PhpStorm Review

Late last year I kept hearing a lot about PhpStorm 8, especially from WordPress people and wanted to try it out but the price was stopping me, (it turns out the price is probably worth paying – but it’s hard to know if the price is worth paying until you’ve already paid the price). Luckily for me WP e-Commerce has some licenses for core contributors, and apparently I count, (JetBrains, the people who make PhpStorm, provide licenses to open-source projects at no charge – thanks!).

One of the things that JetBrains asked in return for the licenses was that we try to write reviews of our experience, and after many months of using PhpStorm, here are my thoughts.

PhpStorm crashed several times in the 24 hours after I installed it, not a good start. Support suggested installing the EAP version, which is like a beta stream, which fixed the problem. Since then I’ve switched back & forth between the current release and EAP versions of PhpStorm, but I usually use the EAP, because I like shiny things.

Performance

I had heard that PhpStorm was fast, but it’s a Java app, (like Netbeans or Eclipse), so I had my doubts. When first installed there were some pretty big performance issues, especially related to scrolling. PhpStorm was exhibiting what I refer to as “that Java scroll lag” – one of the reasons I tend to avoid Java apps. There was also a problem that when scrolling with the mouse the text would disappear, which makes mouse scrolling nearly useless. Eventually I learned that there’s a version of PhpStorm for OS X that comes with a bundled, tweaked, Java Run-time Environment, and using that version of PhpStorm solved these problems.

When comparing PhpStorm’s performance to Sublime Text, (2 or 3), Sublime Text is still way faster. PhpStorm feels like a normal app, but ST3 has that amazing snappiness that Sublime Text users have come to love, and want to see everywhere. While PhpStorm’s performance is satisfactory, it’s not as blazing fast as the chatter led me to believe, but the combination of decent speed, and the other benefits that of using a real IDE, mean it helps me write cleaner code faster.

Setup

Like most coding programs, especially Java ones, PhpStorm hurt my eyes out of the box, but the look is tweakable enough to make it look how I want. There are two built-in themes, (“Default” and “Darcula”), and you can load 3rd-party colour schemes for the text editor. I think it might be possible to load 3rd-party themes as well but I haven’t investigated this. Switching to the Darcula theme, and switching to the Predawn colour scheme, (I can’t remember where I found the PhpStorm port, maybe it even came with it), and Inconsolata made PhpStorm feel like home.

Coming from ST3 I re-mapped some keyboard shortcuts to match ST3 make the transition easier and make it easier to switch between the two when needed.

I had to download extra drivers to connect to MySQL, which was kind of annoying, but I suspect might be license-related.

And Java. PhpStorm 8 requires Java 6, which is no longer installed on Macs because it’s so old, that’s why there’s a version offered for OS X with a bundled JRE. It’s possible to install Java 6 with a package from Apple, because we all love having several versions of Java installed, or it’s possible to tweak some plist files to let PhpStorm run with Java 8, (the current version). Fortunately, it looks like PhpStorm 9, (which I’m running the EAP of now), will do away with this requirement.

Code Inspection

This is an IDE, so it’s aware of any databases that get used. This is great most of the time, (the code inspector tells you if you mis-type a column name, for example), but the it also fusses when I build big SQL queries by concatenating strings. So far I’ve just ignored these complaints.

If I include a file like this in WP: include( get_stylesheet_directory() . ‘/myfile.php’); PhpStorm thinks that myfile.php doesn’t exist, even if it does. Since this is the “right way” to include files in WP themes, and PhpStorm advertises built-in WP knowledge, PhpStorm should understand it.

When making a commit to your preferred Source-Control system, (Git, right?), PhpStorm inspects the code you’re committing, and if there are errors or warnings it pops up a window saying so, and gives you a chance to fix these problems. This is a great way to slowly clean up the code of older projects with lots of legacy, (read: “written before I knew better”), code. However, it’s also kind of annoying when unfixable errors or warnings are included, like when I’ve concatenated together an SQL query.

I was working on a plugin that works with WooCommerce and PhpStorm complained that I was assigning the return value of a function that returns void to a variable. It turns out that WooCommerce has several PHP DocBlocks that state a function returns void when it actually returns a value. Thanks to a WP e-Commerce copy of PhpStorm for pointing out errors in WooCommerce!

Annoyances

If someone from Jetbrains reads this, consider these bug reports!

text-gone-bonkers

Sometimes the fonts go bonkers. When I was first setting PhpStorm to use Inconsolata they did, (that was using the release version), and a few times on the EAP I committed some code, and when the commit finished the display went crazy again.

PHPStorm Power Consumption

Power consumption – I’m not sure how it compares to Sublime Text, but it’s consuming more power than Photoshop today – #2 on the list behind Safari with 11 tabs open.

 

The first time I used the “Pull Up” refactor tool, which lets you pull methods up from a class into the parent class, I pulled up a bunch of static methods. PhpStorm didn’t actually go and find the places where the methods were called and change the calls, which I thought was the point of the “smart” IDE. Inheritance would mean that these methods would still be available, but there’s no reason to load the child class if everything I need is in the parent.

The auto-complete can be really bizarre. Often doesn’t pick the logical thing, or even the first thing in the suggestion list. For example, if I type “col” then press tab or enter autocomplete completes as “columns” not “color,” even though color is the first suggestion. It even insists on completing as “columns” if I type “colo” and press tab/enter. This drives me mad.

Search for any file, (I’ve got it mapped to Cmd+P to match Sublime Text): If a project has several files with the same name there doesn’t seem to be mapping that makes sense. To me it would make sense for the first option to be the one I used the most recently, or the one “closest” to whatever file I’m already looking at in the directory structure. If the files are sorted at the moment, it looks like it’s alphabetical, which should change.

Auto-change formatting: I try to use WordPress style in most of my PHP & Javascript – especially for WordPress-related work! WP style suggests putting a space around function parameters in both Javascript and PHP. However, if I’m doing chained calls in Javascript PhpStorm removes the space after the last function argument when I press the . key. For example:


$( 'body' )
// becomes
$( 'body').
// as soon as the period is typed

When PhpStorm 8.0.3 came out I started getting SSL error messages on startup. Apparently there’s a problem in some SSL-related part of the bundled JRE. 8.0.3 came out on February 13 and there’s still no fix. The current EAP doesn’t have this problem.

PhpStorm’s licensing scheme for open-source projects has changed this year, so I need a Jetbrains account, the licence is issued from WP e-Commerce to that account, then I’m supposed to sign in to the account with PhpStorm and it’ll activate. Unfortunately the SSL bug prevents PhpStorm from talking to the Jetbrains servers, so I can’t activate my PhpStorm license. Luckily the EAP comes with its own license, otherwise I would be out of luck. A bug that prevents customers from activating software is a very big bug.

Conclusion

PhpStorm is good, very good at some things, especially the IDE-type functionality I was looking for. Integrated code inspections & linting were a welcome surprise that is really helping my code look better and encouraging me to write better in-line documentation. There have been problems, though, that might have caused me to abandon PhpStorm I hadn’t pre-decided to give it a real chance. I nearly always use the EAP both because I like shiny things, and because the bugs in the release version of the software are annoying, or serious, enough to drive me into the arms of the EAP.

So, is PhpStorm worth the purchase price? Probably. It handles code completion, data-source awareness, most refactoring, and all its IDE-related functionality quickly and as promised, (or very nearly so). The problems tend to be in other areas, and from the state of the current PhpStorm 9 EAP, most of these problems will be solved soon.

Whispers about PhpStorm Review:

  1. I prefer to use Codelobster PHP Edition

  2. I’m guessing you work for Codelobster 😉

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