It is no secret that a competent programmer’s most important tool is a good IDE. Until the early 2000s, text editors and command-line tools were the programming norms. However, their domination era has long passed. Modern IDEs significantly improve the old methods through advanced features that make them more desirable to programmers.
There are hundreds of IDEs available for programmers to choose from. Consequently, beginners and even seasoned developers often find it difficult to make a selection. Moreover, not all IDEs on the market are suitable for use on Windows, as they are specifically developed for other operating systems.
This article highlights the top five IDEs you can use on Windows and explains their best features.
What Is an IDE?
An integrated development environment, or IDE, is an application for software development that provides a suite of programming tools within a single graphical user interface.
Software development is far more than programming. It also involves compilation or interpreting, testing, debugging, and packaging. Hence, an IDE makes the facilities required for all these processes readily available.
What’s the Difference Between an IDE and a Text Editor?
An IDE and a text editor can both be used to manipulate plain text and provide syntax highlighting for programming languages. As a result, novice software developers often wonder which one is better for programmers.
A text editor is more bare-bones than an IDE and does not include a compiler, interpreter, or debugger. For this reason, they are much simpler to use and are not as performance intensive as an IDE.
The Components of an IDE
An application must possess three significant components to be considered an integrated development environment. It must have a text editor, a compiler or interpreter, and a debugger.
In addition to these main components, an IDE may also have other components that are useful to a programmer. These additional components vary depending on the IDE.
1. Text Editor
All IDEs contain a text editor that you can use to write and edit the source code of various programs. This text editor offers several functionalities, including syntax highlighting, automatic spacing and indentation, cut, copy, and paste, and automatic code completion.
The number of supported languages depends on the IDE. Regardless, most editors allow you to install extensions that support other languages.
2. Compiler and Interpreter
After writing source code, you need to either compile the code into an executable or interpret it to be able to run it. IDEs are often developed with a focus on a few programming languages and provide first-class support for those languages. As such, IDEs include compilers and interpreters for them in their installation package.
No human is perfect, and programmers are no exception. Consequently, all IDEs provide a debugger that allows programmers to pause the execution of their code and inspect it for errors and inconsistencies. In addition, IDEs also feature linting that warns you about common errors in the source code before compilation.
4. Other Components
In addition to the three essential components, most IDEs also include several quality-of-life features that aid the software development process. Some of these extra components include:
- File Browser: Displays the project structure and file hierarchy.
- Build Automation Tools: Automates everyday development tasks to save time.
- Source Control: Connects to an external source control service like Git or Perforce for file versioning.
- Class Browser: Displays class hierarchies and inheritance chains in object-oriented code bases.
- Dependency Manager: Provides an accessible method of using external binaries and libraries in your project.
The Best IDEs for Windows 10 Users
Ever since the development of the first ever IDE, Microsoft’s Visual Basic (VB), in 1991, countless other IDEs have sprung up to ease the software development process. These IDEs vary in purpose and capabilities.
While some strive to become jacks-of-all-trades, others are content to focus on a handful of programming languages. Consequently, the following list examines the top five integrated development environments you can use on Windows 10.
1. Visual Studio
Visual Studio is arguably the most popular IDE for software development on Windows. Microsoft actively develops and maintains this IDE with regular version updates.
The latest version, Visual Studio 2022, boasts significant upgrades over previous versions. Visual Studio offers first-class support for more than 36 programming languages, including C#, F#, Visual Basic .NET, and C++.
You can use Visual Studio to develop various computer applications, mobile apps, websites, frameworks, and APIs.
Furthermore, the IDE contains several free-to-use Microsoft APIs, including Windows Forms Application, Windows API, and ASP .Net web framework. Additionally, other Microsoft products like MySQL, GitHub, and Azure are integrated into Visual Studio.
Additionally, NetBeans provides powerful tools for syntactic and semantic code highlighting, refactoring, and profiling.
NetBeans facilitates application development through collections of classes and functions called modules. Consequently, software developers have a wide range of libraries and frameworks at their fingertips when using NetBeans.
In addition, this functionality helps to reduce code bloat as programmers need only include the features required in their applications.
Download: NetBeans (Free)
3. JetBrains Rider
JetBrains Rider is a powerful cross-platform IDE that is a major competitor to Visual Studio for .NET development. It combines the best features of the JetBrains IntelliJ platform and ReSharper for robust live code analysis and refactorings.
In addition, Rider provides other state-of-the-art facilities, including database integration, unit testing, source control, and debugging.
Rider is very popular among game developers because it contains features tailored to development on game engines like Unity and Unreal Engine.
However, most programmers prefer Rider for its speed and C# programming support. Moreover, it is highly extensible and supports user-made plugins in addition to official plugins from JetBrains.
4. IntelliJ IDEA
IntelliJ IDEA is one of the best Java IDEs due to its smart code completion, code navigation, and integrated tools like version control, debugger, and performance profiler. It has also served as the platform for building other popular IDEs like Android Studio, PyCharm, Rider, and CLion.
5. Android Studio
Android Studio is the official IDE for building applications that target Google’s Android operating system. It is built upon IntelliJ IDEA and distributed as free, open-source software.
Android Studio officially supports Kotlin, Java, and C++. However, Google recommends Kotlin as the preferred language for Android development and provides the Android software development kit within the IDE.
Android Studio ships with a suite of features customized for making Android apps. These features include a visual layout editor for customizing UI, APK analyzer, build automation, linting and refactoring, and a performance profiler.
However, its most powerful attribute is the Android Virtual Device, or Emulator, which allows you to test applications without needing a physical device.
Download: Android Studio (Free)
As you may already be aware, there are several other IDEs available for use on Windows besides those mentioned in this article. JetBrains makes some of the best IDEs, most of which are designed for specific programming languages.
These IDEs include CLion, PyCharm, PhpStorm, and Ruby Mine. Alternatively, you can use other non-JetBrains products like Eclipse, Code::Blocks, AWS Cloud 9, and Atom.
Which IDE Should You Install on Your Windows PC?
Choosing the best Windows IDE depends on your programming language, budget constraints, and target platforms. Hence, this article has revealed the very best among the many options available to you and will hopefully guide you in making your decision.
Moreover, in this age of free and open-source software, nothing stops you from installing more than one IDE on your Windows PC.