A lot of PHP developers find themselves asking the same question: do I need an IDE? Well, no, but you don’t need a spoon to eat soup either; an IDE isn’t mandatory, but it speeds things up while reducing mess. Maybe you feel more comfortable doing everything in VIM because you’re a level 9000 Unix Wizard, but for the rest of us mere peasants, it’s good to have something that makes life easier. PHP is still very popular and it’s not too late to get onboard.
Which is a lot of preamble to say: here are my favourite Integrated Design Environments for PHP, and why I think you should give them a try.
You all knew it was coming: PhpStorm has been a major player for over a decade now, making it an elder statesman in tech terms. It’s the complete package: probably the most accurate autofill on the market, powerful debugging, cross-platform database support, great version-control integrations, support for all modern PHP versions back to 5.3, easy refactoring, and even a built-in JS/HTML/CSS editor for all your frontend needs.
On the downside, it’s relatively expensive: $120 USD for the first year and $70/year subsequently. That’s not crazy when put against the average PHP developer’s salary, but—especially if you’re in a developing country like India where development work pays less—it can be difficult to stomach that sort of expense. PhpStorm is the best PHP IDE if you ignore costs, but I’m not going to lie, I’m never surprised when I hear somebody saw the cost and decided to go elsewhere.
Really, it’s the Bentley of IDEs—incredible, if you can afford it.
The go-to if you’re using, well, Zend. This IDE is the best friend of Magento developers everywhere. Full support for all modern PHP versions, great debugging and profiling, a ton of built-in tools, support for basically every major framework (including, unsurprisingly, Zend) and—critically—Apigility integration that lets you quickly build APIs right there in the studio. Combine all of this with easy cloud deployment and testing and launch have never been easier.
Which is great, but, like PhpStorm, it is expensive: $89/year for personal use, or $189/year for commercial use. It might take some convincing to get the office to pay for it, but it’s well worth it, especially if you’re working with Zend.
If you’re coming from C# or ASP.NET, this is probably your pick: you’ve already got this one set up and know how to use it. Most developers will know VS to some extent, and I don’t think I’m surprising anybody to inform you that it also supports PHP. It’s got all your usual features (code highlighting etc) but what really sets it apart is its snippets system. Just highlight a piece of code and hit ^Space for a context-specific list of common related snippets. Lots of IDEs have something similar, but I’ve found Visual Studio to have the most accurate and helpful version of this feature around.
Going a bit oldschool here, but it was my first Php IDE and I feel like I owe it a shout out. It is … okay look it’s hilariously outdated and only supports up to PHP 5.6, but it’s what I grew up with and I feel the need to rep my colours. It’s absolutely free! It’s a good way to test out whether an IDE is right for you! It’s uh, it’s still a solid pick if you find yourself refactoring old code! I promise.
No, I will not remove my nostalgia glasses, why do you ask?
One of the better open-source IDEs around, with excellent PHP support. Like a lot of PHP IDEs, it was originally designed for Java but a lot of its life these days comes from the PHP community. What I love about Aptana is how customisable it is: you can tailor almost the entire IDE to be whatever you need it to be.
It struggles a bit with autofills and the like compared to its paid cousins, but on the other hand, it’s open-source and absolutely free, and is great for playing around and figuring out whether an IDE is something in your future.
And that’s it! I hope that helped: an IDE can be a great tool, but the wrong IDE can be more of an impediment than a help, and a lot of developers I know will go through a few different setups before they settle on something comfortable. A lot of it is going to depend on your needs and style as a developer, but there’s a lot of IDEs out there and knowing your options can help to refine your choices and become a better developer.
Of course, the best way to improve your skills is to get yourself a job as a PHP developer—there’s nothing better than getting paid to learn. There are PHP developer jobs all over the world, if you know where to look. If you prefer to go the freelancing route, you can find plenty of work opportunities in a coworking space. Good luck, and happy coding.