Another IDEa: Haskell and IntelliJ!

IntelliJ.jpg

Last week we explored one way to get a nice development environment for Haskell. We used the Atom text editor, which has a couple Haskell plugins and is quite hackable.

But there's another option I hadn't considered at all during that article. This is the IntelliJ IDE. It's primary use is Java and Android development. But like Atom, Visual Studio, and other IDEs, it has a rich library of plugins. And one of these is a Haskell environment!

This week, we'll see how to configure IntelliJ to work with Haskell. We'll see how we can get a nifty Haskell environment set up with the same features we had in Atom. I'm working on a Windows machine, but you should be able to do all these steps on a Mac as well.

An IDE is no substitute for basic knowledge though! If you're new to Haskell, getting a good dev setup will help. But you should also read our Liftoff Series and download our Beginners Checklist! These will give you some other tools you'll need!

Installation and Setup

Getting started with IntelliJ is quite easy. Installing the editor works through the normal wizard. You'll have a lot of options for different plugins to install immediately. A lot of these are Java specific so you won't need them. But once you've done that you can also install the IntelliJ-Haskell plugin. In my case, I also installed a Vim plugin for those keybindings.

There's a little bit of trickiness involved in setting your project up to build with Stack. When you first install the plugin, it will ask you what program to use to "build" a project. This means you'll need to locate your stack executable in the file finder so you can drag it in. On Windows this will mean showing hidden folders in the finder. You might also need to use the where command in the terminal to help (instead of which from Linux). Once you've done this though, you should be good!

Keyboard Shortcuts

When working with Atom, we stressed the importance of keyboard shortcuts. These can streamline our workflow a lot. IntelliJ also allows a good deal of customization options for these. The main thing to know is that you need to hit ctrl+alt+s to get to the settings menu. Then you can find the keymap on the side panel. From here you can customize pretty much anything. The big ones for me were building the project and manipulating panels.

The ability to search for commands is very useful. I found it a lot easier to alter commands for, say, splitting windows then I did in Atom. My current setup involves the following combinations:

Build Project: Ctrl+Alt+Shift+B
Split Screen Vertically: Ctrl+Alt+Shift+Right
Split Screen Horizontally: Ctrl+Alt+Shift+Down
Next/Previous Split: Ctrl+Shift+[Right/Left]
Unsplit: Ctrl+Alt+Shift+U
Toggle Bottom Terminal: Ctrl+Shift+Up

For what it's worth, I'll also note that the Vim keybindings are better than I had in Atom. Moving around with lines and saving files with :w work, for a couple examples.

Haskell Features

This is where the IntelliJ plugin shines. Lots of features work right out of the box. For instance, it knows to using hlint and highlights any code with lints. Compilation hints show up automatically. There's even a good deal of auto-completion from libraries for expressions and types. Integration with Hoogle is fairly straightforward.

Best of all, it seems to me that these features work across projects with different GHC versions. As far as I can tell you don't need to manually install ghc-mod and worry about it's version, as you did with Atom. Given the difficulties I had setting up Atom to work with these features, this was a major relief.

Git Integrations

We didn't go over version control last week. But it's another vital component in any developer's workflow, so IDE integration is a big plus. Both Atom and IntelliJ have good support for Github, which is excellent news! Both come with batteries included when it comes to all the common Git operations we want. You can make new branches, add commits, push and pull with ease. Both allow you to bind these to keys, allowing you the freedom to streamline your workflow even more.

Disadvantages

If I were to find one fault with my IntelliJ setup, it's that project setup can involve a lot of loading time. When you add a new library to the .cabal file, you need to run the Tools->Haskell->Update Settings command. The IDE will take a little while to reset everything to account for this. Having said that, a lot of that loading time goes into getting all the appropriate libraries to set up. This enables all the nice features I mentioned earlier. So I suppose that's the price you pay. Atom is also sometimes slow, for its part. But the program itself isn't quite as bulky as IntelliJ, which has a lot of extra features you probably won't need.

One last note is that IntelliJ will add a .idea folder to your project directory. Make sure to add this to your .gitignore!

Conclusion

All in all working with IntelliJ/HaskelIDE has been a good experience so far. It has all the features I'm looking for, and setup is a bit easier than Atom. Long loads can hold me back at times, but it's usually fine. Again, you can take a look at the Github page for the project for some more details. I highly recommend trying out this plugin! Much love to Rik van der Kleij, the author!

A full IDE setup will really help you get started learning Haskell! But you also need some other tools and knowledge. Download our Beginners Checklist for some other tools you'll need. Also take a look at our Stack mini-course to learn more about setting up a Haskell project!