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10 Reasons Why I've Switched From Netbeans To Sublime Text 2 For PHP Development

Note: This article was originally published at Planet PHP on 20 February 2012.
Planet PHP

I've recently switched from using Netbeans as my PHP dev tool of choice to Sublime Text 2. Features-wise, I think Netbeans is great. During the years I used it, I never felt that there was a feature I needed that was missing at the time. But, like all the current crop of Java-based desktop IDEs, it's so damn ugly [1] and slow [2] that I've had enough. I program because it's something that I love doing, and anything that gets in the way of that a I've no time for any more. So when a work colleague introduced me to Sublime Text 2, I was in the mood to give it a go, and 3 months on, I haven't opened Netbeans once.

I'll be the first to say that Sublime Text 2 isn't for everyone.

  • It's a beta product, which means there are some rough edges (mostly in the plugin API I feel), but it's more than stable enough for production use. It has crashed a couple of times, which might put some people off, but I don't recall losing any work as a result. File management in the project pane still needs work. The regular dev builds occasionally break things.
  • It isn't a full-blown IDE; it's more like the spiritual successor to TextMate, an editor that I never personally cared for. In particular, it doesn't support interactive debuggers, which means no Xdebug support, and there's currently no obvious way for a plugin to add that functionality in [3].
  • Auto-completion isn't anything like what you're used to. The built-in auto-completion is based on a mix of static knowledge of languages and fuzzy matching against what you've recently typed. There's no obvious intelligence about the code you're working on, nor the parameters for any method or function. These are two things that many people will deeply miss. [4]
  • It isn't free, but you can evaluate it for free with no time limit. If you decide to buy, it's substantially cheaper than both PhpStorm and Zend Studio, and there's no annual subscription element to the licensing. You're buying a license to support and encourage an independent developer, and to show your appreciation for a very nice piece of software.
  • It's a closed-source product. You can't fix it yourself if it breaks, and no-one can pick up the reigns if it gets abandoned. There seems to be just one guy behind it, and if anything happened to him, that'd probably be the end of the product. That said, most of the alternatives are also closed-source too.

Given all of that, why have I switched?

  1. Sublime Text 2 is very very fast. Sublime Text 2 itself opens instantly. Files open instantly (provided they're not 100 megabyte test data files). In fact, everything happens instantly - even inside a virtual machine running on a 3 year old laptop. There are no pauses for anything to be indexed, and I've never seen CPU usage spike - important for us untethered users and our suffering laptop batteries [5]. And if a plugin slows things down at all, Sublime Text 2 tells you which one is the culprit so that you can go and disable it. I'd compare the importance of the speed difference to switching from a hard disk to an SSD. You don't realise how much you're waiting for your slow Java-based IDE until you use something that's properly fast.
  2. It renders fonts properly - Droid Sans Mono and Ubuntu Mono in particular both look gorgeous - and even after a long day of use, my eyes don't feel like they've been scratched on the inside by sharpened kitty claws all day long [6]. True story: one of my colleagues came over to ask what I was using, because he thought it looked so nice from a distance. When was the last time anyone ever thought that about a desktop Java app?
  3. All of the searching is based on an extremely powerful fuzzy matching approach. Netbeans supports regexes, which can be very handy, but most of the time when I'm looking for something, a regex is overkill but a simple string search isn't powerful enough. If I've got both a class called aIpcProcess' and aIpcProcessID', in Sublime Text 2 I can find the aIpcProcessID' class by searching for aipi'; I just have to type the shortest set of characters that uniquely matches what I'm looking for. It's much quick

Truncated by Planet PHP, read more at the original (another 7008 bytes)