capsule review

Review: WebStorm 5 IDE provides powerful editing features and instant feedback for Web developers

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld's Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect's Editors

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder WebStorm

One of the great things about developing for the Web is the low barrier to entry. Many tutorials are available online, and you can learn about CSS and HTML from any website just by inspecting its code in any modern Web browser. Best of all, when it's time to start coding, any plain text editor--even Notepad--can do the job. So why should you spend $49 on WebStorm, a development environment for JavaScript, HTML, and CSS? The answer is that it might turn you into a better developer.

WebStorm supports recent languages such as Sass and Less.

WebStorm's impressive Live Edit feature is new to version 5. With Live Edit, you can look at your page in Google Chrome as you're editing, and any change you make in your code is instantly reflected in Chrome. You don't have to save the page, nor manually refresh it in Chrome–the update process is just seamless, and is simple to set up, requiring just a free Chrome add-on. Live Edit also works with CSS and JavaScript, and vendor JetBrains put together an impressive video demo showing how the feature can be used to quickly put together a working JavaScript application.

If you come to WebStorm from an editor such as Notepad++ or Vim, you will quickly recognize that WebStorm is not a text editor. Sure, it has a slick text editor component with autocompletion, code folding, and more; but that's only part of the picture. You aren't supposed to pop a CSS file into WebStorm for a quick edit and be done with it: WebStorm is an IDE, and IDEs work with projects. So the first thing WebStorm wants you to do is to import your existing work as a project. If you maintain a live online site, that means downloading your work and creating an offline project.

The next logical step is to put the project under a version control system, as serious developers usually do. WebStorm is well integrated with several version control systems, including the ever-popular Git. Its VCS menu lets you check in revisions, browse the repository, create and apply patches, and more.

WebStorm helps you start new projects in style, too: It features built-in support for Twitter's Bootstrap framework, for HTML5 Boilerplate, and for a number of other frameworks. When I asked it to start a new project based on Bootstrap, it asked me what version of Bootstrap I want, and then it pulled the framework's official Git repository, unzipped it, and presented me with a project that was ready for me to start working on. In a previous verion, I did have to wait a moment before I could browse in the project folder, because WebStorm was busy parsing it. Version 5.0 solved this problem.

WebStorm's Settings dialog makes it easy to track down the setting you want to change.

WebStorm's Settings dialog consists of a sprawling tree of categories and subcategories, many of which contain built-in trees of their own. It would have been bewildering if not for one great feature: live search. If you need to change something in the way WebStorm indents your code, simply type indentand the tree will narrow to include only categories related to indenting code. Click a category, and its entries will come up dimmed: Only the relevant setting appears at full brightness, so it instantly pops out at you.

Other parts of WebStorm are similarly keyboard-centric. Want to do something but aren't sure how to proceed? Press Ctrl-Shift-A and just start typing (for example, fold if you want to expand a fold using the keyboard). WebStorm will instantly search all of its menu items and settings for the substring you typed, and will let you execute the action that you need directly from that dialog, so there's no need to hunt through menus. It will even show you associated keyboard shortcuts, so you won't have to use Ctrl-Shift-A the next time (Ctrl-Numpad-+ expands the current code fold). Webstorm's autocompletion support is excellent as well, right down to converting CSS color names to hexadecimal numbers.

WebStorm's Live Editing feature updates the browser window as you type, no saving and refreshing required.

WebStorm solves a problem that many Web developers don't know they have--but once you give it a chance, you may never look back. It may even get you started on your first serious project. At $49 for a personal developer license, this app offers excellent value for money. Also, if you contribute to an open-source project, you may qualify for a free license.

Note: The "Try it for free" button on the Product Information page will download the software to your system. This review is an update to the June 2012 review of version 4.0.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
At a Glance
  • WebStorm is a sophisticated IDE for JavaScript, HTML5, CSS, and other Web development languages.


    • Supports industry-standard project frameworks
    • Sophisticated options remain easily discoverable
    • Excellent human engineering


    • Delay on starting a new project using a framework
    • Live Edit feature not clearly documented
Shop Tech Products at Amazon