12 Eclipse plug-ins every developer should use

The vast Eclipse plug-in ecosystem offers rich rewards for application developers who know how to find the gems

12 plug-ins for making the most of Eclipse
12 plug-ins for making the most of Eclipse

Eclipse continues to be one of the most popular developer IDEs, thanks in large part to the broad ecosystem of plug-ins the platform supports. Big tools and little tools can be added to your copy of Eclipse to extend its capabilities and customize it to suit your particular development needs.

Here are a dozen of the best plug-ins on offer for application development. Some are extremely popular, some are fashionable, and some are just cute, but all take the incredibly powerful Eclipse and make it a bit more so.

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Subclipse and Subversive
Subclipse and Subversive

Subclipse is one of two plug-ins battling for control of the Subversion repositories. The other, Subversive, has almost as many followers. Both handle all of the major chores of version control well, and the differences revolve around the way some of the information is presented. It's almost a matter of taste -- and the fact that people occasionally have trouble with both of them.

EGit
EGit

EGit is the other big competitor for managing your source code and projects. If you're using the Git version control system, then EGit is your best bet for managing the repositories and triggering clones. The tool uses the JGit library, the Java-based core that can be downloaded separately.

m2eclipse
m2eclipse

m2eclipse is the preferred way to integrate the Maven build tool with Eclipse so that your saves will trigger Maven to build the project instead of just Eclipse. The POM editor is elaborate and saves you the trouble of remembering the XML schema for Maven, but you can still edit the raw XML if you like. The illustration shows one of the nicer graphical renderings of the dependency map of the various piles of code.

Eclipse Marketplace Client
Eclipse Marketplace Client

The Eclipse Foundation is bundling its "marketplace" plug-in with everything except the simplest, bargain-basement version of Eclipse, so it may already be installed on your machine. They track downloads from their own site and accept "promoted" projects, advertisements in effect, so companies can promote their own plug-ins.

FindBugs
FindBugs

How much do I love FindBugs? Hardly at all, but I respect it for the bad news it brings about the mistakes I make when writing code. It's a tough auditor that has several hundred "bug patterns" programmed into its brain. It searches through your code and then lets you read the bad news in Eclipse. I'm sure there will be some programmers who want to argue with the results, but it's always good to have another pair of careful eyes prowling through the code.

Checkstyle
Checkstyle

As much as I hate the fascism of tools like the Checkstyle plug-in, I must admit it's just easier to work on a project where everyone is following the same rules and structuring their code the same way. The brain has a way of learning the style, and it makes it that much faster to understand everyone's code when the whitespace is in the same spot with every method. You can, of course, program the Checkstyle plug-in to enforce your own favorite rules and that means you'll be bossing yourself around. But somehow self-criticism can be even harsher.

Hibernate
Hibernate

There will always be those who don't get the power of the reverse-engineering plug-in for Hibernate that just grabs onto an SQL database and produces all of the Java files you need to turn the data into Java objects. One of my coworkers complained that it didn't structure the files the "right way." Perhaps he was right, but it took him the rest of the week to get the files into the shape he liked. The Hibernate plug-in will reverse-engineer a database in seconds. It also includes tools for simplifying the editing of the endless XML files needed to run Hibernate.

UML Designer
UML Designer

I've never understood the appeal of UML (Unified Modeling Language), but there's a sizable number of people who love it and the UML Designer for Eclipse from Acceleo. UML is a standard for specifying, constructing, and documenting the elements of object-oriented programming projects. You draw your rectangles, and voilÀ, everyone understands exactly what you're trying to do. The plug-in also lets you drill down into a tree representation of the XML defining the UML.

Ant Visualizer
Ant Visualizer

I have a soft spot for visualizing some of the complex documents, and the Ant build files can be some of the more elaborate. The Ant Visualizer will parse the XML and turn it into a bunch of blocks that let you imagine just how the build process progresses.

Unnecessary Code Detector
Unnecessary Code Detector

When it comes time to clean up the code and remove the scraps of genius that aren't needed any longer, the Unnecessary Code Detector is ready to do the job. You push the button, and little flags appear to tell you which methods are no longer in use. The detector also flags a number of other coding faux pas, making it a good tool to use before checking in code to the repository.

JFormDesigner
JFormDesigner

For those who build desktop applications in Swing and those who port them to the Web with Google Web Toolkit, there's nothing like JFormDesigner, a tool for drawing that user interface. You sketch the boxes and presto -- the Java commands for creating the UI appear like magic.

Color Theme
Color Theme

It doesn't do anything that would win acclaim in a computer science department, but the Color Theme plug-in still draws plenty of downloads. It comes with several dozen preloaded coloring schemes for your files, and you're welcome to change them if you feel inspired. It's more Picasso than Turing, but hey, maybe it's good for the eyes.