If you spend a lot of time in SAS Enterprise Guide (as I do), you probably get to know its features pretty well. But we don't always take the time to explore as we should, so there might be a few golden nuggets of editor knowledge that have escaped you so far. Here are 10 program editor features that I've found essential while writing, editing, and debugging SAS programs. How many of these do you already know and use?
1. Turn on the line numbers
We programmers like to count lines of code. The SAS log often uses line numbers to reference problems in WARNINGs and ERRORs. So of course, you should have line numbers displayed in the program editor. But they aren't on by default. Go to Program → Editor Options and select "Show line numbers" to turn them on.
2. Get the tabs out (or leave them in)
Tabs or spaces? Your choice here can have a significant effect on your earning potential, and perhaps even on your love life. Most code editors have options that support your choice, regardless of which camp you choose. SAS Enterprise Guide offers these:
- Tab size - width of a tab character, represented in number of spaces. Default is 4, but I like to use 2 as it makes my program lines less wide.
- Insert spaces for tabs - when you press the TAB key, don't add a TAB character but instead add the specified number of space characters.
- Replace tabs with spaces on file open - a perfect passive-aggressive option when working with team members who disagree with your TAB world view. This option will change TAB characters to spaces when you open the program file. If you must retain the TAB characters...well, my main advice is do not rely on TAB characters in your code file. But if you must for some crazy reason, don't select this option and sign a pact with your teammates for the same.
3. Define abbreviations for commonly used code
The most common code snippet that I reuse is a LIBNAME statement that points to my project data. To save on typing and mistakes, I've saved this as an editor abbreviation. When I begin to type the alias I've assigned to the snippet, the program editor offers to complete it for me. The custom abbreviation is presented along side all of the other built-in syntax suggestions.
See more about editor abbreviations in this article.
4. Let the editor format your code
As shown in the vigorous "TABS vs spaces" debate, programmers care deeply about how their code is formatted. Individuals and teams adopt various standards for line breaks and indenting, and these are usually particular to the programming language. In general, SAS doesn't care how your code is laid out -- statements are delimited by semicolons, and that's the only cue that SAS needs. However, your teammates (and your future YOU, rereading your code) might appreciate something a little more readable.
Press Ctrl+I to format your entire program, applying some reasonable readability rules to indent code lines with conditionals and looping logic. Or select just a portion of the program and press Ctrl+I to affect a smaller part of the program. You can adjust some of the formatting rules by visiting Program → Editor Options, the Indenter tab.
5. Zoom out for the big picture
Some SAS programs are long -- hundreds (or thousands!) of lines of code. Sometimes it's helpful to get a birds-eye view of your code to understand its structure and to help you navigate. The Zoom feature is super helpful for this. Simply press Ctrl+- (control-minus) until you get the view you need. Press Ctrl++ (control-plus) to zoom back in, or press Ctrl+0 to get to the 100% view.
This trick works for SAS logs as well, and also data sets and ODS output (including text listing, which uses the program editor in a special mode for viewing SAS output).
6. Change the program editor font
Want to waste an afternoon? Search the Internet for "best font for programmers" and experiment with all of the results that you find. I discovered Consolas (built into Microsoft Windows) a decade ago, and I've yet to find anything better. I use it for all of my "fixed font" needs: programming, terminal windows, command consoles, etc. But you can choose your own favorite -- just don't feel that you're stuck with the default "Courier" that seems to be standard issue.
Change your font in Programs → Editor Options, Appearance tab. You'll find lots of elements that you can tweak for typeface, size and color.
7. Select columns of content with block selection
Even though column block selection -- also known as "Alt+Select" -- is a standard feature in most advanced text editors, many programmers don't know about it. It's the perfect trick for selecting just a few columns of your text without including the content that's on the rest of the line. In SAS programming, this can be handy for selecting columns of values from the text listing output and pasting somewhere else, such as into a DATALINES block. It takes a little practice to master the Alt+Select, but once you do you'll find all sorts of uses for it. To get started, simply hold down the Alt key and click-drag to highlight a vertical column of text within the editor.
8. Find (and replace) using regular expressions
Regular expressions are a powerful, if confusing, method for finding and replacing text that matches certain patterns. The Find/Find and Replace window in SAS Enterprise Guide supports "Regular expression search" as a checkbox option.
Here's an example. Suppose I wanted to find all occurrences of 3 numbers after the thousands separator (comma) at the end of each data line -- and I wanted to turn those digits into zeros. (I don't know why--but just stick with me here.) A regex pattern to match this is ",\d\d\d\n" (comma, followed by 3 occurrences of numeric digits, followed by a line ending). Here's an animation of this in action.
For more, select Help→SAS Enterprise Guide help and search for "regular expressions". The help topics contain several examples of useful patterns.
9. Scroll just part of your document using a split view
Do you find yourself scrolling back and forth in your program view? Trying to remember what was in that DATA step at the top of your program so you can reference the proper variable in another part of your code? Instead of dealing with "scrolling whiplash", you can split the program editor view to keep one part of your code always visible while you work on another code segment that's hundreds of lines away from it.
There are several ways to split your view of SAS code, log output, and listing. Check out the article here for details.
10. Break out to your other favorite editor
Please don't tell anyone, but I have a secret: SAS Enterprise Guide is not my default application associated with .SAS files. When I double-click on a .SAS file in Windows Explorer, I like to use Notepad++ to provide a quick view of what's in that program file. Don't get me wrong: I use SAS Enterprise Guide for all of my serious SAS programming work. With syntax suggestions, color coding, built-in DATA step debugger, and more -- there just isn't a better, more full-featured environment. (No, I'm not trying to troll you, diehard SAS display manager users -- you keep using what makes you happy.) But Notepad++ has a deep set of text editing features, and sometimes I like to use it for hardcore find/replace functions, deeper inspection of special characters in my files, and more.
You can launch your program into your other favorite editor from SAS Enterprise Guide. Simply right-click on the program node in your process flow, select Open → Open <program name> with Windows Default. And make sure your other editor is registered in Windows as the default "Open with" action for SAS programs. Note: this trick works only with SAS programs that you've saved locally on your Windows file system.
More than editing -- this is your workbench
The program editor isn't just about "editing programs." It's also the launchpad for several other programmer-centric features, such as debugging your DATA step, comparing your SAS programs, viewing program history and source control, and more. If you use SAS Enterprise Guide, take the time to learn about all of its programming features -- you'll become a more productive programmer as a result.