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Centre for Advanced Research Computing


ARC is UCL's research, innovation and service centre for the tools, practices and systems that enable computational science and digital scholarship


Customising Rich Text Editors

By Amanda Ho-Lyn, on 5 June 2024


Customising rich text editors within web apps offers significant benefits, particularly for researchers in Digital Humanities. While basic text editors fulfil essential functions, rich text editors (RTEs) can incorporate features such as rich text formatting and customisable styling, allowing for clearer and more engaging presentation of textual information. Whilst they provide greater benefits than regular text editors, you can further enhance them through customisation, which can greatly improve the user experience and effectiveness of communication. 

RTEs can be particularly useful in situations where researchers are working with sources where meaning is encoded in the visual layout. They enable researchers to communicate broader and more intricate ideas effectively. Features like embedded multimedia content (photos, videos, links), interactive elements (tables, footnotes), and collaborative editing tools (history, comments) can facilitate the expression and exploration of complex concepts within the text itself. These can also include adding functionality for symbols or text decorators not widely used – helpful with mathematics and ancient languages. See my post on creating custom font symbols for more details.

Customisation can also foster more connections and cohesiveness within the website or application. Integrated features such as cross-referencing, hyperlinking, and version control enhance the interconnectedness of textual content, enabling users to navigate seamlessly between related information and fostering a more immersive and engaging user experience. 

TLDR: Basic text editors are fine for simple input, Rich Text Editors are better for things with more variety and customising them can build on the functionality to enrich the quality of research done.



This somewhat depends on the structure of your project, but most likely it will be through a CDN, npm install or directly adding the package to your codebase (in the case of JavaScript). If you have a python based project, odds are you can install through pip.

From experience…

I recommend CK Editor (4) as this has worked well through both implementations and is very stable and well-established, meaning there are many plugins already written that work with it. You can, of course, write your own for even more customised functionality! The 5th version is likely also a good option, but may require a different license. There are different degrees of customisability with CK Editor, from using their basic setups to enabling any and all plugins you can find, which makes it very adaptable to a variety of projects. You could even overhaul the entire thing if you really wanted. It uses a config.js file as default but each initialisation can also be customised on an individual basis, as well.

For example, here are two different builds of the editor:

The first is quite simple, though not the most basic and has extra functionality that isn’t immediately obvious @ mentions and image browsing. The second is more populated (more plugins enabled) and also has some entirely custom functions (the Vs and Us on the second line) for adding diacriticals through Unicode. It also has @ mentions which have been implemented with more complexity due to a greater breadth of items referenced. These were each implemented through different languages (one through Python and one through JS) and whilst the way of configuring the build was different in each project, the results are stable and reliable whilst remaining flexible.

We have also used QuillJS but this was less well established and when it updated to a new major version, the old version stopped working (not great for a research project that is almost entirely text content).

TLDR: There are tonnes of options out there and it’s not always the best idea to go for the one that is the newest and most-cutting edge, particularly if you need something reliable and easy to maintain. I think CK Editor 4 is a solid choice for the next few years since it’s stable and well established, while still being flexible and customisable to your needs.

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