CodeLobster PHP Edition Software Review
Written by Ian Lincicome of Jafty Interactive Web Development - Jafty.com
For the past couple of weeks, I have been evaluating CodeLobster's latest release of "CodeLobster PHP Edition" which I'll refer to as simply "CodeLobster" from here on out in this review. The current edition at the time of writing this review was CodeLobster PHP Edition Professional Version 5.4. I am reviewing CodeLobster because I am looking for a tool I can use for my web development business, Jafty Interactive Web Development. Also I was given a break on purchasing the pro version of CodeLobster in exchange for writing a product review on my site, Jafty.com. Please note that I am under no obligation to write a positive review. I will be as brutally honest as ever, I assure you. This review will include both the pros and cons of using CodeLobster rather than a one-sided review like many company's probably hire writers to write. In fact, if that was my intention, I wouldn't have mentioned that the someone had asked me to write this review. My ulterior motive for writing the review is to find the perfect program to do my work for my business. I am also evaluating other products as well because I want to work with the best.
I'm looking for an application that will allow me to seamlessly edit several types of code on several different servers without having to use a separate code editor, FTP program, web browser and Language reference material. To this date, I have been using three separate applications to accomplish my day-to-day work. I used FileZilla to copy files from a client's web server to my desktop. I used Notepad++ to edit the code files. Finally, before using FileZilla again to upload the files back to the client's server, I viewed the file in Firefox to see how it looks in a browser. That is if it is not a server-side language like PHP which I use the most. If I had to edit a PHP file, I had yet another couple of steps to perform because I'd have to upload the file to the server to view it and then repeat the whole entire process again if I had more changes to make to get it perfect. So I used FileZilla, Notepad++ and Firefox mostly up until now. I figure I could probably almost double my productivity with one good tool that does it all.
Technologies CodeLobster Supports
CodeLobster supports a wide range of technologies including:
- Version control systems such as SVN, Git etc.
CodeLobster also has a very wide assortment of features including all the standard components you would expect in a code editor and many extras. I found a helpful built-in Help feature that also links to online help if you can't find what you need in the built-in documentation. The online documentation is surprisingly complete for a newer product.
The installation went smoothly and was very easy and comprehensive. Simply download and click the set up file and the installer will guide you through the simple set up process. Here is the Download Link: http://www.codelobster.com/download.html
When I first installed CodeLobster, it allowed me to select what languages/technologies I wanted to install. I only deselected two that I knew for sure I would most likely never use. I figured if there was even a small chance that I might use one of the items listed, then I should leave it checked. That way I will be prepared in case I need that particular technology in the future.
Pros and Cons
Once I began using CodeLobster I noticed both good and bad points regarding the program. I loved how versatile the program was right out of the box. I did not like the way the word wrap feature worked(View/Word Wrap). It breaks up words rather than splitting lines by the nearest space. I'd prefer it to not break up words at all or at least do so in a more logical manner(by syllables with hyphens for example). From what I understand from reading the forums and talking with my contact, CodeLobster plans to add an option between soft and hard word-wrap. Hard wrap is how it is now and soft wrap would be a word-wrap technique that doesn't break up words. I do hope they add it soon because it was one of the of the first things I noticed.
One of the first features I noticed and liked was the completely configurable hot-keys. You can configure any hot-key by going to Tools/Preferences/IDE/Hot keys. Another nice feature is the Find and Replace feature that is very much like that of Notepad++ including regular expression search and the ability to search and replace text in files, folders and sub-folders. This can be a huge time-saver for coders.
One of the first things I noticed and did not like was the lack of a decent spell checker. I know notepad++ has the option as a plugin, but not as a built-in feature. Either way would be great, but I think it should be a standard built-in feature. I realize that auto-complete helps with this, but not if you are writing a plain text file such as I am doing right now while writing this review. I talked to my contact at CodeLobster Software about this and he assured me that they plan to add a robust spell-checking feature in the near future. He mentioned that they plan on making several additions to the software and will be releasing future editions with new features and improvements ASAP. So, while CodeLobster may not have everything I would like it to have at the moment, I was assured that they are heading in the right direction with future expansion plans.
Another nice feature I also noticed right away was CodeLobster's tool bars. The tool bars are completely configurable and have a nice drag and drop feature to move tool bar items around as you please. The same can be said for the man different windows that can be added or removed from the work area.
CodeLobster is a code editor first & foremost and it does a wonderful job at editing PHP code which is my code of choice. If you are looking for a word processor, CodeLobster probably won't fit the bill, but it is a very robust code editor that can handle all of the languages I use for web development and several others.
CodeLobster's plugin ability is great to have in a code editing program. The pro version of CodeLobster comes with many plugins that the free version does not include from what I understand, so I think the pro version is definitely worth the cost for those of you who work with frameworks such as WordPress, Joomla, CakePHP, CodeIgniter, etc. I currently own the Pro version and I am happy with its performance so far and will be much happier once some of the additions are made in the near future.
As I continue to evaluate the software I am finding there are more and more features that I like. As a web developer, I need a tool that allows me to quickly edit code, test it and upload it to the client's server. So far, CodeLobster seems to be meeting my three main requirements quite well in most cases.
CodeLobster's FTP ability is a very powerful feature. The FTP feature allows you to set up as many FTP connections as you need. I was able to copy all of my client's FTP connections from FileZilla into CodeLobster. Now I am able to click on a connection, edit a server file, preview it and upload it back to the server seamlessly from within a single application! This is huge for me because I used to use at least three different applications to do the same thing without CodeLobster. I can see that my work will get done a lot faster by using CodeLobster. In fact, I am already getting work done faster after only two days of using it.
The FTP feature is very functional, but for a guy like me who hates to read instructions, it took a little bit of fooling around using trial and error methods to get it set up for the first time with all of my client's 20+ FTP connections and configuring basic settings. Everything I needed to accomplish my FTP tasks is in CodeLobster, but the FTP system does need some improvements. For example it gave me trouble when trying to connect to a SFTP connection. It worked great with all non-secure FTP connections however. As luck would have it, out of over 20 current clients I work with, only one uses SFTP rather than FTP, so I am unable to test it on other secure SFTP servers to see if the problem is just with this one server or not. Unfortunately this is one of my regular clients so it is going to be a problem for me. It did connect using SFTP, but had issues when trying to edit files on the server which I was able to do fine with regular FTP connections. I did bring this issue to the attention of my CodeLobster contact however and he assures me it will be looked into ASAP.
Regarding the GUI set-up for FTP, in my personal opinion, the way the windows are organized in the work area could have been done a little better. For example, when I use FTP, I have to go to Tools/FTP to open the explorer window that lists FTP connections. That alone will allow you to open your FTP connection but won't allow you to see what's going on. If there was an error and the only window you had open in your work area was the explorer window, you wouldn't see that error. This is where I think it could have been done better. I would have programmed it so that when you open the FTP window, the output window opens along with it, right above it, similar to how FileZilla allows you to view console output. Of course this is just my opinion, it may not bother others and actually I am starting to get used to it so it doesn't bother me as much as time passes.
The "Find in Files"(Search/Find in Files...) feature is great for finding text in open files. It could be improved to allow file search on the local directory tree files as well, but it is sufficient the way it is. Also I love the regular expression search as I mentioned earlier.
Also, I often use the incremental search feature when I edit code. While I am glad it has this feature, a small nuisance for me is that the incremental search box is not persistent across different views. I think it would be nice if the incremental search box would stay at the bottom of all view tabs once it is opened. I don't think it should close unless you manually close it. Again, this is just my preference, not a bug.
One more thing I liked while test driving CodeLobster is that when editing .html and .css files I could hover over class names in the HTML or CSS code and it would show me the associated style declaration. Also when hovering over items in a .css file, it shows me information regarding the browser compatibility of the CSS code.
The HTML preview feature works very well. It is a built-in browser that shows the results of your code live without having to open a separate browser window. All you do is click on the "preview" tab. I did notice that sometimes you have to hit the refresh button to see your changes, but that is to be expected.
I also enjoyed the code formatting features very much. I tested them on an HTML file that I copied from an online web page. At first the HTML code was ran all together with no line breaks or indents. I simply went to the tool bar and clicked "Tools/Code Format/Format" and it formatted it perfectly. I am sure it will work with other supported languages equally well.
When you double-click on a variable name in the PHP editor, it highlights the variable and the dollar sign, so you can copy the whole thing and paste or search for it easily. Notepad++ wouldn't include the dollar sign and it was a bother to me.
CodeLobster has what they call a "Map" feature(View/Windows/Map) that I've never seen before. It is basically a small window with a tiny view of the document you're working on. It allows you to click anywhere in the Map to quickly jump to a section of the file that you need to work on. It is a great feature for working with large files.
I have concluded that CodeLobster will indeed fill a need in my current web development process. It is not yet developed enough to be the only tool I use simply because of that one SFTP connection it will not work correctly with. However I found that I can combine it with another tool, CyberDuck, as a work-around until the developers of CodeLobster work out the final kinks in the software and add some more nice-to-have type features such as spell-check and . In the end it still gets a thumbs up for all the wonderful features it has and for its robustness in general. Eventually I believe it will make the perfect all-in-one coding tool for my company. The other contender for my new all-in-one coding tool was CyberDuck and I can honestly say that CodeLobster has much more potential. CyberDuck is also in its early stages of development and it needs several improvements to be truly useful. CyberDuck fails in comparison to CodeLobster when it comes to Features. CodeLobster is truly made to be an all-in-one coding solution while CyberDuck is missing many of the necessary features to be a real competitor.
If you are interested in how I combined CodeLobster with CyberDuck to make up for CodeLobster's short-coming when connecting by SFTP, I'll quickly go over how to do it. Create a bookmark(that's what CyberDuck calls their FTP/SFTP connections) in CyberDuck to the SFTP server. CyberDuck allows you to set it up so you can use your own code editor with it in a way that allows you to click on a file from a remote server and open it in that editor. Then when you save it in that editor(CodeLobster), it saves it to the server. That way I still have a seamless process even though I have to combine two tools to get what I truly want.