Notepad++ Installation Notes

Note (October 2021): I wrote these Installation Notes in 2011 to describe a workaround for problems with certain essential plug-ins. But there have been numerous changes and improvements to Notepad++ over the last decade. Notably, the problematic Win32 port of GNU Aspell, last updated in 2002 and no longer supported, was replaced with the superior DSpellCheck that is designed for current Windows versions. Any recent version of Notepad++ (let’s say 8.0 and later) will not have the problems the workaround described below addresses, making the workaround unnecessary. But I’m keeping this obsolete page because people still regularly visit it.

The “Installer” version of the Notepad++ download should automatically install the editor and included plug-ins correctly, either in C:\Program Files or as a portable installation in another directory or on a thumb drive, depending on the option you select during installation. You can then use “Plugins Admin” to install any other available plug-in. I recommend the “64-bit x64” installer, unless you need an old 32-bit plug-in that isn’t available for 64-bit Notepad++.

One of the security improvements in Vista and Windows 7 is a feature called User Account Control (UAC). It alerts the user and asks for “administrator” permission whenever a program tries to make any changes to certain “critical” disk directories. These directories include C:\Program Files and C:\Program Files (x86), where applications are usually installed. Applications designed for Vista and Windows 7 write configuration files and user data in a separate directory not subject to UAC, typically C:\Users\name\AppData.

Notepad++ itself is fully compatible with Vista and Windows 7. But several Notepad++ plugins were written in the XP era and have not (yet) been updated. They write configuration and user data files in the directory where they’re installed. When Notepad++ and its plugins are in a directory under C:\Program Files (x86), Vista or Windows 7 will deny access (and display an ominous error message) whenever a plugin tries to write a configuration file. Possible workarounds involve disabling UAC or running Notepad++ as an administrator. Neither one is a good idea.

Through a combination of trial and error and searching through user forums, I found an installation procedure that works around this and other quirks of Notepad++ and its plugins, and provides a relatively smooth installation.

  1. Download these files:
    Notepad++ version 5.9.0 (select the “installer” version).
    Current version of Notepad++ (click on “download” and select the installer for the current version)
    Aspell (download the “full installer” and the English dictionary)

  2. Install Notepad++ version 5.9.0. Later versions are inexplicably missing some of the infrastructure to support several important plugins. Install this first, and then upgrade to the current version.
    • Very important: In Notepad++’s installer dialogue, select an installation directory other than C:\Program Files (x86). I use C:\npp, but the actual name really doesn’t matter as long as it’s not under C:\Program Files (x86). This is easiest way to avoid the problem of UAC denying access when plugins try to write configuration files or user data.

    • Also in the installer dialogue, select the “Don’t use %APPDATA%” option. That keeps Notepad++’s own configuration files in the C:\npp directory (or whatever name you chose), along with the configuration files the plugins create. This option is apparently meant for a “portable” installation on a USB flash drive. I find it convenient to keep everything in one place, as a simple backup of the entire C:\npp directory will then contain the entire Notepad++ installation.

  3. Install Aspell. In the Aspell installer dialogue, specify the directory in which you installed Notepad++ as the location (e.g., C:\npp). The installer will then create an Aspell directory under the Notepad++ directory. Dictionaries go in C:\npp\Aspell\dict. Words you add to the dictionary are in the file c:\npp\Aspell\en.pws.

    Aspell is an open source (GNU) spell checker for Linux. An official “binary” compiled for 32-bit Windows is available, but it was created in 2002 and has never been updated. The Notepad++ spell-check plugin interfaces with Aspell, and expects to find it in the Aspell directory under the Notepad++ directory. The plugin has a dialogue box to change that location, but it doesn’t seem to work. Installing Notepad++ and Aspell as described here works around both these problems.

    Various commercial products that use Aspell (including UltraEdit) use the source code for later releases to build their own custom versions that correct these compatibility problems. But the 2002 version is the only available Windows binary.

  4. Test your Notepad++ 5.9.0 installation, including the spell checker.

  5. Run the installer for the current version to update Notepad++. It should detect the directory containing your installation. Remember to select “Don’t use %APPDATA%” and “Create desktop icon” settings.

I have used this procedure to install Notepad++ on two machines running 64-bit Windows 7. It should work for you as well, as it’s based on advice from Notepad++ users who have discussed installation problems and solutions in various forums. But I can’t be responsible if it doesn’t give you a flawlessly working installation.

Once you’ve installed Notepad++, you can download additional plugins using the Plugin Manager (Plugins -> Plugin Manager -> Show Plugin Manager). A Directory for Notepad++ plugins with descriptions is on the SourceForge site for Notepad++ development.

Review of Notepad++

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