Update April 2012: I now recommend Sublime Text for all platforms, closely followed by Komodo IDE, which has the extra feature of debugging which Sublime Text does not yet have.
Update July 2012: If you are looking for an IDE within the WordPress dashboard, check out our post on best code editors within WordPress.
A good IDE can help you program faster and better, so lets take a look at some of the most popular IDE options for WordPress development. First of all we need an IDE that is compatible with PHP, which is the programming language WordPress is written in. We also need to think about our planned usage of the IDE or file editor. Will we only be editing code occasionally, maybe to make small changes to a theme? Or will we be spending most of our time building WordPress themes or plugins? What Operating System are we using? Are we willing to spend money on an IDE?
Given that my favourite IDEs and editors are all open-source projects, you won’t be shelling out any money, we’re already off to a good start 😉
I work on PC and Linux environments so my recommendations will be for these platforms.
Quick Code Edits – Notepad++
For simple one-off editing, you can go for a lightweight editor, I recommend Notepad++ which consumes minimal resources on your PC and is a very nice editor with full PHP integration. For Linux users, you can either use Notepad++ through WINE, or else use another excellent alternative, Komodo Edit. The latter is also open-source but has a commercial version with more features (Komodo IDE).
Theme and Plugin Development – Netbeans for PHP
For fully-fledged regular WordPress development I recommend using Netbeans for PHP. It has features like code completion, easy WordPress function reference, project management, database editing, file comparison, FTP, debugging facilities and much more. It can also be extended through plugins available on the Netbeans website. Having all these features integrated into one IDE makes it easier on the developer as it eliminates the need to switch to other windows to access applications (for example Filezilla, PHPMyAdmin etc.)
The following are some important links for getting started in using Netbeans as your IDE of choice when developing in WordPress.
Recommended Plugins for Netbeans
Preview in a web browser from Netbeans itself. Enable by going to Tools > Plugins. You will find it in the list of available plugins.
PHP Manual Search
Online Manual Search from within Netbeans
Removes Task Scanning and speeds up Netbeans
Zen Coding for Netbeans
Speeds up your coding tremendously.
Adds menu entries for changing the case of selected text
How to Configure Netbeans for a WordPress Project
This tutorial shows you how to create a WordPress project within Netbeans.
Write a Simple Plugin for WordPress with Netbeans
A tutorial showing you how to create and debug a simple WordPress plugin in Netbeans.
Using Subversion with Netbeans and WordPress
Version control is something all web developers should be familiar with. Here are some guides to help you going in the right direction.
How to configure XDebug, a debugging engine used by Netbeans, useful when you want to debug your plugins.
Essential Keyboard shortcuts for Netbeans
Netbeans might take some time to get used to and configure it the way you want, but here are two good links that can help you speed up this process.
SevenBeans Productivity Module For Windows 7
A NetBeans module that makes your IDE way more productive on Windows 7.
Setting Up a Ubuntu WordPress Development Machine
Jared Heinrichs has written a truly excellent tutorial for setting up Ubuntu as a WP development machine. He goes through the whole process from installing Ubuntu to setting up WP Multisite and also recommends some good IDEs for working on Ubuntu. Highly recommended for those of you on a Linux box.
On Stackoverflow there is also an interesting thread discussing Linux alternatives to Notepad++ (including running it through WINE).
Other Good Alternatives
Of course this is by no means an exhaustive list, there are many other popular IDEs and editors which you may find useful. While the above choices seem to be the most popular, many developers also make use of the following products, which you may want to try out before making a final decision:
- Komodo Edit (free)
- Sublime Text 2
- PhpStorm (commercial)
- Aptana Studio (open-source)
- Microsoft WebMatrix (free)
- Adobe Dreamweaver (commercial)
Know any other good IDEs and Editors? Let us know about your preferred tools in the comments section!