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The Official Eclipse FAQs

Note that this FAQ is updated less frequently than this FAQ. You may find your answer there before it makes its way here.

Part I -- The Eclipse Ecosystem

The Eclipse Community

Eclipse has taken the computing industry by storm. The download data for the Eclipse Software Development Kit (SDK) is astounding and a true ecosystem is forming around this new phenomenon. In this chapter we discuss what Eclipse is and who is involved in it and give you a glimpse of how large a community has put its weight behind this innovative technology.

An open source project would be nothing without a supporting community. The Eclipse ecosystem is a thriving one, with many research projects based on Eclipse, commercial products that ship on top of Eclipse, lively discussions in newsgroups and mailing lists, and a long list of articles and books that address the platform. The following pages will give you a roadmap of the community, so that you will feel more at home as you come to wander its winding streets.

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Generic Editors

In Eclipse, editors are parts that have an associated input inside a workbench window and additional lifecycle methods, such as save and revert. This chapter answers questions about interacting with editors and about writing your own editors, whether they are text based or graphical. See Chapter 15 for a complete treatment of questions about writing your own text-based editors.

Actions, Commands, and Activities

This chapter answers questions about creating menu bars, context menus, and tool bars and the actions that fill them. A variety of both declarative and programmatic methods are available for contributing actions to the Eclipse UI and for managing and filtering those actions once they have been defined. This chapter also discusses the various ways to execute the long-running tasks that can be triggered by menu and toolbar actions.

Actions are currently considered to be inferior to commands. The following information about actions is still left here to help people which are still using actions. If you can you should use commands.

Building Your Own Application

Prior to the introduction of RCP, most of the Eclipse community was focused on developing plug-ins for a particular Eclipse application called the workbench. Eclipse, however, has always supported the ability to create your own stand alone applications based on the Eclipse plug-in architecture. Eclipse applications can range from simple headless programs with no user interface to full-blown IDEs. In Eclipse 3.0, the platform began a shift toward giving greater power and flexibility to applications built on the Eclipse infrastructure. This chapter guides you through the process of building your own Eclipse application and explores some of the new Eclipse 3.0 APIs available only to applications.

Productizing an Eclipse Offering

In this chapter, we look at turning an Eclipse configuration into a product. When an Eclipse product is created, the anonymous collection of plug-ins takes on application-specific branding, complete with custom images, splash screen, and launcher. In creating your own product, you typically also need to write an installer and uninstaller and consider how your users will obtain and upgrade your product.

Part III -- The Eclipse IDE Platform

Text Editors

The most important purpose of an IDE is to browse and edit code. Therefore, perhaps even more than any other IDE platform, the Eclipse editor framework has grown into a highly evolved, flexible, easy-to-use, and easy-to-extend environment for editing program source files. In this chapter, we look at what support exists for writing editors and how easy it is to plug them into the Eclipse IDE platform.

Help, Search, and Compare

Admittedly, this chapter covers a number of unrelated components in the Eclipse Platform. They have in common the fact that each is designed as an independent plug-in that can be added to any Eclipse-based application. Although they are at home mostly in IDE applications, these plug-ins can also be inserted into RCP applications when help, search, or compare facilities are needed.

Workspace and Resources API

A program is never written in isolation but instead depends on other code, icons, data, and configuration files. An extendable IDE should provide access to wherever these artifacts are stored. In Eclipse, the artifacts are referred to as resources and are stored in a workspace. The FAQs in this chapter show how resources are managed in a workspace and what API is available to control and track their lifecycle.

Workbench IDE

The remaining plug-ins in the Eclipse Platform are truly oriented toward writing development tools. This chapter covers elements of the Eclipse IDE workbench, found in the org.eclipse.ui.ide plug-in. This plug-in includes most of the standard platform views, such as Navigator, Tasks, Problems, Properties, and Bookmark. We also take a quick look at advanced topics, such as writing repository clients and debuggers.

Implementing Support for Your Own Language

Through its JDT project, Eclipse has strong support for Java development, such as editing, refactoring, building, launching, and debugging. Likewise, the C development tools (CDT) project aims for similar support for writing C/C++ code. This chapter discusses some of the issues to address when you have your own language and want to host it in Eclipse for writing programs and plug-ins. We look at the various ways of integrating with Eclipse: from no integration to a fully integrated language development environment. To structure our discussion, we take a closer look at eScript, an experimental script language developed especially for this book. As is the case for all examples described in this book, you can find eScript on this book’s CD-ROM or Web site (http://eclipsefaq.org).

Many questions have been addressed in other FAQs in this book and may be somewhat repetitive. However, if you are planning to implement support for your own programming language, this chapter might serve well as a comprehensive overview of how to approach this big task.

Any classification of integration of a new programming language with Eclipse is somewhat arbitrary. We have identified the following degrees of integration of a new programming language, such as eScript, with Eclipse:

  • Phase 1—Compiling code and building projects. To obtain full integration with Eclipse in the area of compilation of programs and build processes for your own language, follow the various steps outlined in the FAQs below.
  • Phase 2—Implementing a DOM. The DOM is an in-memory structural representation of the source code of a program written in your language. Using the structural information contained in the DOM, all kinds of analysis and refactoring tools can be built.
  • Phase 3—editing programs. After writing a compiler, a builder, and a DOM, you are ready to consider all the individual steps to build the ultimate Eclipse editor for your language.
  • Phase 4—Adding the finishing touches. To give your language IDE a professional look, follow the steps outlined in the FAQs below.

If you carefully observe these four phases, you will find that the visual aspects of your language IDE happen late in the process. You will have to do some legwork before you are able to get to the pretty parts. We recommend patience and restraint. Time spent in phases 1 and 2 will be well spent, and once you get to phase 3 and 4, you will be grateful that you followed all the steps we outlined.

Java Development Tool API

From the outset, Eclipse has been used to develop Eclipse itself. The plug-ins that make up Eclipse are written in Java, and the concept of self-hosting has propelled the JDT to their current maturity level. When you are writing your plug-ins, you will also spend considerable time inside the JDT. A full coverage of JDT’s functionality is way beyond the scope of the list of FAQs in this chapter; however, we do focus on topics that are directly related to writing plug-ins and discuss aspects of JDT that warrant a discussion about how they are implemented rather than used.

It is important to realize that JDT itself has been written as a set of plug-ins and receives no special support from the platform. JDT represents a wealth of knowledge and is by far the most elaborate and advanced set of plug-ins in Eclipse. It is definitely worth spending some time to observe how JDT extends the platform and how its own extension points and API have been designed. It is likely that your plug-ins will deploy very similar patterns of extensions, extendibility, and reuse.

Finally, the JDT is a useful set of plug-ins in its own right, but it has also been carefully designed for extension by other plug-ins. By having a published API, it is easy to create new Java projects, generate Java source code, manage Java builds, inspect and analyze Java projects, and implement special refactorings. Refer to Help > Help Contents > JDT Plug-in Developer Guide for extensive documentation and tutorials describing the extension points and API published by JDT. For a comprehensive guide to Java development using Eclipse, see the Java Developers Guide to Eclipse (Addison-Wesley, 2003).

Where to buy the original book

The initial contents for these FAQ pages has come from The Offical Eclipse 3.0 FAQs written by John Arthorne and Chris Laffra.

Permission to publish the FAQ book contents here has been graciously offered by Addison-Wesley, publishers of the official Eclipse Series which wouldn't be possible without the great help from Greg Doench.

The book can be purchased from Amazon.com