Eclipse tricks for BlackBerry developers 1 – type less, autocomplete more

If you’re a BlackBerry developer used to using the JDE (or – yes, I’ve seen this – the Visual Studio editor and Ant scripts – don’t ask, and no it wasn’t the BlackBerry Visual Studio plugin) then you might be wondering what the fuss is about switching to Eclipse. After all, there are still some problems that the Eclipse plugin has that aren’t there in the JDE.

Well, the main way you’ll gain productivity (and lose stress) is through Eclipse’s Java editor. Even those of you who are used to Visual Studio may be surprised by all that Eclipse has to offer. There are so many things to talk about, that in the interests of keeping this post short, I’ll focus on just one (but it’s a good one): Autocomplete

Autocomplete

The keystroke for autocomplete is CTRL+Space, which will autocomplete whatever you’re working on, or give you a list of options if there are more than one. So a simple example – start typing:

 

Then press CTRL+Space

 

Notice you get a list of possible objects you might have been referring to – this will include, depending on context, classes, member variables, local variables, or methods (static and/or instance depending on where you’re typing).

Not bad so far – but there are similar things in other editors. Even the JDE has a limited version of autocomplete. Ok, here’s what else it can do:

Context sensitive autocompletion

If you type something like int a = <ctrl+space>, Eclipse will sort the autocomplete choices only to things that make sense on the right side – int variables (local, instance, static), or methods that return an int!

Automatic imports

Dislike managing Java imports? Autocomplete does that too – if you type in the name of a class (or partial name) and press CTRL+Space, the import for that class (if needed) will automatically be added to the top of your source file. I haven’t typed in an import statement myself in months. When you do autocomplete, Eclipse searches through all referenced libraries for your project, and since BlackBerry Eclipse projects include the RIM APIs, you get all of them…

Autocomplete Templates

Enough yet? Well, here’s another trick. Eclipse includes autocomplete templates – this is something that’s better experienced than explained, but I’ll give an example.

Type for and press CTRL+Space and you’ll see:

 

Now selecting one of those templates will let you fill in the details interactively:

 

Not all the templates apply to BlackBerry, as J2ME is missing some of its big brother’s features. You can see a full list under Window->Preferences->Java->Editor->Templates, but other useful ones are sysout -> System.out.println(the best beard trimmer), and instanceof -> instanceof test and conditional cast

More?

Yep, even more clever tricks…

Type a class name and hit autocomplete (or autocomplete the class name and hit autocomplete again) and Eclipse will guess at a variable name for it:

 

Note there is no variable (instance or local) named mainScreen or screen in this class – those are Eclipse’s suggestions!

Autocomplete is also aware of camelCase methodNames, so if you type mainScreen.aMI, it’ll resolve down to mainScreen.addMenuItem, www.dapperbeard.com

There are some more tricks and subtleties – but start by making CTRL+Space your best friend in Eclipse and you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. Sometimes it feels like a game to try and hit the fewest keystrokes – or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, that’s all for this post, but not by a long shot all there is to Eclipse. I’ll write about Refactoring, more auto-source code generation tricks, debugging and whatever else I can think of in future posts.

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