Does multi-tabbed text editing software exist?
November 1, 2019 1:28 PM   Subscribe

So, I'm always juggling a few projects at a time, and I really like using plaintext or close to it for project files. I love how Excel and its clones have tabs that let you have multiple sheets at once in a single document - is there anything like that for plaintext? Preferably free and low-feature?

In case there's other software that would be helpful that's not quite the thing described, here's a list of things I'm working on that could use a tabbed interface:

- a Dungeons and Dragons campaign - it would be helpful to have a tab for e.g. each location and what's in it, and a tab for major characters
- a sketch comedy show - it would be helpful to have one tab for each sketch, and another one for a top-level view
- a live panel show - it would be helpful to have a tab for items needed, and a tab for each segment.
posted by LSK to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
BBEdit (has a free version) on Mac does tabbed text documents.

I vaguely remember that Notepad++ on Windows does also.

For both of these, though, it's not multiple-views-in-a-single-document. Instead, it's multiple-documents-in-a-single-window. What might help mitigate this is keeping all documents for a given project in a single folder; BBEdit has an "open all in folder" thinger that might do close to what you need.
posted by humbug at 1:33 PM on November 1, 2019

To clarify Humbug's answer: Notepad ++ in windows has tabs, but each tab is a separate text document (unlike, say, sheets in excel).
posted by dismas at 1:40 PM on November 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

Sublime Text
You can download it for free, and although there supposedly is a license you can buy, it has never asked me for one.
posted by ShooBoo at 1:42 PM on November 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

Caret (which I use on my chromebook as a Google chrome app) does this.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:43 PM on November 1, 2019

Plain text itself doesn't really lend itself to the whole 'tabbed parts of the same document' paradigm, unfortunately.

Add EditPad Lite (free, multiplatform) to the list of "multiple open text files in tabs" programs.
posted by hanov3r at 1:44 PM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

VSCode is super great. I started using it for, well, code, but have since begun using it for all sorts of plaintext notes.

This can do multiple-views-on-single file-- you can open the same file multiple times, tile it however you want (or just keep it in tabs) and scroll each one independently.
posted by supercres at 1:45 PM on November 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

OneNote sounds like it would be closer to what you want - it organises notes into sections and pages/subpages within a single notebook. It's great for structured notes of the type you described. It's not free, but if you've got MS Office, then you've almost certainly already got it.
posted by parm at 1:45 PM on November 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

I agree that treating each "sheet" as its own file is probably the best way to do this.

If what you really want is multiple tabs with independent views of the same file, then Vim can do it, but it has a fairly steep learning curve.
posted by teraflop at 1:45 PM on November 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

UltraEdit -
Not free but worth the $ imo. I've used it for years.
posted by falsedmitri at 1:50 PM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Here's an example shot of what this could look like in VSCode. Here I'm editing Markdown (super simple formatting syntax) so that I can show hiding one section in one view of the file but it's open in another view.

Otherwise for plain text, one view could just be scrolled for looking at the first N lines of the file while another one is looking at the last N, for example.
posted by supercres at 1:51 PM on November 1, 2019

Appending to humbug and dismas, Notepad++ can start up with the same tabs you had open in your previous session; so that you can almost-sorta think of them as a "single" document. (Other applications may do that too, I just happen to know about that one)
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:56 PM on November 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

If OneNote is too heavy for what you're hoping for, you might look at this list of alternatives, several of which look like they'd be lighter-weight and closer to what you're looking for.
posted by Aleyn at 1:58 PM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

+1 for Sublime. It's fabulous.
posted by anderjen at 2:04 PM on November 1, 2019

I know a lot of people use OneNote for D&D.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:23 PM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

You can do this in emacs, but beware that the learning curve for emacs is steep, and the keyboard shortcuts will likely be completely different from what you're used to.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 2:29 PM on November 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Notepad++ and Textpad do this.
posted by oceano at 2:40 PM on November 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

Nthing Notepad++
posted by Twicketface at 3:02 PM on November 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

I use jedit. The website says this: different locations in one file can be viewed in more than one area. I have not used this feature, and I'm not sure how close it is to what you are asking for, either directly or in combination with other features. There are also a lot of plugins, most of which are a mystery to me.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:27 PM on November 1, 2019

I think you want Scrivener.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 3:28 PM on November 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Sublime Text I vastly prefer to Notepad++, although I've switched to Atom for coding since I used Sublime. They do ask for a license but you can basically keep the full software for free indefinitely.

That being said, for your uses, I would actually point to Scrivener (which is designed for writing projects like this) rather than a plain text editor. Scrivener does let you keep a whole bunch of tabs in a single document. If you wanted to do this with Sublime, you'd probably need/want to have multiple folders with Sublime projects in each, which is workable but a little more conceptually complex. That being said, Scrivener is paid (although free or very cheap licenses do tend to pop up in about a month as folks win NaNoWriMo, since Scrivener always partners with them to provide discounted licenses to novel writers).
posted by sciatrix at 3:29 PM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Notepad++ can indeed show multiple views of the same document, using its "clone to other view" option (under the View--> Move/Clone Current Document menu). The two views are windows on the same document; changes made in one are reflected in the other. You can also synchronize scrolling between the two views.
posted by lhauser at 8:29 PM on November 2, 2019

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