Wow. Last week’s opinion piece about switching from Netbeans to Sublime Text 2 has been the most popular blog post I’ve written for quite a while.

As the interest seems to be there, I thought it would be a great idea to follow up with a post taking you step by step through how I’ve set up Sublime Text 2 for PHP development, and showing you some of the useful features that you get out of the box with Sublime Text 2.

You’ll find the details below, and as a bit of an experiment, I’ve also put the details together in a series of YouTube videos for those folks who’d prefer to see ST2 in action. The video directly below is the first in the playlist, and I’ve also put the video for each feature separately further down. If you like the videos, please do click the ‘Like’ button on YouTube so that I know :)

Tip: If you can’t see any YouTube videos on this page, you might need to switch off your browser’s AdBlock plugin and then reload the page.

Install Package Control, Soda, And A Syntax Highlighting Scheme

Out of the box, Sublime Text 2 is a very good text editor. It’s so good, in fact, that I’ve seen people use it in its vanilla form perfectly happily for days and weeks before realising that it can be enhanced with third-party plugins!

The first plugin I recommend installing is Will Bond’s Package Control (installation instructions). Package Control is a plugin that automates the job of installing and upgrading plugins. After you’ve installed it, restart ST2, and then you’ll find a new “Package Control” menu option at the bottom of the “Preferences” menu.

There are over 200 community plugins currently available for ST2. You’ll find them by going into Package Control and selecting the ‘Discover Packages’ option. This takes you to the community packages webpage, where you can browse or search through the available packages. It’s worth going back and checking this page from time to time, as new packages are being added on a regular basis.

The next thing I normally do is reskin ST2. This is entirely a personal preference! Using Package Control, install the ‘Soda’ Theme plugin; this downloads the plugin, but does not activate it. Then, open up the ‘Settings – User’ preferences file (this is a JSON file), and add the following to tell ST2 to use the new theme:

"theme": "Soda Dark.sublime-theme",

You’ll notice a change straight away, but will probably need to restart ST2 for it to pick up all of the new theme properly.

Finally, I setup syntax highlighting to suit. ST2 ships with a number of these, and you can (if you wish) feed it any colour scheme originally created for TextMate. I prefer to use the ‘Phix Color Scheme’, which is available through Package Control.

Editing User Preferences

In ST2, nearly all of the configuration is done by creating and editing config files. There are no user interfaces to click through, just JSON files to edit by hand. There are a few of these files, and the basic idea is that there’s nearly always a ‘default’ config file (which contains the defaults that ST2 or its plugins ship with), and ‘user’ override files.

If you go into the Preferences menu, you’ll see a ‘Settings – Default’ option. This opens the default settings file that ST2 ships with. It’s very well documented, and well worth a browse through to see if there’s anything in there that you’d like to tweak. Don’t make changes to this file; instead, open the ‘Settings – User’ option on the Preferences menu, and put your changes in there. That way, your preferences will be preserved between ST2 upgrades.

Finding Classes With The Goto Anything Pane

There are two ways you can open files in ST2. One way is to navigate through your list of folders in the Project pane on the left hand side of the screen, clicking around with the mouse and drilling down to find the file that you’re looking for. It works … but there’s a faster alternative.

Hitting CTRL+P (CMD+P on the Mac) opens up the Goto Anything pane. Here, you can type in the name of the file that you’re looking for, and in real time, you’ll see a list of matches appear. The searching supports fuzzy matching; you can type in partial search strings, and ST2 will use them to filter out. This is a godsend for working with projects that include vendor folders (which you might not want to search inside), and any Subversion checkouts that include trunk, branches and tags.

Jump To A Line Using The Goto Anything Pane

Press CTRL+G (CMD+G on the Mac), and this brings up the Goto Anything pane, ready for you to type in a line number. As you type, ST2 goes to the line number starting to form in the input box. You can also do exactly the same by pressing CTRL+P and typing a colon at the start of the search. (CTRL+G simply opens the Goto Anything pane and puts the colon there for you as a shortcut).

You can also combine this with the file search. Hit CTRL+P and start searching for a file. Then, at the end of your search, add a colon, and then the line number that you’re looking for. This will take you to that line number in that file – all from the keyboard.

Goto A Defined Symbol Using The Goto Anything Pane

Press CTRL+R (CMD+R on the Mac), and this brings up the Goto Anything pane, ready for you to type in the name of a function or method. As you type, ST2 narrows down the list of matching functions, methods and classes in your file. You can do the same by pressing CTRL+P and typing an @ symbol at the start of the search.

You can combine this with the file search. Hit CTRL+P and start searching for a file. Then, at the end of your search term, add an @ sign, and then the name of the function or method that you’re looking for. This will take you to that function or method in that file.

Coding Quicker With The Additional PHP Snippets

The Additional PHP Snippets plugin [disclaimer: I'm the author of this plugin] provides a few simple text snippets to speed up everyday chores such as creating getters and setters, and add license text to the top of the file. It is available via Package Control.

Pull requests (or requests for features) are most welcome.

To use it, inside your PHP code, simply type ‘php-’, and ST2 will show you a list of all of the matching snippets. Select the snippet you want, hit TAB, and hey presto – the snippet is dropped into your code, ready for you to adapt as required.

Creating Doc Blocks Using DocBlockr

The DocBlockr plugin makes it very quick and easy to create doc blocks for your classes, attributes, and methods. It is available via Package Control.

To use it, open a new doc block as normal by typing ‘/**’ and then pressing ENTER. The plugin will create a template doc block for you to fill out to suit.

Real-Time Syntax Checking Using SublimeLinter

Real-time syntax checking is something you take for granted with an IDE, and it’s available in ST2 in 2 main flavours. I use the SublimeLinter plugin myself, and have had no trouble with it at all, but I know that some folks have had to use the sublime-lint plugin instead. Both are available via Package Control.

Once installed, your code is checked in real time for syntax errors. Lines that contain syntax errors are highlighted, and in the status bar at the bottom of the screen, you’ll see an explanation of what the error is.

Sometimes, the syntax error will appear to be on the wrong line – on the line below where the real problem is. SublimeLinter uses the ‘php -l’ command behind the screens – PHP’s built-in linter, and is simply reporting back exactly what the PHP runtime thinks is wrong. This might puzzle you at first if you’re used to IDEs that have their own lint algorithm built in.

Consulting The PHP Manual Using Goto Documentation

The PHP Manual is, imho, PHP’s true killer feature: all that detailed documentation, and it’s all freely available on the web (no need to go away and buy books on the language). Like many PHP developers, I’ve always got the PHP Manual open when I’m working.

The Goto Documentation plugin allows me to look up any PHP function from inside ST2. The plugin is available via Package Control, and once installed, you need to bind it to a key before you can use it. This is done by opening the ‘Key Bindings – User’ option on ST2′s Preferences menu, and adding a line like the following:

{ "keys": ["f1"], "command": "goto_documentation" }

Save the file, and you’re ready to go.

To use it, just put your text cursor on the PHP function that you want to look up, and hit your chosen key combination. Goto Documentation will switch to your browser, and search the PHP Manual for the function you’ve selected.

Handling Trailing Whitespace Using The TrailingSpaces Plugin

I know it’s a small thing, but trailing whitespace annoys the crap out of me, and I’ve always been deeply frustrated with how Netbeans never reliably stripped this from files that I created or worked on. Thankfully this isn’t a problem with ST2, and you can add the TrailingSpaces plugin to strip files in between saving them.

Testing Using PHPUnit

The PHPUnit plugin [disclaimer: I am the plugin's author] allows you to run your unit tests right from inside ST2. You can run the tests for just the file you’ve got open, or you can run all of your project’s unit tests in one go. You can also switch back and forwards between your PHP code and your unit test files, and you can quickly open your project’s phpunit.xml file.

To use the plugin, your project needs to have either a phpunit.xml file, or a phpunit.xml.dist file. This is a simple config file that tells PHPUnit where your tests are, which folders to include / ignore for code coverage purposes, and what reports / logs PHPUnit should create once the testing is done. If you’re using something like Phix, you get all of this for free, and I believe that Symfony’s standard app skeleton also includes a phpunit.xml file too.

The plugin navigates around your project, switching from file to file, using the following algorithm:

  1. It takes the full name of your PHP class, including the namespace, and uses the PSR0 autoloader algorithm to try and find the same class with ‘Test’ appended on the end. If that doesn’t work, it strips off the namespace and tries again.
  2. To find the phpunit.xml file, the plugin finds the test code first, and then searches each folder upwards for phpunit.xml or phpunit.xml.dist. If that doesn’t work, it looks in a number of pre-determined locations (defined in the plugin’s settings file), and then as a last resort it searches your whole project downwards starting from the top folder.

When you run your tests, the full output from PHPUnit appears in a panel at the bottom of ST2′s window – and that includes information on the full command executed, and which folder it was executed from. To close the panel, just hit ESC.

Alignment Plugin

This is a very simple plugin; it allows you to select some lines of code, and have all of the equals signs line up under each other. I find that this can make code (and especially array definitions) much clearer to read, but I know that it isn’t for everyone :)

Software Archaeology Using CTags

One of the ways that IDEs add a lot of value is that they truly understand the code you’re working on, and that allows them to offer features like ‘goto source definition’ et al. There’s a way you can do this in ST2, by installing the CTags plugin.

Once you’ve installed the CTags plugin, before you can use it, you need to go to the plugin’s website and follow the instructions there to get a suitable ‘ctags’ command line program installed. The plugin is a wrapper around this command’s functionality, and cannot work without it.

Then, the next step is to build a tags file. This is an index of all of your code, that the plugin can use to look up classes, functions and methods so that you can quickly jump to their definition from anywhere in your project. This is done by hitting CTRL+T and then CTRL+R, and then waiting for the ‘finished building’ message to appear in the status bar.

After that, you can navigate around your code by hitting CTRL+T and then CTRL+T again. This works particularly well for exploring code you haven’t seen before, something that I demo in the video below.

One last word of advice. CTags understands the syntax of your code, but not the strategy. It doesn’t understand the difference between trunk/ and branches/ folders, for example, or vendor/ folders. If there’s code in there, CTags by default will index it. This might be what you want, but if you find that it’s picking up duplicates that you’re not interested in, you’ll need to create a CTags.sublime-settings file in your User/ package folder to override the ctags_command setting and add in some exclusions.

What Else?

There’s one notable exception that I haven’t covered here, and that’s SublimeCodeIntel. This is a plugin that aims to bring Komodo’s autocompletion over to ST2. It’s a great idea, but my own experience with the plugin isn’t good. I’ve seen it installed on two different computers running the same OS and version of ST2, and it work fine on one and not work at all on the other. I’ve seen it stop working after a new version of the plugin was released. I’ve learned to live without it. But do go try it out, because if it works for you, you might really like it.

Are there any other ST2 plugins that you use on a daily basis? Mention them in the comments below, and I’ll check them out :)

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