What is Pycharm?

A detailed introduction to integrated development environments and how to use them.
By Boris Delovski • Updated on Nov 10, 2023
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Jupyter Notebooks are becoming more and more popular, especially in the fields of data science and machine learning. This is a byproduct of how Jupyter Notebooks work: they make it easy to show how code works. In a Jupyter Notebook, you can mix code, text, pictures or graphs and run small pieces of code one at a time, which makes it easier for teachers and experts to explain complex ideas. This hands-on, step-by-step approach makes Jupyter Notebooks a favorite tool for teaching and learning how to code.


However, Jupyter Notebooks have their limitations, particularly when it comes to bigger projects. Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) are more practical for a typical project because they offer tools that make standard tasks such as code refactoring, version control, and debugging much easier to handle.

There are various IDEs available, but I'll introduce you to the top IDE for Python: PyCharm. In this first part of our two-part series, I'll outline its primary features and discuss why it's so well-liked by developers. In the second article, I'll show you how to use its multiple functionalities in a real-world context.


What Is the Difference Between a Code Editor and an Integrated Development Environment?

There are many ways you can write code in Python, but most people use either a code editor or an IDE. Usually, beginner courses don't explain the difference between the two, and beginners are pushed towards using either a code editor or an IDE purely based on what's a better fit for the course. I want you to understand the difference, so before I tell you about PyCharm, let's make clear the difference between a code editor and an IDE.



What Are Code Editors?

A code editor is a modified version of a text editor specifically designed to facilitate coding. Standard text editors only allow you to open, edit, and save plain text files, but code editors offer much more, including syntax highlighting and auto-completion.

Syntax highlighting means different elements of code, like variables, functions, and comments, are displayed with different colors. This makes it easier to understand the structure of the code and find errors in it. Auto-completion, on the other hand, means that when you are typing code, the editor might suggest completions for what you are writing. In many cases, especially when it comes to boilerplate code, this saves time and reduces the chance of running into errors. Other useful features that your code editor may include are debugging tools, version control, and real-time error highlighting.


Some of the most popular code editors are:


  • Vim
  • Atom
  • Sublime Text
  • Visual Studio Code


What Are Integrated Development Environments?

Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) are specialized software platforms engineered to assist programmers in creating software more effectively. While you can certainly write code without an IDE, doing so is generally not recommended, as you'll forgo a range of tools that could streamline your workflow. Using software to create software more efficiently might seem a bit ironic, but these tools play such a significant role in a developer's productivity that not using them is almost like working with one hand tied behind your back.

Different IDEs offer different functionalities, but in their fundamental form, every IDE will incorporate the following:


  • A code editor
  • A compiler or interpreter
  • A debugger
  • Build automation tools
  • Database tools
  • Version control
  • Project management tools
  • Testing frameworks

As you can see, IDEs offer a much broader set of tools than code editors. In fact, a code editor is usually part of your IDE. For instance, Visual Studio Code is an editor that is part of the Visual Studio IDE. I won't cover each one of the tools right now, but I'll talk about them more in the in-depth demonstration of how PyCharm works.

Aside from those mentioned above, there is one more reason IDEs are so popular nowadays: they have a graphical interface. This is especially useful for beginners, who are typically not used to working with the terminal. A graphical interface allows beginners to access the various tools offered by an IDE by simply navigating through the interface like they would through any other application, which means you can start writing, running, and debugging code as fast and simple as possible, even if you have little experience with programming.

There are many popular IDEs for writing code in Python, including:


  • Spyder
  • Eclipse
  • Visual Studio
  • PyCharm

Overall, Visual Studio is probably the most popular IDE because it supports multiple programming languages, which gives it more flexibility. However, when it comes to Python, there is no beating PyCharm. It may have a smaller ecosystem than Visual Studio, but only because it is specifically designed for Python development. Because everything is designed with Python in mind, it has proven time and time again to be by far the most popular IDE for Python.

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What Features Does PyCharm Include?

PyCharm is an IDE designed exclusively for Python development by JetBrains, a company that has created multiple IDEs for various programming languages. PyCharm supports web technologies and languages such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, CoffeeScript, and TypeScript. By using plugins it can even be extended to support programming languages such as Go and Rust. Plugins are like little add-ons or extras that you can install to give a software program more features or capabilities. You can install plugins to the free or paid version of PyCharm to extend its functionality to suit your needs better.

You can install PyCharm on any Windows, macOS, or Linux machine, and it comes in two editions:


  1. Community Edition
  2. Professional Edition

The Community Edition is free and open-sourced. It offers many tools and is more than enough for most programmers. Those who want to get a bit extra from PyCharm can opt for the Professional Edition, which offers additional tools on top of everything the free version offers. For most, the Professional Edition of PyCharm is unnecessary, as they won't use the extra tools anyway. This is especially true for beginners. However, it is worth mentioning that some plugins are only available for the paid version of PyCharm. 

PyCharm includes features such as:


  • A smart code editor
  • Integrated debugging
  • Integrated testing
  • Code refactoring
  • Project management
  • Version control


What Features Are in the PyCharm Code Editor?

The code editor from PyCharm includes many features that make programming a lot easier and faster, some of which are also supported by the code editors of other IDEs. The most important functionalities of the code editor are:


  • syntax highlighting
  • automatic code completion
  • on-the-fly error highlighting
  • editing several locations in the code at the same time
  • customizable code snippets and templates
  • applying a predefined style to the code and code formatting
  • duplicated code detector

Those mentioned above are just some of the functionalities the code editor offers. You’ll find all of these in the free version, and of course, there are plugins that can further expand the code editor. Nowadays, there are even plugins that allow you to take advantage of large language models such as ChatGPT when coding.


What Are the Benefits of the PyCharm Debugger?

PyCharm has a visual debugger that is very easy to use. Like every other debugger, it has breakpoints, but in Pycharm, what you define as a breakpoint is highly versatile. For example, you can use the debugger to log the value of a particular variable throughout code execution without suspending the execution of your code, or you can tell the debugger to break on exceptions even if you don't know where they originate. You can do all of this in the overview window, which is a debugging graphical user interface. The overview window allows you to see your breakpoints and to enable or suspend them. It even allows you to define special conditions that dynamically control whether to suspend a breakpoint or not. This level of customizability achieved through a simple graphical interface makes the debugger in PyCharm very intuitive.


How to Test Your Code in PyCharm

You should test every program you write using a testing framework because this allows you to check whether your code will break if it runs into specific values. PyCharm uses the UnitTest framework by default for code testing purposes but also supports many other testing frameworks, including:


  • PyTest
  • Nose
  • DocTest
  • Trial

This means that you can pick the framework you are most familiar with and don't need to necessarily use something new just because you decided to start using PyCharm as your IDE.


How to Perform Code Refactoring in PyCharm

Code refactoring is the process of restructuring existing code without changing its external behavior. The primary goal is to make it easier to understand by improving its design, reducing complexity, and increasing its maintainability. Refactoring is also helpful for eliminating redundant code and optimizing performance.

In PyCharm, you can quickly and easily ripple specific changes throughout your code. For example, you can rename variables, functions, classes, and even files globally. You can extract code fragments into a variable and replace an expression with a new variable. You can even replace duplicates and replace hard-coded values within methods or functions with parameters. Using code refactoring, you can ensure that any changes we make to a variable, method, or class in your code will automatically update all instances where that variable, method, or class appears. This saves time and reduces the chance of errors because you don't need to do it manually.


How to Manage Projects in PyCharm

In PyCharm, you can easily organize, navigate, and maintain multiple coding projects that use different virtual environments simultaneously. After you select a project, you can manage it from the project window, which allows you to see the directory structure and quickly navigate to any file or folder within your project. You can easily add or remove stuff from your project, and switching from one environment to another is extremely easy and fast.



What Version Control Systems Can You Use in PyCharm?

PyCharm supports integration with various version control systems like Git, Subversion, Mercurial, CVS, and Perforce. You can easily make changes, push to remote repositories, and pull updates from the IDE. In the IDE, you can also switch between branches, merge branches, and even create branches.


What Additional Features Does the Professional Version of PyCharm Include?

The Professional Version of PyCharm includes extra features, like better support for Python web frameworks. It offers various tools like integrated database tools and specialized support for frameworks like Django, Flask, and Pyramid that simplify working with them. The paid version even offers live editing, where changes in your HTML, CSS, and JavaScript code are immediately reflected in the browser without reloading the page. This can be achieved using the so-called Live Edit plugin. 

You might consider paying for the Professional Version if you need these additional advanced functionalities for web and remote development. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that, aside from the extra features I just listed, all the features in the free version also offer additional functionalities if you use the paid version, and certain plugins only work with the paid version.

In this first part of our two-part series, you've learned what IDEs and PyCharm are and why they're popular. I mainly focused on explaining the different functionalities offered by PyCharm without going in-depth on each one because, in the following part of this series, I'll demonstrate how to use the various functionalities in a real-life example.

Boris Delovski

Data Science Trainer

Boris Delovski

Boris is a data science trainer and consultant who is passionate about sharing his knowledge with others.

Before Edlitera, Boris applied his skills in several industries, including neuroimaging and metallurgy, using data science and deep learning to analyze images.