Eclipse IDE: Getting Started, Plugins, and More

With the recent quarterly release of the Eclipse IDE, it’s a good time to see how both the IDE and the larger Foundation are progressing. I started using Eclipse about 14 years ago, not long after a consortium of companies (including Red Hat and IBM) launched the integrated development environment in 2001.

The name Eclipse comes from “eclipsing” Visual Studio (which the creators viewed as the platform’s biggest competition at the time); the consortium became the Eclipse Foundation.

All the early versions of the IDE had names derived from Galileo, moons of Jupiter and a Roman God—but using such names was dropped in 2018. Now it has quarterly releases with 4.12, being the most recent as of June 2019. Written largely in Java, Eclipse has become widely used among those who must build Java applications (which is a lot of people). (If you’re wondering whether to use an IDE at all, or how to choose one, check out this handy guide.)

Eclipse Foundation

Currently boasting over 275 members, and organized as a non-profit, the Foundation has existed in roughly its current form since 2004. It provides governance so that all projects are licensed under the Eclipse Public Licence.

There has been some governance-related excitement over the years. In late 2017, for instance, the Foundation was given the rights to Java EE by Oracle—they just had to rename it as Oracle kept the rights to the Java name. Instead, it became Jakarta EE.

The Foundation has several hundred projects, and we’ll look at some of them a bit further on. The one Eclipse is known for, of course, is the IDE. These days, you can download a preconfigured version. If you’d like Java with that, or perhaps a touch of C/C++ or PHP, the download page lists 13 packages plus the Yatta launcher.

However, if you want a 32-bit version, you’re out of luck: All three installers (Windows, Mac and Linux) are 64-bit only. It’s been quite some time since I installed Eclipse on a clean machine, and I’d forgotten you also need a JRE installed first (make sure it’s 64-bit). Do read the installation notes. If you are planning to do Java development, get the JDK instead—but note that, if you use the Oracle JDK, you may not get free updates (the alternative OpenJDK version is free).

Once you’ve unzipped your JDK or JRE and set the path, the installation can begin. You get a choice of which development flavor (Java, C/C+, PHP) to install. After ticking a few boxes and setting a default workspace, I was almost ready. I could create a project, but it still needed me to download and install a C++ compiler or there’d be no compilation. As I’m on Windows, there’s a choice of MinGW or Cygwin and I much prefer MinGW unless you really need Posix compatibility. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s 64-bit for compatibility.

The Eclipse IDE hasn’t substantially changed in the last ten or so years, though it has some flashier graphics (such as the configuration screens). It shows you can still write elegant-looking software for Windows in Java (personally, I’ve always found it has a bit of a busy interface, with around 150 menu options before you add any plugins). I prefer Visual Studio, but if I didn’t have it, Eclipse would be a very good alternative—I think it is better than Xcode on Macs.

Other Foundation Projects

In some respects, the Eclipse Foundation is a bit like the Apache Foundation, but differs in matters such as governance. Both have certainly built up a large number of projects, though they have different strategies for on-boarding projects. Eclipse Che, a collaborative version outsourced from Codenvy, tried to join the Apache Foundation but eventually went to the Eclipse Foundation, where it is currently in incubation (you can read about the process in this Reddit thread).

There are just under 400 projects listed on the Eclipse project pages, with quite an emphasis (naturally) on Java tools. Other interesting projects include Eclipse ChemClipse for analytical chemistry, Eclipse Linux Tools for C/C++ on Linux, and Eclipse Corrosion for Rust. If you look deeper, you’ll find projects to support PHP, C#, Latex, Dart, Web development and many other technologies. Modeling seems to be very supported, as well.

Marketplace

There’s also an Eclipse Marketplace, similar to Visual Studio’s marketplace. This gives you direct access to not one but three Marketplaces (Eclipse, Obeo and Red Hat); best of all, it means you can install direct from the marketplace with one click. This is a big improvement over the old Eclipse.

You can also browse the marketplace (the Eclipse one) from a browser. It’s easier to find solutions that way; you can then install from within Eclipse.

Yatta

I mentioned Yatta earlier—it is well worth checking out. It’s a plugin that lets you install a profile. There’s a library of around 500 preconfigured profiles; just pick one and it does all the Eclipse configuration that you’ll ever need, whether for Python development, Android, whatever. It’s brilliant.

It also means you no longer have to get your hands dirty configuring it. I’ve spent too many hours setting stuff up in the past, so this is just wonderful.

Conclusions

Although Eclipse IDE is an IDE, it can just as easily be described as a platform, more similar to Visual Studio Code than, say, Visual Studio.

About the only criticism I can level about Eclipse is that it can get quite complex, especially once you add in the plugins. I guess it’s a marmite thing; you either love it or you don’t! There’s a bit of a learning curve but no more than with Visual Studio.