Zend Studio vs PHP Development Tools

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I’ve been using Zend Studio (ZS) for the last two years. It is developed by Zend, the company behind PHP. The very first time I used it and it was able to auto-complete my custom PHP classes I was sold. With version 6 of Zend Studio, they integrated Zend Studio with Eclipse, a popular IDE framework. I’ve been mostly happy with the new version, where as in some areas I felt that things were took a step back.

PHP Development Tools, also know as PDT, is an extension to Eclipse. It is open source and free to use for anyone. Zend Studio 6 is basically an additional layer on top of PDT offering additional features. The differences between Zend Studio 6 and Eclipse PDT vary from between areas of development. The question is what’s the difference? Which IDE is better for who?

After using both PDT and Zend Studio, I thought I would shed some light on the subject. There is a list of the differences on Zend’s website that is well detailed. The list in my opinion over exaggerates the differences due to listing many “minor” features. Here are the biggest differences in my opinion:

Ease of Installation

Zend Studio is easier to install and setup than PDT. ZS has a simple installer and can install Zend Platform, Zend Encoder, etc along with it. PDT on the other hand requires a little more work to set it up. Its not that difficult, just a little more time consuming. Also, it won’t install any other Zend products for you if you need them.

Refactoring

This is can be a huge breakthrough for PHP IDEs. Strongly-Typed environments, such as Java and C#, are easier to refractor due to how their IDEs and Language work. PHP really hasn’t and any type of refactoring options in IDEs until Zend Studio. For those who don’t know what refactoring is, lets say you need to rename a class’s function. Before you would just do a really big find and replace. However, what if you had this in hundreds of places? What if there was another class with the same function name? Find and Replace would screw up all of those scenarios unless you did each replace manually checking the context. That could take hours and hours. It also is very bug prone if you make a mistake.

Refactoring allows you to change function names, variable names, class names, using the logic of the editor. That means it will detect when it is appropriate to rename or change something. Now with ZS it isn’t 100% unless you use PHPDoc tags and are very clear with includes, etc. However, for large professional projects it can save hours of time. This is a very advanced feature that some developers can’t live without. This is probably the biggest difference I think between PDT and ZS.

PHPUnit Testing

Zend Studio has PHPUnit support built in. For serious developers who use PHPUnit testing every day will find this feature very useful. ZS helps the creation of tests, running and managing test, etc. PDT doesn’t have any built-in support for PHPUnit tests. You can use the editor to write tests, and there are some tutorials on using PHPUnit with Eclipse, so with a little work you can make Eclipse help with PHPUnit tests.

Debugging

Both Zend Studio and PDT allow for debugging. Zend Studio makes it easier to setup and manage. PDT requires a little more work and research to get debugging to work. Zend Studio has a few features, like the Debug toolbar for FireFox & Internet Explorer, that make Debugging a little more convenient. ZS also supports some more advanced features like SSL, Tunneling Support, Web Server Profiling, etc. Basic summary is that ZS makes debugging more convenient, where as PDT requires a little more work.

PHP Editor

This is where most developers will use ZS or Eclipse. It is also where ZS and PDT are practically the same. The only difference is Zend Studio has handful of helpers, such a code generation for classes, getters and setters, interface implementations, etc. They both has the same code completion (a.k.a. intellisense) features which I personally find the most useful. This is where the meat of Zend Studio and PDT are at, and both do a great job.

Zend Platform & Zend Framework

This is where Zend Studio has a lot of support over PDT. ZS helps make using Zend Framework and Zend Platform easier for developers. If you check the comparison list, you can see this is where Zend Studio has all the features PDT doesn’t.

Conclusion

Zend Studio and PDT are both great products, both built on the Eclipse framework. PDT is a great extension of Eclipse, and Zend Studio is a great extension of PDT. How can you tell if you should use PDT for free, or pay the $400 for Zend Studio 6. The answer is this: PDT is great for regular developers. However, if you are a professional developer who can save time from Zend Studio, the saving time will be worth the $400 dollars. One great thing is if you start off with PDT, and decide you would like some of the features of Zend Studio, you won’t have to re-learn anything. Zend Studio has all the same features as PDT.

I highly recommend both products. You can try out Zend Studio 6 for 30 days for free. There are also people who might prefer other PHP IDEs and not like the interface of ZS/PDT. That is why I suggest trying the trial.

Hopefully this article will be helpful for those wondering.

Justin is currently the Director of Development for the Deseret News. He is active in the Utah Open Source community. He is an advisory member of the Utah Open Source Foundation, and helps with the anual Utah Open Source Conference. He primarily focuses on PHP, MySQL, Redis, HTML, CSS, jQuery, and JavaScript. When he gets the time, he enjoys to play jazz piano. Read More

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