May 21, 2020

Top Java Development Tools and Software

Java Tools
Java Application Development

Java is a vibrant ecosystem, full of wonderful tools and technologies designed to make working and creating with the language easier for developers. But the most popular Java development tools all have one thing in common — they make developing software and applications easier.

In this article, we look at the top development tools in Java, including IDEs, build tools, and virtualization technologies. Let’s get started!

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Top Development Tools in Java

It’s hard to determine what is and what isn’t a development tool these days. You could make a case that APM tools are development tools, or that testing frameworks are development tools. But, for the purposes of this article, we’re looking specifically at the following categories:

While these development tools, build tools, and virtualization tools aren’t necessarily Java-specific, the survey we’re using as a basis for this analysis was aimed at Java developers. If you want to view the full results of the 2020 Java Developer Survey, which includes coverage of the extended Java technology ecosystem, you can do so by clicking the link. Now let’s look at the top Java IDEs!

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Top Java IDEs

For those of you working in Java, you probably already know the top Java IDE. And, while we didn’t break our survey down into community or ultimate versions, we do know that IntelliJ IDEA has a loyal following among Java developers.

Top IDEs pie chart

The JRebel 2023 Java Developer Productivity Report found that 42% of Java developers are using IntelliJ IDEA, with Eclipse (27%), VSCode (22%), and NetBeans (5%) making up the remaining notable responses. But why is IntelliJ IDEA the main choice?

Looking for more insights on the challenges your Java development peers are facing--and the Java tech stack they're using to solve them? Find the answers in the 2023 Java Developer Productivity Report. Download your free copy today. 

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1. IntelliJ IDEA

From live templates to code completion features, IntelliJ IDEA offers a polished and developer-empowering Java coding experience. Because it’s the de-facto standard for Java developers, it also has much more community support available (if you’re not using Ultimate, which provides additional dedicated support). Add to that a large selection of high-quality plugins (driven by rigid development standards for IntelliJ plugins), and you can see why IntelliJ IDEA is the reigning champ in Java IDEs.

So what stops IntelliJ IDEA from closing that remaining 18.3% of remaining Java users? For some, its price. Not all developers or development teams have the budget to splurge on a Ferrari-like IDE. For others, it’s performance overhead.

If you want a better overview of the benefits of IntelliJ IDEA, and a one-page cheat sheet, be sure to visit our blog on IntelliJ shortcuts.

2. Eclipse

While not as popular or feature-rich as IntelliJ IDEA, Eclipse is still favored among a significant amount of developers. Why? Because it’s extensible, free, has a passable UX, and allows users to manage multiple workspaces simultaneously. You can find Eclipse much more customizable as well, allowing companies to create their own versions of the IDE for their own purposes like RAD or myEclipse.

3. VSCode

Visual Studio Code, or VSCode, is the third most popular Java IDE in our survey. It offers a lightweight, high-performance, and easy-to-use alternative to Eclipse. While it doesn’t offer the functionality of IntelliJ IDEA, it does have a number of extensions that make it easy to work with various technologies.

Most developers do not associate Microsoft often to Java code (they typically think of .NET), which we believe results in minimal developers actually using VSCode for their development practices.

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Top Java Build Tools

When it comes to compiling and building packages, build tools are an indispensable part of developing in Java. While there are many Java build tools available, the most popular by far are Gradle and Maven.

But that wasn’t always the case. In fact, Ant and Maven were the top two Java build tools for years. But Gradle use has grown — according to our latest developer survey, it's even surpassed Maven as the top Java build tool, due in large part to its prevalence in the mobile application world.

1. Gradle

Gradle is the most popular build tool in Java today. Why? Because it offers a lightweight alternative to the larger XML configuration files used in Maven and Ant. That’s because Gradle uses two domain-specific languages, Groovy and Kotlin, which can solve problems within a domain with less code. Gradle is also highly scalable and extensible, with plugins and integrations that greatly expand automation functionality. It also provides solutions that enable applications to work seamlessly between web applications and mobile applications.

Read more:What Is Gradle?

2. Maven

Billed as a project management and comprehension tool, Apache Maven was the reigning Java build tool for years. Using a project object model (POM), Maven is used for everything from project builds to project dependency management and documentation.

We believe that Maven is still the preferred option when it comes to enterprise java web applications as it provides means to create a great application using the POM file. The major detractor to this is the fact that the POM file can become quite large, resulting in dependency management issues for libraries.

Read more: What Is Maven?

3. Ant

Ant was one of the first modern build tools, but it had some obvious shortcomings, the primary of those being a lack of dependency management. Because of that, Apache packaged their dependency management tool Ivy alongside Ant, helping to keep it relevant for longer. Unfortunately, Ant faces some of the same issues that Maven does. Because it uses XML configuration files, and the combination of Ant and Ivy isn’t seamless, most developers prefer Gradle or Maven. If you want to build an application from the bottom up, you might use Ant, but who wants to do that anymore?

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Top Java Virtualization Tools

Virtualization tools are nothing new, with hypervisors being used in one iteration or another since the 1970’s. But, as an effect of overwhelming adoption of the microservices architecture, and the increase in new technologies that make it easier to embrace the benefits of virtualization, the virtualization tools Java developers use are in flux. In this section, we’ll look at three of the most popular virtualization-adjacent technologies today, Docker, Kubernetes, and VMware.

1. Docker

Docker is by far the most popular option from our survey with over 73% of respondents reporting use. But why is Docker so popular? Docker made containerization easy, giving developers a way to easily use the application stack and deployment environment that works best for a given situation. With deep integrations for many popular technologies, Docker looks poised to remain popular for years to come.

2. Kubernetes

If you say Kubernetes isn’t only a virtualization tool, you are correct. That being said, there is a number of other features available in Kubernetes beyond just virtualization, but for the purpose of our discussion, we are talking about virtualization. While Docker is the most favored for containerization, Kubernetes, as the second most-used tool, is the first choice for container orchestration. While Kubernetes and Docker Swarm competed for the same users for a while, that debate is largely settled. Docker Swarm is set to remove support within the next two years. That means that most people using Docker who need container orchestration are using Kubernetes.

3. VMware

VMware represents a large selection of virtualization technologies and platforms. With deep integrations and distributions for Kubernetes (including the open-source KubeCF), many developers use VMware in tandem with Kubernetes. What’s keeping VMware from being more used? For many smaller companies, VMware virtual machines add unnecessary performance stress to the application. But for applications who need fully isolated services, VMware is often the preferred choice.

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Final Thoughts

Today, we’ve looked at a lot of tools that could be considered Java productivity tools. They all solve a problem, or help developers to complete their work faster. But in terms of high-ROI Java productivity tools, there are few tools that can have as high an impact on Java development as JRebel.

See how much time you could save during your 14-day free trial of JRebel. 

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Additional Resources

Want to see which Java technologies, techniques, and distributions are most popular for Java developers? This webinar looks at the results of our 2020 Java Developer Survey, and offers some interesting insights into why these technologies and ideas are so favored.

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