Eclipse Tip: How to Live on the Cutting Edge

Thursday Aug 31st 2006 by Peter Nehrer

See how to use the latest Eclipse milestone builds to develop applications based on the latest stable release.

The Eclipse Foundation's download servers barely cooled off after the Callisto release, and the first milestone build of the next Eclipse version (3.3M1) is already available. As always, the upcoming 3.3 release promises exciting new functionality as well as further improvements to the existing features. With so much on its plate the Eclipse development team requires approximately one full year to complete the release cycle. Does this mean that you, a professional Eclipse plug-in developer, have to wait until June of 2007 to reap all the benefits? No. This tip will show you how to use the latest Eclipse milestone builds to develop applications based on the latest stable release.

Brave Users Wanted

Eclipse has a reputation for high-quality milestone builds, starting with the very first one. This does not mean that they are bug-free and/or should be used "in production". However, there are at least two good reasons why experienced Eclipse users should download and install the latest milestone builds.

First, being a community-driven open-source project, Eclipse relies on its user base to test-drive the product and report any bugs as soon as possible. By doing that, the users end up the ultimate winners -- bugs get patched earlier in the development cycle and the overall code quality steadily improves. And, the best way to discover bugs (at least in the features that matter to you) is to use the product on a daily basis as your primary development tool.

Unfortunately, few developers get to dictate to their employers or clients which version of Eclipse to use as the foundation of their products. And regardless, changing platform versions in the midst of a development cycle would often prove too risky or just plain foolish. Does this mean you have to resign yourself to using the "old" version of Eclipse as your IDE until you can upgrade the products you work on? Luckily, with a little help from the Plug-in Development Environment, you don't have to.

PDE's Target Platform

Click here for a larger image.

Figure 1: PDE Target Platform preference page showing the list of plug-ins found in my Callisto installation (Eclipse SDK 3.2 with some extras). These plug-ins will be used by the PDE as my target environment, rather than the 3.3M1 plug-ins installed in my host environment.

When creating an Eclipse plug-in project in a new workspace, you may notice that you can peruse all plug-ins that are installed in your IDE. By default, PDE is set up to compile and run your code against your host environment configuration (this is also referred to as self-hosting). The fact that you don't need anything other than the tool itself to create your own plug-ins is certainly very cool; however, there are situations when you need to write code for a run-time environment that does not match your current development environment. This is where PDE's Target Platform comes in; instead of using your host environment as your target platform as well, you can specify another Eclipse installation location that will be used as the target platform. This must be a fully self-contained Eclipse installation with features that you may not have installed in your IDE. It doesn't have to be the same version, or even platform architecture (e.g., you can develop applications for the Mac OS/X on your Linux laptop).

Setting Up Your Workspace

If you're ready to try it, you will need the latest Eclipse SDK milestone (3.3M1 as of this writing) as well as the latest stable release (3.2). Both are available from the Eclipse downloads page. Of course, you can try other version and/or platform configurations, though you might run into some limitations if the version gap is too large.

  1. Install your Eclipse SDK 3.3M1 (the host) and Eclipse SDK 3.2 (your target) into separate locations.
  2. Launch your Eclipse SDK 3.3M1 with an empty workspace.
  3. In your Preferences, go to Plug-in Development -> Target Platform.
  4. Specify the location of your Eclipse SDK 3.2 installation. This will update the Plug-ins tab with your target plug-ins (you may have to press the Reload button if you entered the location manually).
  5. Click OK and you're ready to start developing Eclipse 3.2 applications in your cutting-edge Eclipse 3.3M1 IDE!

For more information about this feature, see the Target Platform Preferences topic in your Eclipse Help.

About the Author

Peter Nehrer is a software consultant specializing in Eclipse-based enterprise solutions and J2EE applications. He is the founder of Ecliptical Software Inc. and a contributor to several Eclipse-related Open Source projects. He holds an M.S. in Computer Science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, MA. Peter can be reached at

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