Why and How I Switch from Sublime Text to Atom

    6 minute read    

I have been a huge fan of Sublime Text. It is my second text editor (the first is notepad++). Since a long time ago, I am aware of the existent of Atom text editor but I thought it is almost the same as Sublime Text, hence I am going to stick to Sublime Text since I am more familiar with it and I thought Sublime and Atom are almost the same in terms of code editing experience.

I am fine with Sublime Text for a long period of time as I mainly use Sublime Text to code C++ or Python program and I am having an awesome coding experience in Sublime Text. However, as I am dealing with more variety of stuff recently I started to notice the shortage and limitation of Sublime Text.

Note: From now on, all the features I am discussing are out-of-the-box features. (Seriously, I don’t like to install too many third-party plugins)

The first time I notice the limitation of Sublime Text is when I am dealing with files with Chinese character with GBK encoding. As usual, I used Sublime Text to view and edit the file, but, surprisingly, Sublime Text did not provide support for GBK encoding out-of-the-box. A quick Google shows that there are 2 ways for me to deal with GBK encoding, install GBK plugins on Sublime or use Atom. I chosen the former, tried to install the plugins and realize it is kind of inconvenient to use those plugins (I had forgotten the exact detail but I remember I did not use Sublime Text for GBK, it must involve some tedious setup or poor user experience for me to ditch Sublime Text on GBK). Out of frustration, I installed Atom and yes, Atom does well with the GBK encoding. However, due to my support toward Sublime Text, I still stick to Sublime Text on general text editing and coding.

After that, Sublime Text still serves me quite well in text editing. The breaking point when I finally decided to switch from Sublime to Atom is when I need to do Markdown editing. Same as the case above, a quick google shows that there are 2 ways for me to deal with Markdown, install plugins or use Atom. As usual, I choose the former. Installing the plugins was easy, but the user experience is not good (if compared to Atom, I can safely use the word sucks). You need to manually generate the preview every time you wish to view the preview and it usually takes a few seconds to generate it. Then, you need to switch the window to a browser to view your Markdown and then switch back to Sublime Text to continue you Markdown editing. Then, I tried to use Atom, guess what Atom does? out-of-the-box Markdown preview and syntax highlighting, side-by-side preview and live update.

At this moment, I know that I have to make the switch. The only reason I stay in Sublime was my love toward it but there is a ton of reason to make the switch. I am sorry Sublime, I have to ditch you now :cry:.

Here are the reasons that make me make the switch.

  • Atom is practically the superset of Sublime Text (I can safely say that 85% of what Sublime Text can do, Atom can do better)
  • The GBK encoding support (as described above)
  • The Markdown editing user experience (as described above)
  • Other cool features that Atom ships
    • Project-wide search function
    • Git integration
      (This is actually super cool, files status on git are color indicated, gitignored files are light gray, staged file are green, unstaged modifies are orange)
    • Spell checker
    • Live, side-by-side HTML/CSS preview
  • It is free and open source (I know Sublime Text is free too, but if you need a license, you need to pay right?)
  • Atom icon looks nicer than Sublime Text most recent icon :laughing: (I like the preview Sublime Text icon but not that latest one)

Of course, there are reasons that somewhat make me refuse to the switch too.

  • Sublime Text is blazing fast (< 1 sec), Atom is somewhat fast (~ 3 sec) to open a file or directory
  • There is no out-of-the-box hex editor on Atom
  • There are definitely some features in Sublime Text I gonna miss but currently, I am still not sure, haven’t code too much on Atom yet (more Atom plugins? :fearful:)

Here, I am only discussing features that I know and might use, certainly there are awesome features in Sublime Text and Atom I had missed and unaware of but currently, I focus on those features I am aware of.

How do I make the switch?

The feels of both editors at first glance are almost same, below are the differences that I am aware of.

  • Atom doesn’t have a minimap (I don’t really use the minimap, so I am okay with this)
  • This issue. Sadly, as I am aware of, there is still no fix

Next, configure my setting for my text editor

  • always reopen previous state after closing the editor
    (Preferences -> Core -> Restore Previous Windows On Start)
  • trim whitespace on save
    (Preferences -> Packages -> whitespace -> Ensure Single Trailing New Line, Keep Markdown Line Break, Remove Trailing Whitespace)
  • scroll past end
    (Preferences -> Editor -> Scroll Past End)
  • shows current file line ending (unix/dos) and encoding
    (default is shown on bottom right corner)
  • replace tab with whitespace. Yes, I hate tab \t character in my code, unless I am coding with whitespace language?
    (default is good)
  • tab length = 4
    (Preferences -> Editor -> Tab Length -> 4)
  • show whitespace (line ending, tab, space) on highlight. This is a feature I like and use a lot in Sublime Text
    (Preferences -> Editor -> Check Show Invisibles -> Paste the following at stylesheet file, styles.less)
atom-text-editor {
    .leading-whitespace, .invisible-character {
        color: #222;
  • key binding
    (Paste the following at keymap file, keymap.cson)
'atom-workspace atom-text-editor:not([mini])':
    'cmd-shift-up': 'editor:add-selection-above'
    'cmd-shift-down': 'editor:add-selection-below'
    'ctrl-shift-up': 'editor:move-line-up'
    'ctrl-shift-down': 'editor:move-line-down'

'.platform-darwin atom-text-editor':
    'cmd-d': 'find-and-replace:select-all'
  • Ctrl + Shift + Up / Down — Swap lines up or down
  • Cmd + Shift + Up / Down — Multi-select line above or below
  • Cmd + d — Select all

As I am still (relatively) new to Atom, I think I will miss out quite a lot of differences, I will edit this post if I found out other stuff that is different in Atom.

Updates: I actually switch back to Sublime Text 3 after trying to do extensive coding (Python, C++ and etc) on Atom. Now, I am using Sublime Text as my main text editing and use Atom for Markdown editing.

A few reasons that make me return to Sublime Text:

  • Atom is slow, like super slow (compared to Sublime Text) and this is the main reason I ditch atom for general text editing. atom-slow
  • Atom cache of unsaved files is problematic and might cause data loss. Unlike Notepad++ or Sublime Text, when you have unsaved files, you close the application you will know your data is safe.
  • I am more used to the shortcut and environment of Sublime Text, I feel much more comfortable to do coding in Sublime Text compare to Atom.