Every Python developer should use the right tools to make good use of their time. Here I will go through the contenders for the top 10 Python IDEs and editors, and we will focus on the free ones available for Windows. I will highlight the most important features to look for, but I can’t help revealing my personal favorite, PyScripter.
What free Python IDEs and editors are available for Windows?
Python editors are available for all operating systems. Many of them are even platform-independent. Code can be written in a plain text editor (Notepad, Notepad++, vim, nano, emacs, etc), but it is recommended to use an integrated development environment (IDE).
Below is a list of the top 10 most popular IDEs.
- Sublime Text
- Visual Studio Code
- Online Python compilers
What is an integrated development environment?
As the name says, an IDE is a software which includes a code editor, a compiler, often an interpreter and a debugger. Some IDEs come with package managers, collaborative tools and more so that the whole process of code development can happen within the same environment. This saves time and effort for programmers since all the needed tools are available within the same program.
Why use Python IDEs?
Text editors are the minimum needed to write code, but they are clumsy. If you were to use, e.g., Notepad under Windows, you have to edit the code, save it, and then call Python separately in a shell to execute the code. An IDE can provide a number of features that are helpful for software development. These include code completion, syntax highlighting, error checking, and project management tools.
Are Python IDEs essential in 2022?
There is no readily available text editor within the Windows command prompt. Linux and Mac users can benefit from the ability to run a shell and execute commands from inside vim or emacs, for example, just by defining a shortcut key. Still, it is much more efficient to have all needed tools available within the same software. Not to mention that when Python projects are split into multiple source-code files, it becomes painful to open and close them all the time. Why fight with the tools instead of tackling your tasks?
What are the must-have features of Python IDEs?
- File navigator
As soon as a coding project is split into multiple files (which is recommended!), it becomes necessary to be able to easily switch between different files.
- Syntax highlighting
Code readability is the single most important coding practice. You might be a brilliant mind, but if your code is messy, you will be lost in your own ideas eventually. Many Python editors employ a colour scheme to designate different parts of the programming language in different colours. This makes it easier to see the structure of the code.
- Code completion
It is always worth using long and descriptive names for functions and variables. It helps massively with code readability. Good Python editors can help you by providing suggestions based on what code you are typing.
- Spell checking
Everybody makes mistakes and typos. Some IDEs can detect and highlight obvious typos before you even execute the code. This includes also counting the number of opened and closed brackets. Python editors should also check whether code indentation is correct. (Remember that the IDE is not a mind reader, you know your algorithm best, and you may introduce a bug due to wrong indentation.)
What to watch out for when using Python IDEs?
Some IDEs are rich in features but they try to be a jack-of-all-trades. They are bloated with tools you will probably never use. This is draining your resources, and the IDE is acting sluggishly.
We reviewed the popular Python IDEs more than a year ago. Not much has changed since then around the big names.
The top 10 Python IDEs and editors
Let’s go through all of the top 10 Python IDEs quickly. I will skip the text editors. They are self-explanatory.
As I said in the beginning, my personal favourite is PyScripter. I love its flexibility, the ease of use, but most of all, the fact that it is Python-specific and does not drain memory. It only needs 50 MB of RAM to run my small project!
PyScripter makes it possible to install packages without leaving the IDE. That is a huge plus for me. It calls pip behind the scenes and installs the package for the correct Python version. If you have tried doing that by hand, you know how painful it can be.
We recently reviewed Atom and compared it to PyScripter. Although they share many features, Atom is a multipurpose IDE, not Python-specific. I have heard plenty of positive experiences about Atom, but I have to admit that I had to fight with it to even install it on my computer.
PyCharm is another professional Python-specific editor available for Windows, Linux and Mac. It offers all the necessary features; however, it is free only for academic purposes and open-source projects. For-profit project members need to obtain a licence.
Visual Studio Code
I have many co-workers using Visual Studio Code in their projects, though I never fell in love with it. VS Code is highly customisable and, I would say, more suitable for people who work on various projects involving different programming languages. One upside of it is that it can run Python notebooks. More on them later.
Sublime text offers all necessary features a Python coder needs and is cross-platform, though it is free only for evaluation. Creating real-life projects requires a paid licence.
Idle is a primitive Python code editor that only offers some basic features. It is, in fact, itself written in Python. It runs a Python interpreter, highlights the syntax and offers some debugging options.
Spyder is an all-around, fairly simplistic Python IDE which can employ an existing Anaconda installation and has an iPython interactive shell, though it also lacks advanced features needed for efficient coding.
Thonny is a basic Python-only IDE with a simple interface and limited features. There is a Python interpreter and an output Window. There are no advanced features such as version control or unit testing.
Online Python compilers
Python code can be executed on some servers for free. They tend to be really basic and are not recommended for large programming projects.
Before I learned about PyScripter, I was swearing by Jupyter notebooks. They are nice and handy, but the Jupyter environment is clumsy and sluggish. Load a big dataset, and your browser can even freeze.
There are some basic Python IDEs and code editors which can restrict your workflow. Our list of the top 10 Python IDEs and code editors shows some of the choices for feature-rich options to suit all your needs.
Do you already use any of our top 10 Python IDEs? Do you have a favorite Python editor? Why not download PyScripter today and see the advantages and improvement in coding efficiency you gain from using this great, feature-packed free Python IDE?