Eclipse has been, for years now, the preferred integrated development environment (IDE) for Android developers. However, it is currently facing serious competition from Google’s very own Android Studio. Let us here pit the two IDEs against each other, and try to identify the better one.
It has been an exciting couple of months for Android app and software developers. In January, the latest version of Eclipse (probably the Java IDE with the largest user-base worldwide) – Eclipse Luna (4.4.2) – was released. Fast forward another month, and app developers got the new stable version of Google’s Android Studio (v.1.1). There is a general feel that Android Studio is gradually ‘eclipsing’ the popularity of Eclipse – thanks to its greater user-friendly nature. We will here do an Eclipse vs Android Studio comparative study based on a few key parameters, and find out which one comes out on top:
- User interface (UI) – First things first, Eclipse, unlike Android Studio, is not a native Android IDE (it is a Java IDE and is compatible with multiple platforms). Hence, it is not surprising that its overall interface layout (buttons and tabs and general navigation) is just that bit more complicated than that of Android Studio. First-time Android app developers, in particular, would find the newer IDE easier and quicker to get a hang of. Eclipse with Android plugin is not bad or anything – its just that learning it properly requires more time.
- Apache Ant vs Gradle – Java developers with at least some experience would be familiar with the Apache Ant build system, which Eclipse comes with (via a plugin). Ant is based on XML, and ranks high on the reliability and performance counts. Even so, the all-new Gradle build system of Android Studio (along with Groovy DSL) comes across as more advanced, and offers greater conveniences for mobile app developers. There are even automation options to upload the beta version of .apk files on TestFlight. Not something that is possible with Eclipse.
- Code Completion feature – Not much to choose between the two IDEs in this regard. Both Eclipse and Android Studio offer fairly high-end Java auto complete feature for programmers and app development experts. If one were to really take a pick, the code-completion of Android Studio can be marked as a shade better – due to the in-depth IntelliJ IDEA support, which makes code completion less prone to errors. Google also allows code-refactoring in Android Studio. That gives it an edge over Eclipse.
- Workspaces and Modules – Eclipse has sub-projects and workspaces, and Android Studio replaces them with Modules. It depends on individual Android app developers to decide which setup (and in turn, which IDE) they are more comfortable working with. In Eclipse, the components and libraries of Android projects have to be compiled in ‘jar’ files, while in Android Studio – each module needs to have its own Gradle build. Library Modules/Projects are a common feature between the two IDEs.
- Drag-and-Drop – The graphical user interface (GUI) of Android Studio has it, and that of Eclipse does not. However, experts from leading mobile app companies opine that the drag-and-drop feature is not really necessary for coders, who are not overly concerned about the visual elements of their applications. What’s more – a developer needs to have thorough knowledge of Visual Basic, to be able to use the drag-and-drop feature properly. Yes, it’s a new feature present in Android Studio – but its absence in Eclipse does not really matter.
- System requirements and stability – Eclipse is, in comparison with Android Studio, a much larger IDE. It requires significantly higher amount of RAM space, and a fairly high CPU speed, to function properly. Particularly at the time of exporting apk files, there have been reports of crashes and/or other erratic behavior in the Eclipse framework. It’s still early days for Android Studio (the second beta of version 1.1 was recently released), and it also has the occasional crashes and freezes. However, it offers a more stable performance assurance than Eclipse, while system requirements are also lower.
- IDE Workflow – This is where Android Studio trumps Eclipse big-time. Whenever Android app developers/coders have to switch from one workspace to another, Eclipse has to be restarted. In case there are more than three projects in a single workspace, the project has to be cleaned (and the IDE might restart) at frequent intervals. Copying projects across workspaces in Eclipse can also be tricky, particularly for those who are new to the domain of Android app development. The ‘Project and Module’ flow (in most cases, one app will make up a module) of Android Studio is definitely less complex and more user-friendly. There can be separate modules for build scripts and libraries as well.
- Dependencies – Another point of stalemate in the Android Studio vs Eclipse debate. Mobile app developers and coders have to create links to third-party JAR files, while working with either of the two IDEs. These JAR files stay in the ‘libs’ directory – another feature that Eclipse and Android Studio share. If a developer is switching from Eclipse to Android Studio, all the JAR-dependencies have to be added to the new Gradle build files.
- Cloud Platform Support – Android Studio is provided with native Google Cloud Support. Once again though, this does not give it any significant additional advantage – since Eclipse has a Google plugin, which serves precisely the same purpose. The seamless cloud platform support allows server-side code-usage and app-building, and creation of web apps (in addition to, of course, Android applications). The backend server support from Google is handy for mobile app testing and general app-integration tasks too. In case you are not too comfortable working with IDE plugins, Android Studio would be the better choice for you.
- The speed factor – Be it programming languages or integrated development environments (IDEs), app developers love tools and resources that are quick. Eclipse loses out to Android Studio in this regard. On average, it takes around 2-3 minutes for building the final release versions of projects. Performing the same task in Android Studio does not take more than 40 seconds (even for codes that are relatively long and complicated).
- App testing and debugging – Proper testing of apps prior to release is a big concern of developers. The Unit Tests functionality of Android Studio has received glowing feedback, precisely due to this. By setting up test classes and including them in the run configuration of projects, program bugs can be detected and ironed out in Android Studio with ease. The Unit Tests can be launched while applications are in the build stage (this ensures that bugs do not enter the production phase). Eclipse does not have any similar tool for easy app testing. This is yet another drawback in the older IDE.
- Changes in the Android Manifest – For developers migrating from Eclipse to Android Studio, this is something that has to be kept under consideration. While most common settings and tools (API specifications, version codes) are stored in the Android Manifest in the Eclipse environment, things are a bit different in Android Studio. Here, the same items are either present in build.gradle, or are included automatically. If anything, the Android Manifest structure in Eclipse was just a tad simpler.
Android Studio is a step ahead of Eclipse, as far as the graphical preview options of the two IDEs are concerned. The option to import library resources directly from Maven Central is another high point of AS. Ever since Android Studio was announced during Google I/O 2013, there has been a lot of hype and optimism around it among Android app developers – and the IDE certainly meets up to most expectations.
A note of caution here. Eclipse might be old and not quite at par with Android Studio in terms of features – but it would be way too naive to write its obituary just yet. If you are already working on a project in Eclipse, it makes sense to complete it, and then try out the Android Studio platform (migrating across IDEs is certainly possible, but can lead to mistakes). If you are starting out a project, AS should, ideally, be your first choice. It definitely offers more all-round support to developers than Eclipse.