Climb aboard Ruby on Rails

Sifting through nine Rails IDEs and editors to help you choose the tools to suit your development needs

MacroMates TextMate 1.5.7

As I mentioned in the introduction to this review suite, the entire Ruby on Rails core development team uses TextMate on Mac OS X. As I do most of my development on Windows, I had to borrow a Mac (in fact, a MacBook Pro) to review TextMate firsthand.

TextMate looks entirely different from IDEs such as RadRails or NetBeans. Much of the functionality you expect is there, but it's not obvious until you pull down the Ruby or Rails bundle menu, press a shortcut key combination, or type in the abbreviation for a snippet and press Tab. For examples, see the online extract of the TextMate book or either this or this screencast. Once you discover all that functionality and get a handle on the UI, using TextMate is like having a helpful sprite looking at what you begin to type and then completing your intentions.

It took me a while to warm up to TextMate, but once I did, I understood why its users become so attached to it. I missed the IDE features of RadRails when I was using TextMate, but as I started to learn the Rails bundle shortcuts and my memory of the various Rails command-line utilities returned, I could see how productive TextMate could become for a full-time user. When I switched back to another editor and my fingers tried to use a TextMate shortcut, I was disappointed to have to go back and type out the whole syntax; it was like losing the speed dial buttons on my phone.

If the idea of TextMate's bundles and shortcuts appeals to you but you need to or prefer to develop on Windows, consider either E or Intype, both of which are reviewed briefly later in this suite.

If you do use TextMate most of the time, you may occasionally find yourself in need of a graphical debugger or automatic refactoring. Either RadRails or NetBeans will serve that purpose, for free.

JetBrains IntelliJ IDEA 7.0.3 with Ruby plug-in 1.0

IntelliJ IDEA is widely regarded as an excellent Java IDE and has managed to survive as a commercial product by dint of superior features in the face of strong competition from the free NetBeans and Eclipse products. Although the current Ruby plug-in for IntelliJ IDEA goes a long way toward making it a good Rails IDE, it isn't all there.

Ruby and RHTML code coloring, formatting, refactoring, dependency analysis, and completion work well. Code inspections and debugging aren't yet implemented for Ruby; according to the company, a Ruby and Rails debugger is planned for the IntelliJ IDEA 8 release.

When command shell output is shown in a Run window, it is often -- but not always -- hyperlinked to bring up the appropriate line of code in an edit window. Unfortunately, the one line of traceback that is not hyperlinked is usually the one I need to follow.

At this point, if you develop Rails with IntelliJ IDEA and want to use a graphical debugger on occasion, you'd be well advised to use NetBeans or RadRails as a free secondary IDE. I can't recommend that anyone buy IntelliJ IDEA just for the Rails support, but I can suggest it to developers who develop Rails as well as Java sites.

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