SOFTWARE ENGINEERING blog & .lessons_learned
manuel aldana
Manuel Aldana

December 12th, 2010 · No Comments

IntelliJ IDEA rocks (revisited)!

Many people ask me why I prefer IntelliJ over any other IDE. I switched to IntelliJ about 3 years ago so I cannot compare current IntelliJ 10 vs. other current IDEs Eclipse 3.6 or Netbeans 6.9. Still pair programming with colleagues who use different IDE and sometimes having to skip back to Eclipse I feel confirmed that IntelliJ is best IDE on market (my opinion is primarily based on Java-Apps). IntelliJ has recently released version 10 and improved a lot of things.


IntelliJ strikes in performance. It keeps all the files in an index. Access to and searching through all files is extremely fast, also compilation is instant (you don’t even sense it). Only the initial indexing process sometimes feels a bit slow, but version 10 shows big performance improvements on the initial index-process. I subjectively think that version 10 feels faster and UI is better responding.

Automatic in-memory compilation

Whereas for Eclipse you have to do a manual for saving a file, IntelliJ is doing it for you. Some people say, that this is “just” another shortcut to press, but I remember that it was a big relief not to do it. It really makes your fingers faster to go on with another task.

Auto-Completion + Intentions

The autocompletions and intentions are very clever (general code improvement, refactorings, type-completion, varables names, refactorings etc.). I sometimes feel that they read my mind. Since version 10 another major improvement got live: Instant auto-completion, you get suggestions as you type. I like this very much on Microsoft Visual-Studio IDEs, now finally there for IntelliJ.

Refactoring Support

Codebases should be continously improved. Structural improvements impose a risk that you break code, therefore automatic safe refactorings are extremely important. Here IntelliJ has the best toolset. It also plays nice with SCM support, when moving around files or renaming packages.

Prepackaged tool support

On other IDEs you have to install many plugins manually. On IntelliJ the most important ones are already there (maven, nearly alls SCMs) and are integrated well. I can’t remember one case where plugins got conflicted with each other.

The small things…

IntelliJ shows many little gimmicks, which put together make “the” big difference. Here an excerpt:

  • Run Unit-Tests on package basis (package focus in Project Window and <Shift>+<Ctrl>+F10)
  • Instant code execution on breakpoint (Debug-Window <Alt>+F8)
  • Instant copy file path so you can quickly jump to path on command-line (focus file/directory and <Ctrl>+C)
  • File comparisons: Excellent Diff-View. Compare with clipboard. Compare with other branch.
  • Coloring of files on tab and lines inside editor if they where changed by you without having committed. Instant notification inside editor, when file got out of synch with SCM repository (shows the commit-time and author of change).
  • Show SCM history of selection/marked codelines.
  • Working with resource-bundles. Inside code hover over a message-key and it shows you the translation instantly (like would give you little text-box “Logout”). Also refactoring the message-keys is safe ( gets upated).
  • Quick jump to Run/Debug settings (<Alt>+<Shift>+F10).
  • Automatic Code quality checks + report before SCM commit.
  • Intention ‘Create Test-Class’
  • Automatic files refresh. When switching to command line and doing SCM or maven actions, switching to IntelliJ back all files are refreshed automatically. No danger of stale data inside IDE.
  • General search for plain text or structural search.
  • Auto collapsing tool windows on losing focus. Very convenient on smaller notebook screens or generally increasing editor space.
  • Stable editor, even for very large files, e.g. it can show 5MB large XML-docs and even diffs between them (Eclipse always crashed here).
  • etc. (list goes on forever) ….

Minor annoyances

Of course with the praise from above there are still some drawbacks. I often had problems with SCM merging facilities (especially subversion), I now always do merging on command-line. When upgrading or changing plugins restart has to be done manually (at least on Linux version). Also some intentions could be added (when adding @Override above a method <Ctrl>+Enter, Pull-Up method, Extract Superclass or Introduce Interface should be suggested). For other IDE converts the different types of autocompletions are a bit confusing (<Ctrl>+Space, <Ctrl>+<Shift>+Space, <Ctrl>+<Shift>+<Alt>+Space).

Price considerations

The Community Edition is free. For Ultimate Edition which I use you have to pay some money, but regarding the productivity boosts this is simply peanuts. Budget people, please do the math: Depending New User vs. Upgrade (~1.50EUR vs. ~0.75EUR per day) how much does a developer cost an hour? Apart from making the developer happier you will also save money if only a fraction of the IDE related idle/waiting time is reduced.

Tags: Software Engineering · Technologies/Tools

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