Integrated Development Environments: Definition, What Is, and Purpose

Integrated Development Environments

Published on
January 25, 2023
Updated on
January 27, 2023
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Integrated development environments (IDEs) offer the opportunity for advancing your technical projects and for helping your developers make their workflow more smooth.

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If you're hiring remote developers to create, test, and deploy software, consider giving them a world-class integrated development environment (IDE). IDEs are software suites that provide comprehensive tools for coding and testing software, including source code file editors, debuggers, and build automation tools. Used correctly, they can significantly streamline the software development workflow.

Read on to learn more about IDEs, what they are, and the purpose behind using IDEs for software projects. We will also cover the 14 best IDEs and their differentiating characteristics and how IDEs streamline development workflows.

What is an Integrated Development Environment

What are integrated development environments or IDEs? Simply put, IDEs are software applications that give programmers comprehensive facilities for software development. Almost every IDE has the following:

  • A user-friendly source code editor that helps programmers write and edit their code. It also helps them make their code clean and more readable.
  • A compiler that turns code written by programmers into machine-readable formats.
  • A debugger that helps developers eliminate errors from their programs.

Types of IDEs

Depending on their preferences, goals, and preferred programming languages, programmers have a wide range of IDEs to choose from. Here are the main types of IDEs:

Mobile Development IDEs

These IDEs have specific tools for building different apps. For instance, if your developers are building an app for the web, iOS, and Android, they need a cross-platform IDE that supports all of those operating systems.

Common examples include:

  • Xamarin: A cross-platform app that is open-source and free, Xamarin is perfect for developing iOS and Android apps. It supports C# and .NET.
  • Xcode: Apple's native IDE, Xcode is only used for creating Apple apps. It lets devs manage their entire workflows throughout the software development lifecycle (SDLC). It supports Swift, C++, and Objective-C.
  • Android Studio: Android Studio is Android's official IDE. Many developers use it to create high-quality Android apps for Android devices. It supports Kotlin and Java.

Multi-Language IDEs

As their name suggests, these IDEs support multiple languages. Some, like Flycheck, can even support over 40 languages. Examples of multi-language IDEs include:

  • Visual Studio: One of the most popular IDEs, Visual Studio provides continual support for updates and extensions. It also has a wide range of powerful features and tools. We will talk about Visual Studio in more length in our overview of the 14 best IDEs and their differentiating characteristics.
  • Komodo: This is an IDE that has premium options. Programmers can enhance this platform by buying more packages. It supports CSS, C, Python, PHP, TypeScript, JavaScript, and more.
  • NetBeans: An open-source IDE, NetBeans is great for developing web, desktop, and mobile apps. It supports HTML, Java, JavaScript, CSS, C, and C++, just to name a few. We will discuss NetBeans in detail in our overview of the top 14 IDEs.

Web and Cloud-Based IDEs

Web and cloud-based IDEs give developers access to code from any device. The best-known web and cloud-based IDEs are:

  • CodeTasty: User-friendly and powerful, CodeTasty supports over 40 languages, including Java, PHP, Node.js, and C.
  • Codeanywhere: This is a cross-platform cloud IDE that enables devs to code, edit, collaborate on, and run entire projects from a mobile device or browser.
  • Cloud9: This cloud-based IDE lets devs code, run, and debug their code with only a browser. It integrates with the Amazon Web Services (AWS) ecosystem.

The Purpose Behind Using IDEs for Software Projects

Programmers use IDEs for many reasons. For one, IDEs combine common tools into a single graphical user interface (GUI), which empowers coders to start programming new apps quickly. IDEs also offer intelligent code completion, help organize workflows and solve problems, and identify and fix code bugs and error messages in real time.

Combines Common Tools Into a Single Graphical User Interface (GUI)

IDEs combine common programming tools into a single GUI, making it easy to edit, test, and deploy code in one program. Without an IDE, programmers would have to spend a lot of time deciding what tools to use for different tasks. They would also have to configure tools and learn how to use them.

Start Programming New Applications Quickly

Because IDEs already contain all of the tools required to create applications, programmers can start programming new applications quickly. They just have to turn on their IDE and start coding.

Offers Intelligent Code Completion

Some IDEs offer intelligent code completion, a context-aware feature that reduces typos and accelerates the coding process by reducing the amount of typing. IDEs typically perform intelligent code completion via:

  • Auto-completion pop-ups that appear while the developer is typing
  • Query hints
  • Querying functions' parameters

Helps Organize Workflows and Solve Programs

IDEs can also help programmers organize workflows. Specifically, they provide unique features like visual programming, which empowers users to create applications by using code, programming, and building nodes to construct structure diagrams or flowcharts. Some IDEs also feature object and class browsers and class hierarchy diagrams for organizing workflows.

Identifies Code Bugs and Fixes Error Messages In Real Time

Finally, programmers use IDEs because they can identify code bugs and fix error messages in real time. Most IDEs accomplish this through the following features:

  • Syntax highlighting: This makes programming easier by showing the language keywords, structures, and syntax errors with easy-to-see font effects and colors.
  • Code search: This makes locating concrete implementations of functionalities easier. It can also be used to search for function and class declarations, variables, and usages.
  • Version control: This helps programmers manage changes to computer programs, large websites, documents, and other large clusters of information.

14 Best IDEs and Their Differentiating Characteristics

Now that you know what an IDE is and why programmers use them, here's a list of integrated development environments.

BlueJ

A free Java IDE for beginners, BlueJ works on Windows, Ubuntu, Mac OS X, and other platforms with Java and JavaFX 17 support. It was designed to be:

  • Simple: BlueJ has a simpler and smaller interface than professional IDEs like Eclipse or Netbeans. This empowers beginners to get started faster without being overwhelmed.
  • Interactive: BlueJ also allows devs to interact with objects. Programmers can inspect each object's value, pass them as parameters, and call methods on them. They can also invoke Java expressions without compiling.
  • Mature: BlueJ is over 15 years old, which means it has a large community of users. It is also supported and updated by a full-time team. BlueJ will respond to all tech support requests within one working day.

BlueJ only supports two languages: Java and Stride. BlueJ has supported Java since its inception, while Stride support was only added in 2017.

Eclipse

The Eclipse IDE is a free IDE for computer programming. It has a base workspace and an extendable plug-in system for customization. Programmers usually use Eclipse to create Java applications, but they can also use it to create applications in other languages via plugins, including Erlang, C, C++, C#, Julia, Perl, PHP, and Ada.

Some of Eclipse's standout features include:

  • A huge plugin library
  • A JavaDoc facility that immediately creates documentation for classes in applications
  • A simple drag-and-drop user interface
  • Excellent visual code debugging tools
  • A beginner-friendly customer support system

SlickEdit

SlickEdit is a cross-platform IDE that supports over 60 languages, including Perl, Ruby, Groovy, Java, PHP, and Python. At $99 per user per year, SlickEdit is less expensive than the average IDE.

Developers can pick from two versions of SlickEdit:

  • SlickEdit Standard: This version makes loading large files quick and painless. It's great for one-off scripts and single file-oriented operations.
  • SlickEdit Pro: This version comes with all Standard Edition features plus debuggers, beautifiers, integrated builds, JUnit integration, and more. Developers can use it to create and debug large or complex projects. SlickEdit Pro also lets programmers stay in sync with powerful file differencing tools and version control integration.

Programmers of all levels can use SlickEdit. However, it may not be the best choice for beginners due to its complexity.

Code::Blocks

A free open-source cross-platform IDE, Code::Blocks supports multiple languages, including Java, C, C++, and Fortran. Easily one of the best IDEs for beginners, Code::Blocks has a beginner-friendly user interface that makes coding a breeze.

Code::Blocks supports the following features:

  • A code editor: Code::Blocks' IDE features code folding, syntax highlighting, class browser, C++ code completion, and many other utilities.
  • A debugger: Code::Blocks' debugger empowers developers to debug programs by accessing the local function symbol and argument display, call stack, thread switching, and user-defined watches.
  • A GUI designer: As of version 13.12, Code::Blocks has a GUI designer called wxSmith.
  • User migration: Code::Blocks lets users migrate builds from other IDEs, including Microsoft Visual C++, Dev-C++, and DevC++ Devpak.

GNAT Studio

GNAT Studio is a free IDE that supports every step of the SDLC. It provides advanced out-of-the-box support for C, C++, Ada, Spark, and Python.

Its best-known features include:

  • Advanced navigation features and code intelligence
  • The ability to produce project organization, type/class inheritance, and source dependencies graphs
  • A direct interface to GNAT pro tools, which means devs get easy access to program builders, static and dynamic analysis tools, and debuggers

We highly recommend GNAT Studio for veteran programmers. Although it's easy to use, GNAT Studio is best suited for large, complex systems. It's also highly extensible, making it overwhelming for entry-level programmers.

AWS Cloud9

AWS Cloud9 is a cloud IDE that lets developers build, run, and debug code with just a browser. It includes a terminal, code editor, and debugger, and supports various popular programming languages, including JavaScript, PHP, and Python.

Like other cloud IDEs, AWS Cloud9 lets programmers work on projects from any internet-connected machine. In particular, it provides a seamless experience for developing serverless applications, empowering developers to easily debug, define resources, and switch between remote and local execution of serverless applications.  

Like GNAT Studio, AWS Cloud9 is best for experienced programmers — it may be too complicated for beginners. It's also great for remote development and project management.

AWS Cloud9 is free if you use Amazon EC2. You only have to pay for the storage and compute resources. New AWS customers who are eligible for the AWS Free Tier can also use AWS Cloud9 for free.

NetBeans

NetBeans, also known as Apache NetBeans, is a free, open-source IDE. As mentioned above, it is a multi-language IDE that is great for developing desktop, web, and mobile apps. It supports many languages, including:

  • Java
  • JavaScript
  • PHP
  • HTML5
  • CSS

As a cross-platform IDE, Apache NetBeans can be installed on all operating systems that support Java, including Mac OSX, BSD, Windows, and Linux. It's also extremely beginner-friendly thanks to its simple design.

JetBrains

JetBrains offers many IDEs for different languages, including:

  • AppCode, which supports programming in Objective-C, Swift, C, and C++
  • CLion, which is a C++ and C IDE for macOS, Linux, and Windows integrated with the CMake build system
  • Fleet, which is a lightweight multi-purpose IDE with support for remote and collaboration workflows

Generally speaking, JetBrains IDEs are great for beginners. They offer state-of-the-art learning tools and tech support. Plus, their products are free for:

  • Teachers
  • Students
  • Open source developers
  • Tech communities that gather every one to three months
  • Information technlogy (IT) conferences, code camps, and other community events
  • Active Google Developers Experts, Java Champions, and other community leaders

Selenium

Selenium IDE is a free playback test automation and open-source record for the web. It's perfect for beginners and startups because it doesn't require any additional setup other than installing the Selenium extension.

Other features include:

  • Easy debugging
  • Cross-browser execution
  • The ability to re-use test cases inside another
  • An extensive control flow structure
  • Flexible plugins for introducing new commands to the IDE

Qt Creator

Qt Creator is a cross-platform IDE for maximizing the developing experience. It runs on Linux, Windows, and macOS desktop operating systems and is extremely beginner-friendly due to its supportive community and documentation.

Qt Creator supports three main languages: Python, C++, and Qt QML. However, the community has also added support for Rust and Go. It also boasts the following features:

  • A sophisticated code editor
  • The ability to integrate with popular version control systems, including Git, Perforce, and Subversion
  • The ability to import or create a project from scratch
  • Build settings that allow developers to easily switch between operating systems
  • A Qt Quick Compiler that lets coders compile source code into native machine code, boost user interface performance and start-up time,l and protect your intellectual property and source code

Unfortunately, Qt Creator is not free. It is part of expensive packages that cost at least $300 per month or $3,600 per year.

Theia

An extensible, flexible, and free desktop and cloud IDE, Theia lets developers efficiently build and deliver tools with modern technologies. Unlike many other open-source projects, Theia is hosted by the Eclipse Foundation, an open-source foundation that protects Theia's developers and contributors against single-vendor decisions.

Theia supports over 60 languages, including JavaScript, Python, and Java. It also boasts the following features:

  • An integrated terminal that reconnects on browser reload, keeping the full history
  • A flexible layout that is composed of lightweight modular widgets and draggable docks
  • The ability to host VS Code extensions
  • Full terminal access

We recommend Theia for veteran programmers. Since it's less well-known than the other IDEs on this list, there are fewer tutorials and community resources for learning Theia from scratch.

Further Reading: SRE vs. Devops

RStudio

RStudio is a free and open-source IDE for R, a coding language for graphics and statistical computing. It's available in two forms:

  • RStudio Server, which runs on a remote server and allows developers to access RStudio through a web browser
  • RStudio Desktop, which is a regular desktop application

RStudio is probably not a good choice for beginners because R is one of the most difficult languages to code in.

Visual Studio

Finally, there's Microsoft's Visual Studio. The most commonly-used IDE, Visual Studio is a free standalone IDE that runs on macOS, Windows, and Linux. It offers support for numerous languages, including:

  • JavaScript
  • Python
  • Visual Basic
  • F#
  • C++
  • HTML
  • CSS

Like other popular IDEs, Visual Studio boasts many features, including:

  • A code editor
  • A debugger
  • Visual designers for creating applications, including a class designer, a Windows Forms designer, and a data designer
  • An Object Browser for looking at all of the available objects in a project
  • Testing tools
  • Code navigation commands

Visual Studio has a lot of documentation, but it's not exactly beginner-friendly. Beginners can easily be overwhelmed by Visual Studio's complicated features and user interface.

Why IDEs Streamline Workflow and Create a Modern Process

IDEs are a great way to work efficiently. Used properly, they can streamline development workflows and create a modern process. Specifically, they do this by:

  • Minimizing setup time: As previously mentioned, programmers must learn how to use multiple development tools without an IDE. However, with an IDE, they only need to learn how to use the IDE itself.
  • Faster development: IDEs contain all of the tools developers need to create apps, websites, and more. As such, they can develop faster. To illustrate, developers can edit while parsing code and checking syntax. They also don't have to switch between apps to finish tasks. IDE tools also help programmers avoid mistakes, organize resources, bake security into every SDLC step, and implement shortcuts.
  • Standardization: IDEs streamline workflows by standardizing the development process so that everyone follows the same security and coding best practices. This helps programmers work together seamlessly.
  • Continuous learning: IDEs can also help programmers stay up to speed with the latest cybersecurity and programming developments. Most reputable IDEs continually upload new help topics, project templates, and code samples.

Find the Right Remote Developer With IDE Experience

IDEs provide many benefits, including a streamlined workflow and higher productivity. However, getting existing staff to adopt IDEs may be difficult, especially if they're used to programming apps, software, and other products their own way.

That's where Revelo comes in. As Latin America's top tech talent marketplace, we provide access to thousands of programmers with IDE experience and remote developers. To get started, fill in this form. We will send you a list of the best IDE developers for your project within three days.

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