A variety of front-end code playgrounds have appeared over the years. Most offer a quick and dirty way to experiment with client-side (and sometimes server-side) code then share it with others. The most popular is CodePen, which you’ve most likely seen around or even used. It’s a great tool, but doesn’t offer everything your pen might need. Here’s our look at seven of the best, comparing CodePen and a number of CodePen alternatives.
Online coding playgrounds typically include:
- code command auto-complete
- a preview window which (normally) live reloads without a manual refresh
- HTML preprocessors such as HAML
- Less, Sass, Stylus, and similar CSS preprocessors
- developer consoles and code validation tools
- coding collaboration facilities
- sharing via a short URL
- embedding demonstrations in other pages
- code cloning and forking
- copying to code repositories such as GitHub
- zero cost for a basic service
- further premium services for a small monthly charge
- a way to show off your coding skills to the world!
They allow you to test and keep experimental code snippets without the rigmarole of creating files, firing up your editor, or running a local server.
Let’s look at some of the better options.
CodePen PRO provides private Pens, asset hosting, a collaboration mode, and themes for embedded iframes starting from $8 per month.
JSFiddle concentrates on code so you won’t find a range of social features such as highlighted demonstrations and sharing facilities. The interface is simpler than others and, unusually, you must hit Run to reload the results pane. However, it always feels snappy and its simplicity may be preferable to some.
imports may be possible). CodeSandbox is less of a playground and more of an online development environment.
Like standard web projects, you can add any number of files and edit them using a multi-tab, VS Code-like integrated development environment (aka IDE). It’s free to sign up using a GitHub or Google account, but you can then collaborate with others in real time, export projects to a Git repository, and deploy to static site hosts such as Netlify and Vercel.
CodeSandbox could be a practical option if you’re working remotely or using a non-typical development device such as a Chromebook.
PLAYCODE features a log console and, unusually, it allows you to control the size and update frequency of the preview window. The editor is free, but you must sign in with Google, Microsoft, GitHub, or an email account to save projects.
There’s an active community of contributors. Most appear to submit Angular demonstrations, but it also supports vanilla JS, React, and Preact starter templates.
There are, of course, many other code playgrounds including Glitch, ESNextBin, JSitor, Liveweave, Dabblet and more. StackBlitz is a newer playground which supports front-end development but also allows you to experiment with back-end code using Node.js, Next.js, and GraphQL.
Tip: to try out StackBlitz, just type “node.new” (without the quotes) into your browser’s address bar.
Did we miss your favorite? Tell us about it!
For more options which share back-end code, head over to James Hibbard’s round-up of online back-end code playgrounds.
If you want something similar but you’d rather not be online when messing with code, check out Web Maker and refer to SitePoint’s “Web Maker, an Offline, Browser-based CodePen Alternative” tutorial.