|By Peter MacIntyre||
|November 29, 2007 10:00 PM EST||
In my many years of programming, almost 20 years now, I have used countless integrated development environments (IDEs). I have used everything from a simple text editor all the way up to the high-end IDEs that Sybase, IBM, and Oracle use. More recently I have come to embrace the open source movement and development in Web environments. My programming language of choice for these days is PHP, so it stands to reason that I would be looking for an IDE. Like so many other developers I followed the path of looking for the pinnacle of IDEs for PHP. I started with basic text editors, moved into text editors with code colorizations, and then into project-based development environments, and finally to a fully robust IDE. The one that I've been using for a few years now is Zend's Studio Professional.
Zend decided to join in with the Eclipse community that was founded by IBM a number of years ago, and I think it's a great idea. The benefit of joining with the Eclipse community is many and varied. Since Eclipse was primarily established as a Java development environment it has grown by leaps and bounds in add-on libraries, which is just one popular area.
Zend saw this as a great place to cozy up and has been developing a professional version of its PDT environment (released earlier this year) for over a year now. The PDT version is its open source freeware version of an editor IDE that's based on Eclipse foundation materials.
This article will introduce you to the Professional version that's soon to be released. It's just been put into a public beta so if you get interested in trying it out, now's the time.
First Look - An Overview
The first thing you have to do after getting the software is of course to install it. Zend has ensured that Studio for Eclipse will work on all major operating systems and this review will cover its operation on Windows. The installation process is very straightforward and employs an install wizard.
Figure 1 shows one of the initial installation screens where you are select some of the tool options that are also included. Once the installation is done and you start up the application you'll be presented with the default PHP perspective shown here as Figure 2.
Take some time to look at Figure 2 to familiarize yourself with the layout. Seasoned users of Eclipse shouldn't see too many surprises here; only the content and the context will be different. There are a few "views" that are used in the initial perspective that are used to aid the developer with PHP code development.
The first view to look at is in the top left corner of Figure 2. This is the PHP Project Explorer. Here you can manage all the files and associations related to a single project. The great thing about this view is that you can manage more than one project at a time and so draw on code or techniques that you may have used in other projects. One other thing I like a lot here is the "Link with Editor" toggle on the project view's toolbar (); it lets the developer connect the editor with any file in the project, so that once the file gains focus in the project explorer it's automatically opened in the code editor window on the left. As I said this is a toggle, so it can be turned on and off at your discretion.
The Code Editor
Also notice in Figure 2 that the main view is the code editor. This is where you'll be doing most of your code development. The code editor view has many little features that become very valuable over time. This is a tabbed interface, so you can have as many code files open as you like. Some of the valuable features alluded to are: code colorization, code folding, and syntax checking. You can see what the code colorization is doing in this figure, the HTML directives are in green, the PHP functions are in blue, PHP variables are in red, and so on. This certainly helps a developer see if a variable is misnamed or a function misspelled.
The next feature that I mentioned is code folding. Notice that to the left of the function definitions and the major HTML directives like <Table> and <Body> there are little plus and minus icons. When clicked they toggle between collapsing or expanding code. This lends itself to moving code that you don't want to see temporarily out of view to focus on other sections. This doesn't delete the code it just "folds" it out of the way for you.
Lastly, syntax checking, this is Studio's ability to check your code as you write it and make sure that you have complete code "thoughts." It lets you know when you have mismatched braces, incorrect function calls, misnamed variables, and so on. Also, part of this syntax checking will be preformed within the collection of smaller views at the bottom of this perspective. Another tabbed interface shows a collection of code issues, what type they are (warning or error), and what line in the code they're found in. The tab can also be seen in Figure 2 labeled "Problems."
Those are just a few of the features that Studio for Eclipse has to offer. One of my favorites is code completion. This is the editor's ability to suggest the completion of the code that you're writing. It happens as you type and is quite intuitive. As shown in Figure 3, I'm typing the beginning of a MySQL PHP function, but all I've typed is "mysql_"; the pop-up box displays the functions that studio knows about that would complete what's already been typed, and pressing enter will choose the first item on the list of suggestions and insert it into the editor for you. You can select other offerings from the list with your mouse pointer and double-click on it to choose it for insertion.
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