The Rise of NetBeans — Why The Increasingly Popular IDE Has Eased Java Application Development for a Network of 1M+ Active Users

Image featuring NetBeans Java IDE

TL; DR: Originally a student project in 1996, NetBeans has since become one of the most popular IDEs among app developers. Right out of the box, it boasts a code generator, debugging tools, a GUI builder, and support for your choice of programming language (Java, JavaScript, PHP, C++, HTML, and others welcome!), allowing you to easily create desktop, web, mobile, or HTML5 applications. The extensible platform is free, open-source, and backed by a dedicated community that knows best-practice software development. With each new update comes boosted productivity for every programmer and team in the NetBeans community.

Adam McMahon had been using Eclipse for several years to develop servlets. However, he was a bit dismayed with how long it took to properly configure the IDE for web application development. That’s when he decided to switch to NetBeans.

“Right out of the box, NetBeans is preconfigured to develop, debug, and deploy web components quickly onto Tomcat (which is included with the download),” he wrote in a testimonial about why he made the switch. “While I am still surveying the features, I am impressed by how quickly I can deploy a new web application.”

NetBeans logo

Another developer, Alan Stanley agrees with Adam on NetBeans’s ease of use. “It unpacks and sets up easily,” Alan said of NetBeans. “The user interface is intuitive, and the drag-and-drop palettes are easy and transparent. The automatic integration of Frameworks along with the tutorials makes acquiring facility with new Java technologies relatively easy.”

With support for programming languages like Java, PHP, and HTML, it has become a popular choice to develop a wide range of applications. Add to that its ability to streamline the deployment process, it makes sense why there are more than a million NetBeans users.

Community Grows From a Student Project to a Grid of 1M+ Users

NetBeans grew from a simple student project to one of the most popular and trusted development platforms in the world. Originally dubbed Xelfi, the platform made its debut in the Czech Republic back in 1996. According to the development team, it was the first Java IDE written in Java.

The students who started the project believed that, once they graduated, they could bring it to market. So, they pooled resources and started a company.

Shortly thereafter, they were contacted by Roman Stanek, a startup entrepreneur. He was looking for a new idea to invest in and saw extreme promise in the Xelfi platform.

With Roman’s backing, the project took off. The original plan was to enhance the software by developing network-enabled JavaBeans components, and that’s when the platform became known as NetBeans.

Photo of NetBeans's founding team

Started as a student project in 1996, NetBeans has grown to become one of the most popular IDEs.

By the Spring of 1999, NetBeans DeveloperX2 was released, offering full Swing support to Java programmers. There was much better news on the horizon for the NetBeans team, though. By the fall of that same year, Sun Microsystems (the company that developed Java) acquired NetBeans.

By the following year, Sun decided to make NetBeans an open-source project.

When Oracle acquired Sun in 2010, NetBeans became part of the Oracle family, which includes not only the Java programming language itself but the Weblogic application server platform and, of course, the company’s well-known database management system.

Throughout the years, NetBeans has updated their platform to meet the demands of the developer community. Those updates include:

  • Full Java Enterprise support
  • An intuitive GUI builder
  • CVS support
  • Support for application server platforms such as Sun ApplicationServer, Weblogic, & JBoss
  • JavaFX support
  • HTML support
  • Support for the latest versions of Java

Today, NetBeans is in their eighth major release, with a ninth due in the second quarter of 2017.

NetBeans IDE Gives Users Extensive Tools to Develop Java Applications

NetBeans offers support for a variety of popular programming languages, including Java, PHP, and HTML. It also includes a powerful FTP client that makes it easy to deploy artifacts.

On top of everything else, it’s easy to learn how to navigate around NetBeans and use the most powerful features. That’s a selling point in and of itself compared with other IDEs.

Editor Provides Effective Code Templates, Tips, & Generators

“Write code that writes code.”

That’s the mantra of more than a few software development managers in this early part of the 21st century. The idea is to streamline development processes by producing configurable modules that actually write part of the software.

NetBeans makes that happen with the use of templates.

With just a few clicks and taps on the keyboard, users can create a project that has many of the supporting files already in place, including source code, project metadata, and build scripts.

The IDE allows users to create code templates as well. They’re simple XML files that give the option to accomplish routine tasks with a few keystrokes. Meanwhile, NetBeans’s code generator feature lets users literally insert whole blocks of code by typing ALT+INSERT.

Screenshot of NetBeans's code generator

NetBeans’s code generator feature lets users insert whole blocks of code by typing ALT+INSERT.

Before the code generator can be used, developers have to create the code they want to generate. Create a specific type of project (once again, in NetBeans) and populate the source there with the type of code you want to insert. From that point on, the new code will appear in a drop-down menu after you hit ALT+ENTER.

NetBeans also offers valuable tips during the development journey. Users will be alerted to compilation errors, warnings about something that might blow up, and helpful advice about software development best practices.

Drill Down Into Data and Efficiently Manage a Project

NetBeans empowers developers to easily drill down into the data — zeroing in on the code block or data set they need to view.

For example, if users are looking at a Java class, clicking the icon on the left-hand side of the class will allow them to view all the methods associated with said class. Then, simply locate the method that’s being searched, click it, and the method itself will immediately appear in the workspace. At that point, edits can be made as necessary.

It’s not just Java classes that can be drilled into, though. With NetBeans, XML files can be managed easily as well.

Intuitive GUI Builder Eases Development

The tool offers a GUI builder so layouts can be produced in WYSIWYG format. Users don’t have to play guessing games about configuration attributes, spacing, and sizes.

Screenshot of NetBeans's GUI builder

The tool offers an outstanding GUI builder that allows users to produce layouts in WYSIWYG format.

As is the case with any other kind of dev work, the whole process of designing a GUI starts by creating a project. Then, users can start drawing, and NetBeans will produce the code.

Remove the High Cost of Buggy Code

NetBeans also ships with a powerful code analyzer as part of their IDE. The tool will help find potential pitfalls in code that might have been missed. A FindBugs plugin can then be installed to further automate the process of locating problematic code.

Screenshot of code analyzer

A powerful code analyzer helps users find potential pitfalls in code that might have been missed.

NetBeans can also be configured to offer Java Hints, ensuring the source code will comply with specific coding standards.

NetBeans Continues to Deliver Stabilized & Thoroughly Tested Releases

As anyone in the development community knows, software is rarely finished. There’s always a better way to build the mousetrap. There are always new features that need to be added.

That’s just as true of IDEs as it is of any other software-related project. NetBeans continues to deliver quality releases to meet the ever-growing demands of professional developers.

Going forward, the NetBeans team has several goals in mind for the future of the tool:

  • Ensure that the platform is solid, stable, and backwards compatible
  • Improve all modules simultaneously with iterative development
  • Encourage the use of NetBeans for development with any language or technology
  • Offer the source code to the public with a very liberal license
  • Grow the NetBeans community

The next version of NetBeans, which is designed to meet all of those objectives, is slated for release around the second quarter of 2017.

As a bonus, it appears that NetBeans 9.0 will be one of the first (and possibly the first) IDEs to support JDK 9. Among other features, that version of the JDK will include full support of HTTP 2.0.

It’s that kind of sensitivity to the needs of the development community that keep people like Adam McMahon and Alan Stanley happy with their switch to NetBeans.

Sean Garrity

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