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0.6 — Installing an Integrated Development Environment (IDE)

An Integrated Development Environment (IDE) is a piece of software that contains all of the things you need to develop, compile, link, and debug your programs.

With a typical C++ IDE, you get a code editor that does line numbering and syntax highlighting. Many (but not all) IDEs include a C++ compiler and a linker, which the IDE will know how to interface with in order to convert your source code into an executable file. And when you need to debug your program, you can use the integrated debugger.

Furthermore, IDEs typically bundle a number of other helpful editing features, such as integrated help, name completion, auto-formatting, and sometimes a version control system. So while you could do all of these things separately, it’s much easier to install an IDE and have them all accessible from a single interface.

So let’s install one! The obvious next question is, “which one?”. Many IDEs are free (in price), and you can install multiple IDEs if you wish, so there’s no “wrong decision” to be made here. We’ll recommend a few of our favorites below.

If you have some other IDE in mind, that’s fine too. The concepts we show you in these tutorials should generally work for any decent modern IDE. However, various IDEs use different names, layouts, key mappings, etc… so you may have to do a bit of searching in your IDE to find the equivalent functionality.

Visual Studio (for Windows)

If you are developing on a Windows machine (as most of you are) and disk space and download size are not a constraint, then we strongly recommend Visual Studio Community 2017 [1]. When you run the installer, you’ll eventually come to a screen that asks you what workload you’d like to install. Choose Desktop development with C++. If you do not do this, then C++ capabilities will not be available.

The default options selected on the right side of the screen should be fine, but please ensure that the Windows 10 SDK is selected. The Windows 10 SDK can be used on older versions of Windows, so don’t worry if you’re still running Windows 7 or 8.

Visual Studio Workload

If disk space and/or download size are a challenge, then we recommend Microsoft’s free Visual Studio Express 2017 for Windows Desktop [2], which you can find towards the bottom of the page.

Code::Blocks (for Linux or Windows)

If you are developing on Linux (or you are developing on Windows but want to write programs that you can easily port to Linux), we recommend Code::Blocks [3]. Code::Blocks is a free, open source, cross-platform IDE that will run on both Linux and Windows.

For Windows users

Make sure to get the version of Code::Blocks that has MinGW bundled (it should be the one whose filename ends in mingw-setup.exe). This will install MinGW, which includes a Windows port of the GCC C++ compiler:

Code::Blocks MinGW Windows download

For Linux users

Some linux installations may be missing dependencies needed to run or compile programs with Code::Blocks.

Debian-based Linux users (such as those on Mint or Ubuntu) may need to install the build-essential package From the terminal command line, type: sudo apt-get install build-essential.

Arch-linux users may need to install base-devel, which can be done via pacman -Syu base-devel.

Users on other Linux variants will need to determine what their equivalent package manager and packages are.

When you launch Code::Blocks for the first time, you may get a Compilers auto-detection dialog. If you do, make sure GNU GCC Compiler is set as the default compiler and then select the OK button.

Compilers Auto Detection dialog

With Code::Blocks, C++11/C++14/C++17 functionality may be disabled by default. You’ll definitely want to check and turn it on. First, go to Settings menu > Compiler:

Code::Blocks Settings > Compiler

Then find the box or boxes labeled Have g++ follow the C++XX ISO C++ language standard [-std=c++XX]:, where XX is 11, 14, or some other higher number (see the items inside the red box below for examples):

Code::Blocks C++11 setting

Check the one with the highest number (in the above case, that’s the C++14 option inside the red box).

Your version of Code::Blocks may also have support for experimental, or just released versions of C++. If so, this will be labeled Have g++ follow the coming C++11YY (aka C++XX) ISO C++ language standard [-std=c++ZZ] (see the blue box above). You can optionally check these if you would like to enable features in that version, but note that support may be incomplete (e.g. some features may be missing).

Q: I want to enable C++17 features in Code::Blocks, but I don't see a -std=C++17 option

If you see an option for -std=C++1z, that is equivalent (C++17 was called C++1z before they knew what year it would be finalized).

Alternatively, you can go to the Other Compiler Options tab and type in -std=c++17.

Code::Blocks Other Compiler Options

This will work if your compiler has C++17 support. If you’re using an older version of Code::Blocks and C++17 features don’t seem to work, upgrade your compiler.

Q: I'm getting a "Can't find compiler executable in your configured search paths for GNU GCC Compiler" error

Try the following:

  1. In you’re on Windows, make sure you’ve downloaded the version of Code::Blocks WITH MinGW. It’s the one with “mingw” in the name.
  2. Try going to settings, compiler, and choose “reset to defaults”.
  3. Try going to settings, compiler, toolchain executables tab, and make sure “Compiler’s installation directory” is set to the MinGW directory (e.g. C:\Program Files (x86)\CodeBlocks\MinGW).
  4. Try doing a full uninstall, then reinstall.
  5. Try a different compiler.

Mac OSX IDEs

Popular Mac choices include Xcode [4] (if it is available to you), or Eclipse [5]. Eclipse is not set up to use C++ by default, and you will need to install the optional C++ components.

Although Visual Studio for Mac has been released, as of Aug 2018 it does not support C++, so at this time we can not recommend it.

Can I use a web-based compiler?

Yes, for some things. While your IDE is downloading (or if you’re not sure you want to commit to installing one yet), you can continue this tutorial using a web-based compiler, such as the one at TutorialsPoint [6].

Web-based compilers are fine for dabbling and simple exercises. However, they are generally quite limited in functionality -- many won’t allow you to save projects, create executables, or effectively debug your programs. You’ll want to migrate to a full IDE when you can.

Can I use a command-line compiler (e.g. g++ on Linux)?

Yes, but you’ll need to find your own editor and look up how to use it elsewhere.

When things go wrong (a.k.a. when IDE stands for “I don’t even…”)

IDE installations seem to cause their fair share of problems. Installation might fail outright (or installation might work but the IDE will have problems when you try to use it due to a configuration issue). If you encounter such issues, try uninstalling the IDE (if it installed in the first place), reboot your machine, disable your antivirus or anti-malware temporarily, and try the installation again.

If you’re still encountering issues at this point, you have two options. The easier option is to try a different IDE. The other option is to fix the problem. Unfortunately, the causes of installation and configuration errors are varied and specific to the IDE software itself, and we’re unable to effectively advise on how to resolve such issues. In this case, we recommend copying the error message or problem you are having into a Google search and trying to find a forum post elsewhere from some poor soul who has inevitably encountered the same issue. Often there will be suggestions on things you can try to remedy the issue.

Moving on

Once your IDE is installed (which can be one of the hardest steps if things don’t go as expected), or if you’re temporarily proceeding with a web-based compiler, you are ready to write your first program!


0.7 -- Compiling your first program [7]
Index [8]
0.5 -- Introduction to the compiler, linker, and libraries [9]