A guide to writing code on an iPad (2024)

A guide to writing code on an iPad (1)A guide to writing code on an iPad (2)

Erik Bledsoe


October 7th, 2021

Each new release of the iPad Pro generates a slew of reviews proclaiming this is the one that will finally(!) replace your laptop or claiming that it still isn't up to that task.

At the same time, though, the availability of cloud-based IDEs has reduced the need for powerful local machines by moving the compute-intensive tasks to the cloud.

Perhaps the iPad doesn’t need to replace your laptop; perhaps the cloud has already done so?

In this post, we'll take a look at the options for ditching your laptop in favor of an iPad for writing code on the go.

Why Code on an iPad?

So why would anyone want to code on an iPad? Convenience. They are smaller and lighter than most laptops, making them more portable, and the most recent generation of iPad Pro is more powerful than many laptops with its Apple M1 chip (the same chip used in MacBook Pro), 8-core CPU, and 16GB RAM.

Having a single device you can use to check email, watch movies in bed, and write code just makes life easier. And I’m not the only one that thinks so. Adrian Twarog, whose development and design-focused YouTube channel has over 100K subscribers, tried coding on an iPad for a week and racked up over 300,000 views in three months.

The Choice: native iPad apps vs. using a cloud-based IDE

There are two possibilities for writing code with an iPad. You can elect to use a native iOS app or use the iPad as a thin client to connect to an IDE running on another machine or server.

Using native iPad apps for writing code

Let’s get this out of the way up front — there is no native iOS app for VS Code — the most popular code editor by far — and given that iOS is incompatible with the Electron framework upon which VS Code is built it seems unlikely that there will ever be a VS Code iOS app. For some, this may be a deal-breaker for choosing to use a native app.

The biggest hurdle to using an iPad for coding is its lack of a runtime environment for most languages, forcing you to move your files to a server for compiling and testing.

That being said, there are a ton of code editors in the iOS app store, many of them fairly mediocre. Here are a few of the best and most popular ones.


Textastic is probably the most popular code editor for iOS, and for good reasons. It supports syntax highlighting of more than 80 programming and markup languages. Its interface is snappy and uses the native iOS framework Core Text. You can access files via FTP, SFTP and WebDAV or from Dropbox or Google Drive. It also integrates with the iOS Git client Working Copy (more below), allowing you to access projects on GitHub, GitLab, and other repositories. It has an SSH terminal built-in to let you connect to your remote servers. And, of course, it has a dark mode. It also integrates with TextExpander to help reduce some typing.

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Like Textastic, Koder has been around for over a decade. Its feature set is very similar to Textastic as well, with syntax highlighting, support for FTP, SFTP, WebDAV, Dropbox, and Google Drive file access, and integration with Working Copy for Git repositories. It is slightly less expensive than Textastic ($5.99 vs. $9.99) if you are on a super tight budget, but really the choice between the two could just come down to personal preference.

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While Textastic and Koder take the Swiss army knife approach to supported languages, Pythonista, as you might guess from the name, focuses solely upon Python. I include it here because 1) Python is my current language of choice and 2) Pythonista is a great example of an app that integrates with the OS that it runs on.

Pythonista provides a full-featured editor, includes some popular libraries like NumPy and MatPlotLib, allows you to run your scripts directly on your device, and has an integrated debugger.

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One of the best things about Pythonista is its integration with iOS. Your scripts can access data from the clipboard, your contacts, reminders, and photos, as well as your device's motion sensors and geo-location data. It also supports the split-screen feature available on iPad Air2 and newer iPad Pros.

However, you are limited to using either Python 2.7 or 3.5. Additional libraries can also be a bit of a pain to install at times.

Working Copy

If you are going to use your iPad and a native editor or IDE for anything more than playing around, you are going to need to install Working Copy so that you can access Git repositories. Working Copy is the standard Git client for iOS. The free version allows you to clone repositories, but if you want to push your commits you’ll need to purchase the paid version.

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Native development — not quite there

With the right apps, the experience of coding on an iPad using a native editor can be very good. There are workarounds for tasks like compiling that can’t be accomplished on iOS, but they are just that, workarounds. It’s fine for a hobbyist or someone learning how to code, or even occasionally for a professional developer who needs to make a quick fix while away from their primary machine. But if you make your living writing code or just spend lots of time coding, using the native apps will be too frustrating in the long run.

That’s where cloud computing comes in.

Using a cloud-based IDE for writing code on an Ipad

Cloud-based IDEs offer the developer an experience much more similar to working on their local machine. If you use your iPad as a highly portable client to access your cloud-based development environments then you can use fully-featured IDEs and skip the workarounds needed when using native iOS apps.

For professional developers and serious hobbyists, this is the way to go. Cloud-based IDEs are accessible from any device, whether that is the workstation you use on a daily basis or an iPad that you use on occasion. In many cases, they also provide far more compute power than is available on your iPad or even your laptop. And you have lots of options to fit your needs, whether you are working solo or as part of a team. Here are some of the best.


Thousands of developers use code-server every day to run VS Code on any machine and access it through the browser. It’s an open source project maintained by the developers of Coder (more specifically about Coder later). Depending upon your needs, you can install it on an old machine you have lying around or on a beefy VM. I have it running on an older Mac Mini in my home lab, and many others have installed it on a Raspberry Pi or on a low-cost (or even free) platform like Railway.

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Once it is installed you can use your iPad (or any other machine) to connect and work just as if you were running VS Code locally. There’s even a page in the docs specifically for accessing your code-server installation using an iPad.

A really handy feature of code-server is that if you start it with the --link command you'll get TLS, authentication, and a dedicated URL for accessing your IDE out of the box — no having to mess with Let’s Encrypt certificates.

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It’s also amazingly snappy. Developers who have tried coding remotely with RDP or VDI are often surprised at the lack of lag when using code-server.

With code-server you’re limited to a single user login per installation, so it’s not well suited for teams, but if you are an individual and you use VS Code exclusively, then it may be the perfect solution. It’s free and you just need to pay for the hosting.


What code-server does for VS Code, Projector does for the JetBrains family of IDEs, including IntelliJ, PyCharm, PhpStorm, RubyMine, and others. Projector is an open-source project from the folks at JetBrains. Install it on a machine and as part of the installation process it will ask you which IDE you want to run and it will download and install it as well.

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If you are part of a team of developers, you’ll probably need to step up from code-server to something more robust. GitHub Codespaces has recently launched in general availability. With a click of a button on a GitHub repository, you can launch a workspace running VS Code with up to 32 cores fully configured for working with that project. It’s powerful, it’s fast, and it’s iPad friendly.

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There are some limitations, however. Since Codespaces is tightly integrated with the GitHub interface, it can’t be used with any other repository other than GitHub. VS Code is currently the only supported IDE. Also, it is only available to organizations using GitHub Team and Enterprise plans, although individuals who managed to acquire an invitation to the beta can continue to use it indefinitely.


Coder is the commercial product from the developers who created code-server and builds upon it to add enterprise features. Like Codespaces, Coder provides easy one-click launch of developer workspaces. Coder’s platform takes a more agnostic approach to the products it supports than does Codespaces, however. Coder supports not only VS Code, but also Jupyter, RStudio, IntelliJ, PyCharm, and any other JetBrains IDE, as well as all the major Git repositories.

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After Coder engineer Joe Previte had to send his MacBook in for repairs, he wrote a blog post about how he was able to continue working productively using Coder on an iPad for two weeks.


It is absolutely possible to write code while using your iPad. Most people would still agree that the experience is better using a laptop, if for no other reason than for the larger screen options that usually provides. But in a pinch or for short periods of time, the experience can be quite nice.

For years, many developers have been waiting for the iPad hardware to improve to a point where it could be considered more than just a toy to play at coding. Ironically, just as the iPad Pro has achieved that milestone, the growing adoption of cloud-based IDEs makes the hardware you have in your hands less important than the workspace you can connect to in the cloud.

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A guide to writing code on an iPad (2024)


How do I write code on my iPad? ›

using a cloud-based IDE. There are two possibilities for writing code with an iPad. You can elect to use a native iOS app or use the iPad as a thin client to connect to an IDE running on another machine or server.

Will you ever be able to code on an iPad? ›

You can actually code full-fledged iOS apps on an iPad. You will use an app called Codea which allows you to program in Lua and test your app in the app. It is a great way to start to learn how to code and this is how I started to learn to make apps. It is a lot of fun.

Can I code C++ in iPad? ›

Easily learn how to code in C++ directly on your iPhone or iPad! Includes dozens of fun and fully interactive mini lessons and tutorials.

Can I code Python on iPad? ›

Pythonista is a complete scripting environment for Python, running directly on your iPad or iPhone. It includes support for both Python 3.6 and 2.7, so you can use all the language improvements in Python 3, while still having 2.7 available for backwards compatibility.

What is the best code editor for iPad Pro? ›

Textastic is the most comprehensive and versatile text and code editor available for iPad and iPhone. It supports syntax highlighting of more than 80 programming and markup languages. Connect to SFTP, FTP, and WebDAV servers or to your Dropbox or Google Drive account.

Which is better for programming iPad or laptop? ›

If you are getting a device for professional use cases such as coding, video editing, etc, then a laptop is what you need. But if you are not a professional or you already have a device that can do every work-related thing, then an iPad is the way to go.

Which tablet is good for coding? ›

We highly recommend the iPad Pro, the Galaxy Tab S8+, or Microsoft Surface Pro 8 if you want a powerful option that can handle most tasks. However, any of the tablets on our list would be a great choice for coding. So what are you waiting for? Get a tablet that suits your needs and start coding!

Can I learn Java on my iPad? ›

Learn Java: Programiz is a free iOS app that makes it easy to learn Java and try out what you have learned in real-time. You can use the app to follow through Java tutorials step-by-step, try out Java programs in each lesson using the in-built online Java compiler, take quizzes, and more.

Can you do Java on iPad? ›

No. iOS doesn't support any IDE, thus you cannot write, edit or run any program on iPads, M1 or not.

What is the best Python for iPad? ›

PyTo. The PyTo app is a serious contender in the Python-for-iPad space. You get Python 3.10 running locally with a nice IDE-style experience, support for editing multiple files, several bonus packages including NumPy, SciPy, Scikit-learn, and statsmodels.

Is the iPad pro good for coding? ›

Never waste your money by buying an iPad Pro for programming. It's not for programmer though you can do some learning and testing code by some app. But you can not develop real app by iPad.

Can you run Visual Studio on iPad? ›

Visual Studio Code has quickly become the text editor many people use for their day-to-day work. Its cross-platform compatibility, speed, and plethora of extensions make it an easy choice. Coder.com's code-server lets you run VSCode on a server and access it on any device, including an iPad.

Can I code C++ in iOS? ›

You can build native C++ apps for iOS, Android, and Windows devices by using the cross-platform tools available in Visual Studio.

Can I use C++ on Apple? ›

Xcode is an IDE developed by Apple themselves to develop apps for macOS and iOS or all other Operating Systems that Apple develops. It also has support for C/C++ built-in. Here, finding a C++ IDE for a macOS system is quite easy. To run a program in C++ in Mac we have to install Xcode or command-line tools for Xcode.

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