Visual Studio Code vs. Atom: Which Text Editor Is Right for You?

If you’re searching for the perfect code editor, there’s a good chance that you’ve run into both Atom and Visual Studio Code. Sure, there are plenty of other editors, but these two are among the most talked about.

Atom has been around a while, but its popularity is flagging as of late. Visual Studio Code, once the new kid in town no one was quite sure about, now appears to be the hottest text editor around. That said, not everyone is so keen to move on from Atom.

Visual Studio Code vs. Atom: What’s Similar?

To start, Visual Studio Code and Atom share DNA. Both of these editors use Electron, which lets developers create full-fledged desktop apps with web technologies like JavaScript, HTML, and CSS. Some people are vehemently opposed to this idea, but that is another story.

The two editors are also closer than you may think in another way. Atom was created at GitHub, while as the name may hint, Microsoft created Visual Studio Code. In 2018, Microsoft announced that it would acquire GitHub. While some initially worried that this meant the end of Atom, Microsoft clarified that both editors would continue to exist.

Visual Studio Code vs. Atom: Performance

Visual Studio Code fans often point to its performance compared to Atom and other Electron-based apps. Electron apps have gained a reputation for sluggish performance and slow startup times across the board, but Visual Studio Code manages to avoid this.

The performance differences between Visual Studio Code and Atom come down to a few factors, but one major aspect is the approach with which each app is developed. Visual Studio Code has a tightly controlled core set of functionality, with plugins adding surface-level features.

The main screen of Visual Studio Code

Atom, on the other hand, uses a plugin-based approach to nearly everything. This approach has benefits, but also drawbacks. Atom is slightly slower out of the box, and this only gets worse when adding certain plugins.

VS Code has the clear advantage when it comes to performance, but neither editor is slow on a modern machine. This changes when you’re editing huge files. Visual Studio Code fares better than Atom, but either is noticeably slow when compared to an editor like Vim or even Sublime Text.

Visual Studio Code vs. Atom: Core Features

Visual Studio Code packs in more functionality out of the box than Atom or even many other text editors. It doesn’t quite have the features of an Integrated Development Environment (IDE), but it gets close. In addition to the standard text editor features, support for building and debugging apps is right there. So, of course, is Microsoft’s trademark IntelliSense autocompletion.

Visual Studio Code's IntelliSense in action

One feature popping up more often in modern text editors is Git integration. Again, Visual Studio Code also has this out of the box, letting you easily deal with version control without having to open a terminal window. Markdown support is also built-in, complete with preview functionality, so you can ensure your file will look right on GitHub.

While Atom doesn’t have nearly the same amount of features on first launch, it does have Git integration. Atom even goes a step further, offering complete GitHub integration. This is almost expected, given the project’s origins, but it’s still handy, especially if you use GitHub for everything.

GitHub integration in Atom

For the vast majority of functionality, however, Atom relies on plugins. These are easy to install from the app itself, letting you customize the editor in nearly any way you can think of.

Visual Studio Code vs. Atom: Plugins

Extensibility is where the largest difference between these two editors happens to lie. For Visual Studio Code, plugins add features. You can install themes, support for new languages, and build tools to help you when it comes to coding in Rust or Go, for example.

Atom, on the other hand, gives much more power to the plugins. As much of the editor’s functionality comes from built-in plugins, the right plugin can create an almost entirely new app. This makes Atom a much more “hackable” app. Atom even has a section in its manual aptly titled Hacking Atom.

Project Find in Atom

This is somewhat similar to the days of the “editor wars” between Vim and Emacs. The sheer amount of functionality built into the latter led to some referring to Vim as an editor and Emacs as an operating system. Atom doesn’t reach the level of customizability seen in Emacs—nobody has written an Atom email client yet—but it gets closer than Visual Studio Code.

That isn’t to say that Visual Studio Code plugins don’t offer plenty of functionality. Look no further than our list of handy Visual Studio Code plugins 9 Visual Studio Code Extensions That Make Programming Even Easier 9 Visual Studio Code Extensions That Make Programming Even Easier Want more from Visual Studio Code? Need improved tools and productivity options? Try these Visual Studio Code extensions. Read More for proof of that.

Visual Studio Code vs. Atom: Community

Both Visual Studio Code and Atom currently enjoy large communities and user bases. While Visual Studio Currently seems to be the more popular of the two, Atom still has a dedicated community of users and developers. If Microsoft decides to drop support for either editor, this may change, but that doesn’t seem like it will happen soon.

Visual Studio Code's debugging tools

Atom seems to be embraced more by the open-source community than Visual Studio Code due to the Microsoft affiliation of the latter. That said, there is a community effort to create a Microsoft-free version of Visual Studio Code. Both editors are open source, but some users aren’t fond of the data collection used by either app.

Download Visual Studio Code and Atom

Both Visual Studio Code and Atom are available completely free of charge. The Atom editor is available under the MIT license, while the Visual Studio Code download is under a proprietary license despite the editor’s open-source codebase. Both editors are available for macOS, Linux, and Windows.

Download: Atom (Free)
Download: Visual Studio Code (Free)

Do You Need a Text Editor or an IDE?

In a nutshell, Atom is a highly customizable text editor. With the right plugins, it can approach the functionality of an IDE. Visual Studio Code is similar, but with its feature set, it feels closer to an IDE right from the start. Neither of these has quite the features of a full IDE, however.

Are you unsure whether you should use a text editor or an IDE? Don’t worry, as we’ve already examined whether text editors or IDEs are better for programmers Text Editors vs. IDEs: Which One Is Better For Programmers? Text Editors vs. IDEs: Which One Is Better For Programmers? Choosing between an advanced IDE and a simpler text editor can be hard. We offer some insight to help you make that decision. Read More . You may not agree, but our take could help you make up your mind.

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