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NetBeans: Introductions to the Open-Source Project, More Than an IDE

  • By Wade Chandler
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NetBeans is more than an IDE. It is also an open-source project, community, and a rich client application platform. There is certainly more to NetBeans than just a free IDE. In this new series of articles about NetBeans I hope to introduce you to not only the NetBeans IDE but also the project as a whole.

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Figure 1: NetBeans IDE

The NetBeans Integrated Development Environment

The NetBeans IDE is an open-source IDE supporting Java Mobile, Standard, and Enterprise editions. It also supports development of NetBeans Rich Client Platform, HTML, XML, JavaScript, and other scripting languages and technologies. The IDE itself is a NetBeans RCP application.

Other standards and APIs are supported "out of the box" including but not limited to JavaBeans, Struts, Java Server Faces, JUnit, and ANT projects. Others are supported by add-on plug-ins such as Apache Maven and Maven2 and UML. UML along with some other features including Ruby applications will be available after install starting with NetBeans version 6. In my next article I hope to specifically address new features you will find in NetBeans 6.0.

The IDE also includes features that are common to Java IDEs. These features include an integrated editor with source code refactoring support, visual designers for certain technologies including Swing user interfaces, web applications and web services support, and projects which can be built from the command line without the IDE. There are too many features to address in a single article, but I will attempt to address many of them in the coming months.

Aside from Ruby and JavaScript mentioned above, there are other technologies being added to the IDE. These include PHP and operating system scripts such as Bash and Windows Batch files. The new JavaFX scripting language is also being added. This will provide many visual capabilities not previously available to Java developers such as dynamic presentation style effects Flash developers have enjoyed. Many others will come as NetBeans now has a generic language framework, known as Schliemann, for easily adding different language support to the IDE.

Plug-ins (Modules)

Using the NetBeans RCP as its base, the IDE supports plug-ins. These are first class citizens with their own project support accessible in the IDE using File|New Project and category NetBeans Plug-in Modules. This makes it easy to add support for your own custom needs to the IDE. It is also how the NetBeans developers keep adding extra functionality while keeping the existing functionality, and it provides the capabilities to upgrade individual sections or functionality of the IDE.

I currently have two modules listed on the NetBeans Plug-in Portal that do this. One helps clean up large directories, such as copies of large open-source projects, without consuming too much disk and CPU resources, and the other makes working with text embedded in Java sources and external tools, including SQL, XML, and HTML, easier. Many others have done as I, and most of the modules are free. I suggest looking over the plug-in portal as you may find something useful.

The NetBeans Rich Client Platform

The NetBeans RCP, as other RCP packages, is a framework and set of utility APIs which help developers create feature rich applications more easily. It takes care of many features that are common to desktop applications such as context menus, extensions or plug-ins that are called modules in NetBeans lingo, integrated data views, user preferences, and persistence between application sessions.

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Figure 2: Simple NetBeans Rich Client Platform paint application

There are many utilities and packages that applications can build atop. For instance, many 3rd party applications need custom editors, so editors are not unique to IDEs, and the NetBeans RCP provides this. There is a visual library that can be used to develop a wide range of functionality including graphing and reporting and diagramming tools such as UML or Organization Chart designers. There are many others for you to examine.

The RCP also helps integrate your application into the operating system. The RCP project support in the IDE can generate application launchers for Windows, Mac OS X, and general Unix and Linux. The common components and Swing extensions also have UI delegates defined for different look and feels. Coupled with standard Swing look and feel support these are things you as the developer no longer have to worry about.

You can examine the IDE to get a feel of what is available in the Platform. You can install and test it on different operating systems. You can also view the current API documentation. Based on the NetBeans RCP, the IDE sources are a good resource for developing RCP applications. They provide many working examples.

As I mentioned in the IDE section, plug-in development is supported directly in the IDE. This extends to RCP applications. For IDE plug-ins and RCP development there are many wizards and utilities to make things easier. Not that it can't be done, but this is much easier than trying to do it all by hand in something like a text editor or some other development environment. Aside from your specific functionality and code, most things can be added to your application with a few clicks and completing a few text fields in NetBeans.

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Figure 3: RCP specific New File options

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This article was originally published on June 27, 2007

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