11 November 2008

IntelliJ 8.0's a large step forward (and none back!)

I just downloaded the latest and greatest revision of Jetbrain's flagship product, Intellij IDEA 8.0. It is, in a word, pretty awesome. This is due in large part to the refactoring of the core that has occurred between 7 and 8 to improve the application of the IDE for different languages. Support includes, but is not limited to, Groovy, Scala, Ruby, and Java (wherein you also have a dozen different DSLs with which IDEA contends admirably).

What seems to happen with Intellij is that they include feature and support for a feature that's, shall we say, half baked. Don't get me wrong: a half baked Intellij feature's usually worth 2 or 3 fully baked Eclipse features. Compared to the usual level of quality, some times things slip through that don't meet expectations but that do – nonetheless – work. Where 7.0 of the IDE was pretty revolutionary, version 8.0 seems evolutionary (at least in terms of features.)

Instead, things are better polished, faster. Maven support was good when it was introduced in 7.0. Now, it's remarkably well thought and configurable. Intellij has supported displaying test coverage data when unit tests are running. Now it's possible to jump from a class to a test case. Ever wanted to be able to ride the data flow analysis and see where values in the system come from? Now you can. The support for Subversion and Subversion 1.5 is pretty stellar, and includes the ability to see which version of a change have already been integrated into a branch. Actually, the Subversion support is one of the things I've long liked from Intellij. Eclipse hasn't until version 3.4 officially supported Subversion at all. Eclipse 3.4 includes part of the functionality for accessing Subversion, but due to licensing issues you're on your own to install the remaining bits yourself. Intellij already had support for Flex (and the best JavaScript integration I've ever seen), but not much more than support for referencing and coding ActionScript. Now, you can almost effectively remove Flex Builder from your life if you're not planning on doing anything graphical.

And of course, there are new features, too. Support for Seam, better support for Jruby (which was already being called the best in the industry, and is now the extracted core of Intellij's RubyMine product), 20+ new intelligent refactoring capabilities, the ability to assign and swatch of text a “language” so that Intellij can enable proper editing for it, and the UML capabilities round out the features. One of my favorite new features is the ability to... remove... features. Intellij has a LOT of features. While they're not obtrusive or glaringly present like an overloaded Eclipse instance can be, they are there when you launch the application and they consume RAM. I loaded IntelliJ and it gave me a Plugin configuration wizard by which I could disable plug ins. I'm not likely going to be using the Perforce SCM integration, and nor am I likely going to be using the FreeMarker and Struts configuration tools. So, why not disable them? The speed boost at both runtime and startup is marked.

There are many more new features to like in this tool as well as the coder-friendly editor itself, which is just as tight a fit now as it's ever been. IntelliJ has always taken refactoring to a new plateau hiterto unmatched by Eclipse or Visual Studio, and this release is now exception.

What I didn't like: the tool had some JSP validation errors because of a URL that needs to be downloaded to resolve. In previous versions a little intelligent tooltip would prompt you to let IntelliJ download the file. Not so much in this case. Instead, I was prompted by IntelliLang's tool tip, asking me if I wanted to declare the URL to be a fragment of .. insert your favorite schema/dialect/language/grammar here. Annoying. I still don't know how to get the old functionality to return. Thankfully, in this case, the code was one "old" style JSP and the rest of the site consists of JSP Documents, which all displayed and edited perfectly. And quickly! IntelliJ is pretty quick, anyway, but it seems like the price you pay for invalid HTML is more pronounced in the IDE than, say, with DreamWeaver. )

All in all, a worthy upgrade and I wholeheartedly recommend it.