Zend Sticks to Basics

PHP development tool a strong start but lacks depth

With its release last month of Zend IDE Client and Debug Server 1.0, Zend Technologies Ltd. has made a competent first step toward providing a quality commercial integrated development environment for PHP.

As a 1.0 release and as the first product of its kind that eWeek Labs has seen, Zend IDE lacks several key ingredients common to established IDEs for other languages but nevertheless provides a capable tool for PHP 4.0 script creation, editing and debugging.

The most significant feature of Zend IDE is its run-time debugging environment, the first available for PHP, although Ives Development Inc.s Nexidion Designer offers some similar features.

The IDE Client/Debug Server combo is priced at $250, with additional client licenses at $120 each (this is on the low end compared with more mature IDEs such as Microsoft Corp.s Visual Interdev and Allaire Corp.s Jrun Studio).

Both the IDE Client and the Debug Server are also available via subscription as part of Zend Developer Server Suite, which costs $600 per year and includes two development seats plus a tool that allows developers to distribute their Web applications without revealing the source code.

The IDE Client is written in Java (it requires Java 1.3) and supports most recent versions of Linux, as well as Windows 98, Windows 2000 and Windows NT 4.0.

The Debug Server requires PHP 4.0.3 or higher and Apache 1.3.x; it is supported on Linux, Sun Microsystems Inc.s Solaris and FreeBSD. A Windows version of the Debug Server will be released in the very near future, Zend officials said.

We tested both Zend IDE Client and Debug Server using Debian Projects Debian GNU/Linux 2.2. Setup of Zend IDE Client and Debug Server on Linux was moderately complex, but the included instructions made the install relatively painless. We also tested the client on Windows NT 4.0; setup was a snap on this platform.

The editing features of Zend IDE Client provide a substantial subset of the features we would expect in a programmers editor, but the editor alone wont woo Unix PHP developers away from their near-religious devotion to emacs or vi.

Zend IDE Client provides HTML code completion, cross-file searching (but not replacement) and configurable syntax coloring for both HTML and PHP code.

We were surprised to find there was no code completion or parameter checking for PHP (one of the key things we would expect in a PHP development tool), nor was there context-sensitive function help for HTML or PHP. In fact, there is no integrated help at all (documentation for the tools is provided in Adobe Systems Inc. PDF files).

Zend IDE Client provides an integrated local file system browser that let us open, rename or delete files (we could also load files through HTTP), but we could not automatically publish our files back to the server, a much-needed feature. Zend IDE Client also lacks integration with any source-code control software.

Integrated online PHP help is planned for a Version 1.1.0 release, together with the Windows server, Zend officials said. Users will have to wait for the next major release (planned for the third quarter) for features such as integrated file deployment and PHP code completion and parameter checking. Development of source-code control integration is not yet under way.

Overall, the Debug Server is the most advanced feature of the Zend IDE. Once we deployed files to a PHP server running Zend Debug Server, we were able to set watches and breakpoints, step through or over our code, stop or pause the debugger, view debug messages, and monitor the resulting output.

More advanced debugging features such as breaking on the change of a variable and changing variable values on the fly are planned for the third-quarter release.