01 August, 2009

Groovy Eclipse Plugin alpha zero-day review

In a multi-language project, Eclipse is a crucial tool for a number of reasons that might be apparent to readers of other posts here. One of the languages that is important in this particular project is Groovy. Until the end of July 2009, the Groovy Eclipse plugin was a rather cursory integration that was generally effective in getting Groovy projects to build together with other Eclipse projects, but didn't provide a full set of IDE capability for Groovy.

Great news arrived as July ended: the alpha for V2 of the Groovy eclipse plugin was published for Eclipse 3.5. (The website is currently only referring to Eclipse 3.4.2 support, but there's also a Groovy Eclipse update site for Eclipse 3.5.) After a few hours of exploration, a few bugs and areas needing polish are apparent, but these are so far no more of an impediment than the issues encountered with the old dev-release plugin for Groovy 1.6 (the previous Groovy 1.5 plugin was a bit more useable than 1.6, but not so much as to prevent migration to the newer version).

The basic functions at this stage of the V2 development will be very relevant to this project: the integration of Java with core Groovy is exactly the level of capability at the foundation of the plug-in. Grails developers may not find as much relevance until the plug-in gets more features. Pure Groovy developers might have a more robust IDE than Eclipse. But the support for multiple languages – C, Java & Groovy in this case – makes Eclipse a uniquely comprehensive and extensible solution.

This new plugin offers many more IDE features than previously available, though they remain more basic that the features in Eclipse Java (JDT) environment.

  • The outline view is much improved.
  • Performance is snappy – no observable delays while editing.
  • Compile errors handled properly – previously, java-level errors like missing implementation of abstract method would only appear after a save. Tests would launch and run against the old code, causing consternation if one didn't watch the Problems view.

The biggest downside of installing this plugin so far is the appearance of warnings when using Java generic types in Groovy. While adding the type specifiers to Map and Collection might not be a bad thing, there seem to be a few problems – with the result one may end up specifying <Object> where a more specific type would be accurate and correct in Java. A few editor glitches appear sporadically, though they're not yet pervasive enough to warrant a bug report.

This is an important milestone for Eclipse & Groovy. The team at SpringSource, particularly Andy Clement and Andrew Eisenberg, have done a great job with this alpha release of a promising V2 product!

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