Programming tool

A programming tool is a program or application that software developers use to create, debug, or maintain other programs and applications. The term usually refers to relatively simple programs that can be combined together to accomplish a task, much as one might use multiple hand tools to fix a physical object.

The history of software tools began with the first computers in the early 1950s that used linkers, loaders, and control programs. Tools became famous with Unix in the early 1970s with tools like grep, awk and make that were meant to be combined flexibly with pipes.

Tools were originally simple and light weight. As some tools have been maintained, they have been integrated into more powerful integrated development environments (IDEs). These environments can make searching and editing much easier, however they lack the ability to massage code, like old Unix tools.

The distinction between tools and applications is murky. For example, developers use simple databases (such as a file containing list of important values) all the time as tools. However a full-blown database is usually thought of as an application in its own right.

For many years, computer-assisted software engineering (CASE) tools were sought after. Successful tools have proven elusive. In one sense, CASE tools emphasized design and architecture support, such as for UML. But the most successful of these tools are IDEs.

The ability to use a variety of tools productively is one hallmark of a skilled software engineer.

List of tools

Software tools come in many forms:

Debugging tools also are used in the process of debugging code, and can also be used to create code that is more compliant to standards and portable than if they were not used.

Memory leak detection: In the C programming language for instance, memory leaks are not as easily detected - software tools called memory debuggers are often used to find memory leaks enabling the programmer to find these problems much more efficiently than inspection alone.


Integrated development environments (IDEs) combine the features of many tools, into one complete package. They are usually simpler and easier to do simple tasks, such as searching for content only in files in the project. They usually have a much harder time with linking tools together, such as preprocessors and code generators.

Integrated development environments are often used for development of enterprise-level applications, especially on Microsoft Windows based machines, however IDEs (as they are also known) also exist on other operating systems. IBM's VisualAge development tools run on OS/2, for instance.

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