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Envision is an IDE prototype featuring a visual structured editor for object-oriented languages. We use Envision to experiment with new interfaces for creating programs. In contrast to traditional IDEs, Envision allows rich meta-data and non-textual content such as diagrams or tables to be directly embedded as part of the program. To enable quick code entry, Envision focuses on keyboard-based interactions, which provide a familiar experince to developers used to text editors. Our goal is to create a tool that improves the productivity of expert programmers who work on large projects in diverse domains.

A short introduction that highlights some of the main concepts in Envision. Please watch in 1080p.
A demonstration of how the visualizations and interactions in Envision can be customized for embedded domain-specific languages. Please watch in 720p.
This video demonstrates Envision's support for rich comments such as rich text, diagrams, and embedded HTML. Please watch in 1080p.
A demonstration of Envision's graphical interface for exploring the changes between different versions of software. Please watch in 1080p.
This video demonstrates Envision's scriptable information system, which enables developers to combine, visualize, and act on information from diverse sources. Please watch in 1080p.
Our CHI'16 talk presenting the results of a user study which shows that Envision's rich visualizations can substantially improve the understanding of code structure, compared to syntax highlighting.

With Envision we aim to create a next-generation software development environment that will boost the productivity of software engineers. Envision features a fast and scalable visual programming interface that can present a program's structure as a flexible combination of text and graphical objects. The visual representation is coupled with novel interaction techniques to facilitate quick navigation and comprehension of programs. This is crucial for modern software engineering, where developers have to deal with large-scale code bases and are subject to information overload from many tools for analysis, verification, testing, debugging, etc.


  • Flexible visualization framework for freely mixing text and graphics.
  • Scalable visualizations - millions of objects can be rendered simultaneously.
  • Keyboard-centric interactions - specially designed interaction mechanisms enable the easy navigation and direct editing of visualizations, just by using the keyword, matching the speed of a text editor.
  • Support for rich meta-data and non-textual artifacts of software engineering such tables and diagrams. Keeping this extra data in a single repository together with the program code allows the creation of useful links between the two, and enables better tools.
  • A flexible query mechanism, which enables developers to combine information from different sources, visualize the results of queries in different ways, and automatically perform actions such as changing the code.
  • Support for object-oriented programming - one can import a subset of the Java language into Envision and then edit, compile and debug the code. Work is ongoing to support a fuller subset of Java and other OO languages such as C++. We are exploring a unified tree model for object-oriented programs of different languages. This model is user-extensible and allows for new language constructs to be plugged in.
  • Open-source with a BSD license - Envision on GitHub
  • Written in C++, based on the Qt framework.

The motivation behind the project, the initial architecture of Envision, and some interesting use cases were first expressed in Dimitar Asenov's Master's thesis (PDF, 2.2 MB).


  • D. Asenov: Envision: Reinventing the Integrated Development Environment
    Ph.D. Thesis, 2017. [PDF] [BIB]
  • D. Asenov and B. Guenat and P. Müller and M. Otth: Precise Version Control of Trees with Line-based Version Control Systems
    Fundamental Approaches to Software Engineering (FASE), 2017. [PDF] [BIB]
  • D. Asenov and P. Müller and L. Vogel: The IDE as a Scriptable Information System
    Automated Software Engineering (ASE)
    , 2016. [PDF] [BIB]
  • D. Asenov and P. Müller and L. Vogel: The IDE as a Scriptable Information System (extended version)
    arXiv:1607.04452 [cs.SE]
    , 2016. [PDF] [BIB] [arXiv]
  • D. Asenov and O. Hilliges and P. Müller: The Effect of Richer Visualizations on Code Comprehension
    Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI)
    , 2016. [PDF] [BIB] [Experiment data (ZIP, 55.9 MB)]
  • D. Asenov and P. Müller: Envision: A Fast and Flexible Visual Code Editor with Fluid Interactions (Overview)
    Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing (VL/HCC), 2014. [PDF] [BIB] [CogTool simulation data (CGT, 5.8 MB)]
  • D. Asenov and P. Müller: Envision: A Fast and Flexible Visual Code Editor with Fluid Interactions
    Technical Report, ETH Zurich, 2014. [PDF] [BIB] [CogTool simulation data (CGT, 5.8 MB)]
  • D. Asenov and P. Müller: Customizing the Visualization and Interaction for Embedded Domain-Specific Languages in a Structured Editor
    Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing (VL/HCC), 2013. [PDF] [BIB]

Past student projects

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Fri Jun 23 04:04:33 CEST 2017
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