A simple terminal text editor written in Go

I build a simple text editor in the terminal here.


Similar to MVC pattern, a text editor has three independent modules:

  1. controller: to handle customer keyboard input and dispatch for further processing.
  2. model: to store what customer is working on and process necessary business logic.
  3. view: to render user interface of the editor


You can think of the editor is in an infinite loop. First we clear the screen and render the viewable text document content in stdout. The content view is decided by the position of the cursor and the size of the terminal screen. Then we listen on the key input at stdin in order to modify the text document or execute corresponding commands.

for {
    editor.display.DrawScreen(e.buf, e.cursorX, e.cursorY)
    if editor.process() {

How to Handle Key Input

We listen to Stdin rune by rune. Regular keys take one rune, thus a single input will be sent to processing once captured. Special keys, also called the escape keys, take multiple runes. Escape keys always start with rune of value 27. Therefore if we listen to a rune of value 27, we will continue reading the following runes in Stdin. For example, if an arrow up key is pressed, it will send three runes altogether. We need to read them all. The third rune of value 65 will give its meaning. Once we figure out which key a customer has pressed, we can continue either putting regular keys into the document or executing special actions such as move cursors around or quitting the editor.

if r == 27 {
    if e.reader.Buffered() == 0 {
		return ESCAPE
    for i := 0; i < 3; i++ {
        r, _, err = e.reader.ReadRune()
        if err != nil {
            return UNKNOWN
        if i == 1 {
            switch r {
            case 65: return ARROW_UP
            case 66: return ARROW_DOWN
            case 67: return ARROW_RIGHT
            case 68: return ARROW_LEFT

How to Store and Modify Document

We need some ways to store the text that is currently being processed. Given the strong computation power of modern machine, I use a single “big” string to store the text. I am going through how each actions will modify this string to process text.

Insert a word

If a customer type a word at current cursor, this word will be inserted in the cursor position. This can be done by inserting the word into the string. Since cursor position is in 2 dimension, we need to convert it into the corresponding index of our string as below:

func (b *Buffer) getIdx(x, y int) int {
    idx := 0
    for idx, _ = range b.txt {
        if x == 0 && y == 0 {
        if x > 0 && b.txt[idx] == rune('\n') {
        if x == 0 {
        if b.txt[idx] == rune('\n') {
    return idx

Insert a new line

Inserting a new line is similar to insert a regular word by putting \n in the corresponding position

Insert a tab

Tab is quite tricky since it is hard to determine its position just based on cursor. One way is to convert tab to spaces and store them in the buffer, yet it can break some file if it requires tab to execute, such as Fortran or Assemble. Another way is to store tab as \t and then forbid cursor from moving in-between those spaces.

Delete a word

Similar to insertion, we can simply shrink the string to drop word at corresponding position. We do not need to worry about deleting the newline since we consider it as a regular word.

Move cursor around

Cursor position is tracked so that we can do insertion or deletion at the correct index. One thing to notice is that, we need to fix the position if customer is moving the cursor out of bound. For example, if customer tries to move the cursor to the right at the end of line, the cursor is actually re-positioned to the beginning of next line. Another thing to notice is that deleting a line breaker or insert a new line, we need to move the cusor to the end of previous line or to the beginning of the next line, respectively.

One more thing is that we handle scrolling in display module and allow cursor to move freely within the document.

How to Display Document

The editor view is rendered by converting our text object, a list of runes into actually document. We render special character such as tab and line breaker in the screen. We also need to determine which part of document can be rendered, so that we can allow customer to scroll around.


We keep tracking two variables offsetX and offsetY. So the current viewable area is [offsetX, offsetX + viewX, offsetY, offsetY + viewY]. viewX and viewY are the length and width of current terminal. If the cursor is moving outside of this area, we need to update offsetX and offsetY.

func (d *Display) scroll(cursorX int, cursorY int) {
    if cursorX >= d.offsetX+d.viewX {
        d.offsetX = cursorX - d.viewX + 1
    } else if cursorX < d.offsetX {
        d.offsetX = cursorX
    if cursorY >= d.offsetY+d.viewY {
        d.offsetY = cursorY - d.viewY + 1
    } else if cursorY < d.offsetY {
        d.offsetY = cursorY

Then we can use offsetX to get viewX number of lines to display and for each line, we only display character after index offsetY.

Learning and Findings

  1. Go has native support to process UTF8 by using runes
  2. Terminal control in Go need to be tailored for each operating system. For example, control flag to access term of OSX (freebsd) and Linux is different.
  3. Converting 2D position in view and 1D index in text object can be tedious.