My 5 favorite NetBeans IDE features (vs. Eclipse)

In my current project, Eclipse Kepler has been selected by the customer as the preferred IDE for all main tasks. Of course, I’m also using NetBeans 8.0 for some activities like, for example, legacy code test coding.

I have already used Eclipse some years ago and, at that time (2009), Eclipse Galileo were quite superior to NetBeans 6.x: faster, rich of code hints and warnings, full of useful plugins. So, I was not really happy when the project moved to NetBeans (because of its Swing support).

Now let me compare them again, Eclipse Kepler 4.3 vs NetBeans 8.0, on same project (a big ant based web project) and on the same PC (Win7 64bit 4G RAM).

Speed

My first big surprise. Five years ago, when I moved from Galileo to NetBeans I really missed Eclipse speed: coding, windowing, compilation, everything were significantly faster in Eclipse.

Now this speed advantage is gone. I don’t have benchmarks to demonstrate my feeling but now my coding is visibly faster with NetBeans 8.0 than with Eclipse Kepler. If you install Findbugs and PMD plugins, Eclipse becomes really slow.

Native testing support

Second surprise. Why, in 2014, an IDE for Java EE developers does not include full testing support ?

I cannot imagine any real EE developers which does not need any kind of test support from the IDE.

In NetBeans there is complete native jUnit and TestNG support (templates, test runs, jump to test option in the editor, both *Test and *IT files support) which I found very useful and efficient.

Eclipse native support is poor but of course it can be extended via plugin. I’m using MoreUnit plugin which is quite nice and add many missing features to Eclipse. See here for a small tutorial.

But even if you install a test support plugin like MoreUnit, still an important Eclipse limitation remains : the possibility to have a dir for test files separated from the main src dir, which is an essential feature to let us handling deployments. If you don’t believe me, have a look at this 2008 bug still open: https://bugs.eclipse.org/bugs/show_bug.cgi?id=224708 and its related bugs.
Simply unbelievable.

Java Hints and FindBugs integration

While coding, it is important to have feedbacks from the IDE about the quality of the code and possible errors. NetBeans Java hints is a very reach set of the code checks which helps me to avoid stupid errors and keep high the quality of my work. In addition, NetBeans includes first class support for FindBugs which, again, helps me during coding sessions.

I’ve found NetBeans code quality checks support better than the one available in Eclipse Kepler + FindBugs plugin. More checks and better control on how, for example, disable a FindBugs warning on a line (because it is ok) using an annotation: just a click with NetBeans and by hand with Eclipse.

Coding support: templating, completion,interfaces…

I like NetBeans coding support: code templates (some letters + tab to get most used keywords and structures (see here for some examples), auto-completion, now also using sub words, I can easily jump from an interface to its implementation, the new indent guide lines.

Similar features are available in Eclipse using, for example, the Code Recommenders plugin but I’ve found it quite slow on my machine so I had to disinstall it.

User Interface

NetBeans user interfaces has improved a lot while keeping its strong point: it is easy to use. Windows and menus are easy to find and the full screen mode is very useful on small screens. I really like the color coding setup (Norway Today) which makes code reading a pleasure and the dark skins for working late in the evening.

On the contrary, Eclipse interfaces remains somehow confusing and, my personal opinio, perspectives and workspaces are simply a waste of time.

Improving NetBeans FindBugs integration

In NetBeans 7.4, the FindBugs integration inside the IDE has been improved giving us the possibility to specify additional rules to be checked.

FindBugs has a plugin architecture that let user to add custom rules sets. I usually add FindBugs rules from FBContrib, a FindBugs auxiliary rules set.

There are hundred of rules included in FBContrib. Complete list can be found here.

What is amazing in NetBeans is that not only you can tell the IDE to use the additional rules sets but that the new rules are seamless integrated in the NetBeans interface. For example, FBContrib rules are grouped together with standard FindBugs checks.

First step is to specify the path to the FBContrib jar file (downloaded from the FBContrib website) in the FindBugs configuration (Options –> Editor –> Hints –> FindBugs )

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Press “Custom FindBugs Plugins” button.

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The “Add” button let us specify one or more additional jar files.

As I already mentioned, the rules included in the FBContrib jar file are integrated with the other native FindBugs rules.

See for example, the rules related to the “Secure” description before

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and after FBContrib has been specified:

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Both native and FBContrib rules can be enabled and disabled one by one.

With NetBeans Hints, FindBugs and, may be, PMD (see this post on PMD plugin ) all enabled there is a good chance that one problematic line can have more than one warning. In this case I suggest to keep native NetBeans hints enabled and disable the check in the other tools, mainly because NetBeans native checks are faster.

PMD in NetBeans: the EasyPMD plugin

PMD is a powerful source code quality checker which analyze our code and report bad coding habits, failures to respect naming conventions, inefficiencies and many others.

PMD has an internal list of rules to be checked. Rules are divided in sets. Each set contains several rules.

For example the “Comments” set includes all rules related to code comments.

PMD rules sets are documented here.

On my opinion a PMD rule violation should be intended as a suggestion to better check the code to be sure that the offending code line is really what we want to have. Often PMD is right to say the line should be fixed or at least improved.

In NetBeans PMD is enabled by the EasyPMD3 plugin available from NetBeans plugin area and from the plugin home page ( http://gianlucacosta.info/software/easypmd/ ).

Note: There is an enhancement request to introduce native PMD support in NetBeans, like what has been done with FindBugs.

One very important point to remember is that EasyPMD (and so PMD) is controlled by the “Action Items” window settings. Just click on the “Action Items” window filter icon and check that EasyPmd notifications are enabled. If not enabled,PMD will not check the code.

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When enabled, PMD checks Java code and

  • reports in the “Action Items” window all rules violations
  • marks as a blue circle the lines in the open editor window that contain a rule violation

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In the above picture, PMD reports that the field callCount is initialized to zero but this is a meaningless operation because zero is the default value for numeric fields. Actually this initialization will cost us few cpu cycles.

This is the PMD “RedundandFieldInitializer” rule belonging to “Optimization” rule set but there are many others.

Some PMD rules conflict with NetBeans hints because they check the same situation.

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The processFindForm() method in the picture reassigns one of its parameter (owner); PMD reports it at line 86 while NetBeans at line 106.

I usually disable the PMD rule if there is an equivalent NetBeans hint, also because some NetBeans hints give us the possibility to fix the problem with a dedicated refactoring (but not the one in the picture). PMD is an pure analyzer so it does not perform any change in the code.

There are several rules and rules sets available in PMD but not all of them are relevant for us. For example the “Android” rule set is of course not interesting for Java EE applications.

Thankfully we can select rules set and single rules we want PMD to check.

EasyPMD give us two approaches: select the rules sets to use but not the single rules or full freedom in rules and rule sets selection.

The first approach can be done with the EasyPMD UI interface (Tools –> Options –> Miscellaneus –> EasyPmd3):

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The list in the picture contains all rules set we want PMD to check. Single rules can be included or removed with the “Add Standard” and “Remove” buttons.

The alternative solution (full freedom) requires a preliminary activity: to prepare a jar file with the PMD rules set and rules we want to be checked. Detailed instructions to prepare the rules jar can be found here.

The basic idea is to create a xml file with contents like the following:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<ruleset name="Custom ruleset" xmlns="http://pmd.sourceforge.net/ruleset/2.0.0">
<rule ref="rulesets/java/basic.xml"/>
<rule ref="rulesets/java/comments.xml">
    <exclude name="CommentSize"/>
</rule>

In the fragment above, I selected the complete “basic” rule set and the “comments” rule set except the “CommentSize” rule.

Source and jar file I use can be found here

Once the jar file with rules has been created, we instructs EasyPMD plugin to use it:

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The rules jar is also useful to share PMD rules across the development team. The jar file can be placed in a shared area and all team members can refer to it in their (local) EasyPMD configuration.