23 Useful PHP Tools for the Everyday Web Developer
Thanks to its reliable performance, extensive documentation and dedicated user community, PHP is one of the preferred server side scripting language of many web developers. Consequently, there are so many free and premium PHP tools available online that it's difficult for developers to determine which ones are worthwhile. Below is a run down of a few useful PHP tools for developers.
Best PHP development environments
PHPStorm streamlines application development by offering integration with relational databases and other PHP tools. It supports many popular PHP web frameworks and CMS solutions including WordPress, Drupal, Magento and Joomla. This enterprise IDE is available to students and teachers at no cost, so take advantage of the discount if you can.
2. AWS Cloud9
AWS Cloud9 is ideal for developing PHP applications completely in the cloud. In addition to allowing you to create web applications without the need for a server, this tool supports all of the advanced features you'd expect from a modern IDE like code hinting and completion.
This tried-and-true PHP tool is well supported, easy to install and free for anyone to download. It might have more features than you need, but it's especially helpful if you use MySQL for database management. You can even install CMS components on top of XAMPP with the help of Bitnami.
4. Eclipse PDT
Though originally intended for Java coding, Eclipse can be extended to support PHP with the PDT plugin. Eclipse is open source and has all of the features you'd expect out of an IDE such as PHP profiling, syntax highlighting and unit testing; however, it requires a lot of resources to run, which could present an issue for smaller development teams.
With ScriptCase you can create web-enabled applications in a matter of minutes. ScriptCase connects to most database engines, and it can produce interactive reports with helpful charts and tables. You can try ScriptCase for free for 20 days, but after that expect to pay an annual fee of $280-480 depending on which package you prefer.
PHPDesigner may be the most feature-rich IDE made for specifically PHP developers. It contains just about everything you need to create and debug dynamic web apps including a PHP code beautifier tool. Of course, all of those features come with a hefty licensing fee. Fortunately, the intuitive interface makes PHPDesigner especially helpful if you're just getting started with learning PHP.
7. Aptana Studio
Aptana Studio boasts a surprising amount of features for an open source IDE. Even better, it works on Windows, Mac and Linux. Thanks to the built-in PHP server and debugging tool, you can integrate your other PHP tools to build and test PHP apps in one environment.
8. Code Lobster
If you're looking for a portable IDE solution, Code Lobster is probably available as a plugin for your favorite CMS. You can use a limited version of Code Lobster for free, but you'll have to pay for full access to all features.
10. Sublime Text
If you just need a text editor and not a full IDE, then Sublime Text is the obvious choice for PHP developers. The go-to-anything feature lets you quickly locate files or lines of code, and simultaneous editing allows you to make changes to multiple instances of code at once. For a one-time fee of $80, Sublime Text is perfect for the independent developer on a budget. Check out our other comprehensive guides for a complete list of the best IDE's and text editors available.
Best PHP testing tools
PHPUnit is just like JUnit except that it's for PHP testing instead of Java testing. It allows you to create your own unit tests and see the results in several different formats. PHPUnit is particularly useful for consistency and scalability testing.
Selenium is a lightweight, open source testing framework that lets anyone create custom UI tests in any language. It is compatible with most browsers, and it deploys on Windows, Linux and macOS.
Best PHP debugging tools
Since it debuted in 2002, Xdebug has become one of the most trusted PHP tools. This open source solution enables single-step debugging and stack trace functionality. Available as a plugin for Eclipse, PHPDesigner and most other development environments, Xdebug is compatible with dozens of other frontend debugging tools.
As its name suggests, MacGDBp was made specifically for debugging PHP on Mac. Combine it with the Xdebug extension to view local variables and call stacks in a macOS interface.
Best PHP documentation tools
This open source PHP documentation generator features a web-based command line interface. It automatically parses PHP code and outputs documentation in HTML, PDF, CHM and Docbook formats. You can integrate cross referencing and tutorials by linking between documentation. Check out the demo version of PHPDocumentor 2 to see the selection of new and improved PHP templates.
If you need quick API documentation for your PHP application, PHPDox is the perfect solution. It even includes helpful details like code coverage and complexity information. In addition to the handy search feature that lets you quickly find the information you need, you can expand the tool's functionality with a number of plugins.
Best PHP security tools
RIPS started out as an open source tool for identifying vulnerabilities in PHP applications, but it has evolved into a comprehensive security monitoring service. Unfortunately, the free version of RIPS is no longer supported, but you can still use it. The premium service purportedly provides ongoing threat analysis with no false positives.
This open source script lets you make and manage CAPTCHA codes to secure your PHP applications. CAPTCHA codes are especially useful on submission forms for filtering out spam and security threats.
Best PHP performance monitoring tools
Retrace is a performance monitoring tool with an excellent error tracking feature to help you identify exceptions and address bugs quickly and efficiently. Take advantage of the two-week free trial before you decide if it's worth the monthly fee.
2. New Relic APM
New Relic is similar to Retrace in that it gives you a thorough overview of your PHP application's performance. Aside from infrastructure monitoring, New Relic can collect user data and provide valuable analysis to assist you in creating a better user experience.
If you've ever used TraceView, then you should feel right at home with AppOptics. That's because its creator, Solarwinds, acquired TraceView and incorporated all of its features into their own performance monitoring tool. At just $20 per month per host, AppOptics supports a surprising amount of integrations, plugins and custom metrics.
AppDynamics boasts more features than other performance tuning tools including end-to-end monitoring and code-level diagnostics. AppDynamics comes with a steep price tag of $230 per month per server, but you certainly get what you pay for in this case.
There's no shortage of excellent open source and licensed PHP solutions for developers to choose from. New PHP tools are popping up literally every day, so always keep an eye out for new developments. The only thing that definitely won't change anytime soon is PHP's popularity, so get comfortable using it for the foreseeable future.