capsule review

Slick PhpStorm Makes Editing JavaScript and PHP Fun

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder PhpStorm

This happens to me all the time: I am watching a movie, and the camera zooms in on a computer monitor showing the hero performing some impossible feat of tech wizardry. I find myself thinking, "Come on, things are never this slick in real life." Well, if a movie showed PhpStorm, I would probably be thinking that exact same thought.

PhpStorm's bleeding-edge editor features make editing code into an aesthetic experience.
Surprisingly, PhpStorm is real. It is a highly polished IDE for working with PHP, JavaScript, and other Web-related languages, and its editing interface is an absolute joy to use. It offers a unique editing experience that goes beyond anything I've seen an IDE do before.

Let's look at some examples: IDEs usually offer a ton of features and aren't easy to navigate. With PhpStorm, just tap Ctrl-Shiftm-A and start typing whatever it is you are trying to do. Trying to merge different files? Type mer and instant suggestions will pop up, each with its own description, shortcut key (if any), and menu location. Just scroll through the list and hit Enter when you find the command you need--and now you know how to get to it through the menu or shortcut keys, too.

Another one: Let's say you're at the bottom of a very long block of code. It's so long you can't even see its beginning--all you see is a closing brace. Just put your cursor on that brace, and PhpStorm will overlay the beginning line on top of the window, above the text editing area. I don't mean just a tooltip, but the whole line, syntax highlighted and numbered. I told you it's slick.

Or let's take the Preferences dialog. All IDEs contain numerous options, and many also contain a live-search box in the preferences dialog, to help you find what you need. But most editors just show you the page containing the option you searched for--it is up to you to hunt for it amidst all the other ones. PhpStorm helps by dimming all other options out, making the one you need pop out.

One thing you should understand before using PhpStorm is that it really is an IDE. You can't use it for just making a quick edit to a remote file and move on. To begin working with PhpStorm, you need to create a project. If your files are already on a remote server (on a live website), you will need to show PhpStorm exactly what files and directories it should download, and what files it should leave on the server. Otherwise, you may find yourself downloading hundreds of megabytes just to start editing your existing website.

Sometimes PhpStorm is a bit too slick for its own good. For example, it includes a diff utility for showing differences between a local file and its server-side copy. This dialog lets you merge changes from the server side, but this is shown via an elegant chevron overlaid on the gutter of the line that was changed, which I did not recognize as a button at first.

Like other IDEs, PhpStorm does take some time to study, but it can also be addictive. Its polished editing interface can make you feel like you are programming in the future--all you need is the right soundtrack to go with it.

Note: This program is free for open-source products only. Commercial users must buy the paid version ($99 for individual developers, $199 for companies).

--Erez Zukerman

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At a Glance
  • JetBrains PhpStorm is a cross-platform development environment for JavaScript, PHP, and other Web-related languages.


    • Powerful functionality is easy to access
    • Amazing look and feel


    • Code refactoring suggestions not always helpful
    • JavaScript debugging does not work as expected
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