced settings. Luckily, you can download a free trial and try it out.

FTP clients for Mac

Cyberduck – I can’t quite express how much I love Cyberduck! It was the first FTP client I used when I started on a Mac (mainly because it’s free), and it is so simple and smooth to use. Here are some great things about Cyberduck:

  1. The file listing window is simple. All you have to do is drag and drop files from your computer into the Cyberduck Window and they will be automatically uploaded into your server.
  2. It supports all kinds of connections.
  3. You can open files from Cyberduck into your favorite text editor, and then when you save it, the changes are saved automatically to your server.
  4. It’s free (need I say more?)

Transmit – I haven’t used Transmit (I usually use the FTP built into one of Panic’s other applications, Coda), but I would be remiss not to mention it. Panic makes quality software, and the popularity of Transmit is evidence of that. Plus, Chris Pearson, the creator of Thesis, swears by it, so it must be good. Check it out here.

Coda – Coda isn’t a FTP client, it’s a premium site manager. If you’re working with multiple sites, Coda is amazing because it saves your settings. It also has a file editor, file preview, help books for web languages, and much more. If you need an FTP client, I wouldn’t recommend Coda, but if you want an all-in-one solution, Coda Rocks!

Text Editors

As I mentioned earlier, you can use WordPress’s built-in file editor, or Thesis’s Custom File editor to edit files from your WordPress dashboard, but for more extensive editing, I recommend a good code text editor. And if used in conjunction with your FTP client, it is extremely efficient.

What features matter in a great code text editor? You should look out for:

  • Syntax highlighting because it helps you view the code with ease and it will help you avoid mistakes
  • Tabbed windows for viewing files because it’s great for dealing with several files
  • Autocomplete because it helps you remember the right CSS properties and functions
  • Powerful search/find/replace feature because it will help you save time.

Like with the FTP clients, I’m going to break this into two sections: Text Editors for Windows and Text Editors for Macs. Now let’s dive in!

Text Editors for Windows

Notepad++ – Notepad++ is hard to overlook when using Windows because it’s free! It also has: syntax highlighting, the ability to collapse code (hide PHP functions, or hide the HTML contents), tabs, split views, and tabbed split views. It pretty much has everything, so unless you are a power user with specific needs, I’d say Notepad++ is perfect.

NoteTab – NoteTab was suggested to me by Doug Cloud, and although I haven’t used it, the info on the site is impressive. NoteTab has two interface options, bare bones and not-so-bare, the not-so-bare has buttons in a similar fashion to Microsoft Word that let you make text bold, italic, into paragraphs, quickly create hyperlinks and more. I think this would be a swell way for someone who is new to HTML to get the hang of common HTML syntax.

Side note: never ever copy from Microsoft Word or a rich text editor into your website, there is all kinds of hidden stuff in rich text editors that can mess your site up.

Text Editors for Mac

Fraise – Fraise is a beautiful little text editor for Mac. It’s based on Smultron (the first text editor I used when I moved to Mac), which stopped development. The interface is so simple, but quite powerful. Some of its features include search, and managing groups of files as projects. Rather than the common tabbed interface for currently open files, it has a list on the side, which is easier to use when you have lots of files open at once.

TextMate – Again, one of those ones that I haven’t used much, but have to mention. TextMate is very popular and suitable for beginners and advanced users. Its interface is simple, but it has so much power under the hood: you can add plugins, record macros, it has powerful search and replace, support for projects, subversioning, and more.

Coda – Yep, I’m mentioning it again, because it’s both an FTP client and a text editor. What I didn’t mention before is that Coda has a text editor with syntax highlighting, support for many languages, autocomplete, powerful seach tools, and more. It also has a CSS editor that is rather impressive, and would be extremely handy if you don’t remember every CSS property off the top of your head.

The Bottom Line

There are many tools out there, but these are just a few suggestions of some of the better ones around to help you customize WordPress and Thesis. Happy code travels! Also, if you have any other recommended pieces of software or have any questions, feel free to leave a comment!

About the Author: Kristarella is the mastermind behind Kristarella Studios, a Thesis Theme Design company. You can follow her on Twitter here or read some of her other tutorials at her blog.

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{ 49 comments }

Keith

Surprised you missed the two I use on a daily basis:

Yummy FTP: Super fast, though expensive ($28) – http://www.yummysoftware.com/

Text Wrangler: The free version of bbedit, the grandaddy of mac text editors – http://www.barebones.com/products/textwrangler/

kristarella

Thanks for the recommendations. There’s several good options; I don’t know all the good ones, but just wanted to make a few recommendations to get people started. Glad to have additions in the comments though. :-)

Adam Baird

+1 for transmit. Also, having been a long time PC user, I would add TextPad to the list of text editors for PC. It edits just about every text/code document imaginable and has options galore…and its free. Also, if you want a free FTP client, +1 for FileZilla.

Great post!

Mac Martine

+1 for Transmit, and for that matter, Coda and all the other Panic software!
and +1 for TextMate!

It’s been years since I’ve been much of a Windows user, but at the time my editor of choice was TextPad. Not sure where it stands today, though.

Ron Passaro

Very helpful information, both from Kristarella’s post and the comment contributors!

I’ve been searching for a good free Mac FTP program so I look forward to trying Cyberduck!

Doug Lampi

I love the side note about copy and pasting from Microsoft Word. A great first lesson for anyone who is new to updating your own website!

Derek

I still fall for that, almost always. Chris Pearson always yells at me, heh.

Norcross

As a Windows user, I’ve been using FileZilla and Notepad ++ for a while. When having to edit larger database files, I use UltraEdit. Not free, but a monster of an editor.

David

Throwing my two cents in and pointing the way for anyone new to Mac -

I use ‘Fetch’ from http://fetchsoftworks.com/ for FTP – once you have seen that little dog run and heard it bark, you will not want to part company with it.

For digging into files, I too use Textmate.

I also use Taco from http://tacosw.com/index.php when Textmate is overkill.

And not to forget TextEdit that is built into the Mac. There is a lot you can do with it.

Finally, for comparing files – even when they are nested deep in folders – I use ‘Changes’ from http://changesapp.com/

Lisa

I’ll throw my favorite in, PSPad. I’ve been using it for years. It handles txt, php, html, java … has a built in ftp so it’s a snap to edit via ftp and upload your changes. It’s also got a ton of extra utilities and extensio, word count, languages. My only caveat; make sure what language you download as once I had the Solvensky version and couldn’t make heads nor tails.

Max

phpDesigner – edit and save directly to FTP. (Yes, it does have undo button)

Top 10 Digital Cameras

I must agree with you on Cyberduck – one of the best free pieces of software I’ve ever used. I used Captain FTP for a long time but it just can’t match the former’s reliability and performance.

Thanks for the other tips!

Dave Doolin

Coda is new to me, will have to check that one out.

After experiencing the enlightenment of pushing a production build to a Rails server using git, I’m hopelessly spoiled. Unreal how slick that is.

The best I can do with my shared host and WordPress is maintaining branches locally, and deploying with rsync.

I have also used Aptana Studio very successfully for deploying sites. It has built in connection management as well. I don’t, however, use it’s built in version control; prefer handling that on the command line.

Thanks for writing. These types of articles can be a bit tedious to put together, I definitely appreciate your effort, Kristarella.

Chase

I used coda for a while… I wanted to love it, parts of me did love it. But now I’m on Textmate and Transmit.

The new transmit 4.0 is amazingly beautiful. It does what it’s supposed to… and the sync feature makes some shit i do all the time very easy.

Textmate’s bundles took me a long time to get used to, but I kept hearing everyone talk about it so i tried to stick with it… glad I did. It’s very powerful… very… power… full.

I’m glad i stuck it through with textmate. I used Smultron at first on Mac as well. Textmate is similarly simple on the surface…

Make good choices! :)

Ross

There’s no free lunch. Work, get paid, buy BBEdit & ForkLift 2.0. :)

Derek

Awesome comment. I’d give you a thumbs up, if we had that functionality :-D

Bluemoon

I’ve used CuteFTP and Filezilla and both work great. Not sure if CuteFTP still has a freebie version.

I use Notetab Lite for an editor and PHPDesigner (free version – not sure if they still have a free version) and both are great editing freebies.

Doesn’t hurt to try others as long as they’re free. Just realized that I have PSPad and never used it and I just downloaded NoteTab. Love trying new things. :)

Bluemoon

Oops, I meant that I just downloaded NotePAD (already have NoteTab).

So many programs, so little time …

Derek

What’s your favorite?

Shannon Smith

+1 on the notepad ++ What a great piece of software. You all my want to checkout WINscp for an FTP client. Very robust, easy to use and FREE

Martin Metzmacher

I was about to recommend WinSCP http://sourceforge.net/projects/winscp/

Great thing about it is that you can edit files on the server without having to download them first.

Rob Holmes

I use FireFTP in Firefox out of convenience, but need a backup that’s more friendly than the one I’m using. I’ll give FTPx a shot.

Edward Beckett - Florida SEO

@Kristerella
Great Post!

Being a code junkie I have to tell the world about my all time favorite text editor … Over the last five I’ve used a lot of different text editors and I have to say that EditPad Pro is by far the best text editor I’ve ever used. Some of the benefits that make it such an indispensable tool is it’s ability to open huge files without so much as a hint of hesitation. I’ve even cracked open a 2MB .sql file with a breeze. Furthermore, I’m a major fan of snippets and EditPad Pro let’s you store your code, snippets, regular expressions – whatever in what EditPad calls ‘clip collections’. EditPad Pro also allows you the ability to place clips before and after code points similar to how Dreamweaver does . Another major point score for me is EditPad Pro’s unparalleled find and replace feature. It has a very powerful regular expression engine which integrates with Regexbuddy – another great tool from the company that creates EditPad Pro. Seeing how I use regular expressions almost daily, this is a major plus for me. And one of the coolest features is EditPad Pro’s custom syntax coloring. Not only does EditPad Pro come installed with coloring schemes for almost every programming language, when you purchase EditPad Pro, you can also download the syntax scheme editor. With a few regular expressions, you can create and modify scheme to fit what ever your preference is. All and all, there’s no way I can give EditPad Pro justice in a blog post – it’s that damned good. Your just going to have to buy it yourself. Once you do – I think you’ll agree. EditPad Pro rocks – and in case your wondering – no – I don’t work for them. But, I fully believe that if a company makes a tool that I enjoy using – I’ve got to give them props.

:-)

kristarella

Wow, glowing recommendation! Great for Windows users. :-)

Bengt

I use EditPad Pro too and love it. FileZilla is the FTP that I use.

Alderete

I use TextMate as my text editor, and ExpanDrive as my (S)FTP tool. ExpanDrive mounts your remote FTP sites just like any other disk drives, letting you use the Finder to navigate, and your normal tools to make changes. There’s also a Windows version.

For certain special purpose tasks, I occasionally use different tools. BBEdit handles large files with aplomb (TextMate chokes on e.g. big SQL dump files), and has great built-in file comparison tools. And Interarchy is an excellent traditional FTP client with extras like syncing, etc. It is especially useful when you have to twiddle permissions on remote files.

TextWrangler, mentioned by others, is a free text editor from the makers of BBEdit. It is only slightly less powerful, and if you’re not a power text manipulator, it’s a no-brainer.

Tom Harrison Jr

Mac: All my friends convinced me to buy TextMate, but I could never get used to it. Then I got Fraise ($0) and it just works. I set up CyberDuck to use Fraise as the editor, heaven.

Roy

Could anyone give a brief comparison between Fraise and Textwrangler? I use the latter all the time, and they seem very similar. Any reason that Fraise might be different/better? Textwrangler also has a built in FTP function too.

jonathan soroko

Great post. About copying from Word – it’s a big problem, but using the cut-and-paste from word option in the Post/Page editor does seem to work. There are two other workarounds that I recommend – using OpenOffice, which can save as plain text, or html, and reliably in my experience.
Because I have some experience with digital forensics, I’ve learned that the meta-data in Word is not limited to formatting, and distributing it can be the cause of great embarassment, and worse (the metadata often goes well beyond the open MS Word document. Best avoided – but if not, the MetaData Assistant from Payne Consulting is good protection for anyone who – for whatever reason – has to use MSWord. http://payneconsulting.com/products/metadataretail/
Best to take Kristarella’s advice and avoid it to begin with.

Jhay

It seems I’m the only Ubuntu Linux user here. :P

I use Gnome Tex Editor for quick edits and glancing at code. It has a built-in code syntax highlighter too.

Though Ubuntu can connect to my server directly, I still use FileZilla as an FTP client.

Lately, I’ve been using Bluefish editor as an all-in-one solution to messing with WordPress and themes.

The best part is, all of these tools are FOSS. :D

Kopepasah

Kris,

For a long time I have been using both Transmit and TextMate. Both are well built and efficient. Although I do like Coda as well (Panic is an awesome company), I find that I use the others much more.

One all-in-one app for Mac that you did not mention is Espresso by MacRabbit. It is not quite as organized as Coda, but useful with its own great features.

Stephanie M. Cockerl

I’ve been using FireFTP, a Firefox plugin, that works on either Mac or PC platform. However, if I need to do some serious transferring, I do it from within Dreamweaver.

Eban Kenzie

I have been a long time user of cute ftp pro I find it simplistic approach and ease of use hard to beat, however for anyone wanting a free ftp client filezilla is a good free alternative. For my text editor I use editpad lite It is quick, free and will work with most programs.

Fili Wiese

Missing the lightweight text editor Geany in your list. Geany works on Linux and Windows and even Mac and is in my opinion much better than Notepad++. See also http://geany.org/ :)

Mahboob Shah

+1 for Geany..

I just love it, coz its very lightweight and easy to use :)

Crude G

“All my friends convinced me to buy TextMate, but I could never get used to it. Then I got Fraise ($0) and it just works. I set up CyberDuck to use Fraise as the editor, heaven.” I think TextMate is not too bad.

Bruce Dienes

Maybe I’m just showing my age, but I’ve been using WS-FTP Pro from Ipswitch for years. Lots of options and solid code. Lots of security options, scheduling options, etc…

David

I’m with Norcross on this one. I use Ultra Edit Studio IDE. It covers just about every type of coding. It has the ability to open from ftp – amend, and on saving will automatically upload the alteration to the server. Obviously, any mistakes can be undone just as quickly and the results are seen in your browser at speed.

Not a cheap option, but the use and pleasure of using make it a very worthwhile investment.

Jasper

I made a short video explaining the use of Filezilla FTP client. It’s a very basic video for user who do not have much experience with ftp use. Do video is in Dutch, but since its video, it might help some others to. Here the link: http://www.digitalcoaching.nl/website-aanpassen-of-back-up-maken-met-een-ftp-programma-filezilla-client/

Hope it help,
regards,

Dennis O'Brien

Gidday Aussies Girl :)

I guess it depends on your needs but I have used Filezilla for 5-6 years and it’s quite adequate for my needs. Notepad++ has been indispensable for me as an all round text editor and has got me out of any situation so far. I haven’t had the need to open large files as yet as I’m more of a cut ‘n’ paste man. That’s why I visit blogs like yours :)

I have used NetBeans IDE for debugging PhP that has brought down my site and examining PhP files. I guess I’m a big fan of open source and rewarding lesser known software authors for their efforts.

Mike Schinkel

That’s a great list of tools, but there’s a lot more useful ones too, read about what some other WordPress devs are using over at WordPress answers:

http://wordpress.stackexchange.com/questions/324/software-for-wordpress-theme-and-plugin-development

BTW, I personally I love Transmit but find Coda to have one fatal flaw; lack of a debugger. That’s why I use PhpStorm; it’s a godsend. I figure I’m 3x more productive than a developer using Coda simply because of that debugger (now it Coda were to add debugger support, that might change my view significantly!)

Anyway, hope this helps.

-Mike

kristarella

I’m sure I meant to mention that this is not meant to be an exhaustive list by any means, but just a few recommendations to get newbies started; if that wasn’t mentioned above I either forgot to say it or it got edited out. More suggestions are always welcome though. Far better to hear suggestions from fans: I included my favourites, but I haven’t tried everything.

Check out the Coda plugins. There’s some debugging tools in there I think. I’ve used the PHP validation in the PHP toolkit and Coda has HTML validation built in.

Dan Rippon

Been a confirmed FileZilla / Notepad++ user for years. And unless I missed a recommendation in the comments above (hey, it is 1am, ok?), the only reason I can see me changing is if I find a Windows based text editor with the auto-complete feature…

Matt Cheuvront

Great rundown, Kristarella. I’ve been using Coda for the past year or so as per the recommendation of a good friend and have loved every minute. Well worth the price tag, in my opinion. Cheers!

Derek

I think it may be time for me to upgrade. I currently use a basic text editor and Cyberduck.

Bret Phillips

I want to recommend Edit Pad Pro for the Windows Text editors. This is not an affiliate link, I just really support this product.

http://www.editpadpro.com/

I’ve been using this software for almost 10 years and it just keeps getting better and better.

There are too many reasons why it is awesome, just follow the link and read about it.

B

Milan

Another good FTP program for Mac is Fetch, and it is available for free to students. TextMate and Fetch also integrate well.

Andra

Hi,
I am a “newbie”, so it’s always interesting to learn so much! Btw, are there any videos on hooks? Would love to watch some!

Ryan

I use FileZilla and Notepad2 on Windows (note, I just need a basic text editor and Notepad2 is very light weight and offers color syntax highlighting. It’s all I need). I’ve heard Notepad++ is great, but it was overkill for my needs.

I recently purchased a MacBook and don’t like the resident text editor for my needs – just downloaded Fraise and love it already. Thanks for the recommendation! :)

I’m also using FileZilla on my MacBook, but I think I’ll take a look at CyberDuck.