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How to use Birch with the Eclipse IDE

Eclipse is a popular open-source integrated development environment (IDE) with support for Java, C/C++, PHP, and a host of other programming languages via an ecosystem of extensions.

You can use Eclipse with Birch, too. A plugin is available for syntax highlighting of Birch code. Birch projects can otherwise be treated as if they are C/C++ projects, with only a few minor changes to settings as detailed below. Error messages from the Birch compiler are understood by Eclipse, so that it is able to annotate problem lines of code and allow quick navigation to them. This can help streamline workflow.

Screenshot of Eclipse on macOS with syntax highlighting for Birch source files and terminal for running Birch commands.

Getting involved

Contributions to further improve support for Birch within Eclipse would be welcome. A project wizard plugin to automate some of the steps below would be particularly useful.

Installing Eclipse

You should install the Eclipse IDE for C/C++ Developers linked from here.

If you already have Eclipse installed but without the C/C++ Development Tools (default installs are often for Java development only), you can add the C/C++ Development Tools to that Eclipse installation via the Help > Install New Software... menu item. Select All Available Sites from the select box at the top, and choose Programming Languages > C++ Development Tools, then follow the prompts.

Installing the Birch plugin

To install the plugin, use the Help > Install New Software... menu item from within Eclipse. Click the Add... button and enter the following update site URL:

Select the plugin from the list and follow the prompts from there. The plugin should be automatically associated with the *.bi file extension.

Installing the TM Terminal plugin

While optional, another useful plugin is TM Terminal. This allows you to open a terminal from within Eclipse. You can then run birch within this terminal instead of an external terminal, staying within the one environment as you work.

To install TM Terminal, use the Help > Install New Software... menu item from within Eclipse. Click the Add... button and enter the following update site URL:

Select to install the TM Terminal item and follow the prompts from there.


On macOS, the version of TM Terminal available from the Eclipse Marketplace may have some font issues (this has been observed on High Sierra running Eclipse Oxygen). It is recommended that you install using the above site URL rather than using the Eclipse Marketplace, as it will install a later version that seems to fix this problem.

Also on macOS, the terminal is not configured with the same environment as the Terminal app, so that trying to run birch may fail. To fix this, open the Eclipse > Preferences menu item, go to Terminal > Local Terminal on the left, and enter arguments of --login.

Once TM Terminal is installed, you can open a terminal window by using Window > Show View > Other and selecting Terminal. When the empty terminal window appears, click the Open a Terminal icon on the right side of the toolbar and choose Local Terminal to open a new tab with a terminal.

Creating projects in Eclipse

Within Eclipse, you can treat Birch projects as if they are C/C++ Makefile Projects, with a few tweaks to the project properties as outlined below.

You will need the Eclipse C/C++ Development Tooling (CDT) for this, not just the Eclipse Java Development Tools (JDT). Often, a default Eclipse installation only installs the latter, so you may need to install the former.

Once a Birch project has been created from the command line with birch init:

  1. Import it into Eclipse using File > New > Makefile Project with Existing Code.
  2. Under Project > Properties, select C/C++ Build on the left.
  3. Go to the Builder Settings tab and enter birch as the build command.
  4. Go to the Behavior tab and enter build (or install, if preferred) next to the Build (Incremental build) checkbox.

You can then use the Project > Build menu item, or keyboard shortcuts, to build your project.

Streamlining the build process

It is worth importing the Birch compiler and standard library into your Eclipse workspace as well, to establish them as dependencies of your own project.

Use the File > Import menu item from within Eclipse, then:

Once the projects are imported, go to the properties for your own project, select Project References on the left, and choose Birch.Standard.

Now, when you build your own project, Eclipse will automatically rebuild Birch.Standard and, in turn, Birch, if necessary.

Note that, unlike when creating your own projects, it is not necessary to modify the project properties for the Birch compiler and standard library. The repositories already include Eclipse project files with the relevant settings.