Back in the early days of Java, developers created applications using nothing more than notepad and the DOS command prompt. Thanks to the advent of IDEs, those days are gone forever. Short for Integrated Development Environment, IDEs have drastically increased development speed and efficiency. This tutorial series will cover what kinds of functionally IDEs encompass as well as present the top IDEs for Java development. You will be delighted to know straight-away that some of the very best IDEs are completely free! And while there is inevitably some learning required to get accustomed to an IDE’s workflow, it is well worth the effort.
Features of an IDE
As the name implies, an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) bundles all the tools developers need to write, debug, and test their code. Hence, an IDE allows developers to improve productivity by accomplishing all of their work within a single environment. Each IDE comes with a different set of tools and resources, but they all include an advanced text editor, build tools, and a debugger at a minimum.
The most common features of an IDE include:
- Debugging: The debugger component of an IDE allows the programmer to view memory and see variables, run the program to the next breakpoint, execute the next line of code. In some cases, it is even possible to change the value of variables or a line of code about to be executed.
- Syntax highlighting: Built-in highlighting is crucial for readability and efficiency. Syntax highlighting helps distinguish parts of source code using color by giving variables, methods, and other programming elements different colors.
- Build automation: A great time saver, build automation streamlines the development and deployment of software by using tools and scripts to automate repetitive tasks.
- Code completion: This is a context-aware code feature that speeds up the process of coding applications by helping you complete the names of classes, methods, fields, and keywords within the visibility scope, thereby reducing typos and other common mistakes.
- Graphical User Interface (GUI): All of the top IDEs are GUI-based. Commands such as those to compile, clean, or save the project are executed behind the scenes. In many cases these are performed automatically as a result of some action such as running the application or even according to a set time interval.
Advanced Features of IDEs
Beyond the basic features listed above, many IDEs come with more advanced features that can really elevate your coding game! These include:
- Refactoring: Some IDEs provide tools to help developers refactor their code, such as renaming variables and methods, moving classes and methods, and extracting methods. This can make it easier to maintain and improve code quality over time.
- Version control integration: Many IDEs integrate with popular version control systems such as Git and SVN, making it easy for developers to manage and collaborate on code.
- Build and deployment: IDEs typically provide built-in support for building and deploying Java applications, which can save a lot of time and effort compared to the manual alternative.
- Framework support: IDEs provide support for a wide range of Java frameworks and technologies such as Spring, Hibernate, and Maven, which can make it easier for developers to build applications using these frameworks.
- Plugins and add-ons: IDEs have a wide range of plugins and add-ons available, which can be used to extend the functionality of the IDE and further improve the productivity of the developer.
- Community and support: Many IDEs have large communities of developers that contribute to their development and provide support to other developers. This can make it easier for developers to find help and resources when they need it.