What is an IDE?

An integrated development environment (IDE) is a software application that helps programmers develop software code efficiently. It increases developer productivity by combining capabilities such as software editing, building, testing, and packaging in an easy-to-use application. Just as writers use text editors and accountants use spreadsheets, software developers use IDEs to make their job easier.

Why are IDEs important?

You can use any text editor to write code. However, most integrated development environments (IDEs) include functionality that goes beyond text editing. They provide a central interface for common developer tools, making the software development process much more efficient. Developers can start programming new applications quickly instead of manually integrating and configuring different software. They also don't have to learn about all the tools and can instead focus on just one application. The following are some reasons why developers use IDEs:

Code editing automation

Programming languages have rules for how statements must be structured. Because an IDE knows these rules, it contains many intelligent features for automatically writing or editing the source code.

Syntax highlighting

An IDE can format the written text by automatically making some words bold or italic, or by using different font colors. These visual cues make the source code more readable and give instant feedback about accidental syntax errors.

Intelligent code completion

Various search terms show up when you start typing words in a search engine. Similarly, an IDE can make suggestions to complete a code statement when the developer begins typing.

Refactoring support

Code refactoring is the process of restructuring the source code to make it more efficient and readable without changing its core functionality. IDEs can auto-refactor to some extent, allowing developers to improve their code quickly and easily. Other team members understand readable code faster, which supports collaboration within the team.

Local build automation

IDEs increase programmer productivity by performing repeatable development tasks that are typically part of every code change. The following are some examples of regular coding tasks that an IDE carries out.

Compilation

An IDE compiles or converts the code into a simplified language that the operating system can understand. Some programming languages implement just-in-time compiling, in which the IDE converts human-readable code into machine code from within the application.

Testing

The IDE allows developers to automate unit tests locally before the software is integrated with other developers' code and more complex integration tests are run.

Debugging

Debugging is the process of fixing any errors or bugs that testing reveals. One of the biggest values of an IDE for debugging purposes is that you can step through the code, line by line, as it runs and inspect code behavior. IDEs also integrate several debugging tools that highlight bugs caused by human error in real time, even as the developer is typing.

What are the types of IDEs?

Integrated development environments (IDEs) can be broadly classified into several different categories, depending on the application development they support and how they work. However, many IDE software applications can fit into multiple categories. The following are some types of IDEs:

Local IDEs

Developers install and run local IDEs directly on their local machines. They also have to download and install various additional libraries depending on their coding preferences, project requirements, and development language. While local IDEs are customizable and do not require an internet connection once installed, they present several challenges:

  • They can be time consuming and difficult to set up.
  • They consume local machine resources and can slow down machine performance significantly.
  • Configuration differences between the local machine and the production environment can give rise to software errors.

Cloud IDEs

Developers use cloud IDEs to write, edit, and compile code directly in the browser so that they don't need to download software on their local machines. Cloud-based IDEs have several advantages over traditional IDEs. The following are some of these advantages:

Standardized development environment

Software development teams can centrally configure a cloud-based IDE to create a standard development environment. This method helps them avoid errors that might occur due to local machine configuration differences.

Platform independence

Cloud IDEs work on the browser and are independent of local development environments. This means they connect directly to the cloud vendor's platform, and developers can use them from any machine.

Better performance

Building and compiling functions in an IDE requires a lot of memory and can slow down the developer's computer. The cloud IDE uses compute resources from the cloud and frees up the local machine’s resources.

 

How should I choose an IDE?

You can find many modern integrated development environments (IDEs) on the market with a range of features and different price points. Many IDEs are open source, or free to use and configure. The following are some criteria to consider when choosing an IDE:

The programming language

The programming language you want to code in often dictates the choice of an IDE. Dedicated IDEs have automation features that particularly suit the syntax of specific languages. On the other hand, multi-language IDEs support multiple languages.

The operating system

While most IDEs have multiple versions for different operating systems, they might work better on specific platforms. For example, some IDEs can perform optimally on the Linux platform but might be slow or difficult to use on other platforms.

Automation features

The three common features in most IDES are the source code editor, build automation, and debugger. Additional features may vary and can include the following:

  • Code editor UI enhancements
  • Automated testing features
  • Code deployment support via plugin integration
  • Code refactoring support
  • Application packaging support

IDE customization

Some IDEs include the ability to customize workflows to match a developer's needs and preferences. You can download and use plugins, extensions, and add-ons to customize your programming experience.

What is AWS Cloud9?

AWS Cloud9 is a cloud integrated development environment (IDE) that you can use to write, run, and debug code directly in the browser. It is a multi-language IDE that supports over 40  languages, including JavaScript, Python, PHP, Ruby, Go, and C++. It includes a code editor, several build automation tools, and support for serverless applications. It offers unique benefits, including the following:

  • Code completion based on standard libraries
  • Connectivity to any Linux server platform
  • Built-in image editor
  • Integration with AWS CodeStar for faster application deployment on AWS

Get started with AWS Cloud9, or learn more on the Cloud9 FAQs page.

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