Top Java IDEs for 2022
Looking at the modern programming landscape, it’s reassuring to see the wealth of tools and software solutions at their disposal to create cleaner code, faster. Not only do coding standards and languages evolve over time, but workloads for programmers seem to be ever-increasing as more and more tasks become automated and more employees come to rely on software to support work tasks throughout their workday.
One of the best-supported languages when it comes to software solutions is Java. Established by Sun Microsystems in 1995, Java is a server-side programming language used to create the back-end framework for projects across multiple industries. From big data and Android devices to mobile solutions and gaming, Java remains a powerful and prevalent tool in software development despite its age.
Prior to 2001, Java programmers had to organize code across multiple text files and manually manage massive software projects. In 2001, Eclipse came onto the market, and the first Java-based integrated development environment (IDE) was born. Today, there are many IDEs in use throughout the software development community. In this article, we’re going to break down exactly what an IDE is, why they are useful, and provide examples of when they are most useful. We’ll then provide an explanation of different types of IDEs and how to choose the best for your Java programming needs, ending with a wrap-up of 10 IDEs we recommend for new or experienced programmers.
What is an IDE?
Integrated development environments, or IDEs, are software design tools that have a very extensive set of functionality included. Modern IDEs include integrated code editing interfaces, file management, code compilation, debugging, and execution tools, presented through an interface, all built into a graphical user-designed to improve and increase productivity and efficiency.
As IDEs have evolved, the support the interface provides to programmers has increased tremendously. Modern IDEs not only allow users to write and edit code, but have also been designed to identify and provide corrections for coding errors, code autocomplete functionality as the programmer types, and specific language support integrations that give users access to updates and functionality improvements made to languages over time. We’ll break down each of these components and functions more in-depth throughout this discussion.
Why Do You Need a Java IDE?
When we talk about the efficiencies IDEs provide for programmers and software developers, we are talking about the improvements that have been made to graphical user interfaces, or GUIs, over time, providing users with faster and more efficient workflows. Workflow improvements and the unified interface ensure software programmers minimize the time programmers spend away from writing code. IDE interfaces accomplish this through tools that organize and help programmers to manage assets side-by-side with the code they are creating. The improvements and efficiencies also come into play in that software languages are constantly evolving. Using an IDE with integrated plug-ins that automatically update provides programmers constant access to the most accurate and functional version of Java, which improves code and minimizes how much time programmers have to spend searching for solutions and integrating updated programming methods.
In this piece, we will be discussing the following topics, ending with an overview of the best tools available:
- What Are the Different Components of IDEs?
- When Should You Use a Java IDE?
- Tips for Choosing the Best Java IDE
- 10 Recommended Java IDEs
What Are the Different Components of IDEs?
Above, we talked about some of the functions a well-designed IDE should include as standard interface components. In this section, we’ll break down a more complete list of components and what each means for programmers.
A well-designed IDE is to a programmer what Microsoft Office is to a writer and should have similar automation and assistive tools for programmers. Editors should include syntax highlighting, code completion, code improvement, code navigation visualizations similar to a document outline, and syntax error detection.
Multiple Project-type Support
Software design projects run the full range of devices and platforms. Your team could be building a website or web app just as easily as they might be tasked to create a mobile app or desktop software platform. IDEs should be able to handle projects across all platforms to give your team flexibility in a single tool in order to streamline the workflow.
In the past, it might have been necessary to identify which tools were Java-focused. Modern tools, with so many platforms and project types filling your team’s workload, should instead be designed to integrate plug-ins and tools that support any language your team might need to employ in assembling a project. Full language support means that a user can set the IDE to be able to code natively in the language of their choice with no loss of functionality.
Compilers and Interpreters
Without an IDE, a piece of software that has reached a point where the coders need to test it and determine the next steps usually must be manually compiled at the command line level or through another set of tools. The compilation process will interpret the language and commands in the code and either execute or fail, and it will be up to the programmer to track down issues in the code. If the developer is using an IDE, however, they can accomplish all of this within the same interface being used to create the code, quickly gaining insight into what needs to be fixed or changed in the code, minimizing the turnaround time of the final project.
Debugging and Testing Tools
To support the compiler and interpreter functionality, coders need the debugging and testing tools necessary to find and correct syntax errors and test the programming logic of their software to ensure it functions as intended.
Software design teams are often contracted to create complex, feature-reach solutions to any number of business challenges. As teams build and tie together the various components of the tools they’ve been tasked to design, conflicts between various configurations might crop up. Source control functionality allows teams to track changes in order to determine what elements of the code function, and when changes create issues so that code can be reverted easily to a working state or test various modifications to live projects without impacting users. Source control historically was handled at the command line, but IDEs allow the same control over branches and issues resolution to be handled within a single interface.
Project Management Tools
Viewing and managing all of these interface components within the IDE interface requires the platform to integrate solid project management functionality that allows users to view and navigate all of the assets of a given project within the user interface. The automation baked into the project management functionality allows programmers to modify, add, or remove project components or artifacts
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When Should You Use a Java IDE?
The software design and development industry is flush with work, and as with most industries, a shortage of workforce to tackle that workload. Programmers must be able to quickly and efficiently create code. While many programmers swear by command-line interfaces and text editors with various functionality built-in, many teams prefer to use IDEs, as they provide a number of methods for improving and speeding up the process of coding programs.
Making the Code Editing Experience More Efficient
When a programmer is coding in an IDE’s editor, it can be hard to keep track of function names and variables used throughout specific portions of the code. Editors include tools that help visually set apart certain code elements. For example, one function highlights meaningful terms in the coding syntax. IDEs can be set to recognize and highlight terms that identify specific coding terms or commands in the code itself, using color, background highlighting, and other methods to visually set those commands apart.
Similarly, it might be difficult to remember certain commands, or you might find yourself using the same function calls and variables over and over. This is where autocorrect in an editor becomes handy. While autocorrect might be a bane for our cell phones, for a programmer it can be a great tool for keeping track of variable names, functions, commands, and other often used snippets of code. It can also save programmers significant amounts of time looking up forgotten commands or new functionality online.
The process of first compiling and then running Java programs is complex, and if performed from the terminal, requires a series of commands to execute. In an IDE, compilation and testing require a single mouse click. Even when using an IDE to auto-generate predefined code or assist in the coding process, mistakes are bound to occur in the code. IDEs are specifically designed to both test and debug software, removing the need for external testing environments and manual, time-consuming line-by-line code reviews.
Lean Into Improving Coding Standards and Practices
Coding is like writing in a lot of ways, in that oftentimes a programmer is crafting the code as they go according to notes, but it’s not always the cleanest or most organized syntax. However, when executing programs, brevity and efficient coding practices can help software to execute faster and to improve the ability of other programmers to read what’s going on. IDEs often include refactoring tools that allow changes to be made to variable names, file names, and other user-defined assets across the scope of a project quickly. This function can also simplify the structure of a programmer’s code.
Software projects are becoming increasingly complex, and when teams of developers are working on the same project from shared repositories, it’s necessary that the tools being used can keep changes organized in order to maintain the integrity of the code. IDEs provide teams with a level of version control that again can be accomplished through the click of a button, versus the multiple command-line functions that must be executed in order to save and track changes.
If your programming team uses predefined libraries of code and functions, an IDE can be used to quickly and efficiently import, organize, and manage those third-party libraries. In well-designed IDEs with libraries applied, the other functions will pull the code and syntax from the library to help improve and speed up the coding process.
Tips for Choosing the Best Java IDE
Business decisions involving folding a new software into your technology stack can always be tricky. There are not only the business and cost considerations in play but also how well the tool integrates with your existing software tools and routines. With IDEs, there are also considerations on how well the platform integrates and delivers on the standard functions the class of software should include. From these considerations, we’ve assembled some tips you should take into consideration when choosing an IDE for your software projects.
Does the Investment of Time and Resources Match Your Needs?
First, remember that IDEs, like most software, come as paid software, free open source solutions, and even as subscription-based software as a service (SaaS). You have to decide on a model that works with not only your programming needs but also fits your budget.
Next, what functions do you need the software development tool to have? Does it need to be a full IDE, or do you need a code editor? Depending on your workflow and the tools you already have in place, you’ll either be using an IDE to replace other tools or using a less robust tool to fill in the gaps in your workflow.
Choose An IDE Your Team Can Use
Know your team and their capabilities, as complexity versus ease of use becomes a determining factor when you consider IDEs that allow you to integrate third-party libraries or packages that extend the functionality of the platform. The more complex the platform, the steeper the learning curve for less experienced teams. However, sacrificing such extensibility in the development environment also limits the overall value and usefulness of the platform.
Ensure the IDE is Technically Sound
As with any other software, poorly designed or badly optimized IDE platforms will run slowly and take a long time to save, load, compile, and other functions associated with creating software projects. Speed is a crucial element IDE designers must integrate when building out their tools.
Powerful debugging algorithms are another component successful IDEs must include, as debugging is one of the primary advantages of using an IDE. If the debugging interface is ineffective, or difficult to use or understand, then the overall tool will fail to meet users’ needs.
10 Recommended Java IDEs
Now that we’ve broken down the typical features high-quality IDEs should include, and how to prioritize your decision-making process when choosing an IDE, we’ve also done the heavy lifting on identifying some of the best Java-focused IDEs on the market. Below you’ll find that we sorted the top ten most talked about Java IDEs into useful categories so you can find one that fits your needs.
The Top Three Java IDEs
No matter the software category, there will always be top-performing platforms that the community feels meet their needs the most. For Java IDEs, there are three very specific platforms users tend to gravitate towards.
The Eclipse IDE platform is an open-source project attached to the Eclipse Foundation. Originally a project created by IBM in 2001, the Eclipse Foundation evolved over the years into a non-profit corporation managing the community of users around the IDE and open-source code projects that put it on the map.
Eclipse was created using Java as a Java-focused, cross-platform tool that has evolved into a multi-language IDE through the use of plug-ins and extensions. Eclipse can be run native to a developer’s system as well as remotely through Eclipse Che, a cloud-based version of the platform; this remote access allows teams to debug the project remotely. As a development community, Eclipse Foundation also boasts an extremely robust marketplace of integrations and extensibility that improve performance and functionality.
Pricing: As an open-source platform, there is no pricing associated with use. However, the Eclipse Foundation is a unique community that relies upon the financial support of its community, and they offer three membership tiers (Associate, Contributing, and Strategic) that allow those who pay various levels of influence and access to development decisions and how assets are focused on various Eclipse projects. Membership fees range according to tier and an organization’s revenue.
Trial: Not applicable due to the open-source nature of Eclipse.
The IntelliJ IDEA tool was created by JetBrains, a development team that got its start in 2000. The developer offers IntelliJ IDEA as an open-source community version and as a license-based premium commercial edition with a yearly price-tag attached.
In addition to the developer workflows and features that set IDEs apart from standard code editors, IntelliJ IDEA is known for allowing programmers to inject and mix other languages together within the flow of the code, giving programmers more flexibility while maximizing efficiency. It is also built to recognize the context of the code being used by a programmer and pulls up corresponding tools automatically, even further simplifying the workflow.
Pricing: The open-source Community Edition has no pricing associated with use. For the IntelliJ IDEA Ultimate edition, access costs are reduced yearly over the first three years, at which point annual costs stabilize
- $499 first year per user
- $399 second year per user
- $299 from the third year moving forward per user
Trial: The Ultimate version of IntelliJ IDEA comes with a free 90-day trial.
Maintained by the Apache Software Foundation, NetBeans is only one of several open-source platforms under the purview of the non-profit organization that was founded and incorporated in 1999. NetBeans can trace its code roots back as far as 1996 to a student project out of the Czech Republic that was the foundation for the original Java IDE, Xelfi. Originally a tool to create development tools, NetBeans evolved over the years until it was donated by Oracle to the Apache Software Foundation in 2016. It took three years for the code to evolve through Apache’s incubator process into a Top-Level project capable of operating across platforms and supporting multiple languages.
NetBeans is a powerful IDE that incorporates the ability to detect errors and provide guidance in real-time as programmers build out their code. Unlike other less stable refactoring tools, NetBeans allows refactoring and restructuring of code while maintaining its integrity. Developers also appreciate the easily accessible project management tools and the speed at which the development environment operates. There is also a large and very active community that creates and shares plug-ins with other users designed to improve and increase the functionality of the coding tool.
Pricing: As an open-source platform, there is no pricing associated with use.
Trial: Not applicable due to the open-source nature of NetBeans.
The Java IDE Workhorses
Rounding out the middle of the field is a mix of open-source and premium IDEs that developers swear by. Whether they are considered full-featured solutions or highly customizable lightweight platforms, we’ve chosen four examples that are considered some of the best developers have at their disposal.
Oracle is the software developer behind the open-source JDeveloper IDE tool, which first appeared on the software development scene in 1998. Now in its 12th official release, JDeveloper can be used as a full end-to-end development tool to code, debug, optimize, and improve and iterate before sending the code up for live deployment.
In addition to an editing process that allows users to edit directly from the project documents, JDeveloper also incorporates a drag-and-drop interface that can speed up the editing and coding process. The workflow supports agile development methods and incorporates an in-depth version control framework.
Pricing: As an open-source platform, there is no pricing associated with use.
Trial: Not applicable due to the open-source nature of JDeveloper.
The jEdit tool was built in 1998 under the purview of Slava Pestov, who oversaw the tool until he handed it over to the open-source community in 2006. Since then, the Java-based, multiplatform developer’s tool has evolved to support multiple file formats and encodings within its editor and the community has created a solid foundation of plug-ins that expand the functionality of the tool.
The highly customizable and configurable coding environment, including keyboard shortcuts and toolbars, along with advanced plug-ins can transform jEdit’s editing environment into a full-featured IDE that can compete with other top-rated development tools.
Pricing: As an open-source platform, there is no pricing associated with use.
Trial: Not applicable due to the open-source nature of jEdit.
Developed by Xinox Software, the JCreator platform has a similar interface to another popular and often-used IDE, Microsoft Visual Studio. Unlike many of the popular IDEs on this list, JCreator wasn’t built using Java, but instead built with C++, which the creators assert makes the platform perform faster than competing IDEs. JCreator is primarily a Microsoft Windows tool that can only be used on Linux-based systems with the use of special interface tools.
The platform comes in a Lite and Pro version. Despite the speed of operation, the creators assure users the platform has over other IDEs, even the pro version lacks some of the advanced features that are commonly included in other free platforms, including automated refactoring and support for common frameworks. The Lite version lacks additional functions in the editor. Overall, the level of extensibility found in other IDEs through the use of plug-ins is also limited in JCreator, making its easily navigable user interface that much more important for boosting the overall user experience.
Pricing: There are two versions of the program:
- Lite Edition: $35 for a single-user license
- Pro Edition: Ranges $79 for a single-user license up to $1600 for a 30-user license
- There is also Academic pricing and Upgrade pricing allowing Lite users to bring their software up to the full Pro edition
Trial: Both versions of the software allow the user to evaluate the software for 30 days before having to make a purchase decision.
The jGRASP platform was created by a team at Auburn University and is now maintained by a dedicated team. In various forms throughout its development, jGRASP was funded by a number of research grants provided by NASA, DARPA, and other government entities. The platform is designed to operate across multiple operating systems and supports other languages as well.
While it’s a very powerful, lightweight IDE, jGRASP is a boon for developers needing a platform capable of creating software visualizations of the Java applications built with the tool. This visualization functionality can be imported by other IDE’s like a plug-in, making jGrasp an extremely versatile and useful software development resource.
Pricing: While there is no cost associated with the usage of the software, licensing requires that it must be downloaded from the jGrasp site maintained by the development team and can be shared within an organization between users. Unlike other software on this list, it is not considered open-source.
Trial: Not applicable due to the licensing in place by Auburn University not requiring the purchase of the software for use.
Instructional Java IDEs
One of the functions an IDE can serve is to act as a learning tool for beginners and programmers early in their career or a resource for assisting experienced programmers in keeping abreast of the latest programming trends on current development projects. In this section, we overview three platforms built specifically with education and students in mind.
The DrJava IDE is a lightweight platform developed and maintained by the JavaPLT group at Rice University. The debugger allows code to be stepped through in order to allow a more thorough code review and troubleshooting to take place. In order to make the tool more universal across platforms, the development team utilized the same toolkit to create each version, giving the platform a consistent visual aesthetic and interface across operating systems.
The testing and debugging tools are designed to allow students to create Java code and for instructors to easily review it at a micro-level and be able to provide guidance and feedback much easier. Not designed for large-scale projects and with limited feature performance for features such as auto-completion, the tool operates fairly slowly and shouldn’t be considered for commercial applications in fast-paced agencies.
Pricing: DrJava is not an open-source software project, and as it is maintained by Rice University’s JavaPLT group, the software is available to users under a standard BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution) license, which imposes minimal restrictions on distribution by the user.
Trial: Not applicable due to the licensing in place by Rice University not requiring the purchase of the software for use.
BlueJ began as a separate pedagogical language called Blue that was created by Michael Kölling in the 1990s. With the support of Sun Microsystems, Kölling ported Blue into Java, creating BlueJ in 1999, which has since spread from Australia into the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe. The platform’s support team finally landed at the University of Kent under the institution’s Computing Education Research Group, but the team eventually moved to Kings College London. BlueJ functions across all operating systems and can even be run from an external USB drive without installation.
As an IDE, BlueJ has a number of standard features but is presented with a much simpler interface than other tools. It’s designed for educators and teaching and is supported by an official textbook. The interface is interactive, allowing novice coders to explore how they can interact with objects in Java, and BlueJ is known for originating an object bench, code pad, and scope coloring into the IDE interface.
Pricing: BlueJ is licensed under the GNU General Public License version 2, making it free to download.
Trial: Not applicable due to the licensing in place not requiring the purchase of the software for use.
Greenfoot is another project overseen by the Programming Education Tools Group, which was established first at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom, but later shifted to King’s College London. Michael Kölling, the creator of BlueJ, supervised a student at the University in prototyping and creating Greenfoot from 2003 through 2005. The Programming Education Tools Group continues to maintain Greenfoot and has expanded the educational tool to encompass other languages beyond Java.
Intended for instructional use, the interactive IDE allows worldwide collaboration on a single platform. Learners can be instructed and participate in real-time, and learn how to use standard IDE features such as project management tools, code completion, and syntax highlighting.
Pricing: Greenfoot is licensed under the GNU General Public License version 2, making it free to download.
Trial: Not applicable due to the licensing in place not requiring the purchase of the software for use.
The Right Integrated Development Environment For Your Team
Programmers need the best tools available to create powerful and functional software solutions to modern business problems and challenges. The need for highly customizable and flexible tools is paramount, given how complex modern projects can be and how many integrations are necessary to truly harness the full power of modern programming languages. Java, though one of the older languages in use, is also one of the most widely used, and for back-end developers, it’s useful to have development tools designed specifically with Java in mind to keep up with advancements and to ensure portions of code or project parts work well together. With this list, we hope that we’ve provided development solutions for veteran programmers and learners alike. Learn more about Java Development solutions and find Java Development service providers to support your own development needs on UpCity’s marketplace.