I was a Joomla! user who converted to WordPress in 2010, and I have contributed at least four sites to the WordPress statistic that it powers more than 68 million websites around the world. This year, I took the plunge into the WordPress codex and began writing my own plugins and getting comfortable with the code behind the ever-evolving WordPress platform.
Viewing PHP code in your cPanel's file editor can only go so far before you want to use real-world tools that professional WordPress developers, designers, and consultants use. Rather than doing an endless Google search, I reached out to the WordPress community to find out which tools professionals use to drive their businesses. These are the suggestions I received. (All prices listed are in US dollars.)
Integrated development environments and text editors
If you're writing code, you need a good text editor. I've been working with NetBeans for my development projects, and I like the built-in FTP features. Many of the development tools in this table support FTP capability within the editor, in addition to database and version control software.
|PhpStorm||Free to $199||Linux, Mac, Windows|
|Sublime Text||$70||Linux, Mac, Windows|
|NetBeans||Free||Linux, Mac, Windows|
|Coda 2||$75 (for a limited time)||Mac|
|Notepad++||Go to the site for details.||Windows|
MySQL database management tools
For the WordPress developer, understanding the underlying MySQL tables and supporting data is a must. Popular hosting accounts such as Bluehost and HostGator provide myPhpAdmin to administer the database. However, I like the client-based tools for query execution and basic table changes.
|MySQL Workbench||Free||Linux, Mac, Windows|
Local WordPress hosting environments
When developing on a WordPress platform, you have the choice of using a hosted account or working faster by managing your own local Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP environment (LAMP). Macintosh, Apache, MySQL, and PHP (MAMP), XAMPP, and DesktopServer provide local installations of the common LAMP configuration. I've been running MAMP on my MacBook Pro, and working locally saves time when migrating PHP files and images.
|MAMP||Free to $59||Mac|
|XAMPP||Free||Linux, Mac, Windows|
|DesktopServer||Free to $49.95||Mac, Windows|
Other useful WordPress development tools include FTP utilities, screen capture tools, and debugging tools. Firebug is an indispensable tool when you're trying to tweak a theme before editing the CSS file. Its live editing capability ensures you edit the correct CSS tag and are happy with the result before you start editing your child theme or modifying a custom.css file.
|Forklift 2||FTP utility||Go to the site for details.||Mac|
|Droplr||Share and host images|
|ScreenFlow||Desktop screen capture video tool||$99||Mac|
Several WordPress plugins are must-have tools. In my informal discussions with developers, Gravity Forms is the most referenced plugin, as it allows developers to establish a base form and then extend it for more complex functionality.
|Types and Views||Custom post type and view tool||Go to the site for details.|
|Gravity Forms||Form generator||$39 - $199|
|BackupBuddy||Back up, restore, and migrate WordPress||$80 - $150|
|Akismet||Comment spam blocker||Go to the site for details.|
|WordPress SEO by Yoast||SEO tool||Free|
Project management and collaboration tools
Developers, designers, and consultants don't work in a vacuum -- projects often require collaboration and coordination with clients, freelancers, and distributed development teams. I asked Rebecca Gill of Web Savvy Marketing about the popular tools used in her Michigan-based website design company. She said:
"We use Basecamp, GitHub, Dropbox, and Amazon for some backups. We could not live without Basecamp and GitHub. Every project, regardless of type, is in Basecamp. Basecamp manages to-do lists, time tracking, and file transfers. Any coding files that require collaboration are housed in GitHub. Since we have a virtual team these software packages are priceless to me. Between Basecamp, GitHub, and Skype my virtual team feels like they are across desk and not all over the globe."
If you are a WordPress freelancer interested in the business side of WordPress, then you need to listen to the MattReport, a WordPress podcast for entrepreneurs, startups, and freelancers. Matt Medeiros is the host of the MattReport, and each interview provides a "What's in Your Toolbox?" segment where WordPress developers and consultants list their favorite software tool to manage their day-to-day activities. Within Matt's company, Slocum Design Studio, his team uses Trello, GitHub, and Droplr to collaborate, share files, and manage client projects.
Software engineers, designers, and consultants are always looking for tools to make their jobs easier. You may have to spend a few dollars to use the commercial features, but you'll also find free tools that will help you complete the job.
If you have a favorite WordPress development tool, please tell us what it is in the comments.