A Few Words About Mac Text Editors And CSS

As a long time web developer I have a growing collection of Mac-based tools of the trade, including the aging but oh-so-useful BBEdit text editor, the must-have MAMP for local Mac development, and a whole list of add on utility apps which accompany the trade; Coda, Transmit, Yummy FTP, TextMate, CSSEdit, the usual graphic and media culprits from Adobe, and a few apps that work well cross platform- Textastic and Transmit for iOS, and others.

The only problem with using developer tools for the Mac is CSS, which seems to be the ugly stepchild of development tools. Every notable text editor for the Mac incorporates CSS, but few do so as elegantly as the discontinued CSSEdit, a Mac-only CSS editor of great renown. I’ve often said the only thing missing from CSSEdit was a decent text editor. The developer introduced Espresso, a text editor for the Mac with some of CSSEdit thrown in, bolted on, but otherwise less than the original.

Most text editors come with features, functions, syntax, and a range of tools which are programmer specific, as opposed to website development specific. It’s as if HTML, XML, JavaScript- and especially CSS— are second class citizens in the tool trade. The best CSS editor for the Mac was- and remains- CSSEdit, despite the advances of little brother Espresso.

What made CSSEdit such an advancement over text editors with CSS syntax and tools as an afterthought was the ability to edit CSS in a live preview instant updating mode using the CSS from a website. A few Mac text editors can do something similar, but none have the ease-of-use inherent in CSSEdit.

Though the aging CSSEdit does not handle CSS3 very well, here’s an example of a CSS-specific issue not addressed by newer versions of Mac text editors. Minify; compressing text to reduce file size. Doing so often requires yet another utility app. CSSEdit, though, could expand minified CSS properly to make for easier editing from within the app. I can’t find a similar function in Espresso or most other major text editors with CSS editing functionality.

An older version of Panic’s popular Coda text editor paid homage to CSS with menus of CSSEdit-like features, and the multi-pane windows made it easier than most editors to view changes to code in preview mode, but CSS in the latest version is handle inline instead, rather than from a suggestive menu of CSS options.

Looking back, my original desire was to have a modest text editor built-in to CSSEdit for the Mac with an upgrade to handle CSS3 (instead of the Espresso solution, which is a comprehensive text editor with CSSEdit-like functions seemingly bolted on). In the more than four years since that great app was discontinued I’ve tried a few dozen text editors, some CSS specific, but none have captured the capability and ease-of-use that came with CSSEdit.

I’m a firm believer than nothing improves without change, but there are times when change does not improve the status quo.


  1. Agreed, there is nothing as elegant and helpful as CSSEdit. Do you by any chance know if it will still run under Yosemite? If not, I’ll be stuck at Mavericks.

  2. CSSEdit was the best Mac CSS editor, by far. Unfortunately, all that sweet goodness didn’t make it to the followup app, Espresso, which is nothing more than yet another text editor with a few CSSEdit features tossed into the mix.

    Note to developers: The world does not need yet another text editor. What’s missing in the marketplace is a good CSS editor. That’s what CSSEdit was. Seems like a big opportunity here.

    • CSSEdit works ‘OK’ on OS X Yosemite, but has a few odd quirks which show up from time to time (same as it did on Mavericks). I’ll use it until it won’t work or something better comes along. It’s been years. There’s nothing better.