WordPress provides loads of features out of the box for website development. These are sufficient for almost any requirement you might have in a website you build or maintain.
WordPress developers though, like any developer, can benefit from 3rd party tools that can make their life easier and increase productivity. In this article, we’re going to take a look at some great tools that were built for that purpose.
IDEs (Integrated Development Environments)
A PHP Developer who constantly evolves, sooner or later, will find themselves with issues regarding organizing and maintaining their code. This is where Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) can be useful, and WordPress websites are no exception.
An IDE is an application to help you build software that combines common developer tools into a single UI. Typically, it is a combination of a source code editor, local build automation and a debugger, all neatly packaged under the same interface. Its purpose is to make building software easier for developers by giving them all they need in the same application.
With the help of the editor, the developer can get intelligent assistance while coding, which will save time, organize the code better and improve its readability. Also, it can assist when it comes to working with other members of a team as we will see later on in this article.
One of the most valuable features an IDE provides is Code Completion. Variables, functions, methods, classes, keywords, every code structure is invoked when typing which can save you a significant amount of stress and time when it comes to checking the spelling, syntax or typos over and over again.
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Having PHP standards included along with the associated documentation is also a big help with classes, operators, declarations and other PHP standards.
An IDE also comes with features to help you display your output at any time such as terminals or virtual environments.
You are also provided with tools to connect with your database and modify data or run queries, even visualize tables or database structure using built-in diagrams.
A Debugger is a tool that helps you troubleshoot when something is not working properly when testing your project. It can take you step by step through the execution of the code, with specific lines executed until you trace the area responsible for the error.
Using an IDE makes sharing a development environment far easier and much more productive. The fact that you do not have to install and configure your editor, virtual environment and debugger separately helps ensure that team members are all on the same page from a software perspective. The IDE configuration may be more complicated, but it is still easier to synchronize the settings of just one piece of software across the team. In addition, contributing to the project is quicker and more secure for all members.
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Navigation within IDEs is also highly customizable with the user able to change their workspace view by rearranging all its panels as they see fit.
In summary, using an IDE tends to be well worth it. The only real downsides tend to be that projects can be slow to open as so many files are loaded simultaneously and there is a steep learning curve when it comes to configuring an IDE at the outset. The benefits however definitely outweigh these relatively minor downsides.
Which IDE Should a WordPress Developer Use?
There are lots of popular PHP IDEs to choose from. Too many to review them all in fact! So, we’ll list the ones that we personally have used and enjoyed.
PhpStorm for WordPress Website Development
One of the favorite IDEs for PHP developers is PhpStorm. It is a cross-platform software that helps developers create better and more complex applications, for both back-end and front-end technologies by providing a range of great features and combined with excellent usability.
Code completion, refactoring and error checking are all performed in a smart manner in PhpStorm. Error reduction can be significant as errors are highlighted as you code which means you can quickly correct mistakes. Hints are also provided that will assist you in improving the formatting and readability of your code.
It also provides a great visual debugger and unit testing along with tools to help you manage and administer your database.
NOTE: Unit testing is a process that tests all the “units” -the individual components- of your software in isolation so that you can make sure the code works correctly. Even if you’re not writing unit tests at the moment, we highly recommend you write testable code as it will save you a lot of time refactoring later if you ever decide to write tests.
PhpStorm integrates with most of the major PHP frameworks and libraries and, of course, it supports MySQL.
Apart from the tools that will improve your code quality, PhpStorm includes a docker integration for your local development.
For what it offers, PhpStorm is considered lightweight and its interface and features can really help improve a developer’s productivity.
We used PhpStorm ourselves when we had to create an Object-Oriented WordPress plugin for Pressidium. It really helped us ensure we got to where we wanted to be in our development without things getting chaotic with too many files and lines of code.
VS Code for WordPress Website Development
A popular free IDE solution for WordPress website development is Visual Studio Code. It is an open-source project by Microsoft that has been growing ever since it was launched in 2015. This great software is also backed up by excellent community support.
VS Code is a cross-platform application and also provides a built-in debugger that is well designed. It is cleverly configured so you can quickly jump right in and use it and offers a great library of extensions for you to add things like more languages and debuggers. You can customize the appearance as you see fit.
Its modern interface combined with the fact that you can adapt its features to your personal needs was the reason that many developers prefer it over IDEs like Eclipse and Netbeans.
Despite being a very complex application, it is very easy to use as well as being very stable.
Although many may view VS Code primarily as an Editor, the range of extensions available means it really is considered more as an IDE and the best choice for many developers who are looking for a free alternative to premium IDEs.