Boosting your productivity - Development tips and tricksFeb 24, 2011

As a developer, my main focus is always on concentrating my logic while coding and avoiding any hindrances or distractions that might cause the quality of coding to degrade. That said, there are always a few quick hacks/changes that I apply to my favorite IDE's when possible, which allow me save a quick few seconds and increase productivity while I write my code. In the following text, I will be describing those changes. While most of them may be applicable to your favorite IDE out there, some are only available in specific applications. The good thing is you can always get hands on an open source IDE or editor, and apply those changes yourself to get them working for you. Let's move on to the list of things that you can also apply to your working environment to increase your productivity.

Use Multiple IDE's

While some will argue with this approach, I personally like to keep more than one coding applications installed, so that I can switch between them quickly whenever I desire. There are a few advantages to this approach. One is that I sometimes switch my IDE to just change the mood and code in a fresh environment when I get bored of watching the same interface again and again. Another advantage is that sometimes another application requires more processing power, so opening up an whole IDE for coding slows down the system. An example of this is when I am installing one or more virtual machines in the background and I need to code, I just open my favorite notepad to code, which keeps my coding session smooth while letting the virtual machines get installed quickly. When they are done, I can switch back to my IDE for compilcation and stuff. Last but not the least, each IDE has a few tricks up its sleeve, that make it valuable and worthy of its use.

favorite IDEs and development related tools

  • Programmer's notepad: A must for every development PC. Period.
  • Notepad2: Replace your notepad with this syntax highlighted editor. Light and fast as notepad while offering much more.
  • Winmerge: Used frequently to review the changes made to code since last version, before releasing a new one. Takes only a minute and gives a quick overview of what changes I have made to the code.
  • Aptana Studio: A versatile and free IDE, with code formatting, project based editing and many cool features. If you use Eclipse, this is a must for you to try.
  • VirtualBox: If you like experimenting, you should install VirtualBox. A free alternative to VMWare and so far very light and stable virtualization tool.
  • cURL: If you are a web developer, you have to have curl. If you don't know what it can do, you are wasting considerable time in debugging.
  • Mysqlproxy: Use mysqlproxy between your application and database connection, and you might be surprised to see some of the queries being performed in your application. Helps detect some rather unusual application behavior and optimize your database related applications.
  • Firebug: If I won't add it here, you will love to hate me for the rest of your life. Use Firebug Lite if you don't like firefox (???) or use other browsers for development.

IDE Customizations

  • Highlight current editor line - This handy little function keeps the current line prominent while coding. Especially useful for those dark themes where cursor sometimes goes out of sight.
  • Separate background for filetypes/schemes - While the immediate advantage of this is not visible, you will come to like it when you are writing CSS with a very light green background, JavaScript with a light blue one and PHP and other languages with the white background. Give it a try!
  • Remember open files/projects on reload - Many IDEs and editors load previously open session when you start them, saving you that little time to get going. I use the same functionality to save a piece of code that do not want to undo, so I close the editor after finalizing my code files, then reopen it once which makes sure my finalized code will not be mistakenly gone when I undo. Pretty useful if the project or file is not under source control.
  • Format code automatically - I love this feature in Aptana Studio, some other IDEs also support this. Works on most of the common filetypes. You can even configure the formatting style once in the options and use it all the time to keep your file formatted. Specially cool for CSS files!
  • Dim comment styling - I always prefer light gray coloring for both types of comments in code. Keeps me focused on the code while keeping the comment dimmed and accessible whenever I do need to see them.
  • Override indentation (use tabs) - I seriously disgust IDEs which prefer using spaces as default for indentation. Override indentation to use tabs to save some bytes and your sanity.

Keyboard Shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are my favorite thing to play with whenever I come across a new editor or development environment. I usually review all the shortcuts provided with the application and apply them on a coding session. Many times, a new shortcut becomes my favorite and I apply the same to my remaining editing tools. Some of my favorite shortcuts are:

  • Duplicate Line (Alt+D) - This handy shortcut allows copying the whole line quickly into a new one instead of selecting the whole line first and then Ctrl+C/Ctrl+V. Neat.
  • Move Line Up or Down (Alt+Arrow keys) - Why bother select, cut and paste when you can simply move the current line using Alt+Up arrow to the place where you like!
  • Bookmark and move to bookmark (Ctrl+F2, F2) - While some IDEs have navigation feature which allows moving back and forward to the place you were coding, I prefer bookmarking some lines which I need to access fequently, e.g a function definition.

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Me Hi! My name is Zeeshan Muhammad Khan (nick name Shan) and I am a software engineer, database developer, web developer, programming geek, statistics geek, mathematics geek, system analyst and maintainer of this site. read more

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