Local coding environments are great, but it’s often the case that I don’t want to crack open Espresso and spend a few minutes setting up to code when all I really want is to test out an idea or work on a bug. Also, sharing options for most local coding apps are limited and typically require integrating an outside app like Dropbox.
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I’ll start with CSSDesk because it’s one of the oldest on this list. It’s been around for years now as a quiet and obscure little tool that is extremely helpful for playing with basic web code. CSSDesk is a very simple tool that focuses purely on HTML and CSS.
What I Like About CSSDesk
There are a lot of things that I just love about CSS Desk. There are three main sections: HTML, CSS and live preview, the sizes of which can all be easily tweaked with a click and drag. I like that you can easily see everything you need in one simple view. There’s no effort or setup here, just load the page and start creating.
There’s also basic syntax highlighting just like all of the other tools on this list. However, one fairly unique feature that you don’t often see in these types of tools is line numbers. It’s such a simple addition but I tend to like line numbers so I really appreciate the inclusion.
The toolbar features are pretty cool as well, providing some options that you simply don’t find other places. In addition to the standard sharing feature, you also have the option to download what you just built. Further, there’s a set of default tiling background textures that are applied if you don’t manually override them. These are fun if you’re just building a button or widget of some kind and want something other than the typical plain white background.
What I Don’t Like About CSSDesk
Honestly, there’s not much to dislike about this one. Sure, it’s simple and doesn’t have some of the fancy features the other options have, but that’s also what makes it great. I hardly ever use this one anymore but every time I do it’s so nice I think I should stop by more often.
What I Like About JS Bin
There are quite a few nice features on JS Bin. The first thing that I found myself appreciating is the fact that refreshing the page doesn’t kill your work. The preview updates automatically but for those rare times when you do need a manual refresh, it’s nice that your first instinct (Command-R) doesn’t result in the accidental loss of an hour’s worth of tinkering.
What I Don’t Like About JS Bin
To be honest, JS Bin is my least favorite option on this list. It’s not bad, but it definitely lacks the charm of the others. One thing that always gets me is that there’s no dedicated place for CSS, forcing you to embed it into your HTML. This works just fine, but it’s not as nice as the intentional separation seen in the other options.
jsFiddle has completely taken off in the past few months to a year and is probably the most popular option on this list at the moment. And for good reason, this is one amazing app. Let’s face it, once you dig into jsFiddle, you may never look at any of the other options again.
What I Like About jsFiddle
jsFiddle lets you create a login and view a dashboard of your past saved work. There are a ton of menu options and tools once you’ve saved a fiddle, my favorites are the ability to quickly create a fork and the option to automatically tidy up your messy code structure.
One last amazing jsFiddle option that I only just discovered the other day: you can embed fiddles into a webpage. This option is found under the share menu and is a great alternative to other code embedding services.
What I Don’t Like About jsFiddle
My main beef with jsFiddle is the lack of an auto update option for the preview. Once you’ve used all the other options on this list and experienced the joys of auto update, it’s hard to put up with manual refreshes every few seconds in jsFiddle.
As far as other features go, it’s the best on the list but that one annoyance often drives me elsewhere if I just want to bust out a quick test. Keyboard shortcuts help, but they’re still not as nice as something automatic.
What I Like About Dabblet
By default, Dabblet is split into three tabs: CSS & Result, HTML & Result and Result. This provides flexibility and focus while allowing you to always keep an eye on the result.
Dabblet has some great saving options as well such as “save anonymously.” It also links to your GitHub account, which coding nerds like will love.
My favorite Dabblet feature is the super slick hover effect integration in the CSS. They’re easier to show that describe. Here two few examples:
As you can see, hovering over certain bits of CSS brings up these little tooltips that are really great. You can get previews for fonts, colors, sizes, and even images.
What I Don’t Like About Dabblet
Dabblet is a bit quirky from a visual perspective, you either love it or hate it. I personally really enjoy using it but really wish that I had more control over the panel size. Having an auto 50/50 split is great, but I should be able to manually adjust that however I choose.
As far as I know, there’s also no way to view your HTML and CSS at the same time, which is a little annoying if you’re used to options like jsFiddle where you can keep an eye on everything at once.
Tinkerbin is the closest alternative to jsFiddle that I’ve found. Though it doesn’t have all of the fancy features found in jsFiddle, it has a few tricks of its own that are really nice.
What I Like About Tinkerbin
Tinkerbin is the only option that allows you to swap out your preview for a nice, extensive “View Source” window.
What I Don’t Like About Tinkerbin
Even more so than Dabblet, the Tinkerbin layout is completely rigid. Sure, I like the default setup the best, but sometimes I want to make that preview wider and I simply don’t have the option here.
Further, the saving options aren’t the best. There’s no account setup, dashboard, GitHub integration, etc. You simply save your experiments to a shortened URL.
By now I’m sure you can see the benefits of having a few of these sites bookmarked. I encourage you to experiment as often as possible with new ideas to keep yourself fresh and these services provide an awesome way to do it.
I hope this review has served as a helpful look into the details of each of these solutions. You should now know not only what makes each option unique but also where each falls short. This will help you make an informed decision about which one or two to primarily focus on.
I personally bounce back and forth with all of them fairly regularly but lately I’ve been hanging out mostly in jsFiddle, Dabblet and Tinkerbin. Which of these is your favorite and why?