InfoWorld review: Eight PHP power tools

Eclipse PDT, NetBeans, NuSphere PhpED, and Zend Studio lead a capable field of IDEs for Web developers

Though precise statistics are difficult to obtain, PHP is undeniably a top choice as a Website building language. Since October 2009, the TIOBE Programming Community Index has PHP holding third place -- behind Java and C -- among programming languages overall. Regardless of the exact extent of PHP's usage, you need only consider that Web sites such as Facebook -- which manages millions of users and petabytes of content -- use PHP; workloads of that magnitude demand a serious programming language and supporting environment.

You can't build a world-class Website without a good development environment. In the case of PHP, the development environment must be particularly capable; a PHP programmer will rarely be programming only in PHP. PHP is necessarily entwined with HTML and JavaScript on the front end and with SQL on the back end. Consequently, a good PHP IDE must allow the developer to work with equal ease in multiple languages (both programming and markup) and contexts.

In this article, we examine eight IDEs: ActiveState's Komodo IDE, CodeLobster PHP Edition, Eclipse PHP Development Tools (PDT), MPSoftware's phpDesigner, NetBeans IDE for PHP, NuSphere's PhpED, WaterProof's PHPEdit, and Zend Studio. All of these PHP toolkits offer strong support for the other languages and environments (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, SQL database) that a PHP developer encounters. The key differences we discovered were in the tools they provide (HTML inspector, SQL management system) for various tasks, the quality of their documentation, and general ease-of-use.

In our estimation, four of these IDEs rise to the top. Zend Studio is an excellent PHP IDE once you become familiar with the Eclipse landscape. NuSphere's PhpED is also first rate and deserves your consideration if you need a professional-quality IDE and support. If you're on a budget or you can make it without technical support, Eclipse PDT and NetBeans are exceptional tools.

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As always, development tool choice is heavily influenced by personal idiosyncrasies. For example, we know good developers who love Eclipse, and we know good developers who despise it. All the IDEs in this roundup are either free or available for a reasonable trial period. Use our commentary as a guide, but you owe it to yourself to spend some time with each IDE that appears to have the proper mixture of features needed on your PHP project.

See the first PHP tool: ActiveState Komodo

InfoWorld Scorecard
Ease of use (20.0%)
Tools (20.0%)
Documentation (15.0%)
Installation (15.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Web and SQL support (20.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
ActiveState Komodo IDE 5.2 8.0 9.0 8.0 9.0 8.0 8.0 8.4
CodeLobster PHP Edition 3.1.3 6.0 7.0 6.0 9.0 7.0 8.0 7.2
Eclipse PHP Development Tools 2.1.2 8.0 9.0 8.0 9.0 10.0 9.0 8.8
MPSoftware phpDesigner 7 8.0 7.0 7.0 9.0 8.0 8.0 7.8
NetBeans IDE 6.7.1 9.0 8.0 8.0 9.0 9.0 9.0 8.7
NuSphere PhpED 5.9 8.0 9.0 9.0 9.0 9.0 8.0 8.6
WaterProof PHPEdit 3.4.6 8.0 8.0 7.0 9.0 8.0 9.0 8.2
Zend Studio 7.0 8.0 9.0 8.0 9.0 10.0 9.0 8.8
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