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In Development Last updated: August 7, 2023
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As a programmer, your IDE is probably your most important application running. You spend so much time using it, writing and debugging code. A good IDE will make your job more enjoyable and improve productivity by helping you write better code with fewer errors.

In this article, I will review two popular IDEs for Python developers and share my opinion on which IDE is best. These IDEs are Visual Studio Code and PyCharm. But first, let’s establish what an IDE is and why it is a good idea to use.

What is an IDE?

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An IDE is an Integrated Development Environment. It is basically an application that you use to develop software. When developing software, you carry out three primary tasks:

✅ Write code

✅ Run code

✅ Debug code

An IDE is an application that enables you to perform all three tasks. You can also choose to have separate applications for each task, but an IDE is usually ideal as it combines the three crucial tasks and other nice-to-have features that make you more productive.

These nice-to-have features have become commonplace nowadays that any good IDE should include them. These include:

  1. Syntax highlighting to make your code easier to read
  2. Error catching to identify and highlight errors as early as possible in the development process
  3. Step-by-step debug tools
  4. Version control to make it easier to manage code and collaborate with others
  5. Code linting to make it easier to write legible code

Both Visual Studio Code and PyCharm include these features by default.

Why Should You Use an IDE?

  • It makes software development easier and reduces friction as you can have multiple files open simultaneously, and you can switch easily between them.
  • It makes it easier to read code with syntax highlighting.
  • They simplify version control by providing GUI interfaces for working with popular version control systems such as Git.
  • An IDE makes it easier to debug your code by stepping through lines and reading through the program state. This is easier than dry running, which you would have to do if you just used a text editor and not an IDE.
  • They offer helpful code suggestions, so you do not have to type everything.
  • They help check if your program follows the syntax rules of your chosen programming language.

What is VS Code?


Visual Studio Code or VS Code is an open-source code editor by Microsoft. It is incredibly popular as it is free, versatile, and easy to use. It can be installed on any computer, be it Windows, Mac, or Linux.

In addition, you can have it running on a server and use your local Visual Studio Code instance to edit the files on the server using SSH.

In addition, you can use it online and edit local files. While the online version is less-featured than the desktop version, it is still decently usable.

VS Code Features

I have decided to condense down my favorite features of Visual Studio Code into a nice little list. These things are just the things that I enjoy using in addition to the primary IDE capabilities of VS Code.

Also, some of these features may not be unique to Visual Studio Code, but I still included them because they are just good features to have in an IDE.

#1. Integrates Well With Github Co-Pilot

GitHub co-pilot in Visual Studio Code

GitHub co-pilot is an AI-based pair programmer. When you have the GitHub co-pilot extension installed, it predicts the code you will write next from your comments or from the code you have already written. When you press the tab key, the code is pasted into your file. This improves my productivity when writing code.

#2. It Is Very Customizable

Changing themes in Visual Studio code

If you do not like the way your Visual Studio Code instance looks, you can change the theme. While this may not seem crucial, I have found that I enjoy writing code more when the theme looks nice. Regularly changing my theme also keeps the IDE interesting.

#3. It Has an Integrated Terminal

Visual Studio Code integrated terminal

Visual Studio Code comes with a terminal for running shell commands as you are developing your code. For example, when you want to install your pip packages or run your Python applications from the command line. This terminal is incredibly useful and convenient.

#4. It Supports Remote Development

SSH Extensions in VSCode

With the right extensions installed, you can set up Visual Studio code to access files on another computer you have access to. This could be a remote server somewhere or a Windows Subsystem for Linux.

With this setup, you can edit the files on that machine and run code on that machine from your computer. This can be very convenient at times.

#5. It Is Versatile

Jupyter Notebooks in Visual Studio Code

VS Code can be used with a wide variety of file extensions and will support them. Although we are evaluating Visual Studio Code for Python development, it is useful if you will also work with other languages.

It supports many coding languages right out of the box. If the language you are working with is not supported. There’s a marketplace for extensions where you will probably find an extension to help you.

These features are why I recommend using Visual Studio Code to anyone.

What is PyCharm?


PyCharm is an IDE for developing with Python made by JetBrains. JetBrains also created popular IDEs like IntelliJ for Java and WebStorm for JavaScript development.

PyCharm comes in two flavors, the community edition, which is free and open source, and the professional version, which is paid. With the community edition, you can create Python and HTML files. However, with the Professional version, you can also work with HTML, JS, and SQL files in addition. As you would expect, PyCharm can be installed on Windows, Mac, or Linux.

Here’s my list of favorite PyCharm features

PyCharm Features

#1. It Is Incredibly Beginner Friendly

A PyCharm Window with a simple program

PyCharm is easy to get started using. The installation process is simple. It is easy to create a new project and configure a virtual environment. It is equally as easy to create new files and add them to your project.

You can add packages by searching for them in the packages toolbar. Running your program is a matter of just pressing a Run button. This makes it very easy for a beginner to get started writing Python without having to deal with the more intimidating terminal.

#2. It Has Inline Debugging Tools

Inline debugging in PyCharm

When you add breakpoints to your code, PyCharm will show you the state of variables at different points in your code. This makes it easier to check if your variables have the expected state as your program progresses. Ultimately it simplifies your debugging and makes you more productive.

#3. Convenient Refactoring Actions

Simplified Actions in PyCharm

PyCharm has automation to make it easy to refactor your code with just a few clicks. You can move functions between different files, extract functions and write docstrings, among other actions.

This is useful as it allows you to refactor your code and make it more readable while reducing the chances of forgetting to update other parts. For example, you can move a function to a different module, and PyCharm will update all imports for that function.

#4. You Can Read Documentation From Within the IDE

Reading documentation in PyCharm

As you install packages, you can read the documentation from within the IDE. This makes it easier to find documentation and reference it without having to open your browser and go to the package’s website.

PyCharm lets you read the documentation for all packages they have in the package toolbar, basically all publicly available packages.

#5. It Has Visual Version Control

Version control in PyCharm

Using Git from the command line can be intimidating initially and unintuitive. In addition, it can be frustrating when you mistype a command. PyCharm comes with a built-in toolbar for Version control.

Committing changes is as simple as selecting the files you want to commit from a checkbox list and writing a commit message. Afterward, you can either commit changes locally or commit and push to a remote repository with just one click.

PyCharm Vs. Visual Studio Code

Aspect/FeatureVisual Studio CodePyCharm
User InterfaceVisual Studio Code has a clear and simple User Interface that can be customized using one of the many available themesPyCharm’s UI can appear cluttered and intimidating at first. There are also options to customize the UI with themes, but PyCharm has a smaller community than Visual Studio Code
Plugins/ExtensionsVisual Studio Code has a larger extension ecosystem, thus making it more customizable and versatile.PyCharm has a smaller ecosystem, but it comes with more features.
Code EditingVS Code has IntelliSense to save you from typing. In addition, it has a GitHub CoPilot extension that makes coding faster. You can also set up linting to help you write cleaner code.PyCharm also has its own version of predictive coding and a GitHub Co-Pilot extension. In addition, it has PEP8 formatting baked into the product that just works with no setup. This makes it easier and more convenient.
CostVisual Studio is completely freePyCharm has a free edition, but it has a few features
SetupVisual Studio Code is installed as just a text editor. You would have to install your own Python interpreter and additional useful packages, such as a virtual environment manager. PyCharm also requires that you install your own interpreter. But it also comes with built-in tools such as a virtual environment manager and PEP8 formatting
SupportVisual Studio is the more popular of the two and, therefore, has a larger community of people who can support you in case you run into any issues.PyCharm, despite having a smaller community, still has helpful resources on how to make the most out of PyCharm from the JetBrains team. The community is still considerably large. However, you will probably get better support from the VS Code community.
Language SupportVisual Studio Code supports just about any language you want to use. You can use it to view ad edit Python Jupyter Notebooks PyCharm is for Python development. As a result, it supports fewer languages. PyCharm community only supports Python and HTML.
Remote DevelopmentVisual Studio supports easy Remote development once you install the extension.With PyCharm, you can only use remote development in the paid professional edition.

The Verdict: Which One Should You Use?

I like Visual Studio Code’s versatility, large ecosystem, and free cost. I like how beginner-friendly and how minimal the installation of PyCharm is. As a result, my personal favorite is Visual Studio Code. However, I would still recommend PyCharm to anyone who has just started coding and does not want to complicate things by setting up a development environment.

But rather than prescribe an IDE, I think Python developers should use both and decide which one they like.

Learning Resources

IDEs are incredibly useful tools for developers. However, tools are only useful to the extent you can use them effectively. The following resources will teach you to use your chosen IDE, whether PyCharm or Visual Studio Code, effectively and efficiently to help you write better and cleaner code productively.

#1. Visual Studio Code for Developers 2023: Beginner to Advanced


This course on Visual Studio Code for Developers will teach you VS Code from the easy basics to more advanced topics. Among other things, you will learn shortcut keys to make you more efficient, how to work with Git and GitHub, and how to debug your code effectively.

#2. Visual Studio Code Tutorial – Getting Started With VS Code


This Visual Studio Code Tutorial will teach you the basics of Visual Studio Code. You will learn to find your way around the interface and set up a workspace with Git and GitHub. This course will help you establish a solid foundation for learning more advanced concepts later.

#3. Mastering Visual Studio Code: A Beginner’s Guide (Mastering Computer Science)

This book covers Visual Studio Code, from the basic user interface concepts to the extensions API.

It covers more advanced API concepts, including how to set up Visual Studio code for your programming language of choice and integrate with version and source control.

#4. Master Pycharm IDE


Master Pycharm IDE course covers how to customize PyCharm by changing themes and moving windows around. You will also learn how to navigate around the editor and use keyboard shortcuts to make you more productive.

You will learn the different features you can use to improve the readability of your Python programs and how to test your software using different testing libraries.

#5. PyCharm Productivity and Debugging Techniques


This PyCharm Productivity and Debugging Techniques course covers how to install and manage packages in PyCharm. You will learn how to refactor your code and convert functions and export them.

You will learn external frameworks and front-end web development support for building more complicated web applications using frameworks such as Django.

#6. Effective PyCharm: Learn the PyCharm IDE with a Hands-on Approach

This book covers the different PyCharm features that are available and how to make effective use of them.

These features range from database support, version control, debugging support, code refactoring, and managing projects.

Final Words

This article discussed what an IDE is and why you should probably get one. In addition, we compared two popular IDEs for Python developers, Visual Studio Code and PyCharm. Lastly, we listed useful resources to help you to learn how to use your IDE more effectively.

Next, check out the best Python IDE to supercharge development and debugging.

  • Anesu Kafesu
    Full stack web developer and technical writer. Currently learning AI.
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