Review: The big 4 Java IDEs compared

How Eclipse, NetBeans, JDeveloper, and IntelliJ IDEA stack up in capabilities and ease of use


When you think of a Java IDE, you undoubtedly imagine a graphical application in which you write Java source code, then compile, debug, and run it. Of course that's a small part of the picture -- if you're building a Java application, odds are good you're working with more than Java.

There might be a relational database involved. Or if you're building a Web-based application, you might have to deal with AJAX, and that means JavaScript. And HTML. And that application will be running from an application server like Tomcat, so you'll need management tools for the application server. You're not alone; you're working with a team of developers, so it would be helpful if that IDE worked with Git or Subversion.

The list goes on, but you get the idea. Rarely is it the case that, when you build a Java application, all you do is build a Java application. And an IDE needs to provide tools that help you wrestle into submission all of the related technologies in which your project will entangle you.

In this review, I'll look at the current state of four of the best-known Java IDEs currently available:

  • The venerable Eclipse. Though versions of Eclipse exist for developing in many languages besides Java (C++, Python, Fortran, Ruby, even Cobol, to name a few), Eclipse is Java-based, and it's best known as a Java IDE. The fact that it can be used to develop in so many other languages is a testament to its extensibility, which is ... extensive.
  • NetBeans. NetBeans can support development in languages other than Java, though not as many as Eclipse. NetBeans began life as a commercial product in the late 1990s, but was later open-sourced by Sun and has remained so since Oracle's purchase of Sun (and consequent acquisition of NetBeans).
  • JDeveloper. JDeveloper is also an Oracle property. However, while NetBeans supports development in multiple languages and in a variety of Java environments, JDeveloper is solidly Java, and it's intended primarily for J2EE development.
  • IntelliJ IDEA. Like Eclipse and NetBeans, JetBrains' IntelliJ IDEA supports a variety of languages and Java technologies. IDEA is most noteworthy in its incorporation of productivity enhancements in the IDE's editors and tools. Unlike the other IDEs, IDEA is available in a paid-for Ultimate Edition and in a more limited -- but free -- Community Edition.


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