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Eclipse for the PHP Developer

by: Shu-Wai Chow
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September 21, 2004

As PHP has grown and matured, so have the tools for PHP developers. Integrated development environment choices have never been greater. One such IDE is the open source Eclipse Platform. Eclipse, essentially a rewrite of Visual Age for Java, was a donation to the open source community by IBM and quickly became a household name in the Java world. Now, combined with the PHPEclipse plugin, Eclipse offers a world-class development environment for PHP applications.
This article will help you get started with using Eclipse for PHP development. It provides an overview of the Eclipse Platform, information on the installation of Eclipse and PHPEclipse, the Eclipse interface, and some PHP-helpful features.

The Eclipse Architecture

Eclipse is written in Java and its GUI is handled by the Eclipse Standard Widget Toolkit (SWT). This combination makes Eclipse a fast, cross-platform application. Pre-compiled binaries are available for all major operating systems including Mac OS X, Linux (GTK and Motif), Windows, and Solaris.
By itself, Eclipse does nothing. The core piece of Eclipse is just a small kernel. All functionality of the Eclipse platform is a result of interactions between plugins and the kernel. This includes the GUI and file system managers. Since Eclipse made its name as a Java development platform, a Java Development Toolkit (JDT) plugin is included with the standard Eclipse SDK for Java development.
The significance of this modular architecture cannot be overstated. It gives Eclipse a phenomenal amount of flexibility. Via plugins, not only is Eclipse a professional IDE for many languages, but it can also act as an interface for many other systems. With Eclipse, you can write Cobol code, and use it as a front end for an LDAP server. The number of plugins is so diverse and numerous that Eclipse Foundation maintains a separate site for the plugin community at http://www.eclipse-plugins.info/eclipse/index.jsp. A more compelling consequence of the architecture is its meaning for open source in general. No longer are developers tied to one proprietary tool, product, or closed license. With a C# plugin for Eclipse, you do not have to purchase Microsoft Visual Studio should you wish to develop in .NET. It is the open source method of embrace and extend.
For this article, I will focus on the PHPEclipse plugin for PHP development. A bit of warning - PHPEclipse, and this article, has a heavy Apache and MySQL bias. PHPEclipse can work with other web servers and databases with very little functionality sacrifice.

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