10 free tools for productive programming

Ngoc Huynh

Every programmer needs a set of tools — and tools seem to be even better when they’re free. Here are 10 you can use to be more productive in your next scrum.


If you’re working solo, you probably want to put at least a copy of your code into the cloud. If you’re working as part of a team, you absolutely must have a way to share code in order to make the project happen. There are several code repositories out there, but Bitbucket — a Git service — has several things that make it a strong challenger in the space.

First, you’re able to have private repositories with a free account. That’s significant because some of the major players limit you to public repositories until you start giving them money. Next, they don’t put a limit on how many repositories you can have with a free account — they only limit the number of collaborators to five before you have to hand over a credit card number. Finally, the Atlassian folks have written a free client that works with a variety of Git and Mercurial repositories. (More on that will follow.)


Github is the largest and most widely known Git repository service. Its wide variety of public repositories (accessible through free accounts) have made Github a popular cloud service for open source teams, writers, and creative teams that span a range from app developers to environmentalists.

If your projects can live in the open, then Github is free for you to use to your heart’s content. If you need some privacy, though, you’ll have to pay at least a little bit for the privilege. With pricing that starts at the equivalent of a couple of macho-mocha-frappa-whatzit beverages each month, the cost is not a huge burden. You can always drop back to the free version when your need for privacy ends.


SourceTree is that free client for Git and Mercurial repositories I mentioned earlier in this list. This is a nice GUI client that allows you to work with repositories at a variety of services. It lowers the macho quotient, since it removes the CLI requirement, but it more than makes up for that by allowing you to collaborate with people who haven’t been programming since early Emacs days.

SourceTree isn’t perfect. There isn’t a Linux version. But if you’re using either Windows or Mac OS X for your development platform, SourceTree is a tool that could make version control easier and much more visual.


When you’re working with other developers (or with clients, or with business partners) you’ll probably need to communicate. Since email is orders of magnitude too slow for today’s business needs, an enterprise-class communication system designed with developers in mind is needed. Welcome to Slack.

Slack is a messaging system that can be thought of as a buttoned-down business ICQ. The concepts of channels and groups are similar to ICQ. Private messages are also available. It’s easy to send files and other digital assets back and forth using Slack, but Slack’s best quality for development teams may be that it saves discussions and creates a database of topics that have been discussed. That way, there’s no worry about losing the genius of a late-night, Red Bull-fueled discussion when everyone turns off their system to head for breakfast.


Trello is the embodiment of a perfect cloud app. Your lists live in the cloud, where they can be accessed from any of your devices. You can invite other Trello users to share a Trello board (which is where lists are pinned) and it becomes a group list manager in a matter of moments. Trello is free, though you can pay a few dollars a month for “Trello Gold” if you need to attach files of up to 250 MB to your list items. Trello Gold also brings you different colors for your boards, and a whole fleet of emojis. If your programming team communicates through emojis, then Gold is definitely the way to go.

Black Duck Open Hub Code Search

Do you every wonder whether someone has already solved the problem you’re working on? And whether the person who solved that problem has included it in an open source library or application? You can find the answer at Black Duck Software’s Open Hub Code Search. All it does is search — through billions and billions of lines of open source code. The learning curve is rather steep, but the payoff can be huge if it saves you from reinventing the wheel. Again.


Cyberduck is one of the applications that I’ve used for years. It is, quite simply, a great FTP client that is richly featured, open source, and available on Linux (in CLI form), MacOS X, and Windows. Cyberduck is rock-solid at doing its very basic but vital job — transferring files to and from servers, repositories, appliances, storage systems, and development workstations. It’s donation-ware, but isn’t obnoxious about it. It also has a cute rubber duck as an icon. It integrates into many other applications and, darn it, the application simply works.


NotePad++ is a Windows replacement for NotePad. It’s written in C++ (hence the name). It’s been one of the most popular text and programming editors on Windows for years. Many people feel that it strikes a great balance between features and simplicity, and I tend to agree. I used it heavily when I worked primarily on a Windows machine, and the price is certainly right.


The second of the three modern editors on our list, jEdit, is notable for two reasons. First, as an open source project it has been ported to a lot of platforms, from Windows to VMS. Next, it’s extensible through plug-ins that bring functions like grammar checking and auto-completion to different languages and systems. Finally, it’s a very solid programming editor that can be convinced to support almost any text and file creation tasks you need to perform. Are there areas to criticize? Of course. The most significant is in the display. If you have a new, very high-resolution display, jEdit can be a bit fuzzy. It’s still extremely useful, though, and could be the perfect solution if you have to work on a variety of different platforms.

Komodo Edit

The third of the modern editors to make our list is one of the applications that I use all the time. Nearly every article I’ve written in the last five years has passed through Komodo Edit because it has tools that make most of the repetitious tasks of building HTML pages simple and painless. Komodo Edit is fast. It handles big files well, and it has never crashed in the middle of a writing or editing session. I count that as winning behavior. If you want to support an entire team through Komodo Edit, you can pay for Komodo IDE, but I haven’t found a task, yet, that I couldn’t accomplish with Komodo Edit.

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