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Java: IDEs

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One of the most efficient ways to produce programs is to use an IDE (Integrated Development Environment). Why aren't they used more in an educational setting? Probably the main reason is that it takes time to learn the tool, time that instructors feel is not central to learning programming. They also hide details that may be important to learn about. Once you know how to do everything on your own, it's easier to understand and use these systems.

Full-strength IDEs

These provide extensive programming support for editing, building GUI interfaces, project management, debugging, etc. These offer far more than is required by the student Java programmer, and may be a barrier to learning Java because there is a lot to learn about how to use them.

A free, open-source, IDE is available from Sun at www.netbeans.org. This is a good choice for students because of the good GUI form editor and the editing and debugging facilities.. See NetBeans IDE for more information. java.sun.com has a nice bundle of NetBeans with the JDK. If you don't install the bundle, you must install the JDK first.

Version 4.0 (Java 5 (1.5)) is better than version 3.6 (Java 1.4), BUT it has a bug that prevents it from reading console input. If your programs are GUI based, and/or need Java 5 features, use NetBeans 4.0.

IBM's free Eclipse IDE, www.eclipse.org, is popular, and is the first choice of many professionals. It supports the non-standard SWT GUI library.
Borland's JBuilder (www.borland.com) is good and the JBuilder 2005 Foundation Edition seems to be free. See free download.
There are other IDEs, but most of these aren't suitable for student programs.
  • IntelliJ IDEA is reportedly excellent, but expensive. It gets more favorable reviews by everyone who has used it than any other IDE. There is a $99 academic price.
  • Don't use Microsoft's Visual J++. Other parts of their Visual .NET Studio may be good, but they have never provided good Java support. Also, steer clear of Symantec's Visual Cafe for Java, which is generally given poor reviews.

Half-strength IDEs

These are simpler to use for small projects, but typically don't have nearly as many features, eg, no graphical user interface editor. Not all have been updated to Java 5 the last time I looked, so check before downloading.

Many like it. The Control Structure Diagramming is nice. Easy to install. Free.

To enable Java 5 features, start with the Compiler menu:
Compiler > Compiler Settings > Workspace > Compiler (Tab) > Environment (Tab)
then choose "j2sdk(1.5) (prefer JDK compiler)", and click the Use button, then OK.

URL: www.jgrasp.org.
A popular, simple, free development system. It enforces indentation and allows immediate evaluation of expressions. Java 5 seems to be suported in recent beta versions. drjava.org.
  • JCreator (www.jcreator.com) - Free and "Pro" versions. A number of students have used this. Not updated to Java 5 as of 2004-12-12.
  • Gel, free from www.gexperts.com is another possible student-level IDE. I've never used it. Not updated to Java 5 as of 2005-01-20.
  • JavaBeginner from www.javatoolsoft.com. I haven't taken a look at this relatively new offering, and at $50, I probably will wait to hear what others say first. Not updated to Java 5 as of 2004-12-12.
  • CodeGuide (www.omnicore.com - $49 student price, free trial, Java 5.
  • BlueJ (www.bluej.org) - Used in some intro courses, but programs use a non-standard interface and it doesn't produce real java programs.
  • And many more...

Editors that run javac

Some programming editors will compile Java by linking to Sun's JDK.

Free, open-source, and good. This is my favorite editor. Has full set of plugins, eg to indent the source and compile. www.jedit.org.
Good, but doesn't indent program. Has brace matching feature. Pay, but can continue to use trial version with nags. If the Java SDK is installed first, TextPad will allow compilation of Java programs from the editor. www.textpad.com.

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