Fifteen years ago, most online collaboration and remote work involved email threads, Skype calls, and endlessly re-zipping projects for sharing after each iteration.
Things have changed a lot — most things for better (Google Docs!) and some things for worse (always-on messaging). Either way, it’s fair to say that a lot of the friction has been removed from remote work.
One traditionally high friction area has been cracking real-time code collaboration. But that’s been changing in recent years as developers working on the world’s top code editors have put forward their solutions.
Whether you work on a distributed team and need collaborative coding tools to serve you every day, or just need something for the occasional problem-solving session with a friend, you’ll find something you can use here.
1. Visual Studio Live Share
Visual Studio Live Share is Microsoft’s own real-time collaborative development solution for Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code.
Live Share allows teams to collaborate on a shared codebase easily — nobody needs to clone a repo, and everyone can use their own development environment. Each person can perform actions like navigating between files, making changes to code, selecting text, and see them reflected for everyone immediately.
Live Share shares everything from files to terminals and audio, offers features for collaborative debugging, and is free. If you’re already a VS Code user, this choice is a no-brainer.
2. Teletype for Atom
Teletype for Atom, an early entrant in this wave of real-time code collaboration tools despite its ongoing beta status, allows Atom users to share their workspace with team members.
While Live Share users can move around a project freely, Teletype is a little more host-centric. After the host opens a “portal”, their active tab becomes a shared workspace, and collaborators follow the host as they move between files. Teletype is useful, but probably not as suited to open-ended collaborative development as Live Share.
3. Remote Collab for SublimeText
Remote Collab brings virtual pair programming to SublimeText. Remote Collab is a barebones plugin, but if you’re invested in SublimeText it might do the trick for you.
Each session is bound to a particular document. Once the host has begun a session, collaborators just need the host’s IP address to join, and any changes made will be reflected across machines.
4. CodeSandbox Live
Users can make a sandbox live and share the URL with collaborators. You can determine whether anyone can edit at will, or control who can edit at a given time (classroom mode). File changes, dependency changes, and selections are all kept up-to-date across sessions.
Most of CodeSandbox is free, but if you want access to premium features like private sandboxes, you can choose how much to pay each month as a patron.
Codeanywhere is a browser-based development environment that aims to help you code from any device without friction — editor, terminal, revision tracking, and other features all included. Codeanywhere has a collaborative focus. For example: instead of having to zip up your project every time you want to share it, you can generate a sharing link instantly.
The feature of interest here is Codeanywhere’s live pair programming. Like Live Share or Teletype, this promises a Google Docs style of document editing, with no limit on the number of collaborators. Another feature cribbed from Docs: click on your collaborator’s icon and you’ll be taken to the line they’re working on.
Unlike the previous entrants, Codeanywhere is not free — it’ll cost you anywhere from $2.50/month to $50/month, depending on plan tier and billing frequency.
Each user’s changes, selections, and settings changes are reflected in Collab Mode, and there’s a live chat area built in, in case you’re not already coordinating via your usual chat app or a call.
The pen’s owner can decide whether to save the changes, and collaborators can fork the results off into their own pens.
While you’re probably not doing your primary development out of a CodePen, this is a great way to run through a troubleshooting session with a friend or coworker, conduct interviews, or collaborate in other ad hoc situations.
CodePen Pro costs anywhere from $8/month to $39/month, depending on plan tier and billing frequency, and places collaborator limits on each tier: 2 person, 6 person, and 10 person.
Wrapping It Up
It’s a great time to be a remote developer — there are a lot of solid tools out there for collaborating on code. We hope this helped you find the right one for you. If you’re struggling to narrow it down, though, we’d recommend Visual Studio Live Share for most situations, and CodePen for ad hoc collaboration.
Let us know about your favorite code collaboration tools in the comments!