Coding in the Cloud – Part 6

As part of our continuing series of posts on cloud-based development tools, we will consider the Eclipse Foundation’s Orion project.


Orion is one of the newest online IDEs to merge (it was only announced in January 2011), but it has quickly progressed.  The vision for Orion can be summarised as “a web platform for web developers”.  The Eclipse Foundation is not interested in trying to cram a desktop IDE into a single browser tab.  Instead, the aim is to create a completely new web tools platform that makes full use of the browser capabilities.

Like other Eclipse Foundation offerings, Orion is an open source project.  It is available as downloadable local server, or through a cloud hosted version,


Once you create an account on Orion (either locally or in the hosted version), you can log and start coding.  The currently supported languages are HTML(5), JavaScript and CSS.  You organise your new web projects by creating folders  in the Navigator view.  You quickly realise that unlike the other cloud based IDEs we have looked at, Orion is not constrained to a single browser tab, but makes full use of browser features, including:

  • Bookmarks to identify commonly used files.
  • Preview and edit files in new browser tabs.
  • Share code using URLs.

You can then create a web site configuration using the Sites functionality:


Other features include:

  • Syntax highlighting.Orion-editor-key-assist
  • Support for many of the Eclipse desktop IDE key bindings (commenting and indenting code).
  • Automatic versioning with the Git source control system.
  • Local deployment option.
  • Global search using Apache Lucene.
  • Integration with Firebug.
  • Extensible using plug-ins that utilise a RESTful API.
  • Browser support for Chrome, Firefox 3.6 and 4.0, Internet Explorer 8 & 9, and Safari 5.

What is it like to use?

Orion’s code editor is described as fast and scalable, and it lives up to this, opening large (30K lines + ) files faster than the desktop Eclipse editor.  The editor offers real-time syntax checking for JavaScript using a JSLint plug-in. For debugging, Firebug is now integrated with the code editor.  Firebug is an indispensable web tool, allowing you to do more than debug code, including the ability to set breakpoints, single-step, and inspect variables visible from your stack. It can also be used to monitor HTTPS requests, and inspect the browser’s DOM and CSS styles.

Orion also has full integration with the Git version control system, in both the hosted and local versions.

Orion-PluginsThis open source project has quickly progressed over the past 6 months, but there is still limited functionality.  However, the team does not intend to provide all the major IDE features.  Instead, the focus is on providing an extensible framework to add existing web-based development tools, such as JSLint, Firebug and JSBeautify

Also, the architecture of the Orion project, and its use of the full browser model, is extremely innovative.  Most of the features in the other code editors we have reviewed are direct ports of common desktop IDE features. Orion sets itself apart by trying to develop a innovative online development experience.  This focus on building a true web development platform is what sets Orion apart from the other online IDEs we have considered.

About Andrew Parkhill

I'm a software developer with over 5 years experience, primarily working with the Microsoft .NET framework and SharePoint.
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