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5 reasons why you need an IDE (and how it can save you so much time)

The video version of this article can be found at the end of the post.

If you’re an experienced developer, you probably already know why using an IDE is a great idea, but if you’re completely new to the Software Development world, you may not even know what an IDE is. Well, not to worry! For this post, I will explain what is an IDE and five reasons why you need to start using one. I will also give you examples of my favorite IDEs for different programming languages and technologies.

What is an IDE?

IDE is an acronym for “Integrated Development Environment”, and it is nothing more than an application that can be used to develop any kind of software programs. You can usually download an IDE from the IDE’s creators’ website and install it like any other application; for example: for Windows, using a .exe file, or for MacOS, using a .dmg file.

IDEs are designed to aid the programmers in their development process, and help them to be the most productive as possible by providing a Graphical User Interface (GUI) that can be easily used to perform basic day-to-day functions. A metaphor that comes to my mind is a calculator - if you’re a mathematician, you probably have bigger problems to solve than a basic average or division calculation; you can be more productive and solve more complex problems, if you don’t have to worry about the smallest operations that a tool can solve for you. This is basically what an IDE does for a Developer.

If your idea of an IDE is not completely clear yet, with the next five reasons you’ll get a better understanding on what an IDE can do for you as a Software Developer.

1. Syntax highlighting

If you speak english, you may say “cheers” after a toast at a wedding; but if you speak spanish, you’ll say “salud”; or you’ll say “prost” in german. Just like a regular language, every programming language has their own syntax, or their own way of “writing” or “communicating” the same thing.

Here are some examples of how you would create two variables (x and y) and add them to create a new variable (z), in different programming languages:

As you can see, they have some things in common, like the equal (=) or plus (+) symbols, but they also have some differences, like the end of a line (;) or the variable declarations (int, var).

When you’re using an IDE that knows the programming language’s syntax that you’re using, the IDE is able to recognize what a symbol or a keyword means, and then it shows your code with certain colors or formats (like bold or italic) in order to make it a bit more readable.

Here are the same previous examples, but using a different IDE for each of them:

Note that the one for JavaScript (top-right corner) does not specify an IDE, but an Editor. Some text editors also offer syntax highlighting, just like an IDE would. However, an editor won’t give you the rest of the benefits (listed below) and if they do, it’s not going to be as efficient as an IDE.

2. Text autocompletion

You know that thing Google does when you start writing some text for a new search and it wants to complete or give suggestions as to what you might be searching for?

The same thing happens with an IDE. Since it already knows the syntax of the language you're programming in, it can give you suggestions of what you want to write next. This helps you to be faster because you don’t have to write everything yourself, you can just start writing something and the autocompletion will give you a list of possible choices!

For example, say you forget a specific keyword that you need to use, but you do remember part of the instruction that is needed; instead of going to Google or to check on a programming book, you can just start writing what you remember, and the IDE will try to guess the command, then you just need to choose between your options and press Enter to select it.