13 fonts to make a programmer smile

Software developers have strong opinions about the best font to use when writing and looking at code all day; here are a number of the most popular ones

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When you think of things that software programmers obsess over, typography probably doesn’t jump to mind. But when it comes to the best font to use when writing code, developers can get surprisingly passionate. Given the number of hours that programmers stare at code on a computer screen, though, it really shouldn’t be surprising.

The best programming fonts, it’s generally agreed, should, among other things, be monospaced (for code alignment), sans-serif, readable at (often times) a small font size and clearly distinguish between certain common characters (e.g., zero from the letter O, lower case L from the number 1).

Here are some of the most popular fonts with developers over the last 20+ years.

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Created by Susan Kare for Apple, Monaco was introduced with the original Mac OS, System 1, in 1984 and became the default font for the Mac with the release of System 6 in 1988. It is still included with OS X today, though it was replaced as the default typeface by Menlo with the release of OS X v10.6 (Snow Leopard) in 2009. Monaco has been popular with developers working on Macs for many years, though its dominance has waned with the rise of other fonts like Consolas.

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Andale Mono

Designed by Monotype’s Steve Matteson specifically for use in software engineering as part of the joint Apple and IBM Taligent project in the early 1990’s. While Taligent ultimately didn’t go anywhere, Andale Mono lived on when Microsoft licensed it (and a number of other fonts) from Monotype as part of its Core fonts for the Web in 1996. Apple later licensed Microsoft’s core fonts and began including Andale Mono with OS X starting with Lion in 2004. Andale Mono was replaced in Windows ME and onward with Lucida Console, but remains part of OS X.

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Monofur is a freeware font created by Tobias Benjamin Köhler in 2000, based on the eurofence typeface (itself based on the Malvern font designed for TeX in the early 1990s). It’s one of the more quirky fonts among those favored by programmers (for things like its unique “e” and “g”). As one developer put it, these designs “add a bit of character and playfulness!”

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Proggy Clean

One of family of free, bitmapped monospaced fonts designed for and created by programmers. The original Proggy fonts (Clean, Square, Small and Tiny) were created by Tristan Grimmer in 2004 and have since been augmented with a number of variations (e.g., slashed zero instead of dotted zero) contributed by other programmers. Each is designed to look good at a specific font size and are not meant to be used with anti-aliasing.

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DejaVu Sans Mono

Part of a family of fonts derived from Bitstream’s open source Vera fonts, the  DejaVu fonts essentially extend Bitstream Vera to cover more of Unicode. These free-licensed and group-maintained fonts were started in 2004 by Štěpán Roh, who told CNET that Vera was “lacking certain glyphs needed for the Czech language,” and thus began a great example of open source collaboration applied outside the typography world. Since then, many other Vera derivatives have been absorbed into DejaVu.

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Designed by Dimitar Zhekov around 2006 for long hours of programming, Terminus is a bitmapped, open source font often used in vi and emacs. The bitmapped version is available in a wide range of sizes for many Unix/Linux and Windows. It’s also available in TrueType format. As with all the open source fonts, people have tweaked it to match their specific preferences.

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Consolas is one of six fonts (and the only monospaced one) developed by Microsoft based on its ClearType antialiasing technology that were first shipped with Windows Vista in 2006 and Microsoft Office 2007. It was designed by Luc(as) de Groot specifically for use in programming (in fact, he consulted with programmers during the development of it for testing purposes) with proportions that are closer to normal text than other monospaced fonts to make for easier reading on screen. It’s also become popular on OS X, as it comes bundled with things like Microsoft Office and BBEdit.

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An open source font heavily influenced by - and a free alternative to - Consolas, Inconsolata was created by Ralph Levien. Levien described it as a “humanist sans design” that was also influenced by IBM’s Letter Gothic and some Japanese Gothic fonts. Being open source, others have taken the Inconsolata ball and run with it, tweaking things like adding the Cyrillic alphabet, adding straight single/double quotes and switching to a dotted zero.

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Droid Sans Mono

The advent of smartphone and tablets led, naturally, to the need for new fonts that display well on these smaller screens. In response, Steve Matteson and Ascender Corporation designed the Droid family of open-source fonts in 2007 for use, originally, on Android powered devices. Droid Sans Mono, similar to Matteson’s earlier Andale Mono, has gained favor among programmers and the fact that it’s open source has allowed for the rectification of its one significant problem for developers: the similarity of the letter O and the number zero.

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A font designed by Jim Lyles for Apple, Menlo is a child of Vera Mono (also designed by Lyles) and DejaVu Sans Mono. It was first shipped with OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) in 2009 at the same time that they moved from the proprietary dfont format to TrueType fonts. Menlo replaced Monaco as Apple’s default font for Terminal. The difference between Vera/DejaVu Sans Mono and Menlo are small, the most significant being that Menlo has a slashed zero (instead of a dotted one), a larger asterisk, and a longer hyphen.

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Anonymous Pro

Anonymous Pro is an open source font created by Mark Simonson in 2009, as an update to his earlier Anonymous font family, which itself was a version of Anonymous 9, created for Macs in the 1990s. Anonymous Pro fixes some of the issues with Anonymous to make it more palatable to programmers, such as changing the direction of the slash in the zero to match other programming fonts. Available in a universal TrueType format, Anonymous Pro is also available in bitmapped versions for a handful of specific point sizes.

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Ubuntu Mono

The makers of Ubuntu, Canonical, funded the development of the Ubuntu family of fonts, meant to “complement the Ubuntu tone of voice.” The design of Ubuntu Mono was led by Amélie Bonet of Dalton Maag beginning in fall 2010 and became the default system monospace font for Ubuntu starting with version 11.10 in 2011. Some consider it similar - and another free alternative - to Consolas, with one of the main differences being Ubuntu Mono has a dotted zero, rather than a slashed one.

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Source Code Pro

An open source font designed by Paul D. Hunt for Adobe, Source Code Pro was released in 2012, quickly rising in popularity among developers. It is, essentially, a monospaced version of Hunt’s and Adobe’s earlier Source Sans family, designed especially for coding. For example, it provides a greater differentiation between upper and lower case letters. As with Source Sans, it’s available in six different weights, though, as many note, it’s one current drawback is the lack of an italicized version.