An integrated Development Environment (IDE) is an essential software application for any software developer. Among the various types of IDEs available, browser-based IDEs have gained significant popularity among development teams due to their convenient and intuitive development experience.
This article explains browser-based IDEs, their features, and the top five browser-based IDEs currently available. It also dives into the benefits these IDEs offer to software development teams while highlighting some important considerations regarding their limitations.
What is an IDE?
An IDE is a software application that provides all the required tools for software development in a single environment. It facilitates the creation, compilation, debugging, testing, building, and deployment of software applications, streamlining the software development process and ultimately enhancing developer productivity.
Most IDEs are available free of charge, while commercial licenses may be required to access more advanced features. Until recently, most IDEs were desktop applications that users had to download and install on their local machines. They also required specific hardware and software to run efficiently.
What is a browser-based IDE?
Recently, IDEs have evolved into browser-based or cloud-based IDEs, allowing developers to access them through any web browser. Browser-based IDEs are typically powered by third-party companies and hosted in cloud-computing environments. Users no longer require powerful computers to run these IDEs, eliminating the need for downloading and installing them.
Browser-based IDEs are excellent tools for facilitating online collaboration, especially when development teams work across multiple locations. However, it's important to note that these IDEs are still evolving, and may have limitations.
Features to consider when choosing a browser-based IDE
With numerous browser-based IDEs available, it is crucial to consider the following essential factors when selecting the most suitable one:
Features of the code editor. Look for code editing features that help increase your coding speed, such as automatic code completion and indentation, syntax highlighting, and code refactoring features.
Supported languages. Does it support the programming languages you intend to work with? Are there any plugins and extensions available for the specific programming languages you need?
Debugging support. Check if the IDE has built-in tools for debugging your code with features like breakpoints and step-through debugging.
Testing support. The IDE should support popular testing frameworks for unit testing and other test automation tasks.
Plugins and extensions. The support for using various plugins is crucial for extending the functionality of your software application. Check if the editor supports popular extensions and plugins, such as remote extensions and code formatting extensions.
Pricing. Browser-based IDEs also come with pricing packages. Thoroughly check if the features they offer match your budget and requirements.
Documentation and support. The IDE should provide instructions on how to use it. Some IDEs automatically walk you through the environment to explain all the required features. Additionally, it’s nice to have online support for troubleshooting issues, tutorials, videos, etc., to learn more about the IDE.
Availability of smart tools. Consider the availability of AI tools to support your development tasks. For example, some AI tools can help debug the code and provide intuitive suggestions to improve it.
Choosinga browser-based IDE vs. a desktop IDE
Browser-based IDEs offer several advantages compared to IDEs set up on local machines.
Browser-based IDEs eliminate the need to install, set up, and maintain IDEs on local machines
Setting up an IDE on a local machine involves downloading and installing the required dependencies. You must also meet specific hardware and software requirements and other configurations to utilize the software.
Browser-based IDEs eliminate these tasks, saving time for developers. You don’t need to worry about installing updates or configuring settings when switching between machines.
Desktop IDEs depend on the platform you are working on. You must set up the corresponding packages whenever you switch between operating systems, such as Windows, macOS, and Linux. On the other hand, browser-based IDEs do not depend on a specific operating system on your machine.
Improves collaboration and code sharing
Browser-based IDEs are great online collaboration and code-sharing tools. Browser-based IDEs would eliminate the need for sophisticated software, hardware, and other dependencies — and are great for remote-working use cases, like live coding interviews and pair programming.
Scalability and efficiency
Browser-based IDEs leverage cloud infrastructure, providing developers with a scalable environment with ample resources, meaning you can execute, build, and test your code without worrying about scalability and efficiency requirements.
Integration with other tools
Browser-based IDEs support integration with other tools, such as GitHub and project management tools, allowing users to simplify and speed up their development work.
The ability to access the IDE from anywhere
In contrast to desktop IDEs, browser-based IDEs are accessible from anywhere using your accounts — allowing you to use any machine and making it highly convenient for frequent travelers.
(All of these factors can be key in supporting a successful DevOps team)
Limitations of browser-based IDEs
While browser-based IDEs are gaining traction in the industry, they also have some limitations that you should consider before investing in a specific IDE.
Internet connectivity and network issues
Since browser-based IDEs rely on the internet, your work can be interrupted by connection speed drops and various other network issues.
Security and privacy issues
These IDEs are hosted in cloud-based environments and operate on web browsers. If the IDE hosting site lacks sufficient security and privacy features, your systems and data can be vulnerable to unauthorized access.
Check if the browser has security features like updated SSL certificates and secure login before using them.
Browser compatibility issues
Some browser-based IDEs may not support every web browser and can have issues with browser updates. Therefore, it is critical to ensure you use a compatible web browser and prepare to switch to an alternative browser if any compatibility issues arise due to updates.
Limitations in customization and third-party integrations and extensions
Not all browser-based IDEs support the required third-party integrations, extensions and libraries, and users will have to limit customizations for their software applications.
Most popular browser-based IDEs
AWS Cloud9 is a browser-based IDE offered by Amazon for writing, executing, and troubleshooting code directly within any web browser. The development environment can run on a Linux server or an EC2 machine. It includes everything required to build applications, like:
- A feature-rich code editor
- Various build automation tools
- Tools and SDKs for building serverless applications
This browser-based IDE has unique features, including innovative AI features like Ghostwriter to support coding in various programming languages, such as Java, Python, Scala, Ruby, and C/C++. The product offers a free version with basic IDE features and subscription plans that unlock advanced features.
The IDE consists of an editor, a console, and an output area, enabling developers to write their applications and observe their execution immediately, with seamless support on mobile devices. There are also many helpful collaboration features, such as git integration, chatting, and discussion threads.
Glitch also facilitates seamless collaboration with other developers by offering real-time features such as chat, collaborative editing, and project-sharing capabilities, enabling larger teams to work simultaneously on the same project.
This IDE is particularly well-suited for novice programmers who are in the process of learning to code. Apart from that, it’s useful for many development use cases, such as showcasing code solutions on Stack Overflow or developing demo code for various documentation purposes.
JSFiddle also comes with features for collaboration and code snippet hosting for conducting live interviews.
Summarizing browser-based IDEs
Browser-based IDEs are IDEs that can be accessed online through a web browser. They are becoming popular among developers due to their convenient features. They are platform-independent and produce different code editing features, testing capabilities, debugging tools, and deployment options. They also provide extensive support for various programming languages and deliver the scalability and efficiency support required for modern development workflows. Some top browser-based IDEs include AWS Cloud9, Repl.it, Glitch, JSFiddle, and CodePen.
Browser-based IDEs offer several benefits for organizations. However, you must consider certain limitations, such as potential network connectivity issues, limitations in customization options, and compatibility issues with different web browsers.
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