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Introducing Aptana: An Alternative to Eclipse

Making your API easier to use

A few months ago I stumbled on an IDE named Aptana and I instantly recognized that it was the perfect IDE for developers who have found it difficult to convert to CFEclipse. And why is it such a great replacement?

For starters Aptana is actually based on Eclipse. That means it has all the great features that you've heard of about Eclipse, including the ability to use the CFEclipse plug-in with it. You can install CFEclipse the same way you'd install it for Eclipse, and there's almost no difference in how it works. (Figure 1)

But why is this any better than Eclipse? Well, the biggest roadblock for new CFEclipse users is the project-base workflow that it requires. But Aptana supports both the project-based workflow and the traditional file-based workflow that these users are accustomed to. This is huge, because it means that developers can continue to work the way they're used to while leveraging the advantages of CFEclipse. Yet it still supports Eclipse-style project-based workflow and so you can leverage the advantages that provides. Because of this you can experiment with that workflow so you're not giving up on learning that alternative work style. You're just not forced to work in a way you may not be comfortable with. (Figure 2)

But if that isn't enough, Aptana gives you more advantages than Homesite+/CFStudio or even Eclipse by itself. Aptana is primarily a JavaScript and CSS editor. That means you get full code assist, outlining, and support for CSS or JS files. It even includes code insight and assist with user-defined JavaScript functions. This won't help with any inline JavaScript or CSS embedded in a CFML file, but it's very helpful for JS and CSS files.

Aptana also has extensive help documentation. Its web site contains wiki-style documentation that's quite extensive and clear ( Not only that, the Aptana IDE has extremely well-developed help documentation. You can hover over a code element and a help overlay appears with a description, or click on the code element and hit F1 and the help view displays with information about the selected element. It also picks up any user-defined JavaScript function to provide code help for them too. Just put a JSDocs-style comment ahead of your JavaScript functions. For example:

* This is a test function to demonstrate
* the power of Aptana.
* @param {String} arg1 The first argument
* @param {int} arg2 The second argument
* @return {String} Just returns arg1
function myFunction(arg1, arg2) {
    alert('Hello World!');
    return arg1;

By putting this comment before my function, help information will be displayed whenever you use it or press F1 while it's selected. (Figure 3)

Aptana comes in two flavors: a standalone IDE and an Eclipse plug-in. So if you're already an Eclipse user, or ever become one, you can still leverage Aptana and all its great features just by using it as a plug-in like CFEclipse.

There are many features I haven't covered here. For a list of all the great features and for instructions on how to install Aptana, visit the web site at

More Stories By Robert Blackburn

Robert Blackburn is a developer and team leader of the Internet Application Development team at American Power Conversion Corporation ( He has been using ColdFusion since 1999, and has revived and manages the CFUnit open source project ( He currently has a blog at for his occasional ramblings.

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