PHP Editor Choice

Ok, so, if you know me, or have seen me give a presentation, etc. You probably know that I use Dreamweaver as my PHP Editor (Macromedia, Adobe, whatever).

However, I keep thinking about switching to another editor instead. There are a number of good editors out there in general (and for PHP specifically), but none of them seem to fit my needs as nicely as Dreamweaver.

Specifically, I’ve been using Dreamweaver for a LONG time, since version 1.0, back when ‘HTML was a programming language, and programmers wrote it’. The job I worked at decided to start using it, because it allowed you to quickly do some HTML layout, without messing with any inline code you had done. That was great.

Well, 8 versions of DW later, and I’m still using it. Even though 99% of the time I’m not in design view because of writing neck-deep PHP code for where not a single thing is really ‘design view’-able.

However, everytime I try to switch editors, I run into missing features that I rely on. So I’m going to try to list all the features that I use everyday, and see if anyone can recommend another editor that has them all:

  • Requirements:
    • Color highlighted code – Ok, so every editor will have this.
    • Code Hints – Specifically popping up the parameter list for you. This should work on PHP functions, on JS functions, CSS code, as well as HTML tags.
    • Ability to organize by ‘sites’ – In DW you organize your projects by ‘websites’ (basically local directories), you choose the site you want to work on, and then start editing away. This basic concept sits well with my mind. I’m not a big fan of the ‘project-based’ concept that many IDEs use.
    • FTP support with Synchronize – I work with all my files local, but a remote testing server. I need the ability to edit the local files, then quickly FTP them up to the server with a keypress. Preferrably with a ‘Synchronize’ function as well that will only push the files that have changed.
    • EASY indenting/anti-denting of blocks of code – DW allows you to highlight a section of code and tab or shift-tab to change the indentation.
    • Tabbed Editing windows – I would allow for something ‘like tabs’ as well.
    • Global Search/Replace – Specifically, the ability to do a search, in choice of ‘entire website’, ‘open files’, ‘selected files’, and either to do a replace, or to get a list of all matches, and allow a click on the match to automatically open the file, highlighting the area for quick editing.
    • Scriptable Functionality – In DW you can completely extend it via Javascript. I have a number of functions I have created. The biggest of which that I REALLY rely on are some automated debugging tools. (IE, highlight a variable, hit key-combination, have debugging code that outputs the variable contents automatically inserted. Hit another key later, and have all of these immediately wiped). That’s the main use right now, though I often make quick one-off scripts to help with certain tasks.
    • Bracket Highlighting – Ability to chose a }, ), ] and hit a key, and get the entire section of code from open to end highlighted.
  • Nice to Haves:
    • File list/Explorer View – It’s very handy to me when working on a large project to have an explorer built in to quickly select another file. I can use the OS’s version though, so not required.
    • Design View – Still having some level of design view available, when just needing to throw something really simple together, such as a mockup, is really handy.
    • CSS Inspector – It’s also handy to be able to select a tag on a page, and have DW tell you what CSS attributes are applying to it, for what reasons, from what selectors.
    • Quick Preview – Hit a button, launch the current code into an Firefox Window.
    • Code Collapsing – Select a function, for loop, or just certain lines of code, and make them collapse down, to allow you to see the structure of the page better on long pages of code.

Ok, I realize that’s alot. And I probably missed a few things. But I think you can see that there are just lots of parts of Dreamweaver I really use, ALOT. I would like to switch to something Open Source, or cheaper, or even just with the extra features that some of the PHP specific editors have.

But the lack of some of the key features above, keeps making me go back to Dreamweaver.

So, anyone have any suggestions for me?


7 Responses to PHP Editor Choice

  1. caseydk says:

    I use phpClipse – the PHP extension for Eclipse – to do most of this and the thing that I use most often is the SVN/CVS sync which you can set a separate repository (or even folder within) on a per-project basis. Ah, it makes life so much easier. It works on the concept of Projects instead of sites and I have yet to find a global Find and Replace but that’s the one line of Perl I know. 😉 The code completion leaves some to be desired, but it’s getting better regularly.

    I’ve also been playing with the Zend IDE. It is also project-based, but you only get to specify a single CVS/SVN repository globally… and only one or the other. Regardless, it’s code completion is top notch and I haven’t found anything that can even touch it. It is pretty strict on PHP5 compliance, so if you have a few legacy PHP4 projects around – like I do with dotProject – you end up getting flooded with errors and warnings.

    Both can communicate directly with a local AMP stack and show previews so that comes in handy… unfortunately, Zend defaults to using the MSIE renderer so that can get a bit screwy. Both have code folding, both can tie in coding standards rules.

    So yeah, I haven’t found the perfect solution either, but I think these two are the leading contenders at the moment. At ZendCon, I saw a demo of Komodo 4 beta and it is even more promising, but that’s not due out until January.

  2. Eli says:

    jpdefillippo … You seem to have missed one of my major points however. Which is that I prefer the ‘organize your stuff as a *website*, or *directories*’, versus the ‘Project’ based IDEs that try to break everything up for you so that you don’t need to care where anything really is.

    Problem is that I do care. The project based IDEs drive me crazy. And that’s what Zend Studio IS.

  3. rmirabelle says:

    The new Aptana Studio looks promising, but like you I simply cannot move away from the awesome visual editor included in dreamweaver – and of course the litany of other killer tools – if code completion was viable (would inspect your project for your own classes), I wouldn’t even consider moving away from it.

    BTW Aptana looks to be powerful, but it’s clearly still buggy and is not particularly well laid out – does have lots of great looking features tho

  4. […] found my new editor So, as a followup to a previous post where I was looking to find a new editor for PHP/HTML/JS/CSS work […]

  5. KateV says:

    just meandered in….

    Looking for something else, but fine website. All the best….

  6. codelobster says:

    I use free and very handy PHP IDE Codelobster PHP Edition (

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