Recently reading the question What languages do you use without an IDE? One question asked in a few answers was "is Notepad++ and IDE?"

One answers to the original question said "None, I use vim...", implying that vim is an IDE. But then another answer suggested vim isn't an IDE.

So where is the line?

What about notepad, ed, or nano?

Is the only non-IDE coding technique the butterfly technique?

  • The definition might be a little fuzzy and subjective.
    – user55019
    Commented Oct 16, 2012 at 21:51

4 Answers 4


Taken literally, IDE = Integrated Development Environment.

This is the way i look at it:

  1. Integrated: Means you can code / launch / compile / debug your app from the tool.
  2. Development: Means it can group files into projects, and does syntax highlighting for your language, maybe has refactoring tools, ability to generate files from templates (like unit test files, class files etc.), auto complete / intellisense
  3. Environment: Means both of the above are available from the same tool

Notepad++ allows for development (eg. you can write code), but the other areas of development are not covered. I've never used notepad++ for development, only for occasionally editing files.

  • 1
    That's a good point. Notepad++ doesn't fully integrate with any language by its self, however it allows for compilation, launch and debugging by use of plug-ins. To me it seems like it might be a full IDE at that point.
    – Matt Ellen
    Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 8:49
  • 2
    That definition makes Vim and emacs IDEs, since they are seldom used for development without plugins that give them all (or most) of these features. Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 11:54
  • 2
    Then I'd agree that, when used in conjunction with such plugins, they are IDEs.
    – Matt Ellen
    Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 12:07
  • 4
    By themselves vim and emacs are just fancy text editors, but if plugins mean you get syntax highlighting, compile & debug features, then as a package I don't see why they wouldn't be considered IDEs. (Clearly, without plugins they're just fancy text editors for sadists).
    – David_001
    Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 12:15
  • 1
    Interestingly I just pulled out my Turbo Pascal manual (for the original IDE) and there's no debug... but yes, now, as a minimum edit, compile, run, debug.
    – Murph
    Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 12:29

IDE: Integrated Development Environment.

An IDE must have the following:

  • Editor (preferably with syntax highlighting and autocomplete).
  • Integrated compiler or building.
  • Preferably a debugger.

Other enhancements are:

  • Integration with version control.
  • Other tools (like profiler).
  • Integrated DBMS.
    – Geoffrey
    Commented Nov 18, 2010 at 7:05

Other than the obvious features like integrated build, debug and source control, etc. I want to highlight that autocompletion can help the developer to be really productive with a language with a large library. E.g.

  • Visual Studio
  • Eclipse
  • Wing IDE (not free)

Vim can be setup to do this too.


It's got to allow you to edit, compile/build, and debug.

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