Sublime Text to PhpStorm – Why I Switched


I’ve gone through a lot of coding tools over the years, from Dreamweaver to Coda and Espresso I think I’ve tried just about all of them. About two years ago I got tired of switching all the time and thought I found my ultimate solution in Sublime Text 2. It was fast, easily customizable through plugins and seemed to do everything I needed it to do but it had some issues.

Even after using Sublime Text for over a year I never got past the feeling that a lot of what I was doing with it was a hack or a work around that resulted in a less-than elegant solution. This was true for debugging, deploying and just about any other operation other than simply editing text. Sure there are some good plugins but most of them just never felt complete and the only reason I was putting up with it was that I simply didn’t know anything better.

While I had been using many different types of editors for my PHP and related work the one step I had never takes with PHP was a full-blown IDE. It’s not that I had anything against IDEs and I in fact used them regularly in grad school for projects involving JAVA and other languages but for PHP the choices were always either an afterthought or just plain clunky. NetBeans, Aptana and Eclipse might have been great projects in their own right but they were slow, buggy and offered no better support for PHP than text editors like Sublime Text and others. Tools like an IDE are supposed to improve your workflow yet with PHP all the traditional tools I was familiar with did nothing except slow me down.

Last July I was introduced to PhpStorm after winning a license at a Meetup. I actually didn’t even touch it for a month or so after that as my thought was why would I want to bother with another attempt at a PHP IDE in the history of Zend Studio, Netbeans and others. Even more so, why would I want to pay $99 a year for such a piece of software if it wasn’t going to help me in my work? On a lark I decided last Fall to give it a try anyway and it has completely changed the way I work. In the months since I’ve tried to test Sublime Text again as, frankly, I’m cheap and don’t want to have to pay for a license when my current year is up in July but I’m hooked. Every other tool I try out there just seems down-right bad in comparison. It has done more for my workflow and my sanity than any single application I’ve purchased in at least the last year or two. I simply don’t know what I would do without it anymore. Why is that?

It’s fast

This may sound like a small deal but one of the things I really did like about Sublime Text was the speed. I could start the application and it was ready to use in a second or two at most. This is a stark contrast from traditional IDEs I had tried where I could click the icon, go get a drink and maybe, if I was lucky, it would be ready to use when I got back.

PhpStorm simply removed the advantage held by Sublime Text. Now if I was to hold a stopwatch to it Sublime Text might beat it by a fraction of a second or so but PhpStorm can hold its own with any of the far-less-capable text editors available. I can start it and within a second or two I’m working away. That is so much better than nearly any editor I’ve tried.


While there are extensions to add XDEBUG and phpunit to Sublime Text they are clunky in comparison to PhpStorm. The debugging tools have allowed me to really up my game as I’m no longer wasting valuable development time setting up and trying to interpret the less capable tools in Sublime Text or other stand-alone debugging utilities. It does take a few minutes to setup on a complex project but the intuitive GUI makes it so much easier to setup initially as well as to modify the setup later if needed.

Coding Standards

I’m rather picky about my own code and PhpStorm, as a true IDE, makes keeping with the standards I’ve set (mostly the WordPress coding standards) a piece of cake. With one keystroke I can fix all my mistakes across a single file or even a full project, a feature that puts me at ease and helps me keep my code consistent and mistake free.

Version Control

While I still use Sourcetree for some GIT features the GIT and SVN integration in PhpStorm is more than up to the task of just about everything I do on a daily basis. Committing, pushing, pulling and reverting are all a key or a click away without the need of tracking down obscure packages or wondering exactly what is in my staging area.

Project Management

Sublime Text is OK here but PhpStorm really knows what is going on. From searching projects to saving project settings and tracking down function and variable definitions PhpStorm makes getting around a complex project a breeze. Since I’ve started using it I’ve not only moved all of my projects out of Sublime Text but I’ve also almost completely stopped using trusty tools like ack in my daily workflow as I just don’t need them anymore.

In the end what it comes down to is while tools like Sublime Text might be good enough PhpStorm takes my daily workflow to an entirely new level helping me get more done faster. For the foreseeable future I’m hooked on PhpStorm for my real work and I’ll let Sublime Text do what it does best, act as the text editor on my machine.

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25 Replies to “Sublime Text to PhpStorm – Why I Switched”

  1. I started with Dreamweaver, used WebStorm off and on for a few months, and stuck with Sublime Text for a little while, but when I started doing WordPress development full-time last year I made the switch to PhpStorm.

    There are a lot of good reasons I continue to use it (you’ve mentioned a few of them here), but my #1 reason is that it’s flat-out helped make me a better developer. I may be a bit too dependent on it at times (code completion, standards enforcement, function definitions) but I’ll accept that dependence for now as a trade-off for having such a great tool.

    1. I like how you put that Morgan. I’ll agree it has helped my workflow but I’m always scared to give a tools credit for making me a bette developer as I always hated folksy who use their tool as a crutch. That said though, you’re right and it has made me a better developer too.

  2. I’ll have to check this out, I’m always searching for new tools that cut down on all the extras I have to add to them. At work we are using WeBuilder, but I wish we could use something like this since we primarily do WP builds.

  3. The problem with SublimeText now is that there is no support, bugs don’t get fixed and there is been no updates for over a year now. I think this project is dead in the water. Sad. It was a good editor at the time.

  4. interesting read, maybe i should evalaute PHPStorm again as it wasn’t that “good” how you describe it the last time i checked it out. With regards to Sublime, it is by far not dead, actually the newest build of version 3 was released two days ago

  5. I work in an agency which means I have to open more than 3 projects a day and be able to switch between them easily and fast, phpstorm can’t deal with that. I can’t make wait the PM for about a minute till the app is opened and working, that mean I can search files, functions, etc.
    Phpstorm instructions… are massive, huge, enormous… sublime text is made by plugins, you can use what you want to use. a tool that manage all that phpstorm tries to manage cannot be good. Sequel pro for db management, console for the console, sourcetree, I don’t know you but I fell in love with mercurial, cyberduck… I’m 100% sure that phpstorm can’t do the job better than all these applications, is almost impossible.If works for you ok, but here you are comparing 1 IDE with at least 5 apps.

    1. It was actually while working for an agency and having to switch between multiple projects that I started using PhpStorm. Not all features need to be best of class, they just need to help me get my work done faster. In the case of PhpStorm getting so much done from one app is much faster than opening 5 others (even with the extra ~ 1/2 second it takes to load PhpStorm over ST).

    2. Hi Pablo,

      PhpStorm is too slow for me – I want ‘lightning reaction’! And it seems Sublime Text 3 is the one.
      However, have no idea how to put together all the plugins and stuff to get the perfect dev env.

      What would I need to get a ST3 setup for PHP / JS having at least for code editing:
      syntax highlighting, linting (real time error detection),
      and if possible symbol completion (with function arguments help), PHP core functions help, jump to func declaration, braces matching, …
      (don’t need to test php code via a server, svn or git… have other tools for that)


      1. I couldn’t tell you on ST anymore, I’ve simply stopped worrying about it. As for the lightning reaction though, on large projects I’m often up and running quicker than those around me who are using other tools like ST.

  6. I’m still using Notepad++ using the included NppFTP plugin (still hooked). What got me searching for alternatives is the need to use a tool to sync settings across multiple devices. Do any of these IDE’s offer the ability to store project/FTP settings on an account?

    1. Definitely not good for syncing although you can keep the .idea folder in version control for multiple computers. If you’re using other types of devises though you should probably check out some of the cloud IDEs out there (there are many these days).

  7. nice write up, Chris!

    i’ve used dreamweaver, eclipse, netbeans and finally landed on phpstorm about 2 years ago… it’s the best thing that ever happened to me in many years of web development… speed, configurability, lots of features, integrates with everything i use in my projects… it’s the perfect companion to my day to day development tasks.

  8. Nice article, but I must be working in a different universe.

    ST fires up within a second. PHPstorm takes like 10s+ to be ready after launching… irrespective of platform.

    Don’t get me wrong, the latter is a proper IDE so we’re comparing apples/oranges, but my experience is that Java based editors are ALWAYS slower. Way slower. Also really poor font rendering issues on some platforms. Once again, reliance on Java, a poor choice for what is supposed to be a native desktop app.

    Just me, but choosing Java as the foundation for what is supposed to be a high performance utility used by demanding tech savvy users (devs) is in my opinion a poor architectural decision. Imagine what PS could be if written in C/C++/etc?

    That being said, once PS is up and running, it’s worth the 99 bucks… Just wish it was faster to launch GDmit!!!

    1. Launch time on PhpStorm seems to be hit or miss for many. On this machine it is about as fast as ST but I’ve heard many people say it takes forever. That said, I do wish it wasn’t written in Java but there are worse travesties in the world.

      1. SL 3 opens in two seconds, this verion is faster than SL2. Phpstorm opens in a minute. There is huge different.
        I use 3 machines (Macbook Pro, Windows Desktop, Mac Pro).
        On better machines difference is less and less.
        You definitely wrong about speed. And probably your machine is too fast.

      2. Having a fast machine is not a problem. It distorts results as i said. I am not that bad at English.
        The problem and the subject there, you are wrong about speed.
        Let me repeat.
        You are wrong about speed.

        1. I don’t see how speed is a problem and how its related to hardware specs, we don’t face it. Take the following example:

          2 teams
          7 members each
          6 with 3.2 Core i7 / 16gb RAM / mechanical HDD / Win7 && Win8.1
          6 with Mac mini (Late 2012) 2.5 Core i5 / 16gb RAM / mechanical HDD / Mavericks && Yosemite
          2 with MacBook Pro same specs as minis but SSD

          And all always running at least 1 CentOS VM and 1 Windows (XP, 7 or 8). So, unless you compare with the SSD option… that can be considered somewhat fast, still slow CPU and low RAM.

          I have exactly one month into PhpStorm and I’m not renewing my Sublime v2 License for stable v3. I rather stay on the last v3 Beta available with my v2 key.

          Yes if you put against my beast (Mac Pro, 3.0GHz 8 Core, 64gb RAM, SSD) as soon as you click it’s ready to be used… but that computer is for über-heavy video editing/compression and Android/Linux bounding/compilation. A more realistic scenario is my MacBook Air: simple 1.6 Core i5, 8gb RAM, SSD: still 3/4 secs for startup and 1/2 secs for project opening

  9. For all of you who experience slow and lagging pc etc you should try Ccleaner and Advanced System Care it really helps boosting up your machine