The Eclipse integrated development environment (IDE) is a hugely popular software development platform featuring a plethora of tools and features designed to streamlining the development process. It was created back in 2001 as an open source project and has grown to become one of the most widely used IDEs for Java, Python, and C++ programming. In this developer tool review, we will look at several aspects of Eclipse, including its features, benefits, and benefits. We will also briefly discuss some Eclipse alternatives in case the IDE does not fit your needs.
Having been around for over two decades now, Eclipse IDE has grown to include a number of important features, which include:
- Simplified interface
- Language support
- Code editing and code refactoring
- Project management
- Continuous improvement
We review each of these features below.
Eclipse is known for its user-friendly interface and classic three-panel layout. This layout consists of a navigation pane on the left hand side, an editor pane in the middle, and a task pane on the right. This layout makes it simple for programmers to efficiently manage their coding process, projects, source files, and tasks. The user interface is also highly customizable – coders can adjust settings such as font sizes, color themes, and tool displays to match their unique preferences.
With a rich-set of features, navigating Eclipse’s interface can feel overwhelming due to the sheer number of options, especially if you are new to IDEs or code editors. Once you get used to the layout and helpful hotkeys, however, Eclipse will feel more intuitive and should help enhance your productivity.
Eclipse has a reputation as a Java-specific IDE, but that view is short-sighted. Over the years, Java has grown to support a wide-range of programming languages, thanks in part to extensions and integrations. The Eclipse Marketplace is a one-stop shop repository for plugins that provide additional language support, as well as other productivity features, which we will discuss further later on. Eclipse supports the following languages:
- Java: As stated, Eclipse is mostly know for its support for Java development. It offers a large amount of built-in tools specifically for Java, including its Java editor, code completion, refactoring tool, debugger, and integrations with several build systems.
- C/C++: Eclipse offers the C/C++ Development Tools (CDT) plugin to provide support for C and C++ development. It has features such as code highlighting, code debugging, and even project management.
- Python: Python coders can program in Eclipse by installing the PyDev plugin, which offers features like code completion, syntax highlighting, code debugging, and the ability to integrate with Python libraries.
- PHP: The PHP Development Tools (PDT) plugin adds support for PHP programming and adds features that include code validation, a debugger, and integrations with popular PHP web frameworks.
In addition to the languages above, Eclipse also supports Ruby, Rust, Perl, Groovy, and Scala through other plugins on the Eclipse Marketplace, adding to the extensibility of the IDE.
That being said, while Eclipse can support a variety of programming languages, some of those languages have dedicated IDEs and tools that offer features and workflows that are tailored made for them, and, therefore, may be a better option. Keep this in mind when choosing a coding environment.
Code Editing and Refactoring
One of the main features of Eclipse is its powerful built-in text editor. The editor has some common capabilities we expect in a code editor, such as syntax highlighting and code completion. It expands upon its abilities, however, by adding intelligent code suggestions, which help increase coding speed and reduce code errors. It also includes code refactoring tools that let you rename variables, extract methods, and reorganize code blocks, all of which make codebases cleaner and more maintainable.
Install Eclipse’s Java Development Tools (JDT) plugin and you get advanced code editing functions like error detection, automated code fixes, and support for Java EE. The plugin also grants step-by-step debugging and expression evaluation.
In the past, Eclipse was known to be resource-intensive and slow, especially when dealing with larger, data-driven codebases. However, recent versions of the IDE have added improvements for performance and resource utilization. It is still demanding on memory and processing resources, but if development teams are using modern hardware and taking advantage of Java performance enhancements, they should experience only occasional lags. If working on legacy systems or older hardware, these delays might be more noticeable.
One of the more unique features of Eclipse is the inclusion of project management. Programmers are able to use the IDE to create, import, and manage software projects in one place. Multiple projects can be managed and worked on at the same time within one workspace, making it so programmers do not need to switch in and out of different systems.
In addition to project management, Eclipse supports team collaboration through a number of version control tools like Git, SVN, and Mercurial. These integration make code collaboration, merging, and code reviews easier, and make Eclipse a great choice for team-based software projects.
Being an open-source IDE means that Eclipse has the benefit of an active community that provides not only extensions and enhancements to the core platform, but also extensive documentation, tutorials, and forums where developers can ask questions, share knowledge, and find troubleshooting assistance should they encounter problems. The community also contributes to frequent updates and bug fixes, helping keep the IDE stable and secure.
Eclipse also has commercial support from a variety of companies should your organization or development team need further assistance or ongoing support.
As noted earlier, Eclipse has a number of integrations that add additional support for some of the most popular programming languages (and a few not-so-popular ones). These plugins also allow the IDE to integrate with a huge number of developer tools, frameworks, and programmer platforms, making it so you can leverage existing tools within one environment. This, in turn, leads to enhanced productivity and coding efficiency. Popular integrations include build tools like Maven and Ant and application servers such as Tomcat and JBoss.
Eclipse also has an ecosystem beyond just the IDE. The Eclipse Foundation supports the development of many open-source projects and frameworks that developers can take advantage of, including the Eclipse Modeling Framework and the web development platform, Eclipse Jetty.
Finally, Eclipse is known for its continuous improvement philosophy and, as such, benefits from frequent updates. The thriving Eclipse community and the Eclipse Foundation both work in tandem to fix bugs, add new features, and enhance the performance of the IDE. This devotion ensures that Eclipse remains a relevant coding environment that development teams can rely on.
Cons of Eclipse
Despite its numerous features and advantages for developers, like any programming tool, Eclipse does have its own set of cons and drawbacks worth mentioning. As stated previously, Eclipse is known to be a bit resource intensive, eating up system resources in an effort to run smoothly. This means developers will need decent hardware to avoid performance issues. This is particularly true for larger projects or if you need to run multiple instances of Eclipse.
Depending on your level of comfort with coding environments and developer tools in general, another potential con of Eclipse is its learning curve. Because the IDE has so many options and features, it can be difficult for novice developers to fully grasp. However, once you get familiar with its interface, workflows, shortcuts, and options, Eclipse will prove to be worth the time spent learning its ins and outs. This learning curve can be mitigated by taking advantage of the earlier-mentioned community and resources.
Eclipse is a free, open-source IDE, making it a great option for solo developers and development teams on a budget. Do not be fooled by its free cost, however, as the tool is just as powerful as paid alternatives (as noted in its highlighted features above).
Being free, however, does not mean that the IDE will not ever incur charges. There are premium plugins and optional support that need to be factored in when calculating the cost of any IDE, and Eclipse is no exception. In general, however, the tool itself and many of its plugins are free and so long as you do not want to add premium extensions or ongoing technical support from an outside party, that should remain the case.
Alternatives to Eclipse
There are a number of alternatives to the Eclipse IDE that have similar features and cater to other programming languages. Below are a few development environments that may suit your development team’s needs better than Eclipse.
IntelliJ IDEA was created by the famed developer tool maker, JetBrains. It is highly regarded in the developer community, thanks in part to its extensive set of features and the fact that it seamlessly integrates with other tools in the JetBrains ecosystem, adding to its capabilities. Some of its most prominent features include:
- Intelligent code analysis
- Advanced code refactoring
- Language support
- Extensive integrations
- Built-in code debugging
You can learn more by reading our IntelliJ IDEA Review.
Visual Studio Code (VS Code)
Visual Studio Code – commonly referred to as VS Code – is Microsoft’s offering for the open-source coding community. It is a lightweight and highly customizable alternative to both Eclipse and Visual Studio. Many consider it to not be a full-fledged IDE, but it does have a heavy feature set that includes:
- Code completion
- Code debugging
- Integrations with version control systems
NetBeans is another open-source IDE that is known for supporting languages like Java, PHP, C, and C++. It has features that include:
- Smart code editing
- Built-in code debugger and refactoring
- Integration with build systems
In addition, NetBeans offers great support for Java EE development, web app building, and Enterprise solutions. It has a simple user interface and a large plugin library, meaning you can upgrade its functionality to make it even stronger. It is a great option for both individual programmers and large developer teams alike.
- Intelligent code completion
- Advanced Python debugger
- Support for Django and Flask
You can learn more by reading our PyCharm IDE Review.
AWS Cloud9 Cloud IDE
- Create Serverless applications
- Access projects from anywhere with an Internet connection
- Advanced code debugger
- Switch between local and remote execution
- Real-time collaboration with other programmers
- Automation and pre-configuration development environments
AWS Cloud9 IDE also has the standard set of features you would expect in an integrated development environment, including code suggestions, syntax highlighting, and code hinting.
Each of the Eclipse alternatives in this section have their own strengths and weaknesses and work better for certain languages versus others. When choosing a development environment, always consider personal preferences, language support, extensibility, and the needs of both the development team and project.
Final Thoughts on Eclipse
The Eclipse integrated development environment is a popular choice for programmers using not only Java, but other programming languages as well, including Python, PHP, C, and C++. It has a large feature set, customizable user interface, and can be extended through a large ecosystem of plugins. It benefits from the support of an active community of developers and the Eclipse Foundation, ensuring it remains stable and secure through frequent updates and enhancements.
Although it can be resource intensive for older systems and its learning curve might be a deterrent for some coders, Eclipse’s commitment to continual improvement and powerful features make it one of the best IDEs for individual developers, remote programmers, and development teams of all sizes.