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Inside Apple's new Xcode 4 development tool

At WWDC, Apple treated its Mac OS X and iOS programmers to a preview of its entirely revised Xcode 4 integrated development environment. Here's a look at what's new and how it matters for end users.

Xcode 4 presents an entirely new user interface and workflow for developers, along with new components for compiling, debugging and finding and correcting common errors. The result: better, faster code from more productive developers.

One window to bind them all

The first major feature of Xcode 4, according to developers familiar with Apple's plans, is the shift from the multiple window workflow that Xcode (and its predecessor, NeXT's Project Builder) currently uses to a new single window interface.

Rather than spawning new windows to search code, debug, build, and set parameters, everything can be done within a single window that echoes components of the design of iTunes, including a LCD-like status display.

The new window presents a dismissible Navigator control (akin to iTunes' Source List), with icon tabs that can present a variety of different types of development-related information within the same window column:

  • a listing of projects and files
  • a symbol listing of classes and methods
  • a search feature that lists project-wide results
  • an issues listing of build errors
  • debugging information
  • breakpoints
  • a listing of build logs

The main area of the new Xcode windows is devoted to the document being viewed, whether code, a data model, or the project's graphical interface. This area can also be segmented to view multiple documents, presenting a comparison of their differences (such as for comparing two versions of the same code file). The content area also integrates support for viewing PDFs and other file types supported by the extendable Quick Look feature.

Above the content area is a new Jump Bar, which presents a hierarchical "breadcrumb" listing similar to the Path Bar introduced in iTunes and the Finder. The difference is that the new Jump Bar is fully interactive; users can click on any path along the bar and select a popup that allows them to navigate at that level. For example, in the photo below, a user can click on Resources within the Jump Bar to view (and directly jump) to other resource files within that directory via a dynamic popup window that is displayed.

Xcode 4

On page 2 of 3: Now including Interface Builder.