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
PhpDesigner is one of the few IDEs that carry its own version of PHP with it. If you create a PHP file, you can execute it and get the results in a number of different forms that range from the raw input to the display in your browser. I had mixed results with this feature. My version of Drupal, for instance, wouldn't execute correctly at first because the debugger wasn't connected properly.
It's natural to assume that NetBeans is an IDE focused on Java since it was built by Sun. But the NetBeans creators are also distributing a version focused on PHP. It still has plenty of Java-centric tools -- including a profiler that wants to know whether I want to instrument the basic Java classes too -- but there are plenty of other features for the PHP developer, including the standard coloring and code completion.
PHP editing works right out of the box, but testing takes a bit of configuration. I was able to get the IDE working with the classic WAMP distribution only after several trips to the php.ini file. NetBeans includes several hints for editing php.ini that appear when the debugger fails to connect after a few seconds.
PHP debugging is fully integrated with the IDE. If you drag your mouse over a variable name, it will post a balloon with the type of the variable and the value in it if it's a short one like an integer. A right-click will take you to the definition of a function. If you're a developer looking for a full IDE, it's pretty much what you want to see.
ActiveState's Komodo IDE is another editing powerhouse aimed at helping people build and debug not just PHP but Node.js, Python, Perl, TCL, and Ruby. The newest version, 7.0, adds more collaborative editing so that several people can work on the same document at the same time, presumably without doubling the number of bugs being created. There's also a mechanism that uses ActiveState's Stackato platform to deploy your code to the cloud or a local machine.
The editor offers many features for working with the marked-up files, including code highlighting, code suggestions, and code folding. The editors work with all of the HTML and CSS, helping build the final Web view. There's a visual editor that works well.
The debugger includes a number of options for doing more than just stopping. It can count how many times the breakpoints are hit and even execute a bit of code at the breakpoint. This may be the biggest help for tricky problems buried deep in the call stack.
The documentation talks about the "breadth" of the IDE, and PHP sometimes feels a bit lost in the shuffle. PHP seems to be just another language, while Python and Ruby seem to get more attention. There were several places where the documentation was out of sync with the machine, prompting me to scramble to the Web for answers. Komodo also wants to integrate with the local PHP server to handle debugging. I couldn't use just any local version of PHP that might be more helpful.
The PHP world is dominated by several major projects, and the folks who built CodeLobster know this. They created a collection of plug-ins that tune the IDE for work on leading platforms, including WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla. The plug-ins come with the professional version of the tool, which sells for $120.