Comparing Sublime and Github’s Atom in 10 major categories
sublime vs atom

Sublime has been the undisputed text editing champion for a while now. But a new contender – GitHub’s Atom – is stepping into the spotlight, making noise and trying to steal the not-so-old champion’s thunder. Some 30 versions after the release of Atom’s beta, we felt it would be a good time to test these two head-to-head. On the left corner, in the black shorts with the orange stripes – the long standing champion Sublime. In the green corner – the young and “hackable” contender – GitHub’s Atom.

Here at OverOps we already have a few new Atom fans and the battle is raging. We’re used to fighting monster Java bugs, so we took our chances with a different kind of fight – Text Editor Battles! Let’s get started:

1. Setting up

Both editors are cross platform and available for Windows, Linux and OS X. Sublime’s stable version is 2.0.2, and version 3.0 is in beta for over a year now. As with the recent beta of Atom (v0.120), you’ll have to jump through some hoops for Windows and Linux. On windows it’s recommended to install through the Chocolatey package manager and on Linux you’ll have to build it yourself.

One thing you’ll quickly notice is that Atom weighs well over 60Mb while Sublime weighs 6x less. We’ll talk about that when we’ll drill down into performance. Once installed, you’re ready to roll.

Bottom line: Installation is easier with Sublime, but Atom is still in beta.

2. It starts with a little peek at Atom

If you’re already familiar with Sublime, Atom will feel just like home. The look and feel of the UI, selection shortcuts and command palette are very similar to those of Sublime. Some might even say too similar, to say the least.

A nice addition you’ll quickly see in Atom are the keyboard shortcut hints that appear on the backgrounds of blank tabs. A useful shortcut or feature you’ve ignored in Sublime might become more accessible in Atom. Other than that, here’s a challenge – try closing your eyes for a few seconds going ⌘+Tab (Or alt+tab god forbid), and then try figure out which editor you’re looking at.

missing in atom
Missing in Atom: The iconic Sublime code minimap

Bottom line: There are a few subtle nuances in the look & feel, Atom has a slight rounder touch to it.

3. Find, select, replace and some magic tricks

My first memory of Sublime going past the dark theme was multiple markers. I guess that’s the way editors show off. Combine this with the ⌘+D multiple selection / find next hybrid and you have one of the flagship features of advanced editors, a fast find & replace that allows quick renaming of variables or attributes.

With Atom it’s very similar and the editors even share the same keyboard shortcut. More than that, the command palette from Sublime is also available in Atom (once again, with the same keyboard shortcut), showing all available commands for a certain context. With Sublime it’s also easy to find HTML tags using the fuzzy finder, try opening it with ⌘+P, and then prefix your search with a hashtag. Atom currently lacks this feature.

Sublime command palette
The Sublime command palette making a guest appearance at Atom

Bottom line: Atom and Sublime perform pretty much the same here.

4. Tree view, tabs, navigation and file handling

Next up, we would want to load multiple files or projects and see how the editors react. There’s a nice command line shortcut that comes out of the box with Atom. To activate it go through the app’s menu and do Atom -> “Install shell commands”. Navigate through terminal to your desired folder, type atom and there you go, all your files loaded into view. The same is possible with Sublime’s subl tool, but like many other features, Atom just comes out of the box with this.

Atom command line tool
Atom’s command line tool

Once we have the files loaded, the fuzzy finder allows us to navigate between them real quick, exactly the same in both editors. Playing around with tabs, throwing them around and switching between them also works just the same.

The tree view on the other hand (or sidebar as it’s called in Sublime) is a bit different, notice the color changes (both on a dark theme) and the icons. Another thing that should be coming soon to Sublime’s next version and already available on the Atom beta is image previews – right in the editor. It could be useful in skipping the hassle of going out of the editor when working with images.

atom vs sublime
Atom on the left and Sublime on the right

Bottom line: Could be a matter of taste, I personally like the way it’s done in Atom.

5. Source control integration

Naturally, GitHub’s Atom comes ready with git integration, committing from the editor is a different story though (Edit: here’s a package that also allows committing to git). When editing a project you’ll find that the tree view has color indicators for .gitignore files and tree view files with changes that have not been committed yet. It also has a status bar with your current branch, a Git Diff package and open on GitHub shortcuts. More advanced features are yet to come.

Sublime is cleaner, but has wider variety of tried and tested integration from external packages including Git, Mercurial and SVN. Atom’s community is showing great signs but it still needs time to prove itself in creating an extensive package ecosystem.

Bottom line: Sublime’s external packages for the win.

6. Web Vs. Native goes back to the desktop ring

Sublime is written close to the metal in C++ using a Python API for plug-ins. A nice little feature not many people are aware of is the ability to open up a Python console from within Sublime or run your Python scripts directly through it without any external packages (except Python of course).

On the other hand, the most amazing thing about Atom is that it’s an all web based desktop app. In fact, it’s built on top of Chromium, Google’s open-source web browser, so… wait wait wait … does this mean… we can fire up the dev tools?

atom dev tools
Yes we can! (and the JavaScript console too)

Other than Chromium, Atom is built with C++, Node.js, CoffeeScript and of course HTML, JS and LESS. But how does that affect performance? Well, pretty badly. Atom takes the web native, which means every single tab, window or frame is rendered locally from HTML. Recently it switched to React to improve performance but you can still feel the difference (try resizing Atom or moving to full screen mode for example). One more downfall is that Atom can’t currently handle file sizes larger than 2Mb.

Bottom line: Sublime will keep performing better, but it would be interesting to see just how far Atom could push the envelope of web performance.

7. Packages and customization

The first thing you notice when visiting is the tagline: “A hackable text editor for the 21st century”. It also comes comes with over 50 packages pre-installed around its core, everything is hackable and interchangeable. Since it’s web based, creating packages (written in CoffeScript) gives you more control over the editors’ components (even installing packages is easier with Atom’s settings menu). For example, check out this recent package that integrates StackOverflow search results and snippets right into Atom without having to leave the editor:

ask stack atom
“Ask Stack” on Atom:

On Sublime’s front, the editor comes with less bundled packages (written in Python). But it’s nonetheless extendable. Even the popular package manager, Package Control, is an external plug-in. A quick look at its front page, and baam – the day has ended, and all you managed to do is play with plug-ins. Themes are available for both editors of course.

Bottom line: Atom, being web based, offers some new exciting possibilities to editor extensions, but Sublime’s community already produces and keeps on producing a feature-rich ecosystem.

8. Community

Sublime has a huge following of users with hundreds of questions each month on StackOverflow, countless blog posts on any feature by power users, recommended workflows and packages (Even a quite good unofficial newsletter) – mostly pushed by the users themselves with little to non official involvement. Official platforms are quite hard to maintain considering Sublime is mostly a one-person show. Check out this recent post confirming it is still alive and kicking despite the lack of communication.

It’s interesting to spot the differences on this front between Sublime and Atom, whose still taking its first steps. However, since Atom is open-source, backed by GitHub, and developed on it, everything looks modern, shiny and bright: From the website, through the discussion board (compared to Sublime’s “oldschool” phpBB) to the presence and action on GitHub itself.

Bottom line: You’re less likely to get lost with the established Sublime Text, but GitHub knows its stuff when it comes to community management and support.

9. Pricing

Atom is open-source and free under the MIT license while Sublime costs $70 per user (This includes the long awaited version 3 update). There are no differences between the paid and free Sublime versions, apart from getting the “unregistered” status off and losing an occasional pop-up screen. Also, the Sublime Text 3 beta is available publicly, but the latest build is for registered users only. That said, $70 for a practically independent developer with an awesome product actually seems alright as a token of appreciation.

Bottom line: Atom is free, Sublime is “Winrar free”.

10. A note about the release cycle

This is a short one, take one quick look at Sublime’s release notes compared to Atom’s release notes. You’ll see that Atom is going ahead full throttle with new weekly releases while Sublime’s are far and in between. In fact, Atom probably already had more releases in its short lifespan than Sublime had since its inception.

Bottom line: When it comes to new releases and bug fixes Sublime is unbelievably slow, while Atom is moving super fast.

So what’s the final verdict?

It’s great to see a new major player in the text editors landscape, especially a web based one. This challenges some basic concepts and gets the conversation going – Always a good thing. Is this a fair “fight” with Sublime’s Jon Skinner and GitHub’s octocat army? Sublime is the undisputed champion with a huge community and it will always have better performance. Although if Atom’s performance issues will not push users away – Sublime better speed up the release cycle, brush up its small UX tweaks, and consider letting in more contributors because it looks like this is where Atom may finally have the upper hand.

Some kind of monster @ OverOps, GDG Haifa lead.
  • Fabian Lopez

    I haven’t tried atom but now i’m curious, very interesting

    • Alex Zhitnitsky

      Thanks Fabian, another up and coming open-source and web based editor to check out is Brackets, interesting things are happening in this space

  • Chief

    I wouldn’t exactly call `PS choco install atom` “jumping through hoops” to install on Windows. I did this yesterday and it was pretty easy 🙂 Good roundup though, I am a ST3 user who is toying with the idea of switching to ATOM or VIM.

    • Alex Zhitnitsky

      Thanks Chief, let’s settle on jumping through one hoop 😉

  • Lars Schütze

    Webupd8 Team provides a PPA which is regularly updated for Ubuntu. Just read for more.

    Atom needs some serious performance update. Until then, I’ll stick with Sublime Text.

    • Alex Zhitnitsky

      Hi Lars, thanks for the reference! Great shortcut

  • Natsirtt

    Thanks for the article. I’m gonna give Atom a try for some time as it seems to fastly catch up on Sublime, and the package managing (and the young but active community) seems really enjoyable.

    But I guess the most awesome discovery I made through this article is Chocolatey. This thing should be reaaaally must more known, especially by Frustrated-Linuxians-Forced-To-Work-On-Windows like me :p

    • Alex Zhitnitsky

      Thanks @natsirtt:disqus, happy to hear you discovered something new 🙂

    • leonardo_112233

      Off Topic for Frustrated-Linuxians-Forced-To-Work-On-Windows
      Take a look:


    • Matthew Blott

      I gave up on Chocolatey. Nothing wrong with the application – it does a great job. The issue is it’s far too easy to mess up the notorious Windows registry when installing software and Chcolately does nothing to address this. I bought Rev Installer and although it’s not a silver bullet it’s eased a lot of the stress when installing things on any of my Windows machines.

  • Samuel Williams

    Can you elaborate on the source code related issues? I personally found Atom a huge win here, with out of the box support for git unlike anything I could get working with Sublime Text.

    • Alex Zhitnitsky

      Hi Samuel, thanks for the comment! Did you mean source control? Atom has some great out of the box support for git but I didn’t find a way to commit right from the editor during the writing of this post (something that’s possible with Sublime’s Git plug-in:

      Regarding performance, since Sublime is native and written in C++ and Atom is web based, I think that it would be hard and maybe even impossible for Atom to reach the same responsiveness and speed. However, if Atom will keep focusing on improving performance it might reach the point where you wouldn’t notice the difference for most use cases.

      It’s amazing to see all the packages and community growth with in the short period of time Atom exists, but currently I think Sublime still has a broader offering when it comes to packages. Atom’s web based nature offers greater control for plug-ins so it would be interesting to see what kind of creative and useful packages will come in the future.

      • Samuel Williams

        Yeah I did mean source control, I thought I read source code as your subheading, my bad. There is the git plus package for atom which lets you commit files. Generally I prefer to use other tools for that though.

        All things being equal, you are right about performance. However, as long as they can make it fast enough, it won’t matter. I think that’s a reasonable argument. I do agree that Atom does have a pretty big performance problem.. but I’m kind of in awe at what’s been capable so far with the react editor, and if they manage to improve the core performance of WebKit/Chrome that would be amazing!

        I don’t have enough experience with Sublime Text, w.r.t. to the scale of the plugin ecosystem. I tried to use S.T. but found the git support to be generally really bad. For example, no way to change the icons or text colour in the sidebar to show git status, no *good* way to show changed lines of text. The response from IRC was “that’s just how it is”. After that I gave up with S.T. Even if you compare S.T. with TextMate, I think TextMate pretty much wins by miles if you just need an editor for a Mac. The new T.M. 2.0 alpha builds are really good.

        The main thing I really like about Atom is that I can use the same plugins on both Mac and Linux, and usually, now, Windows.

        • Alex Zhitnitsky

          Thanks, added a link to git-plus!

          Re performance, amazing to see this, seems like it’s a high priority for Chromium: especially with all the #perfmatters campaign.

          I also liked the Atom tree view better, seems like the Sublime sidebar can’t be extended this way even with plug-ins.

  • Adam

    I tried out Atom in the private beta period. It was cool, but I just didn’t feel at home without Sublime.

  • dontforgetmario

    Well written article… thanks for your work Alex…!

  • Hibiki

    I use Sublime Text 3 for coding on LibreOffice. With over 225000 files and 23000 sub-folders you could call it a big project 😉 For testing the performance of both editors I opened up the main folder in Sublime Text 3 and Atom. All source files are cashed and I opened 20 tabs with huge C++ source files. This is the output of top:

    VIRT 447396 RES 171672 SHR 5456 CPU 99,8 Memory 1,1 sublime_text
    VIRT 441452 RES 165960 SHR 5456 CPU 99,5 Memory 1,0 sublime_text
    VIRT 2397364 RES 278060 SHR 101064 CPU 4,0 Memory 1,7 atom

    Sublime seems to use a lot more ressources to deliver its fast performance. Atom is a lot cheaper in CPU power but uses a lot more memory (especially with a low number of tabs).

    A search through the whole code base with atom takes ages (even with ctag plugin) and Sublime is a lot faster (not lightning fast, but definitely finishes the job faster). In addition the search results on Sublime are much more refined and polished. I need to search the code base on a regular basis and need my results fast and organized. A job in which Atom really sucks. Especially because Atom shows you all results in the .tags file as well -.- That causes the search results “file” to be larger than 2 MB and Atom kicks out… For me that’s the killing blow against Atom.

    For small projects Atom might be okay. But if you start to use an editor for huge projects you definitely should opt for Sublime.

    • DanBangWTFRajib

      The whole article sounds too rookie after reading your comment. This is the proper way to do Comparison. Thanks for the insight.

      • Stefan Weiberg

        You’re welcome! Btw. the CPU usage of Sublime must be some peak value because of background updates. In the last weeks I had much less CPU usage by Sublime (usually around 1 to 10 % on 2 of 4 cores). Like with Atom the search does max out the CPU pretty fast 😀

    • Martin Spierings

      You can call that a huge project with probably too many files (i don’t see why any project would need over 10000 files for the programming-side. Sublime can just ignore the rest).

      For 99% of the projects i think both Atom and Sublime will do fine

      • Marius Piedallu van Wyk

        99.99% even.

  • Fabio Tatsuo

    Nice article! I am a ST3 user and I will give Atom a try. But I expect a good text editor to have a good performance. And I wish Github team can deliver it.

  • Jim

    I own Sublime Text and I prefer Atom, I like it’s hackability. Speed was quite sluggish early on and has improved. FYI: I’ve been using a minimap plugin for a while now and there are six variants available.

  • sancoLgates

    nice post, i prefer sublime anyway

  • Martin Spierings

    To clearify: Atom is currently available for Windows and has packages to show a minimap. Plus more. I think i’ll try switching in the next few weeks to see if it fits my needs

  • Umren


    No, it’s too slow.

  • Luis Panadero Guardeño

    +I use neovim for C, C++ , D , JavScript, LESS, etc

    With Java I must use Eclipse, but at least there is a vi plugin mode that…. I really miss here vim/neovim… No block mode or Ctrl+N to autocomplete…

  • mat_mcloughlin

    You forgot

    • Tom DeFrank

      not sure brackets can compete on much outside of front end development.

  • gosukiwi

    Well Atom is an editor by web developers for web developers. Sure you can use it for pretty much anything but still, I’d rather stick with a GitHub backed, open-source editor. The way it handles it’s community and extensions is much better, and it will only get better as time goes on. I don’t even know who develops Sublime but judging by the release notes, I can see it’s either a very small team or just one person.

  • Sarah V

    For a dark sidebar in Sublime Text, I recommend the Soda Dark theme.

  • AngelSatan

    So, Atom is basically a text editor created to edit itself. I heard about circular programming but this is ridiculous .

  • megadroid

    I just love when you enter a website and you get a not intrusive Lightbox type pop-up with some useful notice or ad. Because of this, I will not click on the browser’s back button and leave for good. I will comment and say “Thanks”. **Then** I will click on the browser’s back button and leave for good.

  • vincentw56

    I stopped reading after this “going ⌘+Tab (Or alt+tab god forbid)”. Apple snob?

    • Laffinkippah

      Same here. After reading that line I knew I just couldn’t take this article seriously.

  • clod

    I prefer to use Codelobster

  • karatedog

    Atom on Linux is still crap, mouse related activities have problem. Menu opening/closing or selecting a part of the text suffers from horrible errors that renders the editor unusable.

    • Felipe Tavares

      I use atom on linux for quite a time and I do not see all these issues. What window manager do you use? Also, what kind of problems do you get on the text selection?

      • karatedog

        I use Xubuntu in Virtualbox with default window manager (Xfce). For example, selecting the text with mouse won’t work. If you click on the text, drag, then release, nothing will be shown as selected, and no actions will use the selection. However selecting text with the keyboard works (Shift-Down/Up).

        • Felipe Tavares

          I am afraid this is a problem with your setup (e.g.: virtualbox) because on mine (elementary OS, native) selection and menus works just fine. Maybe something to do with mouse drivers for virtualbox?

  • Chris

    While I’ve run into several annoying bugs and issues with Atom and it is much slower overall as noted above, I’m sure all of those items will be resolved and relatively quickly where is Sublime simply can’t go as fast. Kids coming out of school will opt for the shiny and sexy and more importantly free Atom over Sublime which costs 70 and looks more dated. The Atom packages are booming and imagine won’t be long before they surpass Sublime.

    While others may be more cautious I think it’s 100% guaranteed Sublime will become the next TextMate. And Atom will be the new Sublime without a doubt. Or Sublime will be the next Firefox and Atom will be the next Chrome. Like when Apple announced it would not support Flash we all knew Flash would be dead in the water even if it would be a slow death (which it has been). But for anyone new to sublime and atom, I think they will clearly choose atom, and people who are not hard core sublime users will easily switch to atom. The hard users will wait until packages stop getting updated or made for Sublime, but most of those users stick tools like VIM anyway.

  • Mars_Ultor

    Both are great but I still love Notepad++ for its Compare plugin. (the linux version of notepadpp is hacky though)

  • Matthis Thorade

    Would be nice to see an August 2015 update on this comparison

  • Ryszard Narkiewicz

    Well, there’s been some time and Atom’s performance still not the best. I spent more than a half year with Atom, and don’t get me wrong – it’s really awesome editor. But when it comes to good work flow and a developer doesn’t have a Macbook Air like the most of “cool kids” from Github, the constant lags, hanging, big memory consumption tells the developer to better pay cash for a licence, than pay with your nerves.

  • Zoffix Znet

    On Ubuntu CTRL+SHIFT+U shortcut to type unicode doesn’t work on Sublime. A total deal breaker, when coding in Perl 6 and its juicy support for custom unicode operators.

  • ykessler

    Re performance- just trying Atom for first time, it’s faaast (in 2016, El Capitan)

    • mbokil

      For whatever reason it does run really fast on OSX. I do Angular and Node work in it and it does well for JS development. All the extensions are nifty. I am running 1.6 beta 3.

  • Fez Vrasta

    Atom seems really fast lately, not had a single problem in my daily use.

  • Tinkerer

    It appears Sublime Text 3 has been released. Regardless of what Stefan claims, Sublime Text is freakin’ fast! subl is fast as Windows Notepad.

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