The Best PHP IDE/Editor For Development in 2020

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Web development is way easier if you have the right tools to help you get the work done. A solid IDE will not only help you write great code in less time, but it’ll also save you from numerous trivial problems and enhance your coding style.

PHP developers use various kinds of editors that range from simple text editors to complex and powerful IDEs, with many other features besides editing capabilities. As most professional developers can attest, the right IDE and/or code editor is key to the development and maintenance of high-quality code.

But with so many different types of code editors out there, how do you decide which one to use?

Knowing what features to look for can certainly help you decide. The best way to find the right IDEs for your next project is by narrowing down the available solutions to those that best suit your way of work, and are compatible with the languages you wish to use.

In this article, we will address what IDEs are, how they differ from code editors, why they are so important to professional web developers, and share with you the best PHP IDE for development in 2020. Then we’ll share some insights on what to look for when choosing one for yourself or your team.

The Difference Between an IDE and a Code Editor

The name “IDE” stands for “Integrated Development Environment” and refers to an assortment of tools that all work in conjunction with each other: text editor, compiler, build or make integration, debugging, etc. Virtually all IDEs are directly linked to a language or framework, or to a group of languages or frameworks.

PHP IDEs allow you to build and maintain PHP scripts using tools and features such as project management, syntax highlighting, instant smart code suggestions, remote editing, debugging, etc.

Code editors, on the other hand, are simply tools for text editing. They are usually designed for programming languages, but many programmers’ text editors are branching out and introducing non-programming text features. The text editors are designed to work with any language or framework of your choosing.

IDEs are usually based on a single language and include the language-specific compiler/interpreter and debugger. Code editors, on the other hand, are more general-purpose in their capacities, being able to work with a variety of programming languages. However, code editors are restricted to writing code and don’t have other uses.

Picking between an IDE or a code editor is primarily a matter of personal choice, particular programming language, and workflows.

What to Look for in an IDE for PHP Development?

  • Code completion.

Automated code recommendations can help the developer avoid too much typing.

  • Errors and warnings highlighting.

On-the-spot syntax checking can prevent various typos and common programming mistakes.

  • Syntax highlighting.

Efficient syntax highlighting significantly increases code readability.

  • Navigation.

Another key feature is the search time which shouldn’t take you too long, even when working on larger projects. Ideally, the IDE should let you quickly switch to the next search phrase.

  • Debugging.

It may not be so crucial in PHP, since you can add echos or use helpers like FirePHP without recompiling your file, but debugging will save you hours when working with complex applications that require you to add echoes to each line to see what’s going on.

  • Compatibility with your OS.
  • Client-side features, depending on your clients’ requests.

PHPStorm

  • Platforms supported: Windows, macOS, and Linux;
  • Supported languages: PHP 5.3, PHP 5.4, PHP 5.5, PHP 5.6, PHP 7, PHP 7.1, PHP 7.2, PHP 7.3, PHP 7.4 HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, and XML;
  • Price: per user, first-year US $199.00, second-year US $159.00, third year onwards US $119.00;
  • Link for more information: https://www.jetbrains.com/phpstorm/.

If you want to create a PHP website, PHPStorm is one of the greatest IDEs you could use. PHPStorm has become a common alternative for people across the globe in its near-decade growth. It has a range of various functions and features including support for all major frameworks, stable and quick refactoring, intelligent coding assistance, debugging/testing, and more.

You can run it on Windows, Mac, and Linux computers, and it provides support for JavaScript, CSS, and HTML, as well as its proprietary coding language.

In addition, PHPStorm is specifically recommended for WordPress development by JetBrains.

Main features

  • Full integration of the best PHP and Front end frameworks and libraries: Symfony, Laravel, WordPress, Zend 2, React, Angular, JQuery – basically everything;
  • Deep understanding of the entire code base including code completion, refactoring, error prevention, and integrated quality tooling;
  • Database management and administration;
  • Excellent composer support;
  • You get code quality tools for everything, editor configuration support included;
  • Local history plus Git history;
  • The built-in visual debugger allows you to easily test & debug (it supports PHPUnit, XDebug, Jest, Mocha, etc.);
  • Outstanding VCS support;
  • REST Client, Docker, Vagrant support;
  • Deployment to local and live server environments is also included.

Netbeans

  • Platforms supported: Windows, macOS, and Linux;
  • Supported languages: Java, C/C++, XML and HTML, PHP, Groovy, Javadoc, JavaScript, and JSP;
  • Price: Free;
  • Link for more information: https://netbeans.org/.

NetBeans is a free, open-source IDE with a modular architecture. It’s not only an IDE but an entire tooling platform as well. It supports HTML, Java, PHP, and CSS coding with a clean-cut structure designed to optimize the look of large projects.

NetBeans started off in 1996 under the name of Xelfi (a wordplay on Delphi), a Java IDE student project under the guidance of the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University in Prague. The latest version of NetBeans is lightweight, much faster than Xelfi, and supports PHP.

NetBeans has some of the best support tools for all PHP frameworks including Zend, Smarty Doctrine, and Symfony2. It also has a multi-language editor, debugger, profiler, version control, and developer collaboration.

Main Features

  • Fast and smart code editing;
  • The NetBeans Editor indents lines, matches words and brackets, and syntactically and semantically highlights the source code;
  • The workspace on NetBeans can easily be modified. You may adjust the buttons in the toolbar to fit your particular workflow or drag and reposition tabs in the application framework;
  • There are a plethora of plugins available for every type of development, from Java SE, Java EE, Java ME, HTML5, Groovy, and PHP to C/C++ development;
  • NetBeans IDE provides support to C / C++ and PHP developers, offering extensive editors and resources for their respective frameworks and technologies. In addition, the IDE provides editors and tools for XML, HTML, PHP, Groovy, etc.;
  • NetBeans IDE can be installed on all operating systems that support Java, from Windows to Linux to Mac OS X systems.

Eclipse

  • Platforms supported: Windows, Linux, and Mac OS;
  • Supported languages: C, C++, C#, Groovy, Haskell, JavaScript, Perl, PHP, Python, Ruby;
  • Price: Free;
  • Link for more information: https://www.eclipse.org/ide/.

Eclipse is an open-source and free IDE with a modular architecture. It includes a base workspace and an extensible plug-in framework for customizing the environment.

Eclipse is suitable to run on all types of operating systems. It also supports documentation and modeling work using Papyrus and includes UML, SysML, OCL, and other implementation tools. It also provides support for Git, Gradle, Apache Maven, etc.

As a newbie, the Eclipse IDE can take some time to operate smoothly. If you already have the base Eclipse installed on your machine, all you need to do is update it and install the Eclipse kit for PHP developers. Eclipse can easily build a PHP web application for your project.

Main Features

  • With the autocorrect feature, Eclipse will provide fixes when it detects simple problems in your code;
  • Eclipse can use the Source/Format option to auto-format your source code;
  • Eclipse has its own mini-CVS for all files in a project. If you want to revert some change you made, or even restore a deleted file, you can right-click on the project and select Restore from Local History;
  • With the automated error reporting feature, bugs in the IDE are automatically sent to eclipse.org where they can be processed;
  • Eclipse provides a range of resources under the common title refactoring. This includes the ability to rename and switch elements, automatically monitor them, and alter references to them during the project.

Aptana Studio

  • Platforms supported: Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux;
  • Supported languages: PHP, AJAX, Python, JavaScript, and Ruby;
  • Price: Free;
  • Link for more information: http://www.aptana.com/.

Aptana Studio is an open-source integrated development environment, based on the Eclipse IDE. It can be installed as a standard version or as a part of Eclipse.

Aptana Studio offers a single environment that uses the latest browser technology specs to create and test applications. The program comes with a command terminal and an integrated web browser window to display projects, as well as help for configurations that are both one-shot and keep-synchronized, multiple FTP, SFTP, FTPS, and Capistrano protocols.

Main Features

  • Project templates and best practices;
  • Debugger: control execution, inspect variables;
  • Content assist;
  • Comes with JavaScript libraries;
  • Aptana IDE is a major supporter of Adobe AIR.

Code Editors: What to Expect When Choosing One

Code editors are tools specifically designed to support developers in the coding process. They simplify the process of writing and reading the source code by differentiating the elements and the routines in order to make it easier for programmers to inspect their code. The text editor checks the syntax when you enter the code, and automatically alerts you about syntax issues.

A good code editor can affect your productivity and workflow tremendously. Most quality code editors provide a plethora of features such as:

  • A simple and versatile interface to make writing code more effective;
  • Functionality to help you review your code for bugs and figure out where to make changes;
  • The ability to easily personalize, so that you can build the kind of UI and user experience that suits you best;
  • More capabilities than simple text editors which do not offer features such as syntax highlighting or auto-indentations; they may either be stand-alone or be part of an IDE.

Visual Studio Code

  • Platforms supported: Windows, Linux, and macOS;
  • Supported languages: Python, JavaScript, HTML, CSS, TypeScript, C++, Java, JavaScript, PHP, Go, C #, Mysql, SQL, Ruby, JSON, Objective-C, and more;
  • Price: Free;
  • Link for more information: https://code.visualstudio.com/.

Visual Studio Code is a Microsoft-developed code editor and maybe the closest of all code editors to an IDE. It’s compact, so it won’t slow down your computer as much as an IDE, and it provides a lot of extensions so it can be just as strong as an IDE.

VS Code is fast and capable of handling a variety of tasks. It includes a number of great features, such as refactoring code, syntax highlighting, and debugging. It has an integrated terminal, as well as Git’s built-in support.

VS Code does not support WordPress out-of-the-box, but this is easily accomplished by extensions like PHP Intelephense and WordPress Snippets.

Main Features

  • It’s a free, open-source, and cross-platform editor that works on multiple OSs;
  • It implements Microsoft’s Language Server Protocol which means hover-over definitions, tips, and suggestions for any language;
  • Supports almost all of the major programming languages;
  • Very close to an IDE: it’s multi-tabbed and allows you to organize files for installed languages by folder or project. Smart editing is available for built-in languages such as JavaScript and Typescript, as well as for languages installed from extensions;
  • You can install and run debuggers even though the VS Code isn’t a full IDE. You can find 68 free debuggers, including C/C++, Java, PHP, Python, Ruby, C#, Go, Lua, Haxe, Android, and more;
  • You can easily configure the VS Code with various themes, snippets, and language support. The file settings contain the list of user and workspace settings, which is quite simple to understand. You can get down to editing straight away by using the quick links menu, which you can find on the right-hand side of the welcome screen.

Sublime Text

  • Platforms supported: Windows, Linux, and macOS;
  • Supported languages: C++, C#, CSS, HTML, Java, PHP, Python, and more;
  • Price: Personal License $70, Business License $70;
  • Link for more information: https://www.sublimetext.com/.

Sublime Text is a shareware cross-platform source code editor. It supports several programming and markup languages. Features can be added by users with plugins that are typically community-built and maintained under free software licenses.

The benefit of Sublime Text is that it’s incredibly lightweight, but it also has some of the more advanced features you’d expect from the top text editors. Sublime Text’s primary advantage is that it provides shortcuts and search tools to easily locate certain functions and make adjustments to several lines at once.

Main Features

  • Quickly insert text and code;
  • Jump the cursor to where you want to go;
  • Multiple selections;
  • Command palette;
  • Instant project switch;
  • Auto-completion.

Text Editors and Their Desired Features

Text editors are computer programs that allow users to enter, modify, archive, and print text. Usually, these editors provide an empty display screen with a fixed length and clear line numbers. You can also use them to display, print, and format text.

Writing source code and changing configuration files are perhaps the most important priorities for text editors. Text editors are structured to write source code as part of a development environment and provide automatic indentation and multiple windows for the same file. They often view reserved words of a specific programming language and bypass some of those layout codes that are embedded in the file when compiling the program. Consequently, text editors are usually much smaller in terms of program size and simpler than other editors.

Features to look for in a text editor:

  • Easy to use and navigate;
  • Functionality to handle encoded UTF-8 text;
  • Strong for managing large files;
  • Cut, copy, and paste options;
  • Syntax highlighting.

Atom

  • Platforms supported: Linux, macOS, and Microsoft Windows;
  • Supported languages: C, C++, C#, COBOL, CSS, HTML, Java, JavaScript, JSON, Perl, PHP, Ruby, Scala, SQL;
  • Price: Free;
  • Link for more information: https://atom.io/.

Atom is a newcomer to the world of text editors, but it has gained enormous popularity since it was first published in 2014. It’s a free and open-source code and source text editor with support for plug-ins written in Node.js.

Atom is robust, has a compact design, and can be manipulated and changed extensively. Atom’s package system makes it easy to find custom user-made setups, which can provide syntax highlighting and auto suggestions for almost any language.

Main Features

  • Package installer;
  • Multiple panes;
  • Cross-platform editing;
  • File system browser;
  • Find and replace tool.

Notepad++

  • Platforms supported: Microsoft Windows;
  • Supported languages: C, C++, Resource File, Java, Assembler, MS INI File, HTML, Javascript, PHP, ASP, Pascal, Python, Perl, Objective C, etc.;
  • Price: Free;
  • Link for more information: https://notepad-plus-plus.org/.

Notepad++ is a free text editor for Microsoft Windows. It includes additional functionalities not found in standard text editors. Notepad++ is written in C++, has a higher execution time, and smaller program size. The “++” after its name is a reference to the increment operator in many programming languages such as C, C++, and Java. It allows you to work in a single window with multiple open files.

Main Features

  • Line bookmarking;
  • Syntax highlighting for over 70 programming languages;
  • Finding and replacing strings of text;
  • Supports internationalization through XML files;
  • A module framework for adding features to the program.

Brackets

  • Platforms supported: Linux, macOS, and Microsoft Windows;
  • Supported languages: C++, C, VBScript to Java, JavaScript, HTML, Python, Perl, and Ruby;
  • Price: Free;
  • Link for more information: http://brackets.io/.

Brackets is a text editor specialized for web development. The most important thing about Brackets is that it’s written using a combination of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. It provides oriented visual tools and preprocessor support, making designing in the browser simple for both designers and developers.

The main benefit that comes with this program is a large number of extensions available, all of which add a lot of functionality. Brackets strives to become one of the best open-source editors on the market.

Main Features

  • The Live Preview: launches a new Chrome window showing the current page;
  • Splits the main view into two parts;
  • Easily customizable;
  • Element highlighting;
  • Supports codes from multiple file types.

Conclusion

If you’re a PHP developer, choosing an editor that suits you best will require you to choose between the many options out there, which can be overwhelming. To help you out, we provided this list with some of the best PHP IDE for development in 2020 and their main features.

Choosing between a simple text editor, a code editor, or an IDE will be the first choice you have to make. Deciding on this will largely depend on your personal style, programming language knowledge, and usage, as well as your team’s needs.

All options under every category on this list differ in the functionalities they offer, so make sure you take your time to choose what suits you best depending on what you need most.