In this article, we explain what a development environment is, why you need one, and some best practices for a reliable development environment.
To make sure that code works the way it’s expected to and is bug-free, software engineers use a few different environments to develop, test, and ultimately deploy the code they write. These can include development, testing, staging, and production environments. And while all workflows might not need multiple types of environments depending on the complexity of the project, one of the most important is the development environment.
Development environment refers to a workspace that holds all the processes and tools that a developer needs to work on program source code. This is the stage where developers write new code, debug existing code, and make changes and updates to the source code, without affecting anything in the live environment. Sometimes, the development environment is also used for some preliminary testing.
It’s worth pointing out that a development environment is not the same as an integrated development environment or IDE. An IDE is a software suite or platform that developers can use to write code, and it usually consists of a source code editor, a debugger, a compiler, and a designer, sometimes along with some automation features to help software engineers work faster. You might use an IDE within your development environment, but it’s not a replacement for a dev environment.
At first glance, you might think that a development environment introduces another unnecessary step into the process of shifting code, but actually, there are a number of important benefits that you’ll experience when you use a development environment.
A key characteristic of a development environment is that it’s separate from the live environment while accurately replicating production. That means that developers can try out new ideas and test-drive different approaches without causing any changes to the live website, app, or program.
Development environments offer an opportunity for developers to make mistakes without suffering the consequences, which encourages them to continue innovating and “failing fast,” which is a key component in a cycle of continuous development.
It might seem counterintuitive but including a development environment makes production move faster, not slower. A development environment enables a more streamlined workflow where it’s clear what’s required at each stage, eliminating unnecessary tasks, preventing repetitive or circular work, and allowing engineers to be more efficient.
Many dev environments include a level of automation for processes like debugging, patching, updating, or maintaining code, which further helps to speed things up.
Finally, by providing a secure space where mistakes don’t affect the live site, a dev environment allows engineers to work faster. Because they don’t need to worry about breaking the site if they get something wrong, they don’t need to second guess or double-check their ideas before they try them out.
The main use for a development environment is to understand and fix any bugs that appear in the code, and you can’t (or shouldn’t!) do that kind of work in a live production environment. You need a dev environment for engineers to thoroughly test every part of a website or app before it’s deployed, so they can find and correct any errors.
Many development workflows include a staging and/or testing environment before the production environment, but they aren’t universal. In more slimmed-down workflows, a development environment is even more critical to prevent errors from creeping through to the live program and causing data breaches, downtime, etc.
As you can see, dev environments play a very important role in software projects, allowing developers to freely and swiftly fix errors and experiment with new versions. Cloud-based development environments make it easy to create a new environment for each developer, while faithfully replicating production, helping speed up and streamline production workflows.
To see how Velocity’s rapid development environments can benefit your team, create a Velocity Labs account and spin up a sample environment in our sandbox. When you’re ready to get started, let us know! Our sales team can get your team set up and fully onboarded.