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Polished NetBeans means Ruby

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The Ruby additions turn NetBeans into an IDE that can be used either with Ruby or JRuby (the latter a version of the language with an interpreter written in Java that targets the Java Virtual Machine rather than the normal Ruby run-time environment). What's more NetBeans also includes support for the Ruby on Rails framework, enabling development of Ruby on Rails projects with either Ruby or JRuby.

The first thing to note about this Ruby support is that it's possible to download and install a version of NetBeans specifically geared to that platform, (it includes JRuby and Rails), in the form of a relatively slim 20MB.

For those developers who aren't interested in the Java side of things, or who don't want any of the other features included in the fullest versions of NetBeans, it means that you have a tool that's stripped down and focused. On the other hand, those Java developers who want to play with Ruby can also download the Ruby version and install it over their existing NetBeans 6.0 Java release and get everything in one shot. For me, at least, it was a lot simpler than attempting to load Ruby support via the plugins option.

In terms of functionality, you get the full range of IDE support for Ruby. Editing is syntax colored, keywords are highlighted, there's auto completion, and errors in code are flagged up as you type. There are some nice touches in this department, such as the highlighting of potential side effects when a block variable aliases a local variable - as in the following code:


code = (1..10)
puts code
code.each { |code| puts code*code}
puts code 

There is also support for the usual scaffolding of Rails projects - each Ruby project gets a Rakefile, and there's support for unit testing too. Running applications from within NetBeans is straightforward, as is using the debugger.

For those building web applications using Rails there is support for plumbing in your back-end database of choice, with MySQL being the default option. Given the recent purchase of MySQL by Sun, it is likely that the integration into NetBeans (for the Java side as well as Ruby) will get even tighter.

There are some areas where there's definitely room to improve on things. Refactoring support, for example, is pretty limited - you can rename classes, fields and methods and that's about it.

Right now the Ruby IDE arena is becoming pretty crowded, with a number of offerings jostling for prominence, many of them from vendors and projects with a heavy Java bias including Eclipse, IntelliJ and CodeGear.

The NetBeans of today, though, is a long way from the bloated and poorly performing beast it was a few years ago. Indications are that perceptions are changing, too, and that in the case of Ruby at least, NetBeans is closing the gap on certain rivals.®

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