While much of the focus of Apple’s recent software updates has been on iOS 4.3, the hidden gem that developers everywhere have been patiently waiting for has finally arrived: Xcode 4. Having been previewed during WWDC 2010 last June and tested ever since, it was inevitable that the Cupertino-based company’s integrated development environment was bound to hit market eventually. Will it truly make developers more efficient?
Featuring a brand-new interface that builds upon previous technologies Apple has used to create iOS and Mac OS X, Xcode 4 is the complete toolset for application development, claiming to be faster, easier to use, and more helpful than ever before. The program can understand your project’s details, identifying mistakes in syntax and logic, a welcome addition, even having the option to automatically correct your code.
The first change that any seasoned developer will notice is the integrated window, which eliminates the need to work separately in Xcode, Instruments, Interface Builder, and the other organs of the integrated development environment. This single window has a few unique interface elements that allows for multiple projects to be worked on simultaneously without cluttering your workspace.
On the left side of the screen, you will find a list of navigators, including the list of files in your project. This also becomes the collection point for sorted symbols, debugging data, active and inactive breakpoints, and a collection of persistent. If you were to look at the top of every editor pane there is a bar that shows the location of the file you are working on while also maintaining a consistent flow of data throughout. This allows for greater efficiency, as you can switch files easily without ever leaving the application.
The single-most exciting feature, though, is the addition of a built-in Interface Builder. What was once a separate application is now integrated within the Xcode IDE, which means that when you select an interface file, your project will launch interface builder within the program, allowing for direct, side-by-side manipulation of code and interface.
Featuring a powerful two-pane editor layout that allows for the IDE to anticipate which files you will need to see as you work, Assistant is also a welcome addition. As a small typo or code error can significantly affect your application, it is fantastic to finally be able to identify the logical flow of your application.
On a technical note, Apple’s next-generation compiler technology, LLVM Compiler 2.0, now completely supports C, Objective-C, and C++. It is constantly working in the background to bring forth live issues that alert you to coding mistakes as you type them. It is intelligent enough to then go ahead and fix the problem for you, which now gives developers the opportunity to use Xcode like a word processor.
Xcode 4 is Apple’s first IDE to feature their new debugging engine, LLDB. It fits perfectly within Xcode’s interface and will trace statistics in the background as you test your applications out. Apple has said that the engine is three times as fast and more than twice as efficient.
Fitting in with the recent trend of Apple software, Xcode 4 features a Version editor that can allow you to compare and contrast two versions of your source code in a live editor. This acts as both a detailed log of your previous activity, but also presents a new way to think about source control management.
As a developer, I can hardly contain my excitement to play around with some of the new features. From my experience during the beta tests, the syntax and logic corrections are accurate and reliable, and the integrated view of Interface Builder really brings the entire Xcode experience together and makes it feel like it was a program developed by Apple.
In terms of efficiency, Apple’s latest integrated development environment is a significant leap forward. If you have ever developed before, you know that Interface Builder’s separation from Xcode felt unnatural from the beginning, and it is finally great to the two naturally married in a productive setting.
Xcode 4 is currently available through two channels, the Mac App Store and Apple’s Developer Portal. If you choose to download it from the Mac App Store, you will need to cough up $4.99 to get in on the action. Gone are the days of trying out development for free. If you are already a registered developer, you can simply head over to the Developer Portal and download the program at no additional charge. However, note the fact that the program will indeed take up about 5 GBs of space on your hard drive and that in order to release any application, you will need to pay an additional fee to join Apple’s developer network.
What do you, fellow developers and enthusiasts, think of Apple’s IDE overhaul? Is it long overdue or do you prefer its predecessor’s features? Sound off in the comments below.