Python Tool Review: Using PyCharm for Python Development - and More

Back in 2011, I wrote a blog post on using Eclipse for Python Development.

I've never updated that post, and it's probably terribly outdated by now. But there's a good reason for that - I haven't used Eclipse in years. Not long after that post, I came across PyCharm, and I haven't really looked back.

Performance

Eclipse always felt sluggish to me. PyCharm feels an order of magnitude more responsive. Sometimes it takes a minute to update its indices after I've checked out a new branch of a very large project but usually, even that is barely noticeable. Once the indices are updated, everything is very fast.

Responding quickly is very important. If I'm deep in a problem and suddenly have to stop and wait for my editor to finish something, it can break my concentration and end up slowing me down much more than you might expect simply because an operation took a few seconds longer than it should.

It's not just editing that's fast. I can search for things across every file in my current project faster than I can type in the search string. It's amazing how useful that simple ability becomes.

Python

PyCharm knows Python. My favorite command is Control-B, which jumps to the definition of whatever is under the cursor. That's not so hard when the variable was just assigned a constant a few lines before. But most of the time, knowing the type of a variable at a particular time requires understanding the code that got you there. And PyCharm gets this right an astonishing amount of the time.

I can have multiple projects open in PyCharm at one time, each using its own virtual environment, and everything just works. This is another absolute requirement for my workflow.

The latest release even understands Python type annotations from the very latest Python, Python 3.6.

Django

PyCharm has built-in support for Django. This includes things like knowing the syntax of Django templates, and being able to run and debug your Django app right in PyCharm.

Git

PyCharm recognizes that your project is stored in a git repo and has lots of useful features related to that, like adding new files to the repo for you and making clear which files are not actually in the repo, showing all changes since the last commit, comparing a file to any other version of itself, pulling, committing, pushing, checking out another branch, creating a branch, etc.

I use some of these features in PyCharm, and go back to the command line for some other operations just because I'm so used to doing things that way. PyCharm is fine with that; when I go back to PyCharm, it just notices that things have changed and carries on.

Because the git support is so handy, I sometimes use PyCharm to edit files in projects that have no Python code at all, like my personal dotfiles and ansible scripts.

Code checking

PyCharm provides numerous options for checking your code for syntax and style issues as you write it, for Python, HTML, JavaScript, and probably whatever else you need to work on. But every check can be disabled if you want to, so your work is not cluttered with warnings you are ignoring, just the ones you want to see.

Cross-platform

When I started using PyCharm, I was switching between Linux at work and a Mac at home. PyCharm works the same on both, so I didn't have to keep switching tools.

(If you're wondering, I'm always using Linux now, except for a few hours a year when I do my taxes.)

Documentation

Admittedly, the documentation is sparse compared to, say, Django. There seems to be a lot of it on their support web site, but when you start to use it, you realize that most pages only have a paragraph or two that only touch on the surface of things. It's especially frustrating to look for details of how something works in PyCharm, and find a page about it, but all it says is which key invokes it.

Luckily, most of the time you can manage without detailed documentation. But I often wonder how many features could be more useful for me but I don't know it because what they do isn't documented.

Commercial product

PyCharm has a free and a paid version, and I use the paid version, which adds support for web development and Django, among other things. I suspect I'm like a lot of my peers in usually looking for free tools and passing over the paid ones. I might not ever have tried PyCharm if I hadn't received a free or reduced-cost trial at a conference.

But I'm here to say, PyCharm is worth it if you write a lot of Python. And I'm glad they have revenue to pay programmers to keep PyCharm working, and to update it as Python evolves.

Conclusion

I'm not saying PyCharm is better than everything else. I haven't tried everything else, and don't plan to. Trying a new development environment seriously is a significant investment in time.

What I can say is that I'm very happy and productive using PyCharm both at work and at home, and if you're dissatisfied with whatever you're using now, it might be worth checking it out.

(Editor’s Note: Neither the author nor Caktus have any connection with JetBrains, the makers of PyCharm, other than as customers. No payment or other compensation was received for this review. This post reflects the personal opinion and experience of the author and should not be considered an endorsement by Caktus Group.)

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