Best IDE for WordPress Development

  Introduction
In this article we explore the various PHP IDE options available for editing WordPress files and building themes and plugins. We expand on our two winners: Notepad++ and Netbeans for PHP.
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Table of contents

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++

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).

Download Notepad++

Theme and Plugin Development – Netbeans for PHP

netbeans-screenshot

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.)

Download Netbeans for PHP

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

Web Preview
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

ScanOnDemand
Removes Task Scanning and speeds up Netbeans

Zen Coding for Netbeans
Speeds up your coding tremendously.

Change Case
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.

http://wiki.netbeans.org/ConfiguringNetBeansProjectForWordPress

Write a Simple Plugin for WordPress with Netbeans

A tutorial showing you how to create and debug a simple WordPress plugin in Netbeans.

http://netbeans.org/kb/docs/php/wordpress-screencast.html

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.

http://netbeans.org/kb/docs/ide/subversion.html

http://wiki.netbeans.org/TutorialUsingSVNLocalRepository

http://www.jeangalea.com/web-development/create-local-repository-subversion-netbeans/

Configuring XDebug

How to configure XDebug, a debugging engine used by Netbeans, useful when you want to debug your plugins.

http://wiki.netbeans.org/HowToConfigureXDebug

http://www.xdebug.org/download.php

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.

http://www.phpmag.ru/2009/01/23/extremely-usefull-netbeans-shortcuts/

http://netbeanside61.blogspot.com/2008/04/top-10-netbeans-ide-keyboard-shortcuts.htm

SevenBeans Productivity Module For Windows 7

A NetBeans module that makes your IDE way more productive on Windows 7.

http://www.strixcode.com/sevenbeans/

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:

Know any other good IDEs and Editors? Let us know about your preferred tools in the comments section!

Jean Galea
Jean Galea
Jean Galea is an investor, entrepreneur, and blogger. He is the founder of WP Mayor, the plugins WP RSS Aggregator and Spotlight, as well as the Mastermind.fm podcast. His personal blog can be found at jeangalea.com.
Jean Galea
Jean Galea
Jean Galea is an investor, entrepreneur, and blogger. He is the founder of WP Mayor, the plugins WP RSS Aggregator and Spotlight, as well as the Mastermind.fm podcast. His personal blog can be found at jeangalea.com.
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42 Responses

  1. Great Post Jean, I have been using one editor from inside of wordpress called as wpide very good for small code edits where you don’t have access to the ftp/cpanel provide good basic editing capabilities. Just install it as a plugin and you can edit mostly all the files that form part of your wordpress installation

  2. I have been using NotePad++ and Dreamweaver for PHP, HTML, and CSS and Eclipse for Java development for years. Now looking at a real IDE for PHP development. Lots of good information and suggestions here. I think I’ll start with NetBeans.

  3. NetBeans is my favorite IDE and I would always recommend it. But, what if you need to edit a theme or a plugin without access to your computer, let’s say from a Internet cafe? Then you would prefer an IDE inside your WordPress administration.

    This is why I made Synchi (http://projects.djekic.net/synchi/) – a WP plugin that empowers you with a full IDE inside WordPress. Features are still in development and this plugin will grow over time to meet different needs.

    Tnx for a useful article 🙂

  4. I’ve used netbeans, notepad++, coda, coda 2, text mate, vim, nano but hands down PhpStorm is the best in my opinion.

    The support and community around the products is top notch and they will even give you a free open source license for verifiable work on an open source project ( they reject WordPress though ).

    Also I have to mention Solarized. If you don’t know what it is you need to go install it on whatever IDE or editor you use now. http://ethanschoonover.com/solarized

    I like Solarized so much that I used as the dark version as the color scheme for my website.

    1. Thanks for the Solarized site! I’ve been frustrated by color combos, web colors, appearance, monitor difference, etc. I thought it was just me! (and it may still be with my aging eyes). IMO, web developers don’t pay enough attention to color combinations, and what works over a wide range of color “perception” between ,individuals, browsers, and monitors.

      Ed

  5. Thnaks a lot for the insights about wordpress development IDE. Once again thanks a lot for all the information.

  6. What about serverpress http://serverpress.com i am pretty new in this and for the last week i have being looking for the best ide for wordpress.

    Any feed back between sevenbeans, php storm and serverpress?

    will try to decide today what to purchase

    thanks in advance

    1. Nothing beats Komodo IDE for me, or Notepad++ if you want something lighter for quick editing.

  7. Bluefish has WordPress support out the box and Aptana studio3 supports WP well also with there bundle, Aptana and sublime2 are best for Windows, but i like bluefish on ubuntu, although you can run them all on either.

  8. I run BBedit on mac, and that provides all the code editing goodness I need to hack a WordPress theme or plugin.

  9. Hey nice post. Thanks for sharing this great post with us. It is truly very interesting post.

  10. @Jean – Bulgaria, Eastern Europe, but I tend to travel/work with people from Europe and the States and most of them are also Eclipse users. In addition to the popular IDE, Eclipse is well known with its RCP (Rich Client Platform) architecture that makes it easy to build on the top of Eclipse many other applications reusing the infrastructure.

    That makes it easy for large companies to extend their IDEs and fill them with custom modules specifically for their internal setup. SAP does this with their NetWeaver based on the Eclipse platform.

    Also, some apps are shipped independently (if you are unaware of Eclipse), such as the Azureus torrent client or RSSOwl feed reader (yet again built on Eclipse) – https://www.eclipse.org/community/rcp.php

  11. @Jean, Eclipse and NetBeans are the two main competitors in the Java world for opensource IDE development. The one (NetBeans) used to be developed by Sun Microsystems (now Oracle as they purchased Sun and Java) and Eclipse is maintained by IBM (so both companies have huge development teams and communities). Both are developed with modularity in mind and they support Java, PHP, Ruby, Python, C++ and more platforms/languages which makes it comfortable when you do multilingual development.

    Eclipse is more popular in my country and people tend to use it as the major IDE but I was unable to find any international stats on the usage reports and comparison between both IDEs. However this small presentation might be interesting for wpmayor’s readers – http://www.slideshare.net/Ahmedsalem804/eclipse-vs-netbeans

  12. I usually do any kind of development with Eclipse – they have the Eclipse PDT (PHP Development Toolkit) platform, widely available on any platform. I can attach the PHP sources + WP sources to be accessible from the project, navigate through functions and generating PHPDoc and more.

    The only thing I’m not certain is the XDebug integration as I know that there is a way to actually download it with the debugger but never tried it.

    1. Same here! Strangely enough I nearly got “flamed” in another discussion, when I mentioned my IDE preference with some other WordPress folk. Eclipse?? they screamed. Why??

      But the fact is that I’ve always used Eclipse for WordPress, (pure) PHP, or Java. Its an awesome IDE for this purpose, and yes there is some leg-work involved in configuring it with the necessary Include Paths and Language Libraries to support WordPress; but its well worth doing, especially when WordPress intellisense/autocomplete kicks in.

      Actually, with Eclipse, one can get intellisense for virtually any documented WordPress plugin, such as WooCommerce. Simply set up an Include for the plugin, and you’re off. This makes it easy to examine a plugin’s API, to see what’s really going on under the hood.

      Combined with the integrated Git VC, and an ANT builder to SFTP, I can’t imagine using any other tool or IDE for WordPress themes or plugins. I’ve also managed XDebug integration with breakpoints, using Eclipse and XAMPP. Its remarkable.

      My other choice for IDE would be Visual Studio with the PHP Tools add-in. That would be a dream, because VS has one of the best testing platfoms that I know.

      I guess it all depends on preference and background. For me its Eclipse and Visual Studio.

      Great post Jean!

  13. Well, after a quick search, if your not a heavy duty PHP guy, then get something with some great frameworks and built in attributes for Facebook and WordPress , that would be codelobster.com

    IF your die hard, prob PHP Storm like my buddy Mike says

    Sean
    WP Solutions & Get SEO Content Fast

  14. Webmatrix sounds interesting, but…. it looks like it will only run on IIS. Sorry, I don’t want, nor need yet another webserver. All of my clients are on Apache and I’m running XAMPP on my development system. Now, if Webmatrix runs in an XAMPP environment, I’ll take a serious look at it.

    In the mean time I’ll stick with NP++ and Netbeans, which I’ve been using for quite a while.

    Regards,
    John Newton

  15. Hand’s down, the best IDE for serious PHP plugin and theme development for WordPress is PhpStorm. I’ve tried all the others and nothing else even comes close. Be sure to use Zend Debugger with it and not XDEBUG as the latter is, well, too buggy.

  16. Have you looked at Microsoft’s WebMatrix?

    http://www.microsoft.com/web/webmatrix/

    It’s not an IDE per se but I find the ability to dev on my client pretty convenient. I try to cloud as much as possible but WebMatrix is one of the few client-based tools I continue to use.

    It might be possible to integrate NetBeans with WebMatrix. I’m not sure.

      1. Hey Jean. If you have any feedback on things we can do to make WebMatrix better for WordPress development please let me know.

        I personally also use Notepad++ for development but I love WebMatrix when I am doing something very quick for a client or when I want to make some major changes and want to test locally before pushing up.

        WebMatrix also lets you easily pull down the hosted site and the publishing is really pretty easy and can push both the site and the MySQL database with one click. You can do other things like change which version of PHP to use and it also has a handy Fiddler or Charles like tool so you can see what the http req/resp look like.

        Lastly WebMatrix has a really handy SEO tool that crawls the entire website and looks for anything that impacts SEO including response times, multiple conanical formats, 404’s, etc. Really very handy tool to run on your clients websites, especially after making lots of changes to make sure nothing is broken.

        thanks,
        Mark

  17. As you use Windows and Linux you might be interested in the new version of Sublime Text as it’s multi-platform: http://www.sublimetext.com

    Although Sublime 2 is still alpha (I now use this version instead of v1), it’s very stable plus the developer is very responsive to fixing faults, introducing changes etc.

    You can customise just about anything: keybindings, themes etc and also set up your own snippets.

    It’s not free but there’s no limit on the trial period (it just nags you from time to time)

  18. Excelent post, I agree with you, Notepad++ is one of the best tools for coding, I never try Netbeans, I will take a look at it, looking good and Open Source.

    Thanks, awesome epic blog, WPMayor Rules!!

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