Markdown is an easy-to-use markup language in a plain text format. For example, you can write some markup like this:
# This is a header This is a main paragraph with some *emphasized* text.
Markdown feels very natural to write, and the best part is once you’re done you can use various tools to rendered your Markdown into richly formatted text files, such as HTML, Word, or PDF. But to do this, you need a editor – and that’s what this article is all about!
For this article, I surveyed the raywenderlich.com team to see what editors we use, what we like about those editors, and what these editors lack. From a initial list of more than twenty editors, I’ve assembled a list of the five top best Markdown editors for OS X.
Here are the top 5 best Markdown editors for OS X as chosen by the raywenderlich.com team!
Before we dive into the top 5 Markdown editors, let’s talk about why you should use Markdown in the first place, and why you need a Markdown editor at all.
I discovered Markdown the same way I suspect many developers did — through its use on GitHub, which uses Markdown to format issues, comments, and pull request descriptions.
Markdown quickly became my preferred writing format because it helps me stay focused on recording my thoughts and ideas quickly and efficiently.
Since a Markdown document is just a text document, any text editor can create and edit Markdown documents. I can create a document on my MacBook and edit on my Windows machine or iPad without worrying about cross-platform issues.
You’ll find support for Markdown in many tools, workflows, and web sites. For example, we use it here at raywenderlich.com to create our books, using a custom tool we wrote that converts Markdown into book PDFs.
Once you start using Markdown, you’ll get addicted. The team and I are now officially Markdown junkies! :]
Why a Markdown Editor?
You might be asking, “Do I really need a Markdown editor? Can’t I just use any old plain-text editor?”
Generally, Markdown won’t be the final destination format of your piece of work, so you’ll need a tool that can convert Markdown to a richly formatted document such as HTML, Word, or PDF, which can be customized along the way via CSS or other display formatters.
Some Markdown editors provide a preview of the rendered document in real time when writing or editing, which reduces the number of times you need to render your work externally to proof for markup mistakes. In my initial drafts, I prefer tools that let me hide this preview so I can work in distraction-free text mode.
As well, many Markdown editors offer formatting assistance, such as syntax highlighting and coloration, to point out markup errors or missing markup elements. Some tools provide templates for more complex or rarely-used markup items such as table markup in MultiMarkdown.
Some groups have extended the original Markdown specification to include new formatting options. MultiMarkdown and GitHub Flavored Markdown are two of the most common Markdown flavors; support for these two ubiquitous and highly useful formats in a Markdown tool is pretty much a must-have.
Without further ado, let’s get into the top 5 Markdown editors on OS X!
- You can read through our descriptions and pick the one that seems the best match for you.
- Alternatively, you can follow the instructions to download and install each editor and choose your favorite based on your own experience.
5) Visual Studio Code
Price: Free and open source
Pros: Good for ASP.NET and Node.js developers; allows user defined snippets.
Cons: A bigger and heavier tool than others, and not as flexible as Atom.
Getting Started with Visual Studio Code
You won’t find Visual Studio Code on the Mac App Store; it’s still in pre-release and its installation process reflects that. You can download the app from the Visual Studio home page. The site will auto-detect your OS and provide an appropriate download link:
Once you’ve downloaded the install package, double-click the file to unzip it in Finder, and drag Visual Studio Code.app into your Applications folder.
Run Visual Studio Code and close the welcome pane. Then start writing some Markdown (you can use the snippet from earlier in the article if you’d like), and save the file with a .markdown extension to get Markdown syntax highlighting to appear:
Click the Split Editor button in the upper right to open up another pane:
Finally click the Open Preview button in the upper right to display a rendered version of the Markdown:
You can now edit on the left hand side and see a live preview on the right!
Why Visual Studio Code?
I bet you didn’t expect something from Microsoft on this list! :]
Microsoft isn’t the same company it used to be, and neither are their tools. Despite being under the Visual Studio banner, Visual Studio Code is nothing like the bulky IDE you might have seen before. Visual Studio Code delivers a well-thought out, lightweight code editor that’s my personal favorite.
Visual Studio Code targets web developers; it’s not a dedicated Markdown tool. Instead, it focuses on the languages and frameworks used by web developers, especially ASP.NET and Node.js. It still provides solid Markdown support with syntax highlighting and a great HTML preview side-by-side with your Markdown code.
One drawback is there isn’t any way to render Markdown to HTML or PDF directly from Visual Studio Code; you have to create these files as part of a project build.
Overall, Visual Studio Code is a useful Markdown editor, but it’s really designed as tool for web developers working with ASP.NET or Node.js who have a side requirement for Markdown. Once Visual Studio Code is officially released and developers take advantage of the recently added extension support, I think this will become an even better Markdown editor for developers.
4) Sublime Text with MarkdownEditing
Price: $70 per user on any number of computers.
Pros: The Markdown plugin adds syntax highlighting and editing features to already great features.
Cons: Expensive at $70 per user and more complex to configure than similar tools. Installing the Markdown Editing package is not a straightforward process. Preview is only possible with another tool.
Getting Started with Sublime Text
While Sublime Text license costs $70 per user, there’s a free, unlimited evaluation you can try.
Again, you won’t find Sublime Text in the App Store and must download it directly from the the Sublime Text site. You can either choose the stable 2.0 version, or try the beta 3.0 version. The installation instructions below will work for both versions; only the filenames will be different.
Once you’ve downloaded the DMG, double-click the file to open it, and drag the Sublime Text 2.app icon to the Applications folder.
Your next step is to install the MarkdownEditing package into Sublime Text. Start Sublime Text and press Ctrl+` to open the Sublime Text console:
Next, you’ll need to enter a Python command here to install Sublime Package Control; head to https://packagecontrol.io/installation#st2 to get the exact command, since it changes with each release. Once you have it, paste the command into the Sublime Text Console like so:
You’ll be prompted to restart Sublime Text once the package has installed.
Now that Sublime Package Control is installed, you can install the MarkdownEditing package. Press Cmd+Shift+P to bring up the Command Palette. At the prompt, type
install package and press Return:
You’ll see the list of packages once it’s been retrieved from the server. Type MarkdownEditing to select the package and press Return to install it. Once the package is installed, Sublime will display a Markdown document with more information about the package:
The Markdown Editing plugin adds better syntax highlighting for Markdown along with additional editing features such as automatic pairing, support for GitHub-flavored Markdown and a host of keystrokes to insert Markdown formatting for links, images, headers and footnotes.
To see this, try opening a file with a .md or .markdown extension:
To see a rendered preview of the Markdown, you’ll need the Markdown Preview extension. To install this, press Cmd+Shift+P to bring up the Command Palette. At the prompt, type
install package and press Return:
Then start typing Markdown Preview and hit enter once you find it:
To run the plugin, press Cmd+Shift+P and look for Markdown Preview: Preview in Browser:
Select Github, and then a browser will appear with your Markdown rendered as HTML:
Why Sublime Text?
If you’re looking for a simple Markdown tool, but rarely work with plain text in any other capacity, this probably isn’t the tool for you. Sublime Text is a powerful text editor for advanced users — with a complexity and price tag to match. To change editor settings, you’ll need to directly edit the settings files. There’s a rich set of add-ins and plugins, but you’ve seen that the installation process is not exactly straightforward.
So why is Sublime Text on this list, then? If you take the time to learn Sublime Text, you can probably do anything in it faster than any other tool on this list. You can customize the editor to exactly suit the task at hand, and in a few keystrokes you can accomplish what would otherwise take a lot of menu hunting and clicking.
However, the learning curve is steep and not everyone needs the complexity and the full feature set of Sublime Text.
3) Marked 2
Pros: Works in combination with any Markdown editor or other text editor; can compile multiple files for a full preview of your work; previews update in real time as source files change.
Cons: Marked is only a preview tool, so you will need another tool for editing.
Getting Started with Marked
The trial version comes as a zip file; extract Marked 2.app from the zip and drag it to your Applications folder to install. You can convert the trial into a full version at any time.
Once you have it installed, open Marked and open a Markdown file:
This gives you a preview of the markdown, and you can use the main menu (or one of the buttons in the bottom right) to render the Markdown to different format such as PDF or HTML.
Marked is different than the other tools on this list as it’s only a preview tool. Nevertheless, I still find it’s one of the most useful Markdown tools in my arsenal, and it was the most popular add-on tool mentioned in our survey. Whenever I’m writing in Markdown, I have this tool open as well.
Marked works with any editor; it detects changes to any file it has open and reflects those changes automatically in its preview. As you work in your Markdown editor, you’ll see Marked update its preview of your work each time you save your changes. Marked can use various stylesheets, including custom CSS, to reflect different rendering requirements.
Marked also provides unique and useful writing tools. Along with the standard statistics of word and sentence counts, it also provides advanced readability statistics and estimates of reading time. It can also highlight a customizable list of overused phrases, show passive voice, and mark duplicated words.
When it’s time to convert your Markdown documents, Marked handles this task perfectly. It can export any Markdown file to PDF, Microsoft Word, or as a complete collection of HTML documents including styles and images. It can also copy HTML source or RTF data from the Markdown to your clipboard for use in other apps.
I’d like to see more options to customize the Word export options, but Marked is still my first choice to convert Markdown documents into formats that I can share with others.
Price: Free and open source.
Pros: Cross-platform with a rich plugin infrastructure; customizable and hackable without the complexity of Sublime Text.
Cons: Can be a memory hog and feels slower than other tools.
Getting Started with Atom
Download the zipped distribution from the main Atom site and extract its contents. Drag the extracted Atom.app file to your Applications folder to complete the install.
Open Atom and open a Markdown file:
Then go to Packages\Markdown Preview\Toggle Markdown Preview (or Control-Shift-M) to toggle a Markdown preview:
GitHub built Atom with the goal of combining the convenience of modern text editors with the deep configurability of classic, though complex, text editors like Emacs and Vim.
Atom comes with full Markdown support including a robust previewer. It supports GitHub flavored Markdown and includes spell check along with predefined Markdown snippets; all you have to do is type
table and press Tab to have the template appear in your document.
You can easily extend Atom using the built-in package manager. The popularity of Markdown means you’ll find several useful packages for it that extend Markdown support, add more export formats and support more specific Markdown uses such as static blogging tools.
Price: Free and open source.
Pros: Comes with great preview abilities; a stable and flexible tool.
Cons: Not signed with a developer certificate; a less fully-featured text editor that’s not built for coding.
Getting Started with MacDown
Download the zip file using the Download MacDown link on the author’s site. Extract the MacDown.app and drag the file to your Applicatons folder to install. If you use Homebrew Cask, you can install it from Terminal with
brew cask install macdown.
MacDown has one complication the other tools don’t: it’s not signed with a developer certificate, which means if you’re running OS X Lion or later and have Gatekeeper running, you’ll see an error noting you can’t run the app:
To use MacDown in this scenario, you must set your Gatekeeper settings under System Preferences\Security & Privacy to either Mac App Store and identified developers or Anywhere:
If you choose “Mac App Store and identified developers”, you’ll have to authorize the app to run it. Right-click on the app, hold down Shift then click Open. You’ll be warned this app is from an unidentified developer:
Simply click Open to override this and you won’t be asked again.
Then you can open a Markdown file as usual:
You can also use File\Export to export your document to HTML or PDF.
I use MacDown more than any other Markdown tool, and the number of times it was mentioned in my survey results confirms its spot as the number one Markdown tool. If you want a simple, clean editor just for Markdown editing, it’s hard to find a better tool than this one.
MacDown author Tzu-Ping Chun began work on the tool after the announcement that one of his favorite tools, Mou, was ending active development. MacDown provides a popular and well-thought out editor that’s focused on composing Markdown. It’s not a code editor, and it’s not a full featured text editor such as Sublime Text. This is intentional; MacDown is a minimalistic tool that gets out of your way and treats your interaction with your document as a priority.
When I write, I usually choose a tool that will stay out of my way but provide assistance when I need it. MacDown fits that role really well. You can apply formatting through the menu or via keyboard shortcuts. It’s easy to use and looks great.
Despite it’s minimalist design, MacDown is full-featured, supports a lot of Markdown syntax, provides autocompletion, and lets you customize the rendering of previews. Exporting to PDF or HTML produces consistently good results.
Where to Go From Here?
You might be thinking “which of these Markdown editors is best for me?”
Unfortunately, there really isn’t one tool to rule them all; I personally use all of these tools (with the exception of Sublime Text) at different times. Each tool has its strengths and provides a good solution for the specific task at hand:
- If you’re looking for a pure Markdown writing and prose writing experience, MacDown provides a solid Markdown editor without a lot of extra features you’ll probably never use. It’s especially good for new Markdown users.
- If you’re a developer and looking to work with Markdown in development projects, you’ll probably find the best results with Atom — unless you’re working with ASP.NET or Node.js, where Visual Studio Code is the clear winner. Atom is likely the best choice if you really want to customize your editor by adding (or writing!) plugins to match your needs exactly.
- If you’re a power user, for a powerful text editor that also supports Markdown, Sublime Text with the MarkdownEditing plugin provides the most powerful setup.
- If you want the most export options or writing statistics, Marked isn’t an editor, but it’s the best export and preview tool available for Markdown. For prose writers, the advanced statistics and insight into your writing are valuable. It also pairs nicely with Sublime Text or other tools that have poor or no live Markdown preview.
And that’s it – happy Markdown editing! Don’t forget to chime in with what you think is the best Markdown editor for OS X – by joining the forum discussion below.