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ruby in steel


komodo blank programming Komodo 3.5.2
Available for: Windows (ME/NT, 98, 2000/XP), Linux, Max OS X, Solaris 8+. Full requirements here  
Professional Edition (for commercial use): $295
Personal Edition: $29.95
Free Trial Available

Some people program in Notepad. For all I know, maybe they also sweep their floors with a toothbrush and wash their clothes with a bar of carbolic soap. Sure, it can be done. But personally, I prefer to do things the easy way.

When it comes to writing programs, I am used to working in an integrated environment – usually either Visual Studio or the Borland Developer Studio. That’s all very well just so long as I am developing in one of the languages supported by those IDEs. When I want to code in some other language, such as Ruby or PHP, however, I have to venture out into the big bad world where Integrated Development Environments are often notably lacking in ‘Integration’ and are frequently not are not all that hot on the concepts of ‘Development’ or ‘Environment’ either.

Komodo has a neat environment with a multi-window editor, code-completion tools and integrated debugger

Which is why Komodo came like a breath of fresh air. This multi-language editor provides good support for PHP, Python, Tcl, Perl and Ruby plus basic support for various other languages ranging from Ada to XML. It has syntax sensitive code colouring for each language; and for its five principal languages, it also has integrated debugging, code collapsing and code completion (similar to Visual Studio’s ‘IntelliSense’).

Komodo lets you organise projects by adding files to a tree in its project pane. You can keep multiple projects open in this pane (even across different programming languages) and switch quickly from one to the other. One thing I don’t like about the Project pane is that it fails to restore the collapsing between sessions. If you have ten projects in the pane, say, and you collapse nine of them for the sake of clarity, the next time you load Komodo, all ten projects will be fully expanded again.

As an alternative to writing programs in a full sized editing window, you can code in ‘split view’ by opening a new horizontal or vertical pane onto the same or different code files. You can edit in either pane and, when both panes show the same file, all editing changes made in one pane are immediately reflected in the other.

code completion
Code is syntax coloured with automatic collapsing. You can enter method names from a drop-down list

The editor provides tabbed windows so that you can quickly switch between one file and another and all open documents are restored between sessions. There are good code location and navigation facilities; these include function and variable browsers plus incremental search and ‘find in files’ tools.

Komodo has a number of code reformatting tools built in. You can mark off some code and change its case, increase its indentation level or comment and uncomment it. It also has a ‘reflow paragraph’ option which I initially took to be a code formatting tool to correct the indentation levels and so on. Having tried it and found it didn’t work as expected (it incorrectly ‘corrected’ line breaks in my Ruby code), I checked with ActiveState and was told that paragraph reflowing is only intended for use with plain ‘text’ such as comments and ‘here documents’ – which, frankly, makes it of somewhat limited utility.

The built-in code completion features are more useful. They let you select both standard and user-written methods from a drop-down list and you can also auto-complete the names of identifiers – so, if for example, you have written a method called myVeryLongMethodName you can subsequently enter the characters ‘my’ and press a hotkey (Ctrl+Space by default) in order to fill out the rest of the name; when there is ambiguity between two identifiers, Komodo takes a ‘best guess’ (based, I am told, on the proximity and scope of identifiers). If it guesses wrong, you can press the hotkey again to cycle through all other matches: myVeryLongMethodName, myOtherVeryLongMethodName and so on.

Other useful tools include bracket matching  and a keyboard macro recorder. You can also create boilerplate code using a snippet editor which simply lets you enter some text or program code and associate it with a hotkey. When you press the hotkey the text will be inserted into the editor. Ah, if only Visual Studio snippets were this easy!

gui build
The GUI Builder (in the professional edition) is one of my least favourite tools...

There is a tool to help you to build regular expressions interactively and there is a GUI Builder to create visual interfaces by dropping buttons, edit boxes and other controls onto a blank ‘form’. The GUI Builder (for Perl, Python, Ruby and Tcl, available in Komodo Professional only) supports the Tk graphic interface widgets. The resulting dialog is saved to disk as code which can be accessed using the target language. It has to be said that this is very clunky by comparison with the click-and-code form designers of Delphi or Visual Studio. On the other hand, it’s better than nothing.

The debugger, on the other hand, while slower than its Visual Studio equivalent, is much the best thing I've used when debugging Ruby code

Komodo has a decent debugger. This lets you set simple or conditional breakpoints, step through code and watch variables in a separate pane. You can ‘drill down’ into watched variables by opening up the branches of objects to view their internal data or you can look inside arrays to view their component elements. You can also get a quick view of the internals of a variable by hovering the mouse pointer over it name in the editor. This displays the data of variable in  tooltip (though, unlike the debug tooltips in Visual Studio, the Komodo debug-tooltips can’t be expended to ‘drill down’ deeper).

Go to the Komodo web site for a full Feature List

Komodo is not, of course, the only dedicated programming IDE on the market. There are numerous free multi-language IDEs such as SciTE, some expensive single-language IDEs such as Zend’s PHP Studio (from $99 to $1,495 depending on the edition) and a few mid price multi-language editors such as SlickEdit (about $284). In my experience, however, Komodo is an excellent all rounder for anyone who needs to code in one or more of its principal targeting languages. At $295 the Professional edition it’s great value for a commercial developer. For students and hobbyists, the Personal Edition at just $29.95, is practically a steal.


Huw Collingbourne

April 2006


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