Sun Shines Ruby Support For Java Developers

Sun Microsystems furthered its commitment to dynamic languages with this week’s announcement that its NetBeans Java development toolkit would offer support for Ruby  development.

The NetBeans Ruby Pack is a plug-in to the NetBeans IDE  that provides support for both Ruby and JRuby, a pure-Java implementation of the Ruby programming language that runs on the Java Virtual Machine.

“This is a big deal because until now, Ruby developers haven’t had a lot of IDE support. They just use plain text editors,” Tor Norbye, senior staff engineer at Sun , told “In the Java world we’ve had lots of features available.”

With this support, Ruby developers will get features that programmers used to using an IDE take for granted, such as syntax highlighting, navigation outline, project support and unit test execution.

The NetBeans Ruby Pack also offers extended features such as integrated documentation pop-ups for Ruby API calls, semantic analysis with highlighting of parameters and unused local variables, as well as occurrence highlighting.

Norbye said that there would also be ancillary support for developing Ruby on Rails  applications as well. NetBeans would use JRuby behind the scenes to parse the code, and that Ruby would be included so applications can be run on Java without having to fully install Ruby on a computer.

JRuby is the brainchild of two programmers, Charles Nutter and Thomas Enebo, whose demo at JavaOne last year impressed Sun so much, it hired the duo to work full time on the project. This week, they plan to release JRuby 0.9.8, meaning it is essentially done.

Norbye said this is part of a bigger Sun investment in scripting languages. “We’re thinking of doing additional scripting languages and ruby was the first one,” he said. “Ruby is getting a lot of buzz, and it’s also a nice language. We see an interest there, that’s why we’re providing something.”

While the Ruby support is fairly complete, Sun plans to work on adding more features to NetBeans. “Given this is a dynamic language, we can’t do accurate code completion in many cases. That’s an area we’ll be tweaking to make the IDE smarter and smarter,” said Norbye.

Steve O’Grady, principal analyst with Redmonk, said there hasn’t been a whole lot of attention paid to giving Ruby an IDE, but it would need one to be taken seriously by programmers.

“IDEs become particularly important when you want to break into mainstream usage,” he told “Text editors are fine and some people are more comfortable working in text editors. All that said, there are a whole lot more people who aren’t hardcore developers. If you want a language to appeal to the masses, it is important to have the ability to simplify some of the tasks.”

The Ruby support plug-in for NetBeans is available as a free download from the NetBeans Autoupdate Center. Additional support for Ruby on Rails is expected to be available mid-year 2007.

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