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NetBeans vs. Eclipse: 5 key comparison points for these IDEs

When implementing IDEs into an application architecture, Eclipse and NetBeans are often top contenders. But is one of these IDEs really better than the other?

When it comes to the most popular integrated development environment (IDE) platforms, both Eclipse and Apache NetBeans have held top spots for decades, especially in the Java community. Eclipse and NetBeans provide the same core functionality: They are integrated platforms that help developers write, build and test application code. However, there are a few nuanced ways that they differ, which makes a difference in terms of the projects they're capable of handling.

But, is NetBeans better than Eclipse, or is it the other way around? Naturally, the answer depends on your development needs, preferences and skills. Let's take a look at some basic facts about these two IDEs, compare their capabilities and determine where one option might have the edge over the other. To do so, we'll examine NetBeans and Eclipse based on:

  • out-of-the-box functionality
  • supported languages
  • plugin support
  • ease of use (complexity)
  • legacy application support

Out-of-the-box functionality

For basic programming needs, both NetBeans and Eclipse provide the basic tools that developers need out-of-the-box, especially if they work with Java. That said, Eclipse does not offer quite as many advanced development features out of the box as NetBeans does. Instead, Eclipse leans heavily on its open source plugin ecosystem to offer these advanced capabilities.

If using Eclipse, you will likely find yourself incrementally installing new plugins to get the environment you need for advanced programming, but you can still start basic Java projects without much trouble. NetBeans, on the other hand, also has a large selection of plugins but few of these provide what developers might consider baseline functionality, and most of these plugins are applied to niche use cases.

Supported languages

Both IDEs support development in multiple programming languages, though each one takes a slightly different area of focus. Apache NetBeans is geared primarily toward Java, C, C++, Python, PHP and HTML development. Eclipse is primarily designed for Java projects, but it supports more than two dozen languages in its plugin ecosystem. Eclipse also provides support for C# and R, which NetBeans does not cater to as much.

Although it may be possible to use NetBeans to write code in virtually any language, doing so might be slightly more difficult than in Eclipse, where it's easy to find well-supported plugins for virtually every mainstream programming language.

Plugin support

As noted above, they both support plugins, which are made available through public repositories. The Eclipse Marketplace offers just shy of 1,500 plugins, compared to a little over 1,100 in the NetBeans plugin portal.

Eclipse arguably has a more dynamic plugin community, as third-party developers are generally more likely to create plugins for Eclipse than NetBeans. This is mainly because Eclipse has both a slightly larger market share than NetBeans, and receives its open source support from the Eclipse Foundation.

In contrast, NetBeans has been cradled by the Apache Foundation since Oracle handed it over to the community in 2016. While NetBeans has been open source for most of its history, its association with proprietary Oracle offerings may have hindered engagement from the open source developer community at large.

Ease of use

While ease of use lies in the eye of the beholder, NetBeans features a simple architecture and is designed to support mobile and web development projects that require slightly more advanced functionality. Since Eclipse encourages use of plugins, setting the platform up to meet your needs may take a little more time than it would to set up NetBeans and quickly develop an app, thanks to its out-of-the-box features.

Eclipse makes it somewhat easier to work with multiple projects at once, since you can use plugins to toggle between workspaces in a single instance. In NetBeans, you'll typically need to run multiple instances to operate more than one workspace simultaneously.

Legacy application support

If you're developing a legacy application, Eclipse may be the better choice, as its large plugin ecosystem and open source community make it easy to find tooling and support for the languages often found in a legacy codebase. That said, both IDEs offer tools that provide support for legacy application modernization, such as code refactoring and inspection tools that help tame spaghetti code and prepare older apps for distributed architectures.

Apache NetBeans vs. Eclipse: 4 questions to ask

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself when choosing between Apache NetBeans and Eclipse.

  • What languages are you coding in? If NetBeans doesn't support them, then Eclipse is the clear choice.
  • How complex is your project? Those working on simple web development projects that don't involve tens of thousands of lines of code and complex dependencies find NetBeans a little quicker and easier to work with, given its richer out-of-the-box functionality. Eclipse's broader set of advanced features lends itself to large and complex projects often found in enterprise settings.
  • Do you like plugins? If you like modularity and fine-tuned control over your IDE, Eclipse is the better option. If you hate having to install plugins every time you need another tool, NetBeans is the way to go.
  • Are you developing in the Oracle ecosystem? One upside of NetBeans is that it's well integrated with the Oracle ecosystem. If you're developing for Oracle Cloud or other Oracle platforms, the task might be easier in NetBeans.

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