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Runestone: A Streamlined Text and Code Editor for iPhone and iPad

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Runestone is the latest app from Simon Støvring, the developer behind Scriptable, Jayson and Data Jar. Støvring’s apps tend to focus on developer or automation use cases, filling gaps in the iOS and iPadOS ecosystem to help power users. Runestone mostly falls into the same category, although it also has broader potential appeal for general-purpose writing.

The new app works as a great plain text editor for anyone who needs to write on their iPhone or iPad. It’s simple and thoughtfully designed, and includes a variety of great themes to enhance your writing experience. Runestone’s selectable feature, however, is its syntax highlighting. For Markdown writers, the app will use simple color schemes (which can be changed to your liking using theme settings) and subtle styling changes to highlight your links, bold and underlined words. italics, footnotes, etc. The result is a very simple, mostly plain-text approach that still makes it easy to see your markup at a glance.

While Runestone works great as an app for writers (I wrote this entire article using it, and it was a pleasant experience), it’s ultimately a crowded category with many other editors just as simple ones that include more writer-focused features. It’s nice that Runestone can perform this use case if needed, but where the app really shines is in a much less text-heavy region on iOS and iPadOS: code editing.

The most essential function of any code editor is syntax highlighting, and that’s what Runestone is designed for. The app currently supports highlighting 28 different file formats, including those of most popular coding languages ​​such as JavaScript, Java, Python, Rust, and Swift. When you open a code file, Runestone automatically detects the language and highlights the code for you. If you open an unknown file format, you can always tap the file title at the top center of the screen to manually set the language to highlight.

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In my tests, Runestone’s syntax highlighting was incredibly fast and reliable. I’ve tried many code editors for iOS and iPadOS over the years, and performance and reliability were the main areas where they fell for me. Opening complex code files can freeze editors and highlighting often starts to flicker and fail while editing.

I’ve run quite large and complicated code files on Runestone and so far haven’t seen it miss a beat. I even dug up some awful old code from a previous job that I was once responsible for refactoring – we’re talking over 10,000 lines of bad spaghetti JavaScript in a single file – and threw it at Runestone. I had good code editors on my mac I choke trying to highlight these files, but with Runestone I couldn’t even detect a difference between opening them and opening a file with just ten lines of code. Highlighting was there instantly, scrolling was instantly available, and highlighting stayed perfect when editing code. It’s the most capable code editor I’ve ever seen on an iPad.

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Runestone is a free app with an in-app purchase of $9.99 to unlock its “Premium” level of features. Premium targets developers quite heavily for writing code, so if you’re just looking to write Markdown or other plain text in Runestone, the free tier will likely satisfy all your needs. For developers, Runestone Premium brings a host of excellent quality of life improvements that are well worth the cost. Among them: line numbers; custom themes; options for app icon; a page guide to indicate when it might be time to wrap your line of code; a line highlighter for the currently selected line; space indicators for tabs, spaces, and line breaks; a vertical scroll buffer at the bottom of your file, the ability to change line height and letter spacing; and more. Plus, the Premium tier unlocks a wonderful, nostalgic little mini-game surprise that I won’t spoil here, but love.

Especially once you’ve unlocked Premium, Runestone includes a host of nice settings that developers can tweak to get their coding experience exactly to their liking. I was able to match Runestone almost exactly to my setup in Nova, my favorite code editor on the Mac.

Runestone also includes other great developer-focused features beyond syntax highlighting, including connecting and editing files on a remote server, advanced search and replace using RegEx, formatting code using Prettier, a “Go to line” function, smart auto-indentation (plus readily available commands to change the indentation backwards or forwards), and more. This app is packed with cool features that iPad developers have long awaited.

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The one thing Runestone badly needs to become a true the code editor is tabs. Currently, Runestone can only open one file at a time, which is ultimately the application’s most limiting factor. I think Runestone’s ease of use and great feature set could allow it to develop legitimate code with just the addition of this functionality. Luckily, the Runestone dev noted that the tabs needed to be cut from the initial release, so hopefully they don’t come too far down the line.

If you’re a developer who loves using the iPad, I highly recommend checking out Runestone. iPadOS is still missing a lot demands of a true developer ecosystem, but getting a viable code editor isn’t a bad place to start changing that. For now, especially without tabs, Runestone can be confined in your development workflow to minor changes along the way. But as version 1.0, this app has huge potential. I haven’t been excited about an iPad code editor since Panic’s Diet Coda a whole decade ago, but Runestone has me excited again.

You can find Runestone on the App Store, where it’s available as a free download for iPhone and iPad.

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