Geeks With Blogs
Paul Kelly

As Harry Hill might say, "I like Visual Studio. And I like Eclipse. But which one is better? Only one way to find out…" For a lot of people a lot of the time, the question is irrelevant. If you are doing Java development, you are going to pick Eclipse, and for .NET development you are going to pick Visual Studio. But both IDEs are extensible, and have communities providing extensions for other languages, so if you are using another language it might not be so clear cut. And if you are a language vendor wanting to provide an IDE to support developers in your language, then you can use either Visual Studio or Eclipse to provide you with a framework to add support for your own language.

At Micro Focus, (where I work), we've done exactly that. We've added support for developing COBOL applications to both Eclipse and Visual Studio (see the Visual COBOL site for more info). In Visual Studio, we can compile COBOL to either native (x86 or x64) code, or to .NET code running on the Microsoft CLR. In Eclipse we support native code (on Windows, Linux, AIX), and we are adding support for compiling COBOL to Java byte code to run on the JVM (we've actually had JVM support as a technology preview since last year – full release is due later in 2011). I've worked for quite a few years on the Visual Studio side, and for the last three months, I've been working with the Eclipse team. This brings me to a disclaimer – I know the Visual Studio platform much better than Eclipse, so although I will try to be fair to both platforms, there is a lot more I don't know about Eclipse than Visual Studio.

Eye candy

Both IDEs are very sophisticated visually, enabling you to open multiple documents simultaneously, giving you different ways to arrange editor windows, and providing lots of different navigation views to help you find your way around. One of the strengths of a good IDE is that it helps you make sense of very complex projects that might consist of thousands of source code files. Both IDEs do a good job here. They also automatically switch to different views depending on whether you are editing or debugging to help you see the most relevant information for the job at hand. For example, when you are editing, the call stack window isn't telling you anything so you don't want to see it. Both IDEs also let you customise the views (or perspectives as Eclipse calls them) while you are working – any changes you make to windows displayed and their positions is persisted automatically so you quickly end up with an environment that works for you.

However, Eclipse actually explicitly names its different perspectives and you can switch between them yourself by clicking a button – so you can go back to the Java view from the debug view while you are debugging because it might provide an easier way to navigate to some other piece of code than trying to find it in the debug view. Visual Studio doesn't offer the facility to switch between named views, and yet I've never missed it. I think the reason is that although both IDEs offer excellent window management, Visual Studio is just flat out better at it. It is designed to run in one environment only, Windows, and exploits every feature of that platform. Eclipse runs on Windows and a number of Linux and Unix desktop windowing environments, and just doesn't seem to exploit your desktop real estate as effectively. Borders are narrower in Visual Studio, and I always feel like I can just see more of everything.

You can exploit multiple monitors using either IDE. Eclipse lets you open an extra window – essentially a duplicate of your current IDE with all the menus and windows you have in the current one, which you can then drag over to a second monitor. You can then drag windows back and forth between the two IDE instances, which provides a lot of flexibility. But Visual Studio lets you tear off ANY window in the IDE and drag it out to a separate monitor, where you can maximize it, or share the space with something else. It feels very intuitive and slick, and leaves Eclipse looking slightly clunky in comparison.

And when you add in Visual Studio 2010's other fancy features, like true-type fonts and an ability to zoom in or out the text in your editor window, it is the better looking IDE by far.

Coding Productivity

I'm only going to consider this for the IDEs' native languages – Java for Eclipse and C# (I could equally have picked Visual Basic) for Visual Studio. That's because these are the languages that do the most to exploit the features of the platforms they are on. Other languages do not always use all the available features.

Both Eclipse and Visual Studio provide masses of programmer aids, many of which are similar in both IDEs. You get automatic syntax checking as you type, with errors highlighted immediately. You also get auto completion which saves you the effort of remembering the huge APIs presented by the Java or .NET class libraries – and of course auto-complete will also help you when using your own classes. You also get lots of help with navigating and understanding your source code – you can jump straight to the definition of any symbol, or query to see every place where it is referenced.

Visual Studio provides a slightly nicer experience when the source code for something isn't available when you go to the definition of a type; it constructs a source code view of the public members in the language you are programming in (Visual Basic or C#). Eclipse also shows you the definition from the metadata, but it doesn't attempt to construct it as Java source code and it isn't as easy to read.

But Eclipse has a couple of killer features for productivity. The first is automatic builds; by default, every time you save a change the project is rebuilt. This is an incremental build and incredibly fast even for a really large project. Effectively, Eclipse removes the build step from your "edit, build, debug" cycle. Visual Studio can build a C# project very fast when you want to debug it, but it isn't quite the same as it always being ready to go. Eclipse also has an autofix feature for many coding errors – hit Ctrl+1 or select Quick Fix from the context menu when you are over a highlighted error, and you are offered all the likeliest options that will fix your problem. Visual Studio offers a similar feature through Smart Tags (a small blinking underline that can be expanded into a context-menu), but it doesn't cover quite as many situations.

Eclipse wins this category, if only by a fairly small margin. However, if you are designing user interfaces, Visual Studio's form designers (for Windows forms, WPF or ASPX) tip the balance the other way – you can build the UI for an application very quickly by dragging and dropping.


You can debug your code or attach to it after it has started running with Visual Studio or Eclipse. Both let you see the call stack, and let you view and change values in variables. You can set breakpoints, step into or over code… all the things you'd expect from a modern debugger. And both debuggers can often let you edit and continue – you're debugging, you change a line of code and it is recompiled instantly into the app you are debugging (although you'll sometimes get told it isn't possible and you'll have to restart if you want to pick up the changes). However, there are a few differences. The main differences in the debuggers are more down to the limitations of the different virtual machines for Java and .NET.

Visual Studio lets you reset the execution point– a really handy feature in my opinion. Maybe you stepped over a piece of code that didn't do what you expected and you'd like to go back and step into it – without starting all over again. Or maybe you know the next block of code is going to do the wrong thing and you want to skip it for now because it has taken you ten minutes to get here… and you don't want to start all over again! The best Eclipse will let you do with Java is drop back to the start of the current stack frame (the top of the current method). Visual Studio will also let you debug managed and unmanaged code as part of the same debug session – useful if you are calling native COM code from .NET or vice versa, or using PInvoke to call native code.

Java can also call native code through the JNI mechanism, but as far as I know there is no way of stepping between your Java code and native JNI code in a single debug session – so if you've got a knotty interop problem to sort out you are going to have to look at the two sides of your code separately.

On the other hand… Eclipse is much better at managing multiple concurrent debug sessions – handy if you are developing some kind of client server app and you want to see what's going on in both sides. For Visual Studio that is quite often going to mean using two separate IDE instances, although you can set a solution to allow multiple startup projects which does make it possible to debug a web service and its client at the same time.

With Eclipse you can also save as many launch configurations for debugging as you want, with different startup arguments, environments and everything else. And you can export the launch configurations to external files for sharing with the rest of your team. Visual Studio doesn't give you as much help here, allowing you to have one set of debug arguments for each build configuration you've set up. And the debug arguments are held in user specific files not intended for sharing between users and machines.

Honours are fairly evenly split in this round.

Project Management

Visual Studio and Eclipse both manage code in projects. A project is any collection of source files that build into "something". For Visual Studio the something is fairly easy to define – it is either a DLL or an EXE file (or a website). For Eclipse, you are going to end up with a bunch of .class files in a bin directory – because that's the way Java works.

In an Eclipse project, any source file in a marked source directory is part of the project. In Visual Studio, source files must be in a source directory or subdirectory, but they must also appear in the project file to be part of the project. The Eclipse solution is simpler, but the Visual Studio allows for more flexibility. You can exclude a file from a project without deleting it, and add it back in again later.

Projects for both IDEs can be stored in your favourite version control system, and since all project files are text they can be diffed just like source code so you can see any changes.

Most significant pieces of software these days are likely to consist of more than one project, and it is here that Visual Studio and Eclipse differ. Visual Studio enables you to group projects into solutions (represented by .sln files). These are also text files that can be stored in version control and shared easily between team members.

Eclipse uses the workspace to group together projects. A workspace is a directory structure rather than a single file (projects do not have to be stored physically within the workspace although that is the default behaviour). Workspaces tend to be machine specific, and also contain all your preferences and settings. They cannot be easily shared between team members, although you can import a group of projects into a new or existing workspace very quickly.

Although workspaces have some advantages (you can have different workspace preferences for different sets of projects), the inability to share them is a pain. And if you have external dependencies to manage for building your projects, these often have to be set up by each team member individually in their workspaces. You can often simplify this down to maybe one or two external variables pointing to the root of the directory tree with your external dependencies, but even so…

By contrast, Visual Studio is quite happy to point a project at an external dependency outside the projects root directory. And as long as those dependencies are on the same drive, it will put in a relative path for you. So as everyone can check out or create the same directory structure, projects and solutions will work on everyone's machine even if John is keeping his sources under c:\source and Joan is using c:\dev.

Visual Studio wins this one.

Shared Build Environment

Shared build environment leads directly on from the previous section – Visual Studio is already ahead here because it has shareable solution files unlike Eclipse's unshareable workspaces. But Visual Studio goes a step further; building from the command line and the IDE is exactly the same because the IDE uses MSBuild, Microsoft's all-purpose build engine, which you can invoke from the command line without using the IDE. By contrast, although Eclipse uses Ant to build, it uses its own version of Ant – which is probably subtly different to the other Apache Ant you've installed on your harddrive.

Eclipse does have a way of doing headless builds (ie using the Eclipse build engine without starting the IDE GUI) which gives you an option for command line builds, but it isn't particularly easy to use or set up in my opinion, and since you are invoking a class in jar file with a versioned filename, you need to change your headless build scripts each time there's a new version of Eclipse.

But to build a Visual Studio solution from the command line doesn't get much more involved than this:

Msbuild whizbang.sln (you'll probably need to specify the platform and configuration as well, but it still isn't terribly hard)

But doing the same for your Eclipse workspace is going to involve you in creating some extra build scripts.

Visual Studio wins here, and by a substantial margin.

Extending the IDE

Both Visual Studio and Eclipse are extendable. Eclipse has a well-documented plugin structure that enables you to extend any part of the IDE. Visual Studio can be extended either through Add-ins or packages. Add-ins are generally for smaller self-contained pieces of functionality, generally using Visual Studio's automation model. If you want to add support for a new language, you'd create a package. Visual Studio also has a macro recorder that can record a sequence of actions and save it as a VBA script.

So which is easier? Microsoft have made huge strides over the past few years in making Visual Studio much friendlier to third parties wanting to add new functionality and languages. There is a huge amount of documentation on MSDN, blogs from many of the VS devs, lots of examples, and so on. But Visual Studio also suffers from having started as a C++ with COM interfaces everywhere, which Microsoft have been scrambling to replace with the Managed Package Framework over the last few years. So there tend to be several ways of doing everything (although to be fair the documentation will generally guide you down the managed route these years).

Eclipse has a plugin structure designed around XML configuration files which enable you to say: "Construct one of these when you do X". And because it is open source, when things don't work the way you expect, you can step straight from your code into the Eclipse code which gives you a pretty good chance of working out what's going on. When things don't work the way you expect in the Visual Studio world it can be a lot harder to figure out why.

Both Eclipse and Visual Studio have huge frameworks and codebases, and it takes a long time to become a real domain expert in either (I haven't been doing Eclipse long enough to claim real expertise here yet). They both do a lot of the heavy lifting for you if you want to provide a good development experience for a given language, but you are also going to have to do a lot of work yourself.

Which is easier? I'd have to say that Eclipse probably comes out ahead here, if only because you can see the source code for yourself.

And the winner is…

On points, Visual Studio comes out ahead 3-2 in this short tour. But, depending on your requirements and preferences, it could easily swing either way. Users expect more and more from an IDE these days, and the cost of developing one from scratch is prohibitive unless you have very deep pockets. Eclipse and Visual Studio both give you the infrastructure to provide a really great user experience; Visual Studio is obviously only going to run on Windows so if you want to develop on other platforms Eclipse is now the winner.

And of course there are other ways to expand an IDE apart from adding new languages. There are hundreds of 3rd party tools and extensions (both free and paid for) for both Visual Studio and Eclipse, providing all kinds of productivity tools.

Posted on Sunday, May 1, 2011 3:48 AM Visual Studio , Eclipse | Back to top

Comments on this post: Eclipse Vs Visual Studio

# Great article
Requesting Gravatar...
Wow. This is a great read for any programmer. I personally feel VS is better overall, but I use both IDEs, Eclipse for Java, VS for C/C++/C#, each IDE has its own pros and cons and you really touched on those well.
Left by Sonny on Jun 26, 2011 2:14 AM

# re: Eclipse Vs Visual Studio
Requesting Gravatar...
You failed to mention Visual Studio's "Immediate Window" in the Debugging section. I've only been using Eclipse for about a week but I've not found anything like it yet. The ability to run arbitrary code during a debugging session (e.g. trying different methods to get the correct result) is fantabulous.

Also, VS gives you code-completion capabilities in watch windows and generally does a better job of displaying nested properties of inspected objects.

Lastly, VS seems to give far superior support for unhandled exceptions (i.e. the Exception Helper).
Left by Scott Roberts on Jul 13, 2011 9:03 AM

# re: Eclipse Vs Visual Studio
Requesting Gravatar...
Good point about the immediate window - one of my favourite features too so I'm glad you reminded me of it here. The closest thing Eclipse has is the Expressions window, which will let you execute simple expressions, but it doesn't go as far as VS Immediate window.
Left by Paul Kelly on Jul 13, 2011 9:53 AM

# re: Eclipse Vs Visual Studio
Requesting Gravatar...
Wow...I actually differ from some of these.
I have been a long time Eclipse user who just moved to VS a year back. Here are my points to add to the discussion

1. Debugging - Stepping Back in code is an ultimate feature that is seriously lacking in Eclipse. @Scott Roberts: Eclipse does have an immediate window. It has much more than that to be fair. Try the debug perspective. The Exception Handling "paradigm" in Java is slightly better than C# (runtime/checked/unchecked etc...). C# of course is a far amazing language to work with.
2. Code Editor/Productivity - The ability to find a class without knowing its exact name is something I love in Eclipse (look up resource/look up class file). It can look up files within your project as well as the dependencies. So if you looked for a class X, it will show you where it found it (jar file etc). The Code Editor also has an outline view (through which you can drag stuff around). That outline view is available while coding too (Ctrl+O). It is immensely useful. Of a major mention here is the refactoring & code-compare tool in Eclipse. VS seriously lacks a decent refactor tool. Both have a comparable and wonderful "Template" code mechanism. Knowing a method hierarchy (Call hierarchy) or where it is called from in a tree format etc are features that I have found to be useful in Eclipse.

3. Workspaces represent a different train of thought than Solutions. Solutions pertain to the same collection of projects. A Java project can be a single project within the workspace with multiple dependent source packages. A workspace can typically contain projects that have nothing to do with each other. In VS, to open two different "solutions" I may have to open to different VS instances. In Eclipse, I can customize my "Workspace" to contain all "Projects/Solutions" that I work on and refer them back and forth without getting out. As a programmer working on multiple solutions, that's always a major plus. Usually, in a Java "project", the entire project is in SVN/CVS so the shared environment basically belongs to SVN. People don't usually port Workspaces to each other. They can export/import project etc. The entire Eclipse can be simply copied over to a different directory and it can work as well.
4. Build - Ant is mostly used when you need more control on organizing your code and dependencies. An out of the box Web-Project or Standalone does not need ANT. And ANT is just one of the tools that's famous. You have MAVEN etc.
5. There are some amazing plugins like CheckStyle, PMD, Metrics, Findbugs that are just indispensable to a person reviewing code as well as to those writing it; since it works on the fly and does not need a "build" action. VS needs more of these tools (opensource obv :P)

That's all I can think about so far in favor of Eclipse :)
Left by Serendipity on Jul 25, 2011 2:55 PM

# re: Eclipse Vs Visual Studio
Requesting Gravatar...
And here's a take by Jon Skeet (though it was long back :))
Left by Vinu Valayil on Jul 25, 2011 3:02 PM

# re: Eclipse Vs Visual Studio
Requesting Gravatar...
Thanks for the comments Vinu. But Visual Studio does have number 2 in your list: click Edit, Navigate To or Ctrl + , (yes that's control comma) to bring up the very wonderful Navigate To dialog. Start typing and you see a list of matching classes, files, members... all done on fuzzy or substring matching.
Left by Paul Kelly on Jul 25, 2011 8:46 PM

# re: Eclipse Vs Visual Studio
Requesting Gravatar...
Paul, (sorry for extending the discussion): That's a welcome addition, really!. However it is a VS 2010 feature. Just figured that out since I don't have it in 2008.
And this has been around in Eclipse forever (ever since I first used 3.0 in 2004)

You'd agree that's an amazing addition, isn't it? :). Hope they have a similar "Organize Imports" Feature too...gotta look forward for VS2010 :)
Left by Vinu Valayil on Jul 26, 2011 5:22 AM

# re: Eclipse Vs Visual Studio
Requesting Gravatar...
Visual studio pros in my opinion
-c# with VS2010 is way more faster, and more responsive than Eclipse (at least on my machine)
-Intellisense is much better than the one found in eclipse
-it has a much better Form builder like the WindowBuilder in eclipse
-it has regions (#region) that i really miss from eclipse
-has some nice autocomplete features like when i type: "for", and click the Tab key twice, it creates a for cycle for me. Same for the "ctor" which creates the constructor.
-debugging is easier and feature richer in VS, than in Eclipse

-eclipse has better quick fixes than VS
-workspaces are more comfortable, you dont need to open mutliple instances of the IDE to work on multiple projects
-better plugin support

i like VS2010 better, but eclipse is a great IDE as well.
Left by sadasdsa on Oct 29, 2011 9:41 AM

# re: Eclipse Vs Visual Studio
Requesting Gravatar...
Thanks for writing this comparison - it's useful and refreshing to find an even-handed comparison of these two mortal enemies.

One tiny correction: you say that "Visual Studio lets you tear off ANY window in the IDE and drag it out to a separate monitor, where you can maximize it, or share the space with something else", implying that Eclipse can't do that. It can. Right-click on the view's title bar, and select 'Detached'. It becomes a free-floating window. The only view you can't do this for (apparently) is the main editor view, but that sort of makes sense. Sort of.

Your point about project management and build, which really is a single point, i think, is a good one. The .net universe has one system for dependency management and build; the Java universe has several. That means that VS gives you no choices, but a tight integration, while Eclipse gives you freedom, but poor integration.

Furthermore, in the Java universe, it's often build systems that integrate to Eclipse, rather than vice versa. For example, where i work, we use Gradle for builds; it can resolve dependencies and build the system independently of Eclipse (good for continuous integration, and for people preferring to work with IntelliJ), but it can also generate metadata for Eclipse, so it does the work of keeping project definitions in sync.

As a result, i don't think it's entirely fair to say that VS wins here, because you're comparing two different philosophies, rather than two implementations of the same philosophy.

That said, i understand that some of VS's shortcomings are corrected by Resharper. Perhaps a VS+Resharper vs Eclipse+Gradle/Maven comparison would be interesting :).
Left by Tom on Apr 27, 2012 12:49 AM

# re: Eclipse Vs Visual Studio
Requesting Gravatar...
Thanks for your kind comments. You make some good points, and I'll agree that Eclipse does integrate with several different build systems. In particular, I've discovered the Maven integration since I wrote this article, and when it works it is very good (and when it doesn't, it is really frustrating!). But I'm sticking with my belief that VS's out of the box experience for identical, reproducible, command line or IDE builds of a project is pretty hard to beat!
Left by Paul Kelly on Apr 27, 2012 2:54 AM

# re: Eclipse Vs Visual Studio
Requesting Gravatar...
@Scott Roberts
The nearest thing I can see relate w.r.t. to immediate window is hot-swap feature in Java. You can change the code in-line and check the results right there.

IMO eclipse would never have a feature similar to "Immediate Window" because of the opensource philosophy.
The opensource philosophy stresses more on theoretical computations rather than trying out things at runtime, which according to me is more reliable in nature. All the debug tools that you would see in Eclipse are visual representation of the the command line tools for debugging and I don't think there would be more UI based debug features Eclipse would offer in future.

Second aspect of Eclipse is it's all about "Do it yourself" philosophy of opensource. So you would find configuration in eclipse more tedious than VS, but then there is much more flexibility. Only embedded systems folks like me can truly harness this power of flexibility, wherein I get to specify which hardware, compiler , debugger, JTAG , etc I can use for my target device. This is the reason I don't think there would be much evolution in WindowBuilder / Forms builder / project configuration space. People in opensource domain would like to code their UI or configure their projects from command line, which gives them lot of flexibility.

As for auto complete feature eclipse is far better than VS .. Try the for loop feature, it would create a complete structure for you along with variables. Declare private variables in class and you can automatically create all set/get implementations.
Left by Chaitannya Mahatme on May 02, 2012 2:15 AM

# re: Eclipse Vs Visual Studio
Requesting Gravatar...
Thank you for this good article.

I think eclipse not enough to compare with VS. when i need to use java i'am using Intelli IDEA and IDEA is more beautiful than elipse.

Thanks and sorry for bad english.
Left by Emre Toprak on Jun 19, 2012 6:48 PM

# re: Eclipse Vs Visual Studio
Requesting Gravatar...
@Chaitannya Mahatme:

I am interested more in understanding your following points, that:

1) The opensource philosophy stresses more on theoretical computations rather than trying out things at runtime,

2) "Do it yourself" philosophy of opensource

3) People in opensource domain would like to code their UI or configure their projects from command line

Do you have some reference of open source philosophy claiming all, or any one of the above points?


You clearly speak from your experience without any bias. While I really appreciate your insight and the effort you took to write this post, it is very nice to see people who are so unbiased :-)
Left by Really nice eclipse/VS article on Jul 05, 2012 10:10 AM

# re: Eclipse Vs Visual Studio
Requesting Gravatar...
I find this article interesting. As a user moving from Eclipse to Visual Studio I find that VS really is just a 'notepad" on wheels. Intellisense is abysmal compared to Eclipse which has it out of the box. For VS you need to purchase Resharper or some other add on to do that. IMO Reshaper pretty much adds all the functionality to VS that Eclipse and pretty much every other Java IDE already has. A vanilla VS installation has a pretty weak code completion and no refactoring support compared to Eclipse where you can traverse the API as you type.

Eclipse does have an immediate window. In the debug perspective bring the 'Display' window and type away. It works. I also miss the Drop to Frame feature in the Eclipse debugger where you can revert to any position in the stack and play the method over and over again if you like.

The big thing for me is that Eclipse is free and still has all these features. To get something on par with VS you need to buy Visual Studio, then buy Resharper on top. Learning .NET at home for your job is an expensive endeavour in the Microsoft world.
Left by MK on Jul 08, 2012 3:45 PM

# re: Eclipse Vs Visual Studio
Requesting Gravatar...
One irritating thing about Eclipse debug mode (in Python Dev atleast) is that once you step into (F5) a function call, the focus does not automatically shift to the file window of the stepped in function. This means I have to first use the mouse to bring focus before I can keep hitting Step Over (F6). The user interaction in VS doesn't have any such glitches and feels smooth to debug.
Left by MS on Aug 21, 2012 6:09 AM

# re: Eclipse Vs Visual Studio
Requesting Gravatar...
For everything Eclipse lacks in the VS department it makes up for it by providing you with the Eclipse Marketplace, with thousands of plugins for enhancement.
Left by Meh on Aug 21, 2012 3:19 PM

# re: Eclipse Vs Visual Studio
Requesting Gravatar...
In my view I feel eclipse is better as it is open source and I did some eclipse plug in development which were fun. But visal studio is so expensive and not open source. But for windows CE development VS is a good choice on the other hand eclipse is good for tizen development. Android itself can be developed by eclipse I have touched that too (I dont mean apps I mean android OS) I can see all guys have some points above but honestly eclipse is better for new generation of programmers. :P
Left by Hamed on Jun 11, 2013 10:53 PM

# re: Eclipse Vs Visual Studio
Requesting Gravatar...
Now I use Codelobster PHP Edition
This free IDe is more convenient for me.
Left by Stas on Sep 04, 2014 2:33 AM

Your comment:
 (will show your gravatar)

Copyright © cyberycon | Powered by: