Rethinking Developer Tools & the Future of IDEs


I always want more time in my day. And that’s because I waste all my time trying to think of new ways that would save me time. Which brings me to Github pull requests. One thing I often wish for when reviewing a Github PR: why can’t I quickly jump to the definition of a method being used? Or see where else that piece of code is being called from? Some quick code navigation features would help me do reviews better and quicker. I’ve been spoilt on code completion features in Eclipse IDE and now I want them everywhere. Luckily I get to be in a position I can aim to make that happen.

In thinking about how we can make developer tools and features ubiquitous, I came up with my latest talk: the future of IDEs. I first did this talk within the Internet of Things domain at Thingmonk and had some great feedback.  James Governor of Redmonk had this to say about it:

Tracy Miranda, founder of Kichwa Coders, gave us a whistlestop tour of the future of dev tools for IoT. Miranda is a fixture in the Eclipse community, but did a great job of laying out the tools landscape. And of course Microsoft Visual Studio Code got a favourable mention (so much love out there for Code right now, it’s the modern goldilocks text editor). That said, for programming digital twins, she argued we’re going to need visual tools and models, beyond a text editor. Node-Red of course also got a mention.

This talk covers everything from the massive fragmentation with languages and frameworks to making our developer tools more visual, smarter and really so they work everywhere. Even in Github PRs. If you work in developing tools or have strong opinions about how developer tools should work, then this talk is a must watch.

After Thingmonk and the great feedback, I got to refine the talk and present it at Jax London as the ‘Future of IDEs‘. That talk wasn’t recorded but we did manage to have a quick chat about it afterwards, check out the short version (+ extras) here:

Beware diversity-led marketing (& three cheers for these companies doing diversity right)


There’s an increased level of discussion on improving diversity in tech communities. Or maybe it was always there and I just started paying attention. Either way, it’s a really good thing. But in the mix there is definitely a certain amount of diversity-led marketing e.g “We need more women-in-tech! Women, sign up for this tech course here…”.  Some are more obvious than others.

What about tech conferences? Take the case of a tech conference getting some promotion off the back of free diversity tickets. Is that just diversity-led marketing and a bad thing? After all it’s great to get underrepresented folks into conferences, right? The answer is if it is done in isolation then it is probably just self-serving marketing and pr. Underrepresented folks aren’t merely props for your agenda

Diversity is complicated. It’s easy to get it wrong and end up like the conference organizers who violated their own code-of-conduct and had a speaker cancel their talk.  Or fall into the Google case of  trying to inspire teen girls to code while simultaneously systematically limiting the careers of women in your company.  Again diversity is complicated, so we all want to focus our energies on those doing it the right way.

Open source has a worse record than most when it comes to diversity.  At this year’s Eclipsecon Europe, as with every tech conference I attend, I did my own evaluation of what’s being done well and not so well. This year, I noticed a few companies who are doing something right as evidenced by the women and underrepresented minorities that are in leadership positions.

  1. IBM – IBM had a noticeably improved presence at this year’s conference. I learnt that they actively encouraged speaker proposals. If a talk is accepted, there are good company policies in place to ensure speakers can travel and attend the conferences. As a result we had four awesome women speakers from IBM, not just any speakers, but experts in their respective fields: Eclipse JDT leads Noopur Gupta and Sarika Sinha, Eclipse SWT committer Lakshmi Shanmugam and Eclipse Microprofile committer Emily Jiang.
  2. OBEOOBEO specialize in graphical modelling and are well respected in the community. Melanie Bats is one of the rockstars in the community, doing terrific and imaginitive tech talks and also recently took over as the Eclipse Planning council lead. OBEO recently promoted Melanie to CTO, which is written about beautifully here: Zero-to-CTO.
  3. BREDEX – BREDEX specialize in testing and are well represented at EclipseCon by the indefatigable Alex Schladebeck. Alex can be found leading the highly enjoyable Kahoot quiz at EclipseCon as well as heading up the Project Quality day. Doing great things in the testing world, it was great to learn that Alex has been promoted to  ‘Head of Software Quality and Test Consulting’ at BREDEX.

These three companies set a great example for the rest of us, not to mention make us better at our work as a community. Which brings me to the picture at the top of this blog post. I like to get setup really early before I do a tech talk, especially one in a huge room with a massive screen. So while getting setup, Jonah Graham of Kichwa Coders and Sarika Sinha of IBM got into a discussion about debugger protocols and threading issues. To discuss the finer points my laptop was commandeered and out came the code. It was one of those serendipitous moments and I didn’t want my pre-talk nerves to stop them. So I took a seat and took pictures while taking deep breaths. I think my talk went well anyway. That one conversation really informed our thinking on our work on the future of debuggers. And really it reminded me in a powerful way how things are always better the more different types of people you get involved. And little moments like these make it all worthwhile, and worth doing right, in the best way possible.

Debug Protocol: Coming soon to an IDE near you

Our absolute favourite type of talk to do is one where we’ve been working on something so cutting-edge that we don’t have all the answers yet. This was the case with our work on the debug protocol and our talk at EclipseCon Europe. We got to take where we’d gotten to and present it to a room full of smart people who were generous enough to show up, ask questions and give us their insightful feedback.

The talk gives an overview of the debug protocol then demonstrates it working in:

  • VS Code
  • Eclipse IDE
  • Eclipse Che

We demo 7 different types of debug functionality as supported by the protocol: Continue reading “Debug Protocol: Coming soon to an IDE near you”

Debug Protocol vs Language Server Protocol

It is safe to say that the language server protocol (LSP) is the future of developer tools.  When it comes to the equivalent for debug, the debug protocol is ‘LSP for debuggers’. It is a useful tagline but here are three key differences to be aware of:

  1. State – the big mindshift with LSP is that servers are stateless. The clients store all the state e.g. the files themselves and settings (what language, classpath, etc). Any state kept on the serverside (e.g. the index) is usually purely for performance reasons. What this means is that, for instance, servers can be restarted and carry on seamlessly without having to know anything of what happened in the system beforehand. On the other hand, the debug protocol is not stateless, servers need to know all sorts of state and sequences of what has happened, so the design space is different for this protocol.
  2. JSON RPC 2.0 Spec (and cancellable requests) – The LSP defines JSON-RPC messages for requests, responses and notifications. The debug protocol was created before JSON RPC 2.0 spec was finalized, debug protocol uses a similar structure, but it is not cross compatible. For example, the JSON field name for the method to call is command in debug protocol and method in JSON RPC 2.0. The type of message (event, request, or response) is explicit in DSP in the type field, but is implicit in JSON RPC 2.0 (based on presence of the combination of method, id, result and error fields). However using a library like org.eclipse.lsp4j.jsonrpc can hide such differences and provide equivalent higher level abstractions (like Java interfaces) and leave the library to handle the differences. The LSP has a nice feature, cancellable requests, that is an extension to JSON RPC2.0 that is also not available in the debug protocol:
  3. Ubiquity – although the LSP was defined originally for use in VS Code do you know that the 2 flagship languages for VS Code are not based on LSP? Typescript and javascript language tooling is not done using LSP. On the other hand the debug protocol does underpin all the debugger implementations in VS Code, including the flagship node debuggers for V8 and Chrome.

All that being said, it’s worth repeating the common benefits of both protocols which are:

  • good separation of client/server
  • building the tooling once and reusing it across IDEs and editors i.e. vs code, eclipse, atom, etc
  • better unit/isolated testing
  • write in language most suited to the job
  • more effective way for tool developers to keep pace with underlying tools

The language server protocol will revolutionize how you code


The next generation Spring Boot tooling has been completely refactored to be based on the language server protocol (LSP). The tooling covers things like code assist for the Spring Boot property file, support for Cloud Foundry manifest files as well as Spring Boot support for Java files with typical features such as validation, content-assist and quick-fixes.

Beyond IDEs

Continue reading “The language server protocol will revolutionize how you code”