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The 10 Best PHP Programming Tools

PHP Programming Tool
1 NetBeans A PHP IDE (Integrated Development Environment) is the first tool needed by anyone wanting to get his/her hands dirty with the PHP programming language. As there are several different PHP IDEs available in the marketplace, in both paid and free categories, selecting the right one can be very difficult sometimes.

While you can also start PHP coding using some basic text editor such as notepad, making use of a comprehensive and feature-rich PHP IDE such as NetBeans can give you that right feel of professional web development, rather than it being some side-hobby.

NetBeans is a widely used PHP IDE by the masses. Considering the fact that it supports multiple languages (including simplified Chinese, Brazilian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and English), is free of cost and is feature-rich makes it the most preferred option of a large majority of PHP developers everywhere.

Its free version was released in the year 2010 when Sun Microsystems (taken over by Oracle later) made it available for the first time as an open source. Ever since its release, it has been downloaded by more than 18 million users and has one of the biggest PHP developers’ communities actively working on this open source IDE.

NetBeans is no longer slow or only meant for Java development like it once used to be. Its current stable release is extremely fast, lightweight and supports everything to do with PHP. The out-of-the-box support offered by NetBeans for the popular PHP frameworks such as Symfony2, Smarty, Doctrine, Zend Laravel support via Laravel-IDE-Helper as well as support for other popular frameworks like WordPress CMS, Fuel PHP, CakePHP and Yii makes it the go-to PHP IDE for everyone.

Some of the prominent features that keep NetBeans far ahead of the competition include various code generation tools such as refactoring, code templates, quick fixes, getter setter generation, hints and smart code completion. Other supported features include rectangular selection, try/catch code completion, code folding, code formatting etc. With regard to debugging, you can make remote or local use of xDebug or command line.

Netbeans PHP Editor includes out-of-the-box support for CSS, HTML and Javascript. All the above detailed aspects make NetBeans easily the best-of-its-kind open source PHP IDE.

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2 Xdebug Whenever we talk about debugging code written in PHP, we are essentially referring to debug_backtrace(), exit (), prit_r() and var_dump(). While the developers using C# or Java have powerful debugging tools available to them, often integrated with the IDEs, the same can’t be said about PHP.

Being involved with web development, the programmer is essentially dealing with plenty of scripts running on the server and manual debugging of each one of them can be a very painful task. This is where a tool like Xdebug comes into the picture.

Xdebug is an open source and free of cost tool developed by Derick Rethans, and is unarguably one of the most extensively-used useful extensions in PHP. When you use Xdebug you won’t get just the basic debugging support, but code coverage, profiling, stack traces and much more.

Some of the important features of Xdebug are:
- Ability to add breakpoints and pause script execution to see the exact state of your PHP application at that point of time.
- It is supported by a large majority of modern-day Integrated Development Environments (IDEs),
- Xdebug completely replaces var_dump(), print_r() or echo().
- While Xdebug supports PHP 7, it is also fully compatible with the older PHP versions such as PHP 5.

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3 PHPStorm This one’s a comprehensive and full-featured Integrated Development Environment for PHP which comes equipped with the most modern feature set for easy and rapid development of web applications. Created and marketed by a company known as JetBrains, considered as one of the best companies in the developer tools marketplace, PHPStorm makes coding an enjoyable and easy affair for developers everywhere.

It works very well with majority of PHP frameworks such as Laravel, Zend, Symfony, CakePHP and Yii as well as with popular CMS systems such as WordPress, Magento and Drupal.

You cannot considered a web development project complete without the involvement of front-end technologies and that’s where an IDE like PHPStorm leaves its mark very well, as it provides live editing for almost all the major front-end technologies such as JavaScript, CSS, HTML 5, Stylus, Typescript, Sass, Less, CoffeeScript and others, with comprehensive support for unit testing, debugging and code refactoring.

Talking about the developer tools, PHPStorm provides easy integration with command line tools, remote deployment, version control systems, composer, databases/SQL, rest client, vagrant and much more.

With regard to debugging, it works efficiently with Xdebug and Zend debugger, both remotely as well as locally.

At core, PHPStorm is an enterprise level IDE that involves certain license costs and is mainly targeted at the pro-level PHP developers. However, it can be availed free of cost by students, teachers and people involved in open source projects. Its popularity can be ascertained from the fact that even big brands such as Salesforce, Wikipedia, Cisco, Yahoo and Expedia have purchased and used PHPStorm IDE licenses.

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4 Laravel An extensively preferred and favored PHP framework by almost 50% of all the combined users of this programming language, Laravel distinguishes itself from the rest as it employs WVC architecture (having most of the Laravel package) along with queue management. There are several user-friendly videos and specific course content designed for helping beginners with the entire process, up till the completion point. Laravel applications are rapid as well as elegant.

A Sitepoint survey carried out on the PHP users showed that they found Laravel framework to have robust features, excellent documentation and a rapidly growing support community, thus making it a clear winner among many PHP frameworks.

Laravel framework facilitates various specific packages, for instance, Eloquent ORM, Blade Templating Engine, RESTful controllers, Middleware, Artisan, PHPUnit for Unit testing and the first PHP framework to introduce abstract routing. Owing to its extensive list of features, many companies have started offering Laravel Development Services for the growth of their businesses.

Counted amongst the most significant functionalities of Laravel is the manner in which it handles NoSQL structures such as MongoDB and others, making it a go-to framework for many PHP developers. Furthermore, it’s comfortable and easy to get started with for any developer, because of its excellent documentation.

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5 CodeIgniter CodeIgniter is yet another extremely powerful PHP framework that’s known for its non-complex installation and flexibility. As it offers an easy learning curve, CodeIgniter PHP framework has emerged as the ideal one for the beginning PHP developers.

In addition, as it is less complex and lightweight, it can be easily installed through direct upload to the hosting website. Just like the Laravel PHP framework, this one is also considered the ideal tool for rapid development of applications. Not only does it make it extremely easy to develop powerful web applications in quick time, it has a very helpful and vast community, apart from extensive documentation.

Furthermore, CodeIgniter is backed by the British Columbia Institute of technology, ensuring that it would grow and develop continuously in the future.

Talking a bit about its features, it consists of various built-in libraries for sessions, email, unit testing and more. In the event you aren’t able to find a library relevant to your purpose, you can even create your own and show your generosity by sharing it with the community!

Some of the other notable features of CodeIgniter are:
– A strong security system which includes inbuilt protection against various types of attacks including CSRF and XSS.
– Exceptional performance capability; you can see it outperforming a large majority of its competitors on a consistent basis
– Has a small footprint specifically for the use of developers who wish for simple yet elegant toolkits
– Easy to read and clearly laid-out documentation, references, tutorials and user guides

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6 PHPUnit Considered one of the best-recognized testing frameworks for easy testing and debugging of the PHP applications, PHPUnit doesn’t go about testing the entire PHP application in one go, but instead divides it into several different segments, referred to as units, and then does that job one by one.

It’s a unit testing framework meant specifically for the PHP programming language. A xUnit architecture instance for the unit testing frameworks (which started out with SUnit and gained popularity with JUnit), it was developed by Sebastian Bergmann and is an open source tool from GitHub.

PHPUnit is considered highly useful as it saves time involved in checking the complete application, by allowing you to carry out tests on specific units. You can initiate PHPUnit either through a simple command line or through test cases which can be extended accordingly. PHPUnit also enables developers to make use of predefined assertion methods for better testing of the PHP apps.

The primary idea behind creation of PHP unit was to help developers with easy spotting of mistakes in newly written code and to make sure that there is no code regression in the other parts of the code. Quite like the other unit testing frameworks, PHPUnit also employs assertions for verifying that a specific ‘unit’ of the code behaves as expected.

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7 Selenium Selenium is an open source and free of cost automated testing tool for web applications across different platforms and browsers. The tool is very much like HP Quick Test Pro or HP QTP (which is now UFT) in the manner that is focused on the automation of web-based applications. Any type of testing done with the help of Selenium tool is normally referred to as selenium testing, by the developers. It isn’t just a single standalone tool, but instead a suite of different software, each one of them catering to the specific testing requirements of the developer. There are 4 essential components that constitute selenium:
– Web driver
– Selenium RC (remote control)
– Selenium IDE (integrated development environment)
– Selenium Grid

For a very long time, Selenium RC continued to be the flagship testing framework of the entire selenium project. It’s a first-of-its-kind automated web testing tool which enables coders to use any programming language of their choice. Many PHP developers everywhere make regular use of Selenium for testing their PHP codes.

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8 Kint A quick look at Kint would give you the feeling that it’s only a good-looking replacement for debug_backtrace(), print_r() and var_dump(), which offers nothing more than an improved debug experience. However, closer inspection would reveal that Kint Debugger actually makes debugging and dumping variables a far pleasant experience.

It’s essentially a tool designed for best possible presentation of the debugging data. Furthermore, it integrates seamlessly with the Debug Bar plugin. Following are some of the very useful features of this popular PHP debugging tool:
– Easy visibility of the entire Kint output, enabling you to the debug comfortably in a live environment.
– Clear display of the variable name and the file + line, from where Kint was called upon.
– Automatic detection and formatting of CLI.
– Display of variable content in a very informative manner, ensuring that you never miss out on anything. Developers behind Kint have gone the extra mile to ensure that you see every single piece of available information related to whatever you’re dumping.

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9 Eclipse PDT The PDT in Eclipse PDT stands for PHP Development Tools. It’s a very useful open source option for your PHP development needs. There is a huge community of developers behind Eclipse who continuously work on all types of PHP plug-ins required for equipping this tool with features comparable to that of other world-class IDEs such as Netbeans, PHPStorm, Zend and others.

While it may seem like a little bit of a task starting out with Eclipse, specifically compared to the commercial level IDEs out there, however, once you get started you’ll see that this initial effort is worth every penny saved in the future! The primary savings are on the licenses (considered the biggest benefit of Eclipse). And anyone who has used Eclipse in the past would automatically feel at home while working with Eclipse PDT.

Many developers have expressed that they find Eclipse to be slightly on the slower side, but to be brutally honest, you would inevitably find it slow if your system configuration isn’t up to the mark, particularly compared to the other commercial products. Regardless, even the basic laptop configuration nowadays is good enough to make the best use of Eclipse, without encountering any sort of lags.

Some of the prominent features of Eclipse PDT are: code templates, syntax validation, syntax highlighting, code formatter, PHP debugging, code navigation, code assist, refactoring and a solid Eclipse ecosystem which boasts of a big supportive community.

To begin, you can quickly download the Eclipse package meant for PHP developers. It comes equipped with PHP language support, Git client, XML Editor and Mylyn.

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10 CakePHP Counted amongst the oldest PHP frameworks, CakePHP continues to have a very loyal user base, which is growing gradually as well as continuously. Its portfolio is also fairly impressive boasting of big brand names like BMW and Express. As is the case with CodeIgnitor, CakePHP also serves as an ideal PHP framework for the starting-out programmers. It’s also supportive of rapid development of commercial level web applications.

You get built-in code generation facility, along with scaffolding functionality that significantly increases the development speed. Apart from that, there are numerous packages to help you with the general functionalities. CakePHP’s configuration process is also a breeze, and does away with the unwanted and complicated files like the YAML or XML config files.

Couple of important features worth mentioning separately are: faster builds and security features (which include specific measures for prevention of cyber-attacks).

Other prominent features of CakePHP include:
– Has everything included in the form of built-ins, including translations, validation, authentication, database access and caching.
– Comprises of a set of conventions designed specifically for helping you during the app development phase.
– Supports PHP 5 and PHP 4 too.
– You can make effective use of both scaffolding and code generation features, enabling rapid development of prototypes.

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What is PHP programming?

PHP essentially is the acronym for Hypertext Preprocessor (recursive backronym), which until sometime ago used to stand for Personal Home Pages. It’s a server side scripting language which is employed for development of dynamic websites, static websites or useful web applications.

A PHP code can be embedded into an HTML code, or can even be employed in combination with different web frameworks, web content management systems and web template systems.

The scripts written in PHP programming language can only be interpreted on a server if it has PHP installed on it. On the other hand, the client computers that access these PHP scripts can do so through web browsers too.

A PHP file has a PHP extension, that is ‘.php’, and consists of PHP tags.

PHP syntax

Following is the syntax used in PHP:

< ?php
Echo ‘Hi People!’;
? >

Some prerequisites for learning PHP

A PHP file may also comprise of tags like the client side scripts (JavaScript) and/or HTML. Anyone who wishes to learn and master PHP would be highly benefited if s/he is already thorough with HTML. Although PHP can be learnt even without understanding HTML, you should at least be aware of the HTML basics.

Knowledge of database management systems (DBMS) or relational database management systems (RDBMS) can be highly beneficial for anyone wanting to learn PHP programming with MySQL, or for creation of any database powered application.

You would need to learn both XML and JavaScript if you wish to develop more interactive web services and applications.

Though you may be already aware, just to refresh things up, let’s throw some light on the scripting language.

What’s meant by a scripting language?

A script is nothing but a set of grouped-together programming instructions which are interpreted by the system at runtime. So, a scripting language is a programming language which interprets these scripts at runtime. These scripts are normally embedded in other different software environments. Talking about their purpose, these scripts are meant to perform certain application-related routine tasks or for enhancing the performance of an application.

While JavaScript is a type of client side script which is interpreted inside the client’s web browser, PHP is a type of server side script whose interpretation happens on the Web server. Both JavaScript as well as PHP can be embedded into the HTML pages.

How a scripting language is different from programming language?

A scripting language is normally used for routine tasks and its code gets executed without the need of compiling. Furthermore, it’s normally embedded into different software environments.

A programming language on the other hand consists of all the features required for development of complete applications. Its code must be compiled prior to execution and it doesn’t need to be embedded into different languages or software environments.

Why should you use PHP?

You might have obviously heard about all kinds of programming languages for web applications. Hence, it’s alright to question why should you use PHP for web programming purposes? Following are some important reasons why PHP should be your ideal web programming language:
– PHP comes free of cost and is open source
– A large majority of web hosting servers are compatible with PHP by default, unlike in case of other languages such as ASP, which requires IIS. Hence, PHP becomes an automatic cost-effective choice.
– It has a shorter learning curve compared to the other popular languages like ESP, JSP etc.
– There is a large community document associated with PHP
– PHP is cross-platform in nature implying that your PHP application can be easily deployed on many different operating systems including Mac OS, Linux and Windows.
– PHP is regularly updated and is always in time with the latest technological trends.
– There is an inbuilt support in PHP for MySQL. Please note, this doesn’t imply that you cannot use other database management systems with PHP. PHP can also be used with Oracle, ODBC, MS SQL Server, Postgres etc.
– Another major benefit you get with the use of PHP is that it’s essentially a server side scripting language. It implies that it needs to be installed only on the Web server and the client computers making requests for resources need not have PHP installed on them. They can request and use such resources through a web browser alone.

As also highlighted earlier, PHP is an extensively used server side scripting language. It serves a good number of popular websites such as WordPress, Facebook, Digg and several more. There are some very good reasons why more and more web developers are going with PHP for their web development requirements, especially over the other prominent server side scripting languages like Python, Ruby and more.

The list of PHP advantages detailed above show that it is particularly meant to make the development process more effective, fast and easy for programmers. The growing popularity of PHP has resulted in a huge number of free and paid PHP tools becoming available on the Internet.

While there are a good number of such advanced level and basic PHP tools, it can sometimes be very difficult to find the best resource for your specific needs. Considering the huge number of options available, it can also become very hard to go with the right one.

That’s the precise reason we came up with a comprehensive list of the top 10 PHP web development tools. This list comprises of both the basic as well as advanced-level tools that can be equally beneficial for beginners as well as seasoned PHP programmers. Not only can these tools help you significantly improve your web development workflow, they also show you ways of accessing innumerable classes and libraries that support profiling, debugging, code authoring and testing in PHP.