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Python is one of the most popular programming languages in the world in 2020 and many developers call it home. As such, it has a broad selection of tools, code editing apps and IDEs to match the needs of different Python developers and project types.

The list of code editing tools is long, but the top two contestants for the crown, JetBrains’ PyCharm and Microsoft’s Visual Studio code, are by far the most popular homes for Python developers. Where should you be living in 2020 – VS Code or PyCharm?

For an experienced Python developer (or any language for that matter), swapping IDEs is akin to moving to a new home in a different country. Even if you speak the local language, there are differences in things like currency, as well as local customs, and laws you will need to learn. Not to mention your new house, where you may even find yourself sleepily looking for the toilet (for God knows what time) in the middle of the night. At least for the first few weeks.

Is it worth it? Perhaps you will discover that migrating to a different state makes your life objectively better. Once you remember where the bathroom is, of course. Alternatively, you may find yourself hurrying back to your place of birth, kissing the proverbial ground as soon as you land.

Few dare to take the leap, pack their code and move to a new IDE or code editing software. For many, there’s no place like home even if the alternative promises to save them time and headaches. But loyalties aside, it’s always a good idea to take a peek over the borders.

How to choose a Python IDE / Code Editor

It’s worth noting that this article is not a “conversion piece” for neither PyCharm nor VSCode. We’re not recommending you choose one over the other (especially since you can make use of Codota and TabNine in both), but rather than you choose correctly for your needs. 

Whether you currently use Visual Studio Code or Jetbrains’ PyCharm for Python development, this article aims to give you a better understanding of the difference, and uncover how each may contribute to your productivity.

Before we dive into the advantages and disadvantages of PyCharm and VSCode for Python development, it’s worth taking a moment to organize your criteria for selection. Among the topics to consider are license costs (if you have no budget) and system requirements (if your lack of budget is evident in your hardware setup). 

IDE vs Code Editor

We’ve used the terms IDE and code editor in this article rather interchangeably. However, they’re not the same.

Jetbrains’ PyCharm is a full-featured Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for Python development. As such, it includes everything you need in order to code, build, test, and debug Python applications.

In addition to a code editor, an IDE such as PyCharm typically includes a compiler and/or interpreter, a debugger and code profiler, version control integration, and plugin support. All available on-install out of the box.

This does mean, however, that PyCharm is a heavy beast with high system demands along with advanced capabilities aimed specifically at professional Python developers.

VS code is a lightweight code editor with basic features like syntax highlighting and code formatting included out of the box. VSCode can be customized heavily with extensions to do pretty much anything and everything with most commonly used programming languages and frameworks.

This makes VSCode perfect for code polyglots who develop in multiple languages. But it also means you will spend more time customizing it to your Python coding needs with extensions that will (hopefully) not clash with one another.

Intellij PyCharm for Python Development

PyCharm is one of the highest rated Python IDEs today, and it has earned its spot at the top with its suite of productivity tools and out-of-the-box features. But not all PyCharms are the same, and different licenses offer different degrees of functionality

There are currently three types of licenses for PyCharm. The first is the Apache-licensed Pycharm community edition, aimed mostly at data scientists. It is open sourced and free, and offers features like syntax highlighting and some autocompletion. The second is the Education edition, offered for free to students and teachers.

It too offers a limited feature-set and is intended for learning and not so much development of software products. The third type of license, and the version we refer to in this article is the Professional edition of PyCharm, that carries a hefty price tag starting between $ 199 and $ 159 for an annual subscription for businesses.

The full and paid version of PyCharm offers advanced features and capabilities geared toward streamlining all aspects of professional Python software development. This includes full built-in database management (like Oracle and MySQL) and support for multiple popular frameworks (like Django, Flask and others) that are not supported in the free versions.

What it doesn’t include is extensibility to other languages and frameworks. So if you need to visit the land of COBOL (for some reason) or venture into the woods of .NET – you will need to upgrade to Intellij IDEA or install an additional IDE for that language.

Pros

  • All-in-one IDE out-of-the-box – write, edit, debug, compile, execute and deploy from the same window
  • Created specifically for Python developers
  • Django support (including code completion and resolution in views.py and urls.py files, code inspection tools for Django ORM, and the ability to debug Django templates)
  • Professional support by JetBrains
  • Compatible with over 3,000 available Intellij plugins

Cons

  • Price of professional edition (and lack of features in free editions)
  • Requires some configuration for first-time users and novices
  • Supports a limited number of languages and technologies in addition to Python
  • System requirements and performance – consumes up to 1GB of memory a minute while idle

Microsoft Visual Studio Code for Python Development

Visual Studio Code is a lightweight solution that can be expanded, extended and modified through plugins and extensions. A kind of Lego board upon which you can construct the development environment you want and need. 

Being a modular solution, VSCode demands that you download and install extensions to compile, debug, lint and deploy code. It may sound like a bit of a hassle, but you can do that for pretty much any popular language or framework out-there. Need to code in Python? It just so happens that the Python support extension is the most downloaded plugin in the Visual Studio Code Marketplace. Need to write some C++ and don’t want to install yet another code editor? Then you should download the second most popular extension for VSCode – C/C++ support.

The VSCode community and Microsoft themselves are not blind to the rising popularity of VSCode with Python developers. In the recently published update to the Python extension for VSCode, Microsoft addressed 42 issues, and added the ability to browse for or enter an interpreter path on selection.

Pros

  • Growing community support
  • Free and open source
  • Lightweight and low on system resource demands
  • Support for most popular languages and frameworks through extensions
  • Powerful and customizable code management
  • Thousands of extensions to choose from

Cons

  • Less suitable for large and complex Python projects and applications
  • Demands a great deal of customization and tweaking
  • Lacking Django support
  • Thousands of extensions to choose from

The choice between PyCharm and Visual Studio is similar to a choice between a fancy cake knife and a Swiss army knife to cut a cake. The first may produce artfully cut and even slices, while the second may not be perfect for cutting a cake, but can do a lot more. And fits nicely in your pocket.

About the author

Ilana is a content writer for the Codota.com blog