Review: 2 PHP tools rise above the rest
You'll find no shortage of heavyweight PHP IDEs, but few are uncluttered, focused, and smoothFollow @peterwayner
PhpStorm exhibits much of the same attention to detail that made IntelliJ popular. I still find IDEs like Eclipse to be a bit arcane, with their complex trees that often hide important jobs in some deep corner of the hierarchy. The folks at JetBrains have done a better job of cleaning up the UI and putting the buttons in places that are simpler to find and understand. All of the coloring and completion are here, but in a simpler form. Not that PhpStorm is simplistic -- for instance, there are six different preintegrated source control options, more than you'll find in the other tools.
Configuration benefits from a number of wizards to assist you in getting everything connected. While the other IDEs offer some fields that either work or don't, PhpStorm takes things a bit further.
NuSphere's PhpED is one of the older IDEs around, but it's one of the few that's avoided going astray and diluting itself by supporting every possible language. It's a PHP tool, and this is obvious from the moment you install it.
The tool comes with a sophisticated wizard for checking installation to make sure the debugger and the internal server were correctly configured. I found the simple wizard a welcome break from spending time trying to get the other IDEs to work with the server software installed. It's still possible to use PhpED with a separate version of PHP, but it's not necessary.
Not everything was perfect. The tools generally worked, offering all of the more sophisticated code manipulation features like code folding. But I had some trouble getting the IDE to connect to either MySQL 5.1 or 5.5 because it said I was using an old version of the client software. The forum would let me search, but then it would accuse me of generating automated searches for some reason.
Despite these issues, I found PhpED to be one of the easier tools to use. The user interface was snappy, and the integrated server made it simpler to start projects. PhpED is one of the most pleasant tools in the game.
To the file system, a PHP project is just a bunch of text. To the programmer, it's a complex stack of abstractions and logistical constructions. While some IDEs treat the code like text files, phpDesigner takes the programmer's view. It offers an elaborate set of templates and editorial menus that help you work with the logistical structure.
This structure is used in a variety of ways. The code completion learns your libraries, the search tool highlights any word you select with a double click, and the code explorer displays your code in a big tree. Poking around your code this way is quite useful, especially if it's not code that you wrote. The logical structure is often a bit easier to understand than raw text. There are separate lists for the constants, functions, and variables. If you want to find one, you click on that tree and the declaration appears.
The IDE also offers a fairly large collection of templates that can be useful if you can't remember the exact way to construct some method or line. You hit the Class button and
class appears in your code with the curly brackets. If you work the buttons correctly, you can write quite a bit of parsable code simply by clicking.