What is an integrated development environment (IDE)?

An Integrated development environment (IDE) describes a software suite comprised of basic tools for developing software and applications.

Guiding a new application through development and into the hands of the end-user takes more than just a working knowledge of code. Developers rely on a range of software tools and resources throughout the development lifecycle, often including code libraries, text editors, compilers, and test platforms. However, with every additional tool, the job of the developer becomes more complex. Selecting, learning, deploying, configuring, and integrating each of these tools separately demands time and attention.

An integrated development environment (IDE) brings many of these common developer tools and resources together, allowing developers to access them through a single graphical user interface (GUI). Ideally, the user should be able to perform the majority of development tasks for a given project from directly within the IDE. By employing data visualization and providing a single, centralized interface, IDEs make it possible for developers to streamline essential tasks for faster software and application delivery with more fine-grained control.

The most effective IDEs are those that provide the developer with essentially everything they need to build and run applications. However, not all IDEs include the same components. The most-common tools included in an IDE software suite are:

Text editors 

Probably the most core function of the IDE is the text editor. Essentially every integrated development environment will include a text editor where users can write and revise source code. Generally, the text editor employs a simple interface using language-specific syntax highlighting, but some IDEs offer more visually-based control options, including drag-and-drop components.

Compilers

Compilers take the high-level source code created within the text editor and translate it into a set of machine-language instructions that can be understood by a digital computer's central processing unit (CPU).

Debuggers

Once the code is written and compiled, it next needs to be validated. Debuggers are designed to help locate errors in the source code, and to test application performance and functionality. Debugging generally occurs on the code-segment level, where developers can then identify and remediate problems before the finalized application is complete.

Code completion 

Code completion options further streamline programming tasks by identifying and automatically adding standard code components. IDEs with code completion help speed delivery cycles while also reducing the likelihood of coding errors.

Programming-language support 

Although most IDEs are designed to function using only one specific programming language (such as Python, C++, or Ruby), some IDEs offer support across multiple languages.

Integrations/plugins 

An integrated development environment brings together essential software and application development tools in a single location. Still, it should also be able to function as part of an organization’s larger IT ecosystem. IDEs that allow users to integrate other relevant tools tend to create a more streamlined development workflow than those lacking in integration capabilities.

Developers depend on IDEs for the following reasons:

Faster software and application development 

IDEs remove the need to manually configure and integrate new utilities. Instead, these tools exist as part of the same workbench, significantly reducing the learning and setup periods. Combined with simplified graphical interfaces and the convenience of not jumping between platforms and applications during the development process, these factors may mean a much shorter application development cycle.

Reduced onboarding time

As new developers join a project, IDEs help keep onboarding time to a minimum. Instead of investing the time in learning a range of software tools, new developers can simply focus on learning to work with the IDE, quickly getting up to speed on relevant tools and workflows.

Improved workflow

IDEs provide a range of solutions and functionality. This includes syntax highlighting and other features designed to help identify and remediate errors in the code, class and object browsers for navigating and visualizing processes, and a GUI interface for performing tasks and executing actions without having to switch between multiple applications. Taken altogether, these features help organize and streamline workflows for more efficient development.

Advanced automation

For essential software- and application-development processes—such as compiling, debugging, and deployment—IDEs allow users to build effective automations. These help ensure that the development process isn’t being held up waiting for approvals or other tasks that the system itself could easily handle.

IDEs bring clear advantages to development teams. These benefits include the following:

Centralization 

Integrated development environments bring together the most essential tools used by development teams: text editors, compilers, and debuggers. They may also include other relevant tools, and allow for ongoing integration with an organization’s existing systems and tools. This centralization greatly simplifies software and application development processes, allowing teams to work within a single environment to write, test, and deploy code.

Benefits of an IDE graphic

Source-code management

Generally speaking, if there’s an issue with an application, it stems from errors in the source code. IDE tools empower teams with greater control and visibility, easily testing, organizing, and restructuring source code whenever needed. Additional capabilities may allow teams to use drag and drop code components and autocomplete capabilities improve coding speed while also reducing the potential for errors.

Application fine-tuning

Built-in source control, version control, and code repository options allow development teams to return to and further improve completed applications.

IDEs are a broad range of software tools all designed to facilitate improved software and application development by making essential tools accessible from a centralized location. There are many different kinds of IDEs currently available. Some categories of IDEs include the following:

HTML 

IDEs for developing HTML applications, such as websites and other web apps. HTML IDEs can help streamline and automate many of the tasks associated with web development.

Multi-language

IDEs that support multiple programming languages. Many of these IDEs are free and open-source and can further expand using optional plugins.

Language-specific

IDEs that operate using only one, specific programming language.

Cloud-based 

IDEs that are accessible by authorized users from anywhere in the world using a standard internet connection.

Vendor-specific 

IDEs that are designed only for use in vendor-specific environments. Apple and Microsoft, for example, are both supported by IDE options created specifically for their products.

Mobile-development 

IDEs that are designed for creating and deploying mobile applications. Some IDEs are entirely mobile-focused, while others allow users to add mobile-development plugins for increased mobile-development functionality.

Naturally, there is often some overlap between different kinds of IDEs. A mobile-development IDE, for example, may also feature multi-language support and be entirely cloud based. With this in mind, organizations should consider all of the features and functionality they need, and then find an IDE option that meets all of those requirements—either built in or by allowing additional plugins.

As previously stated, there are many different categories of IDEs. These are some of the most-important differentiating aspects between specific IDEs:

  • How many languages are supported
  • If the IDE is on a central platform or hub
  • What features are automated
  • What level of customization is available
  • How much bandwidth is required
  • What operating systems are supported

ServiceNow, the industry leader in IT management and low-code application development solutions, provides essential development support and vital software tools all from a single platform. ServiceNow’s Studio IDE provides developers with a single, cloud-based location to build apps, debug code and scripts, manage source control, and publish completed applications—quickly,easily, and with fine-grained control. With Studio IDE from ServiceNow, everything you need to develop powerful mobile and desktop applications fast is at your fingertips. Empower your developers to build apps faster, manage your source with integrated source control, and work as a team for better collaboration. With Studio IDE, take application development further than ever before.

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