An integrated development environment (IDE) is an application used to create software. An IDE can often support different languages.

IDEs have a number of different tools and functions that assist a developer in the creation of software.

Code editor

The environment where the user can write code is called the shell. The code editor is a text edit area that allows developers to write, edit and save a document of code. It has features that assist with the writing and editing of code. These include:

  • Auto-completion (or code completion). This is designed to save time while writing code. As you start to type the first part of a function, it suggests or completes the function and any arguments or variables.
  • Bracket matching. This is used for languages that use pairs of brackets to mark out blocks of code. It allows the code to be read and understood more quickly. If you forget to close a bracket while writing, coloured sections may help you to detect missing brackets.
  • Syntax checks. This recognises incorrect use of syntax and highlights any errors.

IDEs have a runtime environment. This means that you can execute the program one step at a time. This is useful to test that the code is working line by line before creating the final complete program.

Other IDE tools

The IDE also includes several tools to automate and speed up processes.

  • Translator. This compiles or interprets the code.
  • Auto documentation. This explains the function and purpose of the code, eg by noting the modules and variables used, and its expected behaviour, and collates this into a text file that can be used by other developers to understand how and why the code was created.
  • Libraries. These provide functions that are not included in the core part of the programming language. These functions can be imported and used at the start of the program code. For example, in Python the Turtle Graphics library provides access to some simple drawing and graphics tools.
  • Build automation. These tools save time by automatically doing the processes that would otherwise be done by hand. These could include testing or compiling. These tools are extremely useful when a program has many thousands of lines of code. They improve the quality of the software, minimising bad software builds as well as saving time and money.
  • Debugger. This is a program within the IDE that is used to detect errors. If the debugger detects errors, it may suggest what the type of error is and what line it is on.