#The Definitive Guide to Development Environments
#What Is a Development Environment?
The development environment is a workplace where the collection of processes and tools help you to develop the program source code. Any tech product, website, or mobile application goes through various environments before deployment. The standard environment structure includes local development, testing, staging, production, and the live environment. However, this structure is not always the same; it can consist of more or fewer environments according to the need and product development processes. The development environment helps developers build, test, and package the code to make it ready for deployment.
Here are some examples of development environments:
In this article, you’ll learn about the development environment, how a development environment works, types of development environments, and best practices to follow while working in a development environment. But first, let’s take a quick look at IDEs and how they differ from development environments.
#What Is an IDE, and How Is It Different From a Regular Development Environment?
An IDE, or integrated development environment, is a programming tool that assists the developer in various ways. This software suite helps developers with maximizing productivity and efficiency. IDEs provide developers with a platform to write, build, test, and debug a program in a single user interface (UI) and different modes.
Dev environments consist of development, testing, and production stages, whereas the IDE is a local application software or platform used to write code. There is a catch here, though: we can use the IDE for debugging just like developers use the development server for testing.
#How Does a Development Environment Work?
A development environment helps in software development by providing a wholesale platform to developers. Developers can write, test, and debug code in a dev environment. However, when creating a development environment, you must specify all the dependencies and packages you will need for software development. Besides this, you should specifically define the infrastructure maturity level, team size, and other requirements.
In the local dev environment, you can use an IDE to write code and test it on the local server. The local server can host your application on various ports that you can also change. After you’ve tested the software in the local development environment, you can push it into the staging server to merge with the previous version, if available. Then if the merge has no merge conflicts, you can deploy it into the cloud server. Your application is live from going through a local development environment to deployment.
However, working in a team may create conflicts since each local environment may serve different dependencies. Additionally, creating a new development environment for multiple tasks is difficult. That’s where Docker comes into the picture. Docker has made it easy to create reproducible and on-demand environments with only a single command. You can have a setup that consists of multiple images, each image serving a different purpose for the software development. For example, a Docker container can have three Docker images: one for the database, the other for the back-end API, and the third for the front-end app.
Thus, you should create a development environment with exact specifications of your needs and dependencies. Moreover, each type of development environment also has its use cases, which we’ll discuss further in the next section.
#Types of Development Environments
We can classify a development environment according to its applications, operations, and requirements. There are three types of development environments according to the requirements:
- Local development environment
- Virtual development environment
- Cloud development environment
#Local Dev Environment
A local development environment is a kind of environment that is available on a local machine. The system stores the software applications, allowing developers to build and debug software on a local device. Working in the local environment doesn’t require any hosting service or bulky infrastructure. There are various reasons to use a local development environment:
- Building a website or an app without accessing the client’s server.
- Working on updates on existing software, app, or website features without affecting the deployed code.
- Debugging and testing the app locally without any external server’s assistance.
- Hosting files locally rather than on any external server.
- Checking how your app works in the browser and only making it live when you feel satisfied with how it’s working.
To read more about the local development environment, you can visit the following link.
#Virtual Dev Environment
Before covering the virtual dev environment, let’s first understand what a virtual machine is. So a virtual machine is software with which you can install a different operating system into your regular operating system (the one on which you’re working). For example, if you use the Windows operating system and you need to work on the UNIX system for a project, you need not replace Windows with UNIX altogether. In that case, you can install software like Vim and create a virtual machine with Linux, Ubuntu, or any other operating system.
Now let’s go over what the virtual environment is. It’s the development environment that we create in our virtual machine. Creating a virtual environment gives us various advantages over using a local environment, such as the following:
- You can test your software or application on multiple platforms.
- You can use the same software’s different versions in the virtual environment without affecting your regular software.
- You can learn different operating systems, tools, and programming languages in a virtual environment on the same computer without buying another computer.
- You can keep all other tools and procedures in a virtual machine for logistical intents and save time for continuous installation and updates.
You can learn more about the virtual development environment here.
#Cloud Dev Environment
We use cloud servers to host a cloud development environment. Unlike the local and virtual environments, which run on a physical machine, cloud environments don’t need a computer system for hosting. Thus, the cloud development environment eliminates the need for owning the hardware. Cloud environments provide access to a machine over SSH and the internet, where you can also configure the environment according to your requirements.
A cloud-based infrastructure stores all data associated with the cloud development environment. This environment also enables developers to have instant access with functionality to download the files locally. You can use a cloud development environment for any of the following reasons:
- You want to work from multiple machines but in the same development environment.
- You need additional services integrated within the development environment, such as computing services, on-demand storage, and app development platforms.
To read more about the cloud development environment, check out this article.
So we can say that each development environment has different use cases. Therefore, choose one wisely according to your requirements.
In addition, you may want to consider some best practices while working in a development environment. We’ll discuss some of these practices next.
#Best Practices for Working in a Development Environment
A developer must consider a few best practices for working in a development environment since following these practices will be helpful when the app or website is live. Let’s discuss them one by one.
#Your Dev Environment Should Be Fast
Gone are the days when loading an image used to take minutes. Now, in the fast-growing technical world, your dev environment should also be fast. Whether you’re using a local, virtual, or cloud environment, the performance of your machine should be good. That will improve the work efficiency extending to all dev environments.
#Your Dev Environment Should Be in Isolation
Everyone loves freedom, and so do developers, or maybe especially developers. Every developer should have a personal development area where they can make changes without worrying about breaking up others' code. Besides this, they may want to make structural changes to the database if necessary. For exploring and experimenting with things, a certain level of isolation is essential for a developer.
#Make Your Dev Environment Near Realistic
We often hear one complaint from developers that “it works on my system but not in the production environment.” These kinds of situations happen when both environments have different configurations. For example, a developer may have used Python version 3.10, but the production environment doesn’t support that yet. Consequently, the application breaks after deployment.
Therefore, you should always keep each environment close to the other but not duplicate them exactly. In other words, keep the dev environments realistic so a developer can run the code safely and predictably.
After reading this article, you now know that every software project needs a development environment. Hence, understanding its different types, how one works, and best practices is the first step in moving forward. This article explained all these aspects of the dev environment in brief. We can summarize this article with the following key takeaways:
- A dev environment provides a platform or a medium to build, debug, and test the application software.
- An IDE is a local application tool that helps write and debug the code.
- There are three dev environments: local, virtual, and cloud.
- We create a local dev environment to run and test the code on a local machine.
- A virtual environment gets hosted in a virtual machine that can be built into the local machine without affecting our current operating system.
- For building a cloud dev environment, we don’t need any physical machine but can host directly on a device installed over an SSH.
- A developer must make the dev environment fast, isolated, and near realistic.
Now you’re ready to identify which environment is best for you and decide what that is based on your requirements.
This post was written by Gourav Bais. Gourav is an applied machine learning engineer skilled in computer vision/deep learning pipeline development, creating machine learning models, retraining systems, and transforming data science prototypes to production-grade solutions.