What Is an Integrated Development Environment?

Integrated Development EnvironmentWhen you first start learning about programming, you hear many people talking about an integrated development environment, or IDE. This type of computer application is used for building software projects, and it typically comes with settings for automatically creating a project hierarchy for specific platforms, such as Android, iOS, Django or Mac OS X.

Coding, Linking, Compiling and Debugging

An IDE is fairly heavy-duty software with high system resource requirements, and some IDEs are almost like operating systems in themselves, according to Eclipse. They’re used to create the folder structure of a project, write the code needed to build it, and then to debug and compile it into a binary file. Debugging tools in some of the larger IDEs, such as Xcode, Visual Studio and Eclipse, are extensive, and they allow programmers to step through each line of a program to see exactly how it behaves. They often include graphical tools that display a representation of a program as a network of nodes, giving programmers a view of any unnecessary code paths that can slow down software and run down battery life.

As software becomes more sophisticated, using newer frameworks and proprietary code, many platforms require programmers to use IDEs to build projects. An example is iOS, which requires developers to use Xcode with the Cocoa Touch framework, according to Apple. Of course, this IDE and toolkit can only be installed on a Mac environment, and older Macs with low RAM and slow processors can have a hard time running the software. There are open-source toolkits that have a limited ability to build iOS apps outside of a Mac environment, but these workarounds require somewhat advanced programming knowledge, preventing most developers from using them.

IDE Resource Requirements

Other large IDEs have similar resource requirements, but they usually aren’t required for building software on a particular platform. For example, many experienced programmers use lightweight text editors, such as Vim and Emacs, to build software for any platform. This approach takes some practice and self-discipline, but the programming environment can run on just about any computer with i386 architecture, such as Pentium II and later, with at least 256MB of RAM or so.

If you learn how to program with one of these command-based editors, you can work much more quickly, because your hands never have to leave the keyboard. Additionally, Vim and other lightweight editors have a huge catalog of productivity plugins written by the programmers who have used them over the years. There are lively debates over which text editor is the best for developing software, and many programmers who have put in the time and effort to learn Vim or Emacs tend to frown on the pointing and clicking approach used in IDEs.

However, for the majority of developers, it’s simply faster to point and click with a mouse than it is to learn the library of commands for navigating through a text editor. Most people have computers powerful enough to run modern IDEs, which often require at least 4GB of RAM, and the production bottleneck usually isn’t how fast a programmer can type code but how long it takes to design and debug a program.

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Software development is one of the fastest-growing industries because the demand for Web and mobile apps is continually increasing. Most software projects these days are built in an integrated development environment, which makes coding easier for the developer community.