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Python interpreter vs. IDE: What network engineers should know

When using Python for network automation, network engineers often work with interpreters and integrated development environment tools to test modules and debug code.

In the network automation era, Python is the de facto language to automate repetitive network tasks on a global scale. Network engineers can use a plethora of tools during their automation journey, including interpreters and integrated development environment, or IDE, tools.

The Python interpreter is the application network engineers use to execute scripts when testing basic features. An IDE is all-in-one software with advanced features that enable engineers to write code efficiently. Popular IDEs include the now-discontinued Atom, Integrated Development and Learning Environment (IDLE) and Microsoft Visual Studio Code (VS Code).

Let's break down the differences between a Python interpreter and an IDE.

Interpreter vs. IDE

As mentioned above, network engineers use the Python interpreter to write and run scripts and test features. The interpreter takes the code engineers write and converts it into a language the computer understands.

Network engineers can use an interpreter to learn basic arithmetic, Boolean logic, testing modules and available methods. They can work in the interactive mode, and each typed command provides a quick result.

IDE software combines a text editor, debugger and extensions to help developers write code efficiently. Users can work on complex projects, such as writing scripts to manage devices, detect network intrusion and enable telemetry. IDEs are designed to support such tasks more than an interpreter.

Here is a breakdown of different use cases for the Python interpreter and IDE tools.

Tool Goal Use cases
Python interpreter Helps network engineers perform basic tasks
  • Test a module and available methods
  • Perform basic arithmetic and Boolean logic
  • Create and test basic functions
  • Execute long and complex scripts written with an IDE
IDE tools Help network engineers perform complex tasks, enabling them to write long scripts an interpreter finds difficult to handle
  • Write complex scripts for network applications
  • Code with more AI-powered extensions to increase productivity
  • Write scripts and save in a folder of your choice

IDE tools

Network engineers can choose from many IDE tools when automating. But it's sometimes difficult to know which tool to choose and where to begin. Here is a comparison of common IDE tools.

IDE tool Ease of use Platform support Features
Atom Beginner-friendly Windows, Linux, macOS
  • Discontinued
  • Code folding
  • Autocompletion
  • Find and replace
IDLE Beginner-friendly Windows, Linux, macOS
  • Code autocompletion
  • Syntax highlighting
  • Call stack visibility
  • Debugger
PyCharm Advanced Windows, Linux, macOS
  • Scientific tools, such as Jupyter Notebook integration and Anaconda support
  • Intelligent coding assistance
  • Live editing
  • Debugger
Thonny Beginner-friendly Windows, Linux, macOS
  • Code completion
  • Syntax error highlighting
  • Expression evaluation
  • Debugger
VS Code Advanced Windows, Linux, macOS
  • AI-powered extensions for code completion
  • Code refactoring
  • Rich environment for developers
  • Debugger

The world changes daily, with trends going in and out of vogue. Technical agility is the key to make a difference in people's jobs and business operations. Thanks to different IDEs, network engineers can increase their productivity with features such as autocompletion extensions, debugging and AI to deliver results quickly.

Best practices when using the Python interpreter and IDEs

Here are some best practices network engineers can take to make the most of the Python interpreter and IDEs:

  • Always use a virtual environment to isolate projects for unexpected conflicts.
  • In the age of AI, use code extensions to boost productivity with the IDE of your choice for fast autocompletion and rich features.
  • Use colorful IDE schemes and themes for better readability when writing code.

As network engineers start learning to write code, it's beneficial to start with a beginner-friendly IDE and gradually move to a more advanced option. Remember, every expert was once a beginner.

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