By Craig Buckler

Will You Code In The Cloud?

By Craig Buckler

Bespin screenshotMozilla Labs recently unveiled Bespin (which appears to be pronounced “Beh-spin” rather than “Bee-spin”). Bespin will provide a fully-functioning code editor that’s integrated directly into your web browser.

Mozilla’s goal is to create a fast, easy-to-use editor that’s not intimidating, and is accessible from anywhere. The system will offer an extensible API to encourage third-party extensions and Ubiqity-like natural language commands for full control over the editor and its interface.

However, Bespin’s most interesting feature is likely to be real-time collaboration. You and your coding colleagues will be able to work on the same files at the same time and see each other’s changes as they happen. That will certainly appeal to all keyboard-sharing programmers using agile development methods.

If you’re using Firefox 3, version 0.1 of Bespin is live and can be tested at It’s very much a proof of concept and lacks features found in some of the most basic editors. HTML, CSS and JavaScript files are supported, although I wouldn’t recommend doing any real work just yet.

Online code editors are not a new idea. However, most projects are quite basic and usually implement an enhanced version of an HTML <textarea> with line numbering and colour-coding. Even at this stage, Bespin implements functionality that is more advanced than any of its competitors.

The most interesting aspect about Bespin is the technology behind the editor itself. Mozilla have used a single HTML5 canvas element to implement the text editing, colour-coding, line numbering, highlighting, scrollbars, and the whole interface. Amazingly, it has been achieved with just 62Kb of compressed JavaScript. Using canvas in this way is a novel idea, and I suspect it will influence many other projects.

Bespin is possibly a little ahead of its time. It will be handy for quick web site updates or perhaps live online presentations, but it has a long way to go before developers abandon their favourite desktop-based editor.

Would you trust your code with online code editors such as Bespin? Could it ever offer the speed, features, security, and flexibility of your current IDE? Real-time collaboration is useful, but would you need it every day?

  • Jasc

    If they can get snippets and real code formatting in there then it has potential. If they can make online file organization faster than some random SVN implementation they might get peoples attention. I hate SVN.

  • One major pro I can think of is not having to have a license for every machine you plan to use it on.

  • Josh Kendall

    Of course it’s pronounced “Beh-spin” anyone who has seen Star Wars: Return of the Empire could tell you that. :)

    It looks nice, but I doubt I’ll ever use it since TextMate runs locally without the need of an internet connection.

  • I’ve been wanting something like this to use in a CMS (for editing CSS and the Source/HTML view of WYSIWYG editors) for a long time. Editing that stuff in plain textareas is really annoying.

    The closest thing I could find was CodePress but that also seems to be in the early stages of development (pre 1.0 release).

  • Anonymous

    I don’t see the point of this at all, so I should abandon my editor with all the shortcuts for a web based implementation that doesn’t have remotely the amount of functionality?

  • Bespin definitely has possibilities within a CMS. But Mozilla’s ambitions go further – would you consider using it to develop a CMS?

  • 2 of the past 3 front page articles dedicated to bespin?

  • JediCharles

    Well, obviously it’s pronounced beh-spin. Bespin doesn’t even have bees, it’s atomosphere is too hot and poisonous. Maybe they could live in Cloud City but the biological filters would probably keep them out.

  • Let’s not forget. Going to Bespin seemed like a great idea at first. Until it was revealed to be a trap.

  • Some Star Wars fans you are. It’s “Star Wars: Return of the Revenge of the Phantom Jedi Strikes Back”

  • Druiven

    nicest thing is people developing this enthousiasticly ( prob not good english sorry for that), but why o why we have this fast CPU’s and than slow everything down becouse we want to do it in a browser window. Looking forward for the air solution, which at least uses the pc and internet at the same time. But i like enthousiastic coders.

  • I won’t be that excited about Bespin until it or some similar technology is integrated with code hosting sites like GitHub or Google Code. I want to be able to host and edit my code in the same place. Then, let me also deploy that code, changes and all, to a server of my choice.

    This is something that, for example, Google should jump on immediately, considering their recent App Engine moves. Right now, Bespin is just one piece of the puzzle, but it’s not a compelling picture until the other pieces are put together alongside it.

  • ace

    I won’t, im afraid of the height.

  • Dorsey

    Suppose you want to develop something other than static pages; that is, a database-driven web site? How and where does that fit in? Once the pages are laid out by a graphic artist, the hard work begins and all the CSS tricks in the world won’t help create the backbone of an e-commerce site.

  • It certainly wouldn’t be possible with the current version of Bespin. However, a local installation of the editor on your server could make it feasible.

    There is also the possibility that Mozilla will implement an automated FTP-like process that downloads your latest file for editing then uploads the changed version for testing. Supplement that with an improved editor and Source Control and you’d never need to use a desktop-based IDE again. That’s the theory, but we’re some way off from it being a reality.

  • Hell no … don’t trust the cloud, or the companies that live in it. And it’s not really a case of material trust, it’s a case of reliability. Stuff is just too important to be left to the vagueries of the vast, dumb network that is the internet.

  • Morgaine O’Herne

    I’m seeing the potential for teaching. I work with clients who are not tech-savvy but who want to learn and to be as involved in the process as possible, and I’d like to encourage that. If I could work with them this way, it might be a lot of fun for both of us.
    One thing I can see using it for: a client wants to change the text on his mainpage. I can bring up Bespin, highlight exactly where the text is that needs changed, and he can take it from there.

  • Teaching is a very good idea. You could eventually use Bespin to run interactive coding courses, run helpdesks, or monitor students. Whilst not every coder will be happy to use an online editor, it does offer some interesting opportunities.

  • Gareth

    Do i ultra cloud points, by trying to get bespin installed on my cloud hosting with Mosso / Rackspace??? :D

  • Mike Argon

    Interesting, but it does not seem to work for me. I found an alternative from a service called They allows code editing directly from files stored on any cloud you have plugged into their platform such as Amazon S3, Mosso Cloud Files, etc. They also support pluggin and FTP directory into their platform so you can treat it as a cloud. You can find out more at

Get the latest in Front-end, once a week, for free.