Review of CodeLobster PHP Edition 5.5 (Professional version)

About CodeLobster

In April of last year (2014) I received an email from someone from CodeLobster asking if I would be interested in reviewing their code editor.

They kindly, and promptly, sent me a registration code to unlock the full version, but I then went off sick, and then ran into relationship problems, and then I got even sicker, and finally a year later here’s my review.

Disclaimer: I don’t work for or with CodeLobster, I’m not being paid for this review (other than having been kindly gifted a full registration) and views expressed here are my own.

I did, however, used to use CodeLobster (the free version) as my back-up code editor when my primary editor was WeBuilder. I liked how fast it was, but I never really explored its capabilities.

These days I use Sublime Text 3, so it will be interesting to see how this editor compares: could I conceivably use CodeLobster as a replacement?

As I’m currently working mostly with WordPress, that’s what I’ll focus on in this review.

Three versions, multiple features

CodeLobster PHP Edition (which, incidentally, appears to be their only edition) comes in three versions: free, lite and professional.

The free version contains all the basic features that you might expect from a modern IDE: syntax highlighting for HTML, CSS, JavaScript and PHP, code autocomplete, code folding, pair highlighting and selection, project manager, etc.

The lite version adds to this code validation for HTML, CSS, Sass, Less and PHP; a SQL manager; and support for version control systems such as SVN, Git, etc.

Finally, the professional version (which I have installed here) builds on this by adding support for a variety of popular content management systems (Drupal, Joomla! and WordPress) and both JavaScript and PHP code frameworks (CakePHP, CodeIgniter, Facebook, jQuery, Laravel, Symfony, etc.)

View a comparison of the three versions.

Cost

What I like about the professional version is how modular it is, as it is simply the lite version (US $39.95, approx. GBP £26.80) with additional plugins (US $24.95–$49.95 each).

For example, if you only ever develop for WordPress then you can simply add the WordPress plugin (US $39.95): total price US $79.90 (approx. GBP £53.60).

If you plan to use more than one plugin then it seems to be generally more cost-effective to buy the complete bundle for a total of US $119.95 (approx. GBP £80.48), which is a saving of 70% compared with buying each plugin individually, which would come to US $379.45 (approx. GBP £254.60).

Installation

Installation was pretty simple. All three versions are bundled with the same installer; the various features are unlocked with an appropriate serial number.

I do like that the Help > Registration… dialog shows you exactly which plugins you have enabled, and in the case of trial versions how many days you have left.

CodeLobster registration window showing the status of each plugin.
CodeLobster registration window showing the status of each plugin.

User interface

In contrast to the minimalist interfaces of Sublime Text, Atom and Brackets, CodeLobster employs a more traditional multi-panel layout.

CodeLobster interfacing, using the Sublime Text Monokai theme
CodeLobster interfacing, using the Sublime Text Monokai theme

Each of the panels is tabbed, supporting multiple functions: file, class view, project, SQL, TODO, search results, bookmarks, errors, help, properties, map, etc. They are also collapsible, creating more space for the code editor.

Along the top of the application are optional toolbars, where you can also switch on or off the panel tabs. Unfortunately, the toolbars don’t appear to be customizable.

Having been using Sublime Text for the last few years the interface feels very busy, and really quite dated.

Text editor

Unlike some code editors that I’ve used, CodeLobster’s autocomplete and code hinting capabilities are very quick, and rather quite helpful.

Code hints
Code hints for the get_template_part WordPress function.

Hovering over a WordPress function, a speech bubble appears showing brief, but useful, documentation about it. It’s fast and it’s unobtrusive.

Code autocomplete
Code autocomplete

Having selected View > Autocomplete for… WordPress, autocomplete options pop-up very quickly whenever you start typing something that looks like a WordPress function or keyword.

The autocomplete helper is context-sensitive, though. So if you are working in a JavaScript file, or create a <script> tag in your document, then the autocomplete will switch to JavaScript and jQuery (assuming you have that module enabled, of course).

On the right, double-clicking a function in the help panel opens the corresponding documentation in the WordPress Codex.

Documentation finder

Creating local WordPress projects

Create a new WordPress project
Create a new WordPress project

One of the really nice features I like about CodeLobster is its ability to quickly set up a new WordPress project on your local server. This assumes you’re running a local dev environment such as XAMPP.

After filling in a few details (including database connection details) CodeLobster goes off to the local environment and sets everything up for you:

  • Download and unpack the latest version of WordPress to your local dev environment.
  • Create a new MySQL database.
  • Install WordPress.
  • Populate the basic settings (site title, admin)

I’ve tried this in previous versions of CodeLobster and each time I simply couldn’t get it to work properly. I’m not sure what I was doing wrong, but this time, in this version: it worked!

I tried it both with a database that I’d already created in phpMyAdmin, and without. It worked successfully each time. This is a really useful feature for quickly starting WordPress projects: it gets you up and running in no time.

Niggles

So far, so good. But I have a few little niggles.

The interface does look quite outdated: the newest visual style it offers is based on VisualStudio 2005. It’s not a deal-breaker, but something a little more modern would be very welcome.

You cannot drag and drop files into the editor, you have to go through the File > Open dialog. I have two monitors. I often drag and drop files into Sublime Text. It’s a much quicker method than going through a dialog box.

To create new files, you cannot simply double-click the document bar, like you can with some editors. You have to go through the File > New dialog. It does mean that quickly creating temporary throw-away documents isn’t a particularly fast task.

Something that I do find frustrating is that I can’t quickly move the CodeLobster window from monitor to monitor. I use a utility called WinSplit Revolution that allows me to assign shortcut keys to move applications from one monitor to another, or even to reposition it on the screen. But it doesn’t work with CodeLobster. It’s the only application that I have installed that it doesn’t work with.

Conclusion

I have only just scratched the surface here, but it’s clear to me that CodeLobster is a powerful and capable IDE. It has a lot of built-in tools for generating, testing and debugging code, that certainly appear fast.

My biggest issue, though, as I’ve indicated is the user-interface. It now feels very outdated, which may put some developers off. But if you can work beyond that, there are some really powerful features inside.

That you can quickly create a development installation of WordPress on your localhost server is brilliant. And I’m so glad whatever issues there were previously have now been fixed.

To be honest, CodeLobster doesn’t currently offer enough to draw me away from Sublime Text 3; I love the speed and flexibility of ST3. But I have to say that if I was working on a PHP-heavy site, or a major new WordPress site then I seriously might consider using CodeLobster, for its code intelligence capabilities.

I have a project like that coming up soon. I’ll be sure to report back…

Download CodeLobster for free.

DataTables for jQuery

Screenshot of data tables website

At lunchtime today one of my colleagues at work showed me the DataTables jQuery plugin which really impressed me.

DataTables is a plugin for the jQuery JavaScript framework that adds interactive controls to any HTML table, e.g. sort columns, column filtering, pagination, Ajax loading of data, etc.

For its ‘basic’ functionality the code is simple:

$(document).ready(function(){
    $('#example').dataTable();
});

A couple of hours later I was in a meeting with the University’s Moodle (VLE) and MMS team who were showing me some of their recent developments which included use of—you guessed it—the DataTables jQuery plugin.

One of the things, I have to say, that impresses me most about DataTables is how extensive and well written the documentation is.

Check out the DataTable examples page. Impressive stuff.

Microsoft and Nokia adopt jQuery

Exiting news on the jQuery blog yesterday:

Both Microsoft and Nokia are taking the major step of adopting jQuery as part of their official application development platform. Not only will they be using it for their corporate development but they will be providing it as a core piece of their platform for developers to build with.

Great news! I really like the jQuery JavaScript library.  I can do things with jQuery in 5 minutes that would ordinarily take me weeks. So far it must have saved me weeks and weeks of development time.

Learning jQuery

Did you get anything exciting and geeky for Christmas? I got a copy of Learning jQuery: Better Interaction Design and Web Development with Simple JavaScript Techniques by Jonathan Chaffer and Karl Swedberg (Packt Publishing, 2007).

jQuery is an open-source JavaScript library that makes adding cross-browser compatible effects to your website really simple.

It’s written in such a way that it makes it really easy for web designers (rather than being aimed simply at experienced JavaScript code monkeys) to understand and write as most of its concepts are borrowed from the structure of HTML and CSS.

Example

Here’s a quick example: say you have a table of data to which you wish to apply a striping-effect to alternate rows. All odd rows you wish to display with a pale yellow background, all even rows with a pale blue background.

The traditional, coding-by-hand HTML method you’d manually have to add a class to each table row. If you were then to add a new row in the middle of the table you’d then have to again manually re-edit the code in each and every row.

You could, of course, write a PHP or JavaScript solution, but that would take quite a while, particularly if your 1337 g33k 5killz aren’t up-to-scratch or are in a hurry to get the job done.

jQuery offers the following solution:

  1. Download the jQuery library (about 14 KB compressed) and link it to your HTML document
  2. Write a new JavaScript file containing your striping code and link it to your HTML document
  3. Create new classes in your CSS file for styling the .odd and .even rows.

Here’s the jQuery code you’d need:

$(document).ready(function() {
$('tr:odd').addClass('odd');
$('tr:even').addClass('even');
});

Four lines of code is all it takes, and it’s almost self-explanatory too.

The code says:

  1. Wait until the DOM is ready then execute the code
  2. Then add class=”odd” to all odd table rows
  3. Add class=”even” to all even table rows

The book

The book is very easy to read, taking everything step-by-step and arranged in a very logical and easy to follow way.

Chapter 1 introduces the reader to jQuery

Chapter 2 covers selectors, the building-blocks of a jQuery function

Chapter 3 looks at events: when to start your jQuery code (e.g. on page load, when you click a link, etc.)

Chapter 4 examines Effects, e.g. fading in and out

Chapter 5 covers DOM manipulation: how to change your page on command

Chapter 6 promises to make your website buzzword-compliant with AJAX

The following chapters cover table manipulation, enhancing forms, shufflers and rotators, and extending the built-in functionality of jQuery with plug-ins.

You can see the book examples in action at http://book.learningjquery.com.

I can’t wait to get started and incorporate some of these techniques into my websites.