Integrated Development Environment: Benefits and Types

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 12 October 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

An integrated development environment (IDE) provides software developers with all the tools they require to complete projects in a central location. IDEs contain tools such as a code editor, a compiler, debugger and build automation tools, and some have more task-specific tools such as object and class browsers. If you're a software developer, learning how to use an IDE for your programming language can increase your productivity and efficiency. In this article, we define what an IDE is, list its benefits and outline the different types.

What is an integrated development environment?

An integrated development environment is a computer application that provides tools for performing a variety of programming and software development tasks. IDEs provide all the tools programmers require in one location and offer a central interface to access them easily, making their work faster and more efficient. Some IDEs offer advanced features for data tracing, visualisation and cross-referencing. IDEs can be programme-specific, such as those for Python programs or have cross-language functionalities.

With IDEs, all the participants in the software development life cycle can access the tools for their workflows in one application, which makes these development environments ideal for collaboration at every stage of the software creation process. IDEs make several programming tasks easier because they allow the coder to insert frameworks and element libraries, debug code and perform in-depth programme analysis. They can also offer templates and code folding capabilities for a faster and optimal development experience.

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Tools found in IDEs

IDEs contain a variety of tools for authoring, modifying, compiling and testing code. They also offer tools for debugging, deploying and highlighting the syntax of source code, which makes them useful for coders, debuggers, quality engineers, testers and other professionals involved in software development projects. Here are some of the features of an IDE:

  • Code editor: A code editor is a tool for writing and editing source code, which is the underlying language of computer programs. Code editors are more efficient than text editors because they provide a simpler interface for writing and editing code.

  • Compiler: A compiler converts the source code a programmer writes into machine-readable language computers can execute.

  • Debugger: A debugger is a tool developers use to find and remove bugs in written code. They're used to make code cleaner, which makes them vital for the testing stage of software development.

  • Build automation tools: Build automation involves automating tasks required to transform source code into executable programs. Developers use these tools to save time through automation instead of completing tasks manually.

  • Class browser: This tool allows developers to navigate the class structure of an object-oriented software program.

  • Object browser: An object browser allows a developer to browse through the objects in a project and examine their properties, methods and events. You can also use it to check the procedures and constants available from object libraries in a project.

  • Class hierarchy diagram: This tool allows developers to visualise the structure of the code in object-oriented programming.

  • Autocomplete: IDEs also have autocomplete capabilities. For example, when you're using an IDE for a specific language, the tool can predict what you're going to type next and autocomplete it for you, which makes your work faster.

  • Syntax highlighting: If an IDE knows the syntax of the programming language you're using, it can provide visual cues by highlighting words with special meanings in different colours.

Related: Coding vs. Programming: What's the Difference? (With FAQs)

6 benefits of IDEs

Here are six benefits of using IDEs for programmers and other people involved in software development:

1. Enhances productivity

IDEs can increase the productivity of developers because they provide all the tools they require to complete software development tasks on one platform. Because developers don't switch from one program to another before completing tasks, they get more work done in less time. The central location of all the authoring, editing and testing tools also means that collaboration is faster, which can boost the productivity and efficiency of the software development team.

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2. Simplifies learning

The standardised approach of IDEs can make it easier for developers to learn how to code in a specific language. These applications provide all the tools developers require to complete their projects, offer comprehensive documentation and help pages to guide new, intermediate and expert users. So even if you're new to a programming language, having all the tools you require to write, edit, test, visualise and run your code can make you more proficient in less time.

3. Provides instant feedback

One major benefit of IDEs is that they have in-built debuggers, which allow coders to see errors in their code in real-time. The instant feedback you get from running your code through a debugger as you write can help you find and correct errors, which results in a cleaner source code. Besides the multitasking benefit of having a local debugger in the same writing environment, IDEs can also make you a more quality programmer by training you to spot errors in your code and avoid making mistakes again.

Related: What Is Software Development? Definition, Process and Types

4. Provides flexibility

IDEs increase the access developers have to their work, which provides flexibility and boosts productivity. You can access most IDEs from the cloud, so a developer can work on their projects from various locations. They only require a personal computer and a secure Internet connection to download and run programs via an IDE. Besides the benefit of working independent of location, this capability can also make it easier for remote software development teams to collaborate on projects.

5. Reduces project delivery timelines

Thanks to the integrated functionalities of IDEs, software development teams can reduce their project delivery timelines. IDEs provide an accessible environment where every stakeholder can contribute to each other's work, including editing, testing, debugging and executing programmes. The features of IDEs also make it easier for programmers to organise their resources, identify and avoid mistakes and implement shortcuts to prevent delays.

6. Promotes professional development

IDEs often provide regular updates of project templates, code samples, editors, compilers and visualisation tools. To use these improved capabilities, developers are expected to update their knowledge continuously. This not only makes developers more proficient and current about programming best practices, but it can also enhance their productivity and boost their value to the team and the employer.

Related: Compiler vs. Interpreter (With Definitions and Differences)

5 types of IDEs

Several IDE programs exist for a specific purpose, company or development focus. Companies that use code may have different programming requirements that affect the IDE they implement in their workflow. Here are some types of IDEs you might use in a development or programming position:

1. Multi-language

A multi-language IDE is the most common type, and these programs support multiple programming languages. Some of these IDEs limit the number of languages available, while others are highly custom. Each multi-language IDE serves a specific function, so a company can invest in the program that best suits its functions.

2. Mobile development

These IDEs are specifically for mobile development, such as coding for smartphones. Often, a multi-language IDE can transition to mobile development. These IDEs contribute to the development of applications for users to download onto their mobile devices. Often, these IDEs are specific to a technology brand or company to ensure the code works cohesively on its specific devices.

3. Cloud-based

Cloud-based IDEs or web-based IDEs, operate online instead of connecting to a specific location. This provides developers with access to their code from anywhere, as long as they have a stable internet connection. Cloud-based IDE usage often increases as the functions become more advanced.

4. HTML

HTML IDEs focus specifically on web development. Web design uses HTML, so professionals who primarily design websites may benefit from this IDE. HTML IDEs are popular because web creation and design are common programming specialities. These IDEs may overlap with cloud-based IDEs, making them accessible from anywhere.

5. Language-specific

The opposite of the multi-language type, language-specific IDEs function with only one programming language. These IDEs may be good for companies that work with one type of programming and rarely access other languages through their IDE. Language-specific IDEs often have specialised add-ons or features that allow you to program more effectively in that language.

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