Comparing Text Editors on Ubuntu: Atom, Emacs, Sublime, Vim & VS Code

The text editor is a core tool for writing software. I’ve always used Atom. Lately, I’ve noticed my Atom text editor was bogging down on my Chromebook running Ubuntu 16.04. Keystrokes and mouse movements were lagging and slowing my coding down. I’m also getting low on disk space, which may be a related issue.

You’ll want to choose a text editor based on how it suits your own needs. In this case, I want a light-weight, responsive editor with no lag. Bells and whistles are less important. I’m also looking to minimize disk space required.

I decided to compare the apt installed package size of some popular editors. First, I installed Atom, Emacs, Sublime, VS Code and Vim using the Ubuntu 16.04 terminal. You could also consider using IDLE, python’s built-in text editor as an alternative that requires no additional software.

Then I found the below command to list all installed apt packages by package size on Ubuntu:

 dpkg-query -Wf '${Installed-Size}\t${Package}\n' | sort -n

Here’s the terminal output with relevant packages in Megabytes (including Firefox for comparative size):

136	emacsen-common
366	vim-common
1071	vim-tiny
2400	vim
21648	emacs26
26870	vim-runtime
34033	sublime-text
70307	emacs26-common
193694	firefox
236965	code
607932	atom

Atom is by far the largest package I downloaded. It is nearly three times the size of VS Code, my second largest package. The next largest was my web browser, Firefox. Most of the other packages I downloaded were considerably smaller.

Side note: I also found out Ubuntu 16.04 ships with a stripped down version of Vim called vim-tiny.

Total Installed Package Sizes in Megabytes (Smallest to Largest)

Some of these editors have multiple packages they are dependent on.

Text Editor Total Installed Packages Size Packages Installed
Vim 29,636 MB vim, vim-common, vim-runtime
Sublime 34,033 MB sublime-text
Emacs 91,955 MB emacs26-common, emacs26, emacsen-common
VS Code 236,965 MB code
Atom 607,932 MB atom

Results: Vim and Sublime win for smallest installed package size.

  • Vim is the lightest-weight package of these 5 popular text editors, with Sublime not far behind. Emacs is comparable to them for usability and relatively small.
  • Atom is nearly 3x the size of VS Code and 20x the size of Vim. Atom and VS Code are larger than the Firefox browser package, the third largest of any downloaded package on my system.
  • I tested out all of the editors by opening the same Python file and making some edits. I found Vim, Emacs and Sublime were much more responsive than Atom and VS Code.

Conclusion: All Editors Are Not Created Equal

These are fine editors when paired with the right machine and developer needs. In my case, a Chromebook running Linux installed with Crouton, a few editors are performing faster and taking up less space. I’ve chosen Sublime or Emacs as my editor for this computer. One slightly annoying feature of Sublime is being prompted to buy the paid version from the trial version. Atom, Emacs, Vim and VS Code are free. Vim might be a good option if I ever decide to conquer its notoriously high learning curve.

[Bonus] Find the size of all packages matching with “vim” in their name:

 dpkg-query -Wf '${Installed-Size}\t${Package}\n' | sort -n | grep vim

Terminal output from above command:

366 vim-common
1071 vim-tiny
2400 vim
26870 vim-runtime

Additional Reading

What is the best lightweight text editor?

Atom as an Editor is Too Big

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