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How to use TextWrangler as a remote file editor

If you need to access a file or two on a remote server running SSH, then you can use TextWrangler's FTP browsing features to quickly do this.

If you regularly access remote servers using the secure shell (SSH) command in your Mac's Terminal, often you will do so to simply edit a configuration file or two. This is normally done using a Terminal-based text editor such as vi, nano, or emacs; however, even though these programs can be fairly powerful options, often they simply lack in both ease and capability when compared to GUI-based editors like the TextWrangler, a popular and free editor from BareBones software.

Unfortunately being a full GUI application, TextWrangler will not run in the Terminal so you cannot use a remote copy of it through an SSH connection as you can with the vi, nano, or emacs options. While one workaround for this is to enable OS X screen sharing on the remote server and then connect to it to install and run TextWrangler remotely, you can also simply use a local installation of TextWrangler itself to establish a connection and browse the remote server for files you wish to edit.

TextWrangler's FTP browser
In TextWrangler's FTP browser you can check the SFTP option to browse a server that is running the remote log-in (SSH) service (click for larger view). Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNEt

To use this feature, first get and install TextWrangler on your system and then launch the program. Then select "Open from FTP/SFTP Server" in the File menu, and you will see the program's FTP browser window appear. Enter the IP address or URL for the remote computer, followed by checking the "SFTP" option and providing your username and password, and then click the Connect button.

When the connection is established, the system will display the remote system's files in list view, which you can browse through and select to open in TextWrangler. Unfortunately there is no option to use Column or Icon view, but for most purposes List view should work just fine. TextWrangler provides options to create new files and folders at the specified location, and also allows you to delete files and folders. In addition you can adjust access permissions using the Info button.

TextWrangler FTP browser permissions settings
TextWrangler can access and edit hidden files, including changing permissions settings. Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET

A convenient aspect of the TextWrangler file browser is that it shows all files, even hidden ones, so you can access them for editing without having to run commands to reveal hidden items in the Finder or otherwise display them before you edit them.

Since this option in TextWrangler cuts out the need to keep an active Terminal session for making remote edits, it can help enhance customizations, especially to Web content where you might be editing JavaScript or HTML files or other served content that is not dependent on the reinitialization of a daemon or other running process to load and show effect.

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