NetBeans IDE: What's New in NetBeans 4.0 IDE

By Qusay H. Mahmoud, August 2004  

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When Java technology was first released to the public in the summer of 1995, the Java Development Kit (JDK) came with very basic development tools. Developers used their favorite text editors to write Java code, compiled it with the javac compiler, and shipped their applications as a bunch of .class files. But the Java developer community and several software vendors soon realized that Java is the language and platform of the future (and still is), so they developed all kinds of productivity tools to help Java developers deal with complex projects and write the best applications. Dozens of Java integrated development environments (IDEs) are available today and no IDE is perfect, because what works for one developer may not work for another developer -- especially when they are developing on different operating systems.

NetBeans IDE, which is sponsored by Sun Microsystems, is a free and open source IDE that enables you to develop cross-platform desktop, web, and mobile/wireless applications. Using NetBeans IDE, developers get their work done in a fun development environment that enables them to concentrate on the business logic of their applications. It provides productivity tools that simplify the life of the Java developer.

To help you determine whether NetBeans IDE works for you, this article provides an overview of NetBeans IDE, highlights the new features in NetBeans 3.6 IDE, and the upcoming features in NetBeans 4.0 IDE. The article also provides a comparison between NetBeans IDE and Eclipse.

Download the NetBeans 4.0 IDE (Beta 1).

Commercial Tools and Open Source

Many commercial tools are available from software vendors. Sun, for example, provides several commercial productivity tools, including the NetBeans Sun Java Studio Standard 5 (formerly Sun ONE Studio 5), which provides tools to develop and deploy all kinds of Java applications -- desktop, enterprise, web services, and wireless. There are many other IDEs available from Borland (JBuilder), Oracle (JDeveloper), and others. Another product from Sun is the Java Studio Creator, which is a next-generation tool, based on JavaServer Faces, for Java application development. Java Studio Creator aims to increase developer productivity and decrease deployment times.

In addition to commercial tools, many open source projects offer commercial-quality software development tools such as the NetBeans IDE. For this reason, several software vendors are offering tools that are can be plugged into NetBeans IDE.

What is is an open-source Java project, sponsored by Sun Microsystems, that provides a world-class integrated development environment (NetBeans IDE) which provides add-on modules for developing Java programs (including an editor), and productivity tools such as visual design tools, wizards, and code generators. In addition, NetBeans IDE supports the Ant build tool and the Concurrent Versions System (CVS) -- a source revision control tool. NetBeans IDE is open source and free for commercial and non-commercial use.

NetBeans IDE offers advanced features for developing Java applications and services. The standard distribution comes with dozens of tools to make your programming life easy. For example, it makes it easy to connect to any database with a JDBC driver, it provides tools for browsing database tables and views, and it enables interactive execution of SQL commands. In addition, NetBeans IDE is flexible so that you can customize it to handle new technologies as they arise. Therefore, if you don't find a particular feature (such as support for building wireless Java applications, for example) in NetBeans, the feature is most likely available as an extension module.

NetBeans 3.6 IDE

NetBeans 3.6 IDE, which was released on April 13, 2004, features a new windowing system that provides a new look and feel and improves the navigation within the IDE. Here are some of the new features and enhancements:

  • Windows can be arranged with drag and drop. Figure 1 shows a snapshot of this feature.

  • Figure 1: NetBeans IDE 3.6 Drag and Drop and Window Navigation
  • Easy navigation through the open IDE windows and documents. This is similar to the Alt-Tab on windows managers.
  • Native look and feel for Windows and MacOS (Classic on Windows 2000, desktop theme on Windows XP, and Aqua on MacOS). Figure 2 shows a snapshot of the new look and feel.

  • Figure 2: New LookAndFeel in NetBeans 3.6 IDE
  • Support for servlet 2.4 and JSP 2.0 specifications.
  • ...and many others. For a list of all the new features and enhancements, please see What's New in NetBeans 3.6.
NetBeans 4.0 IDE

The next release will be NetBeans 4.0 IDE. The main theme for NetBeans 4.0 IDE is coding productivity and usability. This is achieved by new features as well as enhancements that will appeal to Java developers who would like to get work done using a fun IDE that features out-of-the-box state-of-the-art software engineering tools such as refactoring. The new features and enhancements include:

  • A project system based on Apache Ant. The IDE's project system is built directly on top of Ant scripts. This means that you can compile, package, and deploy your NetBeans project in a server-side environment without having the IDE present. The new Ant-based project system enables users to work with multiple projects at the same time. There is also full integrated support for unit testing using JUnit. In addition, the developer can work with multiple projects at the same time, and the sources are presented in the content of their project in a logical way. What is interesting is that all of this is out-of-the box with no special setup required from the user, not to mention that users do not need to know Ant to use the system.

    The new project system will have an open architecture that can be extended with third party modules to support current and future types of Java applications. NetBeans 4.0 IDE will include out-of-the-box project types for J2SE desktop and two-tier web applications (Servlets, JSPs, and tag libraries).
  • Refactoring. This is one of the key features that have been demanded by users of NetBeans IDE. The user interface for this looks very nice, and refactoring is completely integrated into the IDE's editor as you can see from Figures 3 and 4. Refactoring features will support:
    • Renaming packages, classes, methods, and variables
    • Moving methods to other classes and classes to other packages
    • Extracting methods
    • Encapsulating fields
    • Changing method signatures
    • Finding references, declarations, and usages of classes and members

  • Figure 3: Refactoring (renaming method names)

    Figure 4: Refactoring instructions
  • Full support for J2SE 5.0 (or Tiger). This means that the code editor, debugger, and other parts of the IDE understand the new constructs in J2SE 5.0 such as enums, generics, or metadata annotations.
  • Support for J2EE development (Early Access will be available in October 2004). The NetBeans team will release a J2EE module collection as a separate download for NetBeans IDE 4.0 Beta 2 that will extend the NetBeans IDE web-tier development capabilities and will allow EJB and Web Services development. Features include:
    • Create EJB modules and EJB Session Beans
    • Synchronize deployment descriptor files
    • New Web Service wizard to create Web Services artifacts
    • New J2EE application project type wizard that allows the developer to define a J2EE application (a set of web applications and EJB modules)
    • Deployment and execution target to Sun Java System Application Server Platform Edition 8.1 and Tomcat 5
  • Further improvements on the windowing system. This includes multiple views/editors per object and sliding (auto-hide) windows. Figure 5 shows a snapshot of this feature.

  • Figure 5: The windowing system in NetBeans 4.0
  • Fully integrated performance and profiling tools. NetBeans 4.0 IDE will come fully integrated with Sun's JFluid profiling technology. This will provide a powerful and flexible profiling solution that makes profiling easy to use and as unobtrusive as possible as shown in Figure 6.

  • Figure 6: NetBeans Profiler

An Early Access (Alpha) release of the profiling tool has been released on August 12, 2004 and can be integrated in NetBeans 3.6 IDE.

NetBeans IDE vs. Eclipse

Eclipse is another IDE that is sponsored by IBM. Both NetBeans IDE and Eclipse are free and open source, and the vendors behind them (Sun and IBM respectively) also sell commercial versions: Sun Java Studio for NetBeans IDE and IBM WebSphere Studio for Eclipse. While the two IDEs have many similarities, NetBeans IDE offers the following advantages over Eclipse:

  • The standard distribution of NetBeans IDE comes with all the tools needed for an out-of-the-box experience. On the other hand, the standard distribution of Eclipse is missing out-of-the-box features that are required for Java development, such as a visual editor for Swing and AWT components, and it is a nuisance to install all of the open tools for Eclipse that come standard with NetBeans.
  • NetBeans IDE is a standards-based Java technology and can, therefore, run on any platform that supports Java technology. On the other hand, Eclipse does not conform to pure Java technology because it uses SWT (Standard Widget Toolkit) instead of Swing and AWT. A custom SWT is needed for each platform on which you wish to run Eclipse.
  • NetBeans includes far more tools for web development than Eclipse. For example, NetBeans comes with a built-in Tomcat servlet container and a JSP debugger so that you can run and debug web applications based on servlets and JSPs from within the IDE.
  • NetBeans IDE provides good support for Swing and AWT development; a visual editor for Swing and AWT components is part of the main distribution.
  • NetBeans IDE provides good support for Java 2 platform, Micro Edition (J2ME) (wireless/mobile applications) development.

NetBeans IDE is a fun software productivity tool that allows you to develop state-of-the-art applications -- whether stand-alone, web-based, or mobile/wireless. If you are a serious Java developer looking for an IDE that enables you to get the work done, and that is easy to install, easy to learn and use, fun to work with, then get NetBeans IDE today. NetBeans 3.6 IDE is a beauty that shines! Download it today and see for yourself, and prepare yourself for NetBeans 4.0 because it is going to eclipse all other IDEs that you have seen before. The first beta version of NetBeans 4.0 IDE is already available for download.

For More Information

Special thanks to Chris Kutler, Larry Baron, and Patrick Keegan of Sun Microsystems for their contributions to this article.

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