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Things possible in IntelliJ that aren't possible in Eclipse? (20)

I have heard from people who have switched either way and who swear by the one or the other.

Being a huge Eclipse fan but having not had the time to try out IntelliJ, I am interested in hearing from IntelliJ users who are "ex-Eclipsians" some specific things that you can do with IntelliJ that you can not do with Eclipse.

Note: This is not a subjective question nor at all meant to turn into an IDE holy war. Please downvote any flamebait answers.

CTRL-click works anywhere

CTRL-click that brings you to where clicked object is defined works everywhere - not only in Java classes and variables in Java code, but in Spring configuration (you can click on class name, or property, or bean name), in Hibernate (you can click on property name or class, or included resource), you can navigate within one click from Java class to where it is used as Spring or Hibernate bean; clicking on included JSP or JSTL tag also works, ctrl-click on JavaScript variable or function brings you to the place it is defined or shows a menu if there are more than one place, including other .js files and JS code in HTML or JSP files.

Autocomplete for many languagues


Autocomplete in HSQL expressions, in Hibernate configuration (including class, property and DB column names), in Spring configuration

<property name="propName" ref="<hit CTRL-SPACE>"

and it will show you list of those beans which you can inject into that property.


Very smart autocomplete in Java code:

interface Person {
    String getName();
    String getAddress();
    int getAge();
Person p;
String name = p.<CTRL-SHIFT-SPACE>

and it shows you ONLY getName(), getAddress() and toString() (only they are compatible by type) and getName() is first in the list because it has more relevant name. Latest version 8 which is still in EAP has even more smart autocomplete.

interface Country{
interface Address {
    String getStreetAddress();
    String getZipCode();
    Country getCountry();
interface Person {
    String getName();
    Address getAddress();
    int getAge();
Person p;
Country c = p.<CTRL-SHIFT-SPACE>

and it will silently autocomplete it to

Country c = p.getAddress().getCountry();


Smart autocomplete in JavaScript.

function Person(name,address) {
    this.getName = function() { return name };
    this.getAddress = function() { return address };

Person.prototype.hello = function() {
    return "I'm " + this.getName() + " from " + this.get<CTRL-SPACE>;

and it shows ONLY getName() and getAddress(), no matter how may get* methods you have in other JS objects in your project, and ctrl-click on this.getName() brings you to where this one is defined, even if there are some other getName() functions in your project.


Did I mention autocomplete and ctrl-clicking in paths to files, like <script src="", <img src="", etc?

Autocomplete in HTML tag attributes. Autocomplete in style attribute of HTML tags, both attribute names and values. Autocomplete in class attributes as well.
Type <div class="<CTRL-SPACE> and it will show you list of CSS classes defined in your project. Pick one, ctrl-click on it and you will be redirected to where it is defined.

Easy own language higlighting

Latest version has language injection, so you can declare that you custom JSTL tag usually contains JavaScript and it will highlight JavaScript inside it.

<ui:obfuscateJavaScript>function something(){...}</ui:obfuscateJavaScript>

Indexed search across all project.

You can use Find Usages of any Java class or method and it will find where it is used including not only Java classes but Hibernate, Spring, JSP and other places. Rename Method refactoring renames method not only in Java classes but anywhere including comments (it can not be sure if string in comments is really method name so it will ask). And it will find only your method even if there are methods of another class with same name. Good source control integration (does SVN support changelists? IDEA support them for every source control), ability to create a patch with your changes so you can send your changes to other team member without committing them.

Improved debugger

When I look at HashMap in debugger's watch window, I see logical view - keys and values, last time I did it in Eclipse it was showing entries with hash and next fields - I'm not really debugging HashMap, I just want to look at it contents.

Spring & Hibernate configuration validation

It validates Spring and Hibernate configuration right when you edit it, so I do not need to restart server to know that I misspelled class name, or added constructor parameter so my Spring cfg is invalid.

Last time I tried, I could not run Eclipse on Windows XP x64.

and it will suggest you or person.address. Ctrl-click on and it will navigate you to getName() method of Person class.

Type Pattern.compile(""); put \\ there, hit CTRL-SPACE and see helpful hint about what you can put into your regular expression. You can also use language injection here - define your own method that takes string parameter, declare in IntelliLang options dialog that your parameter is regular expression - and it will give you autocomplete there as well. Needless to say it highlights incorrect regular expressions.

Other features

There are few features which I'm not sure are present in Eclipse or not. But at least each member of our team who uses Eclipse, also uses some merging tool to merge local changes with changes from source control, usually WinMerge. I never need it - merging in IDEA is enough for me. By 3 clicks I can see list of file versions in source control, by 3 more clicks I can compare previous versions, or previous and current one and possibly merge.

It allows to to specify that I need all .jars inside WEB-INF\lib folder, without picking each file separately, so when someone commits new .jar into that folder it picks it up automatically.

Mentioned above is probably 10% of what it does. I do not use Maven, Flex, Swing, EJB and a lot of other stuff, so I can not tell how it helps with them. But it does.

Data flow analysis : inter-procedural backward flow analysis and forward flow analysis, as described here. My experiences are based on Community Edition, which does data flow analysis fairly well. It has failed (refused to do anything) in few cases when code is very complex.

A few other things:

  • propagate parameters/exceptions when changing method signature, very handy for updating methods deep inside the call stack
  • SQL code validation in the strings passed as arguments to jdbc calls (and the whole newly bundled language injection stuff)
  • implemented in/overwritten in icons for interfaces & classes (and their methods) and the smart implementation navigation (Ctrl+Alt+Click or Ctrl+Alt+B)
  • linking between the EJB 2.1 interfaces and bean classes (including refactoring support); old one, but still immensely valuable when working on older projects

Don't forget "compare with clipboard".

Something that I use all the time in IntelliJ and which has no equivalent in Eclipse.

First of all I love intellij. There are at least a hundred features it has that eclipse lack. I'm talking magnitudes better in reliability and intelligence that no hyperbole can describe when it comes to refactoring, renaming, moving and others which have already been mentioned.

BUT, there is one thing that intellij does not allow which eclipse does. It does not allow running multiple projects at once under the same vm.

When you have separate projects for the front, middle, core, agents..etc, where they all have to interact with each other, you can not quickly modify and debug at the same time, afaik. The only way I current cope with this is to use ant scripts to deploy and update jars in dependent projects, or use maven.

Eclipse allows multiple projects to be debugged under one ide vm instance.

For me, it's IDEA's maven support, especially in version 9 is second to none. The on-the-fly synchronizing of the project to the maven model is just fantastic and makes development pleasant.

Idea 8.0 has the lovely ctrl+shift+space x 2 that does the following autocomplete:

 City city = customer.<ctrl-shift-space twice>

resolves to

 City city = customer.getAddress().getCity();

through any number of levels of getters/setters.

If you have the cursor on a method then CTRL+SHIFT+I will popup the method implementation. If the method is an interface method, then you can use up- and down- arrows to cycle through the implementations:

Map<String, Integer> m = ...

Where | is (for example) where your cursor is.

IntelliJ has some pretty advanced code inspections (comparable but different to FindBugs).

Although I seriously miss a FindBugs plugin when using IntelliJ (The Eclipse/FindBugs integration is pretty cool).

Here is an official list of CodeInspections supported by IntelliJ

EDIT: Finally, there is a findbugs-plugin for IntelliJ. It is still a bit beta but the combination of Code Inspections and FindBugs is just awesome!

Intellij has a far superior SVN plug-in than either Subversive or Subclipse and it works! The amount of time we've wasted merging source files using Eclipse doesn't bear thinking about. This isn't an issue with IntelliJ because the plugin helps you much more.

Also the Subclipse plugin is unreliable - we regularly have instances where the plugin doesn't think there has been any code checked in to SVN by other developers, but there has - the CI server has processed them!

My favorite shortcut in IntelliJ that has no equivalent in Eclipse (that I've found) is called 'Go to symbol'. CTRL-ALT-SHIFT-N lets you start typing and glob up classes, method names, variable names, etc, from the entire project.

My timing may be a little off in terms of this thread, but I just had to respond.

I am a huge eclipse fan -- using it since it's first appearance. A friend told me then (10+ years ago) that it would be a player. He was right.

However! I have just started using IntelliJ and if you haven't seen or used changelists -- you are missing out on programming heaven.

The ability to track my changed files (on my development branch ala clearcase) was something I was looking for in a plugin for eclipse. Intellij tracks all of your changes for a single commit, extremely easy. You can isolate changed files with custom lists. I use that for configuration files that must be unique locally, but are constantly flagged when I sync or compare against the repository -- listing them under a changelist, I can monitor them, but neatly tuck them away so I can focus on the real additions I am making.

Also, there's a Commit Log plugin that outputs a text of all changes for those SCCS that aren't integrated with your bug tracking software. Pasting the log into a ticket's work history captures the files, their version, date/time, and the branch/tags. It's cool as hell.

All of this could be supported via plugins (or future enhancements) in eclipse, I wager; yet, Intellij makes this a breeze.

Finally, I am really excited about the mainstream love for this product -- the keystrokes, so it's painful, but fun.

One thing I use regularly is setting a breakpoint, but then controlling what it does. (At my last job, most everyone else used Eclipse... I remember being surprised that no one could find how to do this in Eclipse.)

For example, can have the breakpoint not actually stop, but just log a message to the console. Which means, I don't have to litter my code with "System.out.println(...)" and then recompile.

One very useful feature is the ability to partially build a Maven reactor project so that only the parts you need are included.

To make this a little clearer, consider the case of a collection of WAR files with a lot of common resources (e.g. JavaScript, Spring config files etc) being shared between them using the overlay technique. If you are working on some web page (running in Jetty) and want to change some of the overlay code that is held in a separate module then you'd normally expect to have to stop Jetty, run the Maven build, start Jetty again and continue. This is the case with Eclipse and just about every other IDE I've worked with. Not so in IntelliJ. Using the project settings you can define which facet of which module you would like to be included in a background build. Consequently you end up with a process that appears seamless. You make a change to pretty much any code in the project and instantly it is available after you refresh the browser.

Very neat, and very fast.

I couldn't imagine coding a front end in something like YUI backing onto DWR/SpringMVC without it.

Probably is not a matter of what can/can't be done, but how.

For instance both have editor surrounded with dock panels for project, classpath, output, structure etc. But in Idea when I start to type all these collapse automatically let me focus on the code it self; In eclipse all these panels keep open leaving my editor area very reduced, about 1/5 of the total viewable area. So I have to grab the mouse and click to minimize in those panels. Doing this all day long is a very frustrating experience in eclipse.

The exact opposite thing happens with the view output window. In Idea running a program brings the output window/panel to see the output of the program even if it was perviously minimized. In eclipse I have to grab my mouse again and look for the output tab and click it to view my program output, because the output window/panel is just another one, like all the rest of the windows, but in Idea it is treated in a special way: "If the user want to run his program, is very likely he wants to see the output of that program!" It seems so natural when I write it, but eclipse fails in this basic user interface concept.

Probably there's a shortcut for this in eclipse ( autohide output window while editing and autoshow it when running the program ) , but as some other tens of features the shortcut must be hunted in forums, online help etc while in Idea is a little bit more "natural".

This can be repeated for almost all the features both have, autocomplete, word wrap, quick documentation view, everything. I think the user experience is far more pleasant in Idea than in eclipse. Then the motto comes true "Develop with pleasure"

Eclipse handles faster larger projects ( +300 jars and +4000 classes ) and I think IntelliJ Idea 8 is working on this.

All this of course is subjective. How can we measure user experience?

Something which I use in IntelliJ all the time is refactoring as I type. I have re-written classes from a printout (originally written in eclipse) using both IDEs and I used about 40% less key strokes/mouse clicks to write the same classes in IntelliJ than eclipse.

I wouldn't want to use Eclipse until they support as much refactoring with incomplete pieces of code.

Here is a longer list of features in IntelliJ 8.0/8.1 []

The IntelliJ debugger has a very handy feature called "Evaluate Expression", that is by far better than eclipses pendant. It has full code-completion and i concider it to be generally "more useful".

There are many things that idea solves in a much simpler way, or there's no equivalent:

  • Autocomplete actions: Doing ctrl+shift+a you can call any idea action from the keyboard without remembering its key combination... Think about gnome-do or launchy in windows, and you've got the idea! Also, this feature supports CamelCasing abbreviations ;)

  • Shelf: Lets you keep easily some pieces of code apart, and then review them through the diff viewer.

  • Local history: It's far better managed, and simpler.

  • SVN annotations and history: simpler to inspect, and also you can easily see the history only for such a part of a whole source file.

  • Autocomplete everywhere, such as the evaluate expression and breakpoint condition windows.

  • Maven integration... much, much simpler, and well integrated.

  • Refactors much closer to the hand, such as loops insertion, wrapping/casting, renaming, and add variables.

  • Find much powerful and well organized. Even in big projects

  • Much stable to work with several branches of a big project at the same time (as a former bugfixer of 1.5Gb by branch sources, and the need to working in them simultaneously, idea shown its rock-solid capabilities)

  • Cleaner and simpler interface...

  • And, simpler to use only with the keyboard, letting apart the need of using the mouse for lots of simple taks, saving you time and giving you more focus on the code... where it matters!

And now, being opensource... the Idea user base will grow exponentially.

There is only one reason I use intellij and not eclipse: Usability

Whether it is debugging, refactoring, auto-completion.. Intellij is much easier to use with consistent key bindings, options available where you look for them etc. Feature-wise, it will be tough for intellij to catch up with Eclipse, as the latter has much more plugins available that intellij, and is easily extensible.

Two things that IntelliJ does that Eclipse doesn't that are very valuable to me:

Method separators: those faint gray lines between methods make code much more readable

Text anti-aliasing: makes code look so nice in the IDE