Python IDEs tested

Posted: 2008-03-19 11:26 [Source]
Tags:  personal free software

In the past two days I have been playing around with various Python IDEs. It is not like I need a fully-fledged IDE, I'm fine with GNU Emacs to be honest. However, everyone is talking about IDE X and IDE Y and how they save so much time using these programs and how these programs assist them with hacking.

Well, I decided it was time to give a few IDEs a try. There were only two requirements I had: the IDE has to be Free Software and it has to run on GNU/Linux.

If you are planning to read on please be aware that this was no real test, but rather contains my observations regarding the IDEs I have tested, what I liked and did not like and if one surprised me enough to actually use it instead of my good old plain GNU Emacs.


As Java development in school is done with Eclipse and all teachers are more than happy with that program I gave it a try first. I head that there was some sort of Python IDE plugin and so I downloaded Eclipse 3.3. After a few problems keeping the bugger running for more than 5 minutes (seems like the default memory-usage configuration did not provide Eclipse with enough memory) I started downloading the PyDev plugin using the internal plugin download manager. This worked quite smoothly, however, it seemed a bit slow.
Now PyDev looks quite neat, but without the proprietary PyDev extensions it is rather useless and GNU Emacs gives me pretty much the same features.

: Bloated, using a huge load of memory (Eight-Megabyte-And-Constantly-Swapping joke comes to my mind again), not offering a lot more features than GNU Emacs without proprietary PyDev Extensions.


After reading this post on about OpenKomodo (note: the post says Komodo Edit, but that's proprietary software) and how it supports Python I gave it a try. I built it from Subversion trunk, which took some time. OpenKomodo is based on Mozilla and Gecko and if you ever built Firefox from source you should know that you can go and grab quite a few coffees while waiting for the build to finish.
The build system seems to be one specifically written for this application and so is a bit weird to use for people use to either GNU Autotools or Python's distutils. After the build process finished I was unable to find a way to install the application. The documentation only contains a note about using the build tool (black, "bk") with the "run" argument to start OpenKomodo.
At first everything looked quite nice. It supports Python quite well, including limited auto-completion support and so on and also supports, just like you would expect, tabbed-editing. After playing around in the source tree of one of my projects and trying to get used to "normal" keyboard shortcuts, such as Ctrl+s for saving a file, I had quite a few tabs open.
You probably know that having a lot of tabs open just leads to confusion and so I wanted to close all tabs but the currently active one and oops: that feature does not exist.
I then digged into the OpenKomodo source, added that feature, prepared a patch and tried to get it into the trunk: without luck as it seems. As noted in a comment to my bug report such features should go into extensions. As I am too lazy to write an extension just for this small patch and basic feature I am still trying getting the changes into trunk.
However, I abandoned OpenKomodo, as I found something better. First to my conclusion though:

CONCLUSION: Nice editor, but like Eclipse, quite bloated as it is based on Mozilla (memory leaks anyone?). Compile time is bad, again, because it is based on Mozilla. Getting simple patches into its trunk also seems to be a problem.


I do not remember how or where I stumbled accross a reference to PIDA, but it sounded interesting. PIDA is a Python IDE, built using Python, with a lot of features.
Even though you cannot see this on the screenshots on the PIDA homepage it does not include its own editor. It rather makes use of an existing editor. It currently can embed either vim or GNU Emacs (you need CVS version 23.x or newer). As I was using GNU Emacs before this really caught my attention. I downloaded PIDA from mercurial and built it. Build time is less than 5 minutes on my machine, which is more than acceptable.
When starting PIDA for the first time it asks which editor you want to embed. I obviously chose Emacs there.
It seems like embedding Emacs is in an early stage right now. Even though everything seems to work PIDA embeds the whole GNU Emacs (GTK version) window, including the menu bar and the toolbar. This generates a weird look, as you have two menu- and toolbars, one belonging to PIDA and one belonging to GNU Emacs. No problem for me though, as it is rather a style-problem than a real one.
After opening up one of my projects I immediately noticed one thing: version control integration. I can confirm that Subversion is properly supported and works perfectly. Including reverting of files, updating the local copy, committing changes and viewing differences. This indeed is a great feature and I like it.
I played around a bit more and stumbled across the plugins. There are quite a few neat plugins, like a Trac integration plugin which allows you to view tickets inside the IDE or a TODO parser plugin, which parses comments containing "TODO:" or "XXX:" from files and gives you references to them.
Another useful plugin seems to be the Python Source Viewer, which displays all functions, classes and methods present in the current python file in a tree view.

CONCLUSION: The IDE I am most likely going to use for now. Why? Because it seems to be lightweight, uses GNU Emacs as embedded editor and comes with a proper feature set. I suggest everyone, even hardcore GNU Emacs users, to give PIDA a try. It looks worth it.