Review: 2 PHP tools rise above the rest

You'll find no shortage of heavyweight PHP IDEs, but few are uncluttered, focused, and smooth

By Peter Wayner, InfoWorld |  Software, developer tools, PHP

Aptana seems focused mainly on creating a tool for Python and Rails developers. The menus offer much more extensive options for people using those languages. The PHP options are more like a bit of frosting -- in case the Python or Rails folks need to edit a PHP file. There's a PyDev perspective now and plenty of other commands for other languages, but PHP seems to be receding.

Picking a PHP tool When I was working on this review, Stuart Herbert, a PHP developer, switched to Sublime Text, a more basic text editor, and wrote about the change, extolling the simplicity. In essence, he didn't need all of the extra features from an IDE. He was happier with a smart text editor than a full-fledged collection of tools under one roof.

I often felt the same way when struggling with these tools. While all of them are useful and worth the money to serious PHP developers, they're more than is needed for many basic PHP jobs. If you're writing a bit of glue logic between the database and a smart AJAX client, the extra features of an IDE aren't especially useful. You can often get by with just an editor and using print statements to debug variables.

Part of my problem was that I encountered a surprising amount of chaos. PHP is hardly new, yet I encountered a number of rough edges that really slowed down development. I often had to wade through several versions of the PHP server before I found one that would work with each tool. Only a few of the IDEs seemed to work out of the box. I began to wonder why the developers couldn't just compile PHP into the IDE itself, something they probably didn't want to do because they wanted to integrate with a running server. Many Java IDEs compile and start up servers all within the same process. I've had much better luck starting up Java and Python stacks than getting PHP off the ground.

These problems were all solvable, but I think you need to be working on a bigger PHP project before the overhead of an IDE becomes worth it. The ability to search through all of the files and deploy quickly are more useful when you have a lot of files associated with a complex application.

A couple of the IDEs -- Zend Studio and PhpStorm -- seemed to bear this weight better than the others. Zend Studio, from the creators of PHP, is best for developers already familiar with Eclipse. PhpStorm, a simpler option, is a clean and polished tool that focuses on PHP. 


Originally published on InfoWorld |  Click here to read the original story.
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