PHP IDE: The10 Best IDEs for PHP Programmers

best php ide

All set to get your hands dirty with PHP? PHP IDE is the first tool that you need to get started with PHP programming. There are many IDEs available in the market, both free and paid, and selecting one can be a difficult task.

It is absolutely possible to get started with PHP programming in a basic text editor, like notepad, but better is to start off with a feature rich and complete PHP IDE like NetBeans. PHPStorm, VIM, Zend Studio, Cloud9 or Atom, specifically if it is about professional web development and not just hobby.

A good IDE comes packed with tons of features and facilitates rapid development and effective PHP programming. Integrated development environment is developer’s playground and better is to spend time upfront to select an IDE that best fits requirements.

Which one should you go for? This question is for you and the decision depends on what you need, like, and can afford. It is not a bad idea to try a few before closing on to one.

There are many cross platform IDEs that are supported on Windows, Linux and Mac and are available for free download. If you are a beginner web developer, planning to learn PHP, my recommendation is to go ahead with freely available IDEs like NetBeans, VIM, Atom or Eclipse PDT.

Enterprises and professional developers can also get the job done with these free IDEs but there are commercial and more advanced IDEs available as well that are backed by enterprises and support latest and modern set of features. These IDEs include PHPStorm, Sublime Text, Zend Studio, Nusphere, PHPED, PHP Designer and Cloud 9, to name a few.

If your idea is to simply play around with PHP coding without setting up your system, then online PHP IDE like PHPfiddle.com can also be tried. Other simple online options include witephponline.com and ideone.com.

Let us check out the 10 best PHP IDE available out there in the wild that are feature rich, most popular, modern, and loved by PHP developers around the globe.

1. NetBeans - Best PHP IDE (Free Tier)

NetBeans is the PHP IDE for masses, it is feature rich, free and supports multiple languages, including English, Japanese, Russian, Brazilian Portuguese, and Simplified Chinese. Free version of NetBeans dates back to 2010 when it was first made open source by Sun Microsystems, acquired by Oracle later on.

Since its release, NetBeans has been downloaded more than 18 million times and boasts one of the biggest communities of developers working on an open source integrated development environment.

Gone are the days when NetBeans used to be slow and was known only for Java development, the current stable release of NetBeans is lightweight, much faster and supports everything PHP. It has out of the box support for popular PHP frameworks like Zend, Doctrine, Smarty and Symfony2, support for Laravel via laravel-ide-helper and support for other frameworks like Yii, CakePHP, FuelPHP and Wordpress CMS.

Some of the key features that keep NetBeans on top of the list include code generation tools like getter setter generation, code templates, smart code completion, hints, quick fixes and refactoring. Other basic features supported include code folding and formatting, try/catch code completion and rectangular selection etc.

When it comes to debugging, you can either use command line or xDebug both locally and remotely. Web development includes javascript, HTML and CSS, NetBeans PHP Editor provides support for these all, out of the box. All these features easily make NetBeans as the best open source PHP IDE.

The next release is planned for August 2016 with full support to PHP 7, You can download current version of NetBeans here at – netbeans download.

Read more about NetBeans at official website here at - netbeans.org.

2. PHPStorm- Best IDE for PHP (Commercial Version)

PHPStorm is a full featured IDE for PHP and comes packed with most modern set of features that facilitate rapid web development. It is developed and marketed by company named JetBrains. JetBrains is among the most loved companies in developer tools market and is making coding easier and enjoyable for developers for last 15 years.

PHPStorm works well with major frameworks like Symfony, Zend Framework, Yii, CakePHP, Laravel and with major CMS systems like Drupal, Magento and Wordpress.

Any web development project is not complete without front end technologies and that is where PHPStorm shines the most, it offers live editing of almost all front end technologies like CSS, Sass, HTML5, CoffeeScript, TypeScript, JavaScript, Stylus, Less etc. with support for code refactoring, debugging and unit testing.

When it comes to developer tools, it offer integration with version control systems, databases/sql, composer, remote deployment, vagrant, rest client, command line tools and what not.

From debugging perspective, it works with Zend Debugger and Xdebug, both locally and remotely.

PHPStorm is an enterprise grade IDE, comes with a license cost, and mainly targets professional developers. It however, is offered, free of cost to teachers, students and for open source projects.

The popularity of PHP Storm can be gauged from the fact that big brands like Expedia,Yahoo, Cisco, Salesforce and wikipedia have also purchased PHPStorm IDE licenses in the past.

You can download the trial version (free for 30 days) of PHPStorm here at – Download PHPStorm trial version.

You can read more about PHP Storm at – jetbrains.com/phpstorm.

3. Sublime Text 3 / PHP IDE

Sublime Text 3 is one of my favorites and a competing candidate for the most powerful text editors of all times. It is lightweight, feature rich and is supported on Windows, OSX and Linux. Sublime text editor is built to derive its powers via plugins and packages.

There are many PHP packages available out there in the wild that help transform this elegant editor into an elegant Sublime PHP IDE. Some of the most useful and notable package for this purpose include -  package control, Sublime PHP companion, xDebug client - CodeBug, PHPCS, CodIntel, Simple PHPUnit and PHPDoc.

Once you setup sublime text 3 as a PHP IDE with help of add on packages, you get elegance of sublime text as well as powers of PHP at one place, for an absolute ease of PHP development.

You can read more about Sublime Text here - sublimetext.com.

4. Eclipse PDT

Eclipse PDT (PHP Development Tools) is another open source option that costs you nothing. Eclipse has a huge community of developers working on all kinds of plugins, required to empower Eclipse with features that any other top class IDE like Storms PHP, NetBeans and Zend studio has to offers.

It is a little bit of a task in the beginning to get started with Eclipse as compared to other commercial IDEs but the effort is worth the money you save. Saving on licenses is the biggest advantage if you ask for a comparison between Eclipse PDT and PHPStorm or Zend Studio. if you are an old time Eclipse lover, you will feel home with Eclipse PDT.

Some say that Eclipse is slow and let me be honest, it is slow when your system configuration sucks while other commercial products comparatively perform better. However, the basic laptop configuration these days itself is good enough to run Eclipse fast enough to not let you notice any lags.

Some of the key features include syntax highlighting, code assist, code formatter, refactoring, code templates, code navigation, php debugging, syntax validation and eclipse ecosystem that boasts a huge community, a supportive one.

To start with, you can download Eclipse package for PHP developers which comes packed with PHP language support, XML Editor, Git client and Mylyn.

The download is available for Mac OS X, Windows and Linux. You can read more about Eclipse PDT here at - eclipse.org/pdt/.

5. VIM

VIM is an open source text editor available under GPL license and is free to download and use. It is very popular among the developers community and is one of the most advanced text editors. Facebook engineers have been using VIM earlier for PHP coding before they moved to their own language, Hack.

We know VIM best as a text editor with multitude of features, but it offers nothing less than a full fledged PHP development environment when configuration is done carefully to suit PHP development.

If you are among the developers who love working with keyboards only, VIM is the way to go, it is  modular, lightweight, and fast.

Looking for a Linux PHP IDE, VIM is the way to go and the concept is more like Sublime Text 3, VIM also needs plugins to get converted to an IDE like PHPStorm or Netbeans, you need to configure lots of plugins which take some efforts in the beginning but what you get in the end is worth the efforts.

VIM can easily be counted as free IDE for PHP. You can read more about VIM here at - vim.org.

6. Zend Studio

Zend Studio is another best in class commercial PHP IDE from the development house of the company named Zend and targets professional web developers.

Zend as a company offers everything PHP and has over 40, 000 clients using one or other of its products that helps make PHP development an absolute breeze. Some of its key clients include DHL, Credit Suisse, BNP Paribas and Agilent Technologies.

Zend Studio is supported on Windows, OS X and Linux and works with latest PHP versions including PHP 7. Zend Studio comes with an intuitive user interface and offers most of the modern features and tools that help speed up PHP and web development in general. Some of the key features of Zend Studio includes -

  • Faster performance in validation, indexing and searching PHP code.
  • Debugging with Zend Debugger, Xdebug and integration with Z-Ray.
  • Support for Eclipse plugins eco system.
  • Docker and Git Flow support.
  • Intelligent code editor supporting PHP, Javascript, CSS, HTML.
  • Deployment support including cloud support for Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS.
  • Assistance for PHP 7 express migration and seamless integration with Zend server

An interesting and power feature of Zend is its support for mobile app development on top of existing PHP apps and server backend. This gives a head start in development when it comes to complementing existing websites and web apps with mobile apps.

You can read more about Zend Studio here at - Zend Studio for PHP.

7. Atom

Atom is a modern text editor built by GitHub folks and offered free of cost under MIT license. Atom has an ecosystem of its own with huge community behind it and tons of plugins and packages available to extend its functionality.

Atom is truly hackable which means you can turn Atom into your own dream editor since it is extensible and highly customizable. Furthermore, it is a true cross platform option with support for Windows, OS X, Debian Linux (Ubuntu), Red Hat Linux and Fedora 22+.

How to turn Atom into PHP IDE Free?

When it comes to PHP, there are many packages available that transform Atom editor into a fully loaded IDE for PHP which is not only free of cost but nothing less than many of the commercial PHP IDEs.

The packages you need to turn atom editor into a fully functional free PHP IDE include hyperclick-php, php-cs-fixer, php-integrator-base, linter-php, atom-autocomplete-php etc. to name a few. You can check out the complete list here at Github - https://atom.io/packages/search?q=php

You can read more about Atom here at - atom.io.

8. NuSphere

NuSphere is another company that is dedicated in developing PHP products to step up web development experience and PHPED is the IDE they have to offer.

The company is based out of Reno, Nevada in United States and released the first version of PHPED Editor back in 2001 when PHP itself was gaining grounds.

The latest release of PHP Editor IDE supports PHP 7 and most of the PHP frameworks including Laravel, Yii, Symfony etc. and Content management systems like Joomla and Wordpress. The additional feature with the latest release is the ability to run unit tests for both local and remote projects.

In summary, NuSphere PHPED IDE is a full stack web development tool that comes packed with support for javascript debugging, CSS preprocessing with LESS preprocessor, HTML5, of course, and everything else PHP.

Having said that, I would rate Zend and PHPStorm higher than NuSphere in terms of elegance, customer support, better documentation  and release management, in the commercial space.

You can read more about NuSphere here at - nusphere.com.

CodeLobster

There is another good product named CodeLobster that gives a close competition to NuSphere. With recent release, CodeLobster has gone very aggressive, it now supports almost everything PHP including Twig templates, Drupal, Joomla, wordpress, Yii, Symfony, Laravel, AngularJs, jQuery, Phalcon, smarty, CodeIgniter, CakePHP and nodejs too.  

You can read more about Codelobster here at - codelobster.com.

9. PHP Designer

PHP Designer is another good IDE that helps speed up web development workflow and offers built in support for PHP, JavaScript, CSS and HTML. It is the PHP IDE for Windows users only, skip it past if your operating system is Mac, Linux or anything else.

You can read  more about PHP Designer here at - PHP Designer.

10. Cloud 9 - Best PHP IDE in the Cloud

Cloud 9 is the cloud IDE used for almost all programming languages. In cloud based programming environments, there is no one else even close to Cloud9 in terms of features and popularity. For PHP, it offers built in debugger to for real time code inspection. 

You can get started with a free version where you get one free public workspace and on free private workspace, for anything more, you need to go for commercial version of Cloud9.

Read more about Cloud9 here at - cloud9.

Conclusion

PHP is the most popular and comprehensive programming language for web development and there are many PHP IDEs available since the beginning of time, the approach to programming has changed drastically over the period of time and so have the PHP IDEs.

Most of the IDEs covered in this article come with different flavors but the common goal is speed web development with manageable and scalable code. Take a closer look, list down some of your key requirements and pick the one that best fits your needs, there is at least one great PHP ide for Linux and PHP ide Mac and PHP ide for Windows for sure.

Let us know your experience with PHP programming and the best PHP IDE of your choice via comments, cheers!!

About The Author: noeticsunil

Sunil is the founder and contributing editor at noeticforce.com. He writes about anything and everything that makes modern mobile apps, web apps and websites possible. Passionate about coding in any language including Python, Swift, JavaScript, PHP, Java, Android & iOS dev, not excluding CSS/HTML. 

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