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iApp: Textastic

Issue: 10.3 (March/April 2012)
Author: Marc Zeedar
Article Description: No description available.
Article Length (in bytes): 5,058
Starting Page Number: 16
Article Number: 10303
Related Web Link(s):

http://www.textasticapp.com/

Full text of article...

The idea of doing coding on an iPad may seem odd at first, since you can't actually compile anything on the device, and especially if you don't have an external keyboard for typing. But much of the time all you need to do is a quick review or make some minor adjustments to existing code. And there's lots of text editing that's not traditional programming: HTML and XML, for instance.

Textastic is an iPad app that's basically BBEdit for iPad. It features syntax coloring for over 80 languages, including HTML, XML, Objective-C, PHP, Perl, Python, SQL, JavaScript, CSS, Markdown, and many more. (No, RB isn't on that list, but VisualBasic is, and is close enough to work for editing RBScripts.)

Text editing works just as you'd expect, for the most part. There's a code editor and a Preview mode for seeing how your code looks when rendered. There's a nice find and find/replace, a symbol locator (for jumping to specific methods or headlines), undo/redo, character/word/line count, and even TextExpander support. There are lots of customizations: themes for how the text looks (white on black, for instance), you can set the font and text size, as well as as options for word wrap, auto-correct, tab support, line number display, and much more.

A neat feature is that the onscreen keyboard has been customized with an extra row on top that includes a tab key and additional punctuation (such as (), {}, [], <>, etc.) that's commonly used in programming languages, so you don't have to hold down a modifier to access those extra keys.

One of my favorite features if I'm not using an external keyboard is that tapping on the screen with two fingers brings up an arrow keypad, allowing you to move the cursor just like with arrow keys on a keyboard. You can even use this to extend or shrink a text selection. You can position the keypad wherever you'd like or close it with a tap.

One of the best features of Textastic is its built-in support for FTP (and SFTP). (It also supports Dropbox, WebDAV, and iDisk.) With FTP support, you can connect to your website, download HTML, CSS, or PHP, edit the code, and upload it back to your website. I love that you can configure connections once and reuse them, so you don't have to remember passwords and paths—but keep in mind that could be a security issue if you lost your iPad or had it stolen. (You can set a password for the app so unauthorized people can't use it.)

A handy feature if you're editing an item you've downloaded from an FTP site is that Textastic remembers where it came from and includes options for you to upload the edited version with one tap or redownload the current web version.

While the FTP support is awesome, it is important to note that it's not a full FTP client. There are no options for moving items around on the site. (This seems like an omission, as the interface allows moving internal items, just not FTP ones.) You can create new folders or rename existing ones, so a limited amount of editing is possible, but don't expect to be able to manipulate an entire site easily.

Speaking of the user interface, while Textastic is easy to use, there are times it can be slightly confusing, especially when switching between editing mode and file transfer mode. For instance, there are things you can do with local files you can't do with remote ones yet the interface appears similar between the two.

But such gripes are minor and a little practice will have you using this app like a champ in no time. The bottom line is if you're looking for a programmer-centric text editor for your iPad, look no further.

End of article.