This is your brain. This is your brain on computers.

25 Best Programming Tools to Boost Your Productivity in 2020

If you’re a beginner just getting into programming or a seasoned veteran wanting to grow your skill set, the monstrous amount of development and testing tools can be overwhelming. Have you ever wondered about the best programming tools for productivity and what exactly makes them the best? Read on!

Don’t worry, we’ve curated a simple list of the best tools in their categories. We love simple.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. It’s meant to be a starting point and highlight some of the best tools that we use and recommend to others.

If you have no idea what these tools are or why they’re important, we’ve got you covered over at our getting started section.

Source Control

Ask one hundred programmers for a critical skill that was overlooked, and many will tell you about spending more time on good source control practices.

There’s a lesson to be learned there. Source control is often a neglected skill that can make or break a successful engineer in the real world.

Many of these tools are free with optional paid plans and services that can unlock more features for power users, groups, and enterprises.

Best Free Source Control

Best programming tools - Git

Git is the de facto standard for source control software. It’s critical to learn git if you want to track changes to your code, join a collaborative software project, or contribute to a group project at an enterprise.

As an open source project, it’s likely that git will remain free forever and continue receiving regular updates from dedicated contributors in the community.

Further Reading
Check out our huge Getting Started with Git guide so that you’re setup for success and ready to contribute to projects with confidence.

Most Popular Open Source Community

Best programming tools - GitHub

Founded by a group of open source developers and eventually acquired by Microsoft, GitHub is today’s largest host of source code.

Whether you want to contribute to another project’s source code or you just want to start building a public profile of your own projects, GitHub is definitely one of the best places to be.

The free plan offers everything you need to get going by allowing for unlimited public and private repositories. Paid plans start at $7 / month and offer more collaboration and larger storage space.

Further Reading
Take a look at our huge pricing GitHub guide for a breakdown of plans, features, and prices.

Best Alternative to GitHub

Best programming tools - Bitbucket

For a great alternative, Bitbucket provides solid features for cloud hosted source control, code deployment, and integration with other Atlassian products.

Bitbucket has recently tried tackling their competitors by offering better free plans for individuals and small teams.

If you’re new to Git, Bitbucket is more forgiving with the user experience. We recommend pairing your Bitbucket skills with SourceTree (see below).

Further Reading
Our huge Bitbucket pricing guide explains what features are available to you based on pricing tiers.

Favorite Private Collaboration and Tools

Best programming tools - Azure DevOps

As an established product, Azure DevOps has certainly kept up with its younger, more flexible competitors. Previously known as Team Foundation Server, Microsoft has rebranded and improved the user experience.

Like most Microsoft products, the biggest consumers of Azure DevOps are business teams. Free plans offer unlimited private repositories and many other basic developer services. Paid services offer more space, more users, parallel processing jobs, and a lot more.

Favorite Git User Interface

Best programming tools - SourceTree

As fast and efficient as Git is, some people just don’t get along with its command line interface. That’s where great tools like SourceTree come into play.

If you’re struggling with Git, this is the perfect tool to understand a typical source control flow. Not only will you build confidence, but you’ll also get code visualization, convenient file differences, and incredible control over your code changes.

For you command line gurus, you still have the ability to drop into a terminal whenever you need more power.

Up and Coming Git User Interface

Best programming tools - GitKraken

GitKraken is coming fast and on the heels of its competitors. Its creators have placed a heavy emphasis on a beautiful and intuitive user experience on top of Git.

With the ability to visualize commit history, drag and drop file changes, and view syntax highlighted code differences, it certainly is proving to be an awesome Git UI.

You’re limited public repositories with the free plan. If you want to collaborate on a private repository, you’ll have to jump up to the $29 / year plan. You can get around these limitations if you’re a student.

Code & Text Editors

An engineer is only as good as his or her tools. Carpenters need good hammers. Programmers need good editors. Here’s a quick list of our favorite productivity boosters.

Best Simple and Fast Text Editor

Best programming tools - Notepad++

Sometimes you just want the best tool for the job even if it isn’t the most attractive. That’s where Notepad++ steps in. If you’re a programmer, tester, or even just a text editor enthusiast, then there’s a good chance you’ll want to keep a shortcut handy.

If you’re using Windows, there’s few better options when you need to dig into a configuration file, make a quick code edit, or use one of the many plugins to automate text editing tasks.

The best part? It’s free and open source.

Best Free Cross Platform Code Editor

Best programming tools - Visual Studio Code

Visual Studio Code is one of those tools that borders on being the best in multiple categories. Is it just a code editor or is it a full development environment? It’s both!

In our opinion, it’s a great choice when you want more than a code editor but not get tied into all the bells and whistles provided by full Visual Studio and Eclipse.

It’s free, works on many operating systems, and has some great features like extensions, debugging, and custom hotkeys.

Further Reading
Check out our guide to combining Visual Studio Code and Git for a winning efficiency booster. For those of you who hate the Git CLI, this one’s for you.

Fan Favorite and Super Performance

Best programming tools - Sublime Text

We used to suggest Sublime Text over Visual Studio Code in previous years, but the features and release cadence just haven’t kept up. There’s no free version (only an evaluation mode), and the cheapest purchase price is $80.

So why is it on this list then? It’s been long adored by fans due to its flexibility and customization options. If it has a killer feature that you can’t find anywhere else, then there’s nothing wrong with making this your go-to editor.

Our Favorite Markdown Editor

Whether you’re writing documentation for your shiny new application, or you’re building out your GitHub Pages for your public portfolio, Typora is where it’s at.

If you’ve ever written markdown, you know it’s already very simple to understand. But at the end of the day, you’re still writing extra characters to get the perfect styling. Typora gives you a great markdown editing experience with a minimalistic style that doesn’t get in your way.

Development Environments

When you’re maxing out simple editors, and you’re ready to step up your game, consult this list. Here you’ll find a subset of the best complete environments that will keep your projects organized and running.

Premium Windows Suite

Best programming tools - Visual Studio

Visual Studio is a code editor, a debugger, a user interface designer, a source control browser, a database architect tool, and so much more.

Like most Microsoft products, it integrates with and works well with other products in the Microsoft ecosystem like Office, Azure, SQL Server, and Outlook.

Given the incredible productivity boosters provided by features like IntelliSense, CodeLens, and the debugger, we consider this the best environment when you’re developing with most languages and frameworks on Windows.

Start with the Community edition (free) and work your way up to the pricier options ($45 / month) when needed.

Further Reading

Visual Studio doesn’t have to be expensive. Take a look at our comprehensive Visual Studio pricing and feature comparison guide to find the best plan for you.

We’ve also compiled a massive guide to combining Visual Studio 2019 and Git using the built-in user interface features. You’ll never have to context switch to a terminal again.

Don’t know how to use Visual Studio 2019? No problem. We have an ultimate guide to learning with ZERO experience just for you.

Most Productive Java Environment

Best programming tools - IntelliJ IDEA

If there’s one thing that IntelliJ IDEA does better than Visual Studio, it’s Java development. Java has a history littered with terrible development environments, but IntelliJ IDEA finally comes to the rescue with super improvements.

While mainly marketed towards Android developers, it also supports general Java, Groovy, and Scala languages.

The Community edition comes with build tools, source control integrations, and a debugger. The paid editions aren’t cheap (starting at $499), but provide for web and database development with some profiling tools.

Best Efficiency for Web Browser Development

Best programming tools - WebStorm

When you need to focus on JavaScript web development using frameworks like Angular, React, and Node.js, WebStorm offers a seamless experience.

Web development has been notoriously difficult to debug across multiple browsers. WebStorm has a built-in debugger that works with most modern browsers.

There’s no free version, but at $59 / year for individual use, it’s hardly breaking the bank when you consider the incredible productivity gains.

Swiss Army Knife of Environments

Best programming tools - Eclipse

Originally started as a Java development environment, Eclipse has grown to be a jack of all trades with a massive ecosystem and customization platform.

When you need a tried and true development environment with the ability to adapt to any scenario, Eclipse should be your first choice.

It’s free, designed by an established committee, and definitely gets the job done. Be warned though, it has a history of bad performance and bugs.

Virtualized Environment

It might seem weird to see a virtual machine application in the development environment section, but it makes sense when you think about it for a bit. VirtualBox is essentially a large sandbox that enables you to spin up and tear down environments at will quickly.

Whether it’s developing on an old version of Windows or testing out a niche version of Linux, you can easily virtualize these environments to meet the goals of your development activities.

Organization

Most Popular Agile Management

When it comes to project management, there are various ways to organize and execute on your project plan. Getting everyone on the same page with requirements, stakeholders, statuses, and delivery deadlines can be challenging even for the most coordinated among us.

That’s why we suggest using Jira for your Agile project management needs. It starts out free for small teams, can be hosted on site, or hosted in the Atlassian cloud. You’ve got plenty of options.

Best for Small and Personal Projects

If you’re an indie developer or just want to organize your own personal projects into more than a simple to-do list, then Trello should be your immediate choice. Marketed as an “advanced list-making application,” it’s definitely much more than that.

Take advantage of unlimited free task boards, tasks, checklists, and more. Bump to a paid tier for power-ups, security features, and tools for an entire team.

Further Reading
Make sure you’re prepared to get the best use out of Trello to boost your productivity. It’s more than just a list-making application. It’s your own personal task board!

Communication

Most Popular Choice

If you’re already working in the service industry, you’ve probably heard of Slack. It’s the go-to choice for many businesses that need wide-scale instant communication between employees. Sharing files and joining together tools like Zendesk, Jira, Dropbox, and more are just some of the collaborative features.

Up and Coming Microsoft Suite

Microsoft’s been pushing hard to dethrone Slack with their Microsoft Teams application, and they’ve been doing a pretty good job at that. Billed as more than just a chat app, Teams gives features that integrate entirely with Office 365 for meetings, calls, documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. All this while being security and HIPAA compliant!

Best Voice and Chat for Large Groups

There’s a third overlooked option for software developers: Discord. It’s marketed toward a younger, more video game oriented audience, but you can definitely still use it for software development teams. Its primary focus and strength is in VoIP calls, video and audio sharing, and supporting a ton of simultaneous chat and voice channels for your organization.

Web Browsers

Web developers need web browsers. There’s really no way around it. While there are literally hundreds of browsers, we list here our top three most popular browsers that are essential to develop and test against.

Our Favorite for Flexibility and Privacy

Best programming tools - Mozilla Firefox

It’s not the most used browser, but Mozilla Firefox is what we recommend as privacy advocates. With good development tools, a huge ecosystem of extensions, and an open sourced community, using Firefox is an obvious choice.

Most Popular Browser for Users

Best programming tools - Google Chrome

As the most used browser, there’s no avoiding Google Chrome. It’s fast, seamless, has a ton of extensions, and receives updates at an incredible pace.

If you’re a web developer, you’re required to use all popular browsers to ensure your applications function. For casual browsing, we don’t recommend its use due to privacy concerns.

Default Browser for Windows Users

Best programming tools - Microsoft Edge

An overwhelming amount of people in the world use Windows. By default, those people use Microsoft Edge to browse the web.

It’s definitely an improvement over its predecessor, Internet Explorer. Since Edge is based on Blink like Chrome, there’s a good chance that both browsers will render your application similarly.

Web API Development

If you’re on the web and API development or testing ecosystem, it’s a requirement to understand how to interact with said APIs. Without good verification and testing, your systems will be confusing, slow, and unmaintainable.

Our Pick for Most Programmers:

Best programming tools - Postman

Postman sets the standard for API development tools. It’s like having an excellent friend around that knows exactly what you want to do without having to say anything.

Free tiers offer enough for your daily tasks. Paid plans offer sharing, collaboration, automation, designing, and much more.

Justin Skiles

Justin Skiles

Justin has been developing enterprise application software for over 10 years primarily using Microsoft stacks, Azure, and various open source tools. He has most recently been trying his best as a Manager and Director of Software Engineering in the health care industry.

Share the Knowledge

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest

Follow our updates

JOIN OUR SUBSCRIBERS

GET FREE UPDATES

Keep Exploring. Choose Your Path.

Be a Better, Smarter You

With our in depth guides, you’re bound to be setup for success.

Our experts have been collectively developing software for over 20 years.

We find the best tools and direct you to them so that you don’t have to.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Get the latest ultimate guides, tutorials, and advice to level up your skills.