Which Software Do You Use for Web Development?

Reviews of some programs useful to webmasters


Which Software Do You Use for Web Development?

by Christopher Heng, thesitewizard.com

I'm often asked by my visitors which tool I'm using for such-and-such a task (for example, web editing). This article attempts to answer the question with a list of some of the software I use regularly to develop and maintain my websites.

Things to Note

  1. This list is not authoritative.

    The list of software below are merely the programs I use. Don't rush out to get it just because I mentioned them. They may be buggy, may not work on your machine, may cause data loss, hair loss, earthquakes, and what-have-you. Or, they may simply not suit your style of working.

  2. This list is not exhaustive.

    Even though this list is already very long, I've undoubtedly left out some important category or software. (And I'm sure it'll come to me one minute after I publish the article.)

    You should also note that in the course of writing tutorials and reviews for my various sites, I also try out a large number of other tools belonging to the categories mentioned below. Those tools are not listed here since they are not my primary web development tools.

  3. This list may be out of date.

    By the time you read this page, this list may also be outdated. Like many other people, I change the software I use from time to time, depending on my needs, the situation, my mood, the phase of the moon, and whatever. And when I do, I don't bother to rush out to update this page. Seriously, you should not be using software on the basis that someone else is using them.

  4. This list may not be relevant to you.

    If you are reading this page because you want to find out how much it costs to create a website, you're on the wrong page. Please see the article "How Much Does It Cost to Set Up a Website?" instead, and then proceed on to the How to Start / Create a Website: The Beginner's A-Z Guide to get started.

    This page was written to satisfy the curious who probably already have some sort of website. They probably just want to see what others are using in case there's something interesting that they have not heard of. Absolute beginners probably won't find anything relevant on this page.

Text Editor

It's probably no secret that my sites, such as thesitewizard.com and thefreecountry.com, are hand-coded using a simple programmer's editor, rather than a full-blown WYSIWYG web editor.

Although I previously named the editor (a commercial one) on this page, I'm no longer going to. Recent versions of the editor come with a highly draconian DRM (ie, digital restrictions) that requires Internet access and allows you to activate the software only 3 times, beyond which you have to become a supplicant and beg them for mercy. This is so even if you have paid a hefty fee for an unlimited lifetime licence ("license" in US English) and thus can be expected to keep transferring the licence to a new computer every time you upgrade your system. As such, I not only do not recommend the program, I refuse to even mention its name. If you are looking for an editor, you can find many free ones listed on thefreecountry.com's Free Programmer's Editors page.

Web Editor

My newer sites, like HowToHaven.com, are maintained using the commercial Dreamweaver web editor. As mentioned in my article, 6 Things to Note Before Changing Your Site Design, Dreamweaver has advanced site management tools (namely its template facilities) that make maintaining a site very easy and efficient. None of the free WYSIWYG web editors available even come close to its power and convenience. And its built-in text editor is no slouch either.

Update (2013): Alas, old habits die hard. I have been coding directly in HTML since the early 1990s, back when the web was new and CSS didn't even exist. Although Dreamweaver provides a lot of convenient facilities, I am just too used to controlling every minute detail of the web design process (laborious as that may be) that I eventually stopped using it for maintaining HowToHaven.com.

Version Control

My websites are always being modified. Even articles that were written years ago get updated periodically so that the information does not become obsolete. I track changes I make to every page on my major sites using a type of program known as version control software. If you are a professional programmer (that is, you write programs for a living), you will probably be familiar with such things. Version control keeps copies of old versions of my files, and allows me to retrieve them whenever I need them.

Windows Vista and Windows 7 have primitive version control facilities built in, so if you use those systems, you may already have the ability to retrieve some older versions of your documents unless you have turned off Volume Shadow Copy (which you may have inadvertently done if you disabled System Restore).

For the most part, version control software is not needed for creating and maintaining a website, so there's no need to panic if you're not using any. If you are trigger-happy, and habitually make changes to your site that you regret, and wished you could recover the original version, such a program may come in useful. It may also be useful if you want a record of what your site contains at a particular point in time. Otherwise it's probably overkill.

In any case, I'm currently using TortoiseSVN, a free graphical Windows version of the well-known SVN version control system.

Clipboard History Manager

One of the most useful tools that I've come across is a clipboard history manager. Although some editors have the ability to maintain multiple clipboards, I prefer to use a separate tool that gives me that facility no matter which program I'm running. I have used a lightweight and free program known as ClipX for many years. There are also other programs of this type listed on the Free Clipboard Extenders and Clipboard History Managers page for those who want to experiment.

Whether a clipboard extender is useful to you or not depends on how you work. Those who frequently paste multiple snippets from one window to another will probably find it handy. Without such a tool, you will have to repeatedly switching back and forth between those documents to copy and paste. For example, if you find yourself doing things like copy, switch, paste, switch, copy, switch, paste (etc), this tool will allow you to simply copy, copy, switch, paste, paste (etc).

Graphics and Image Editing

As mentioned in my tutorial on How to Create a Logo for Your Site the Quick and Easy Way, I use PhotoShop to create what few graphics I actually display on my sites.

I don't have much to say about this program, since I hardly ever create or edit pictures and thus seldom use it. I suppose that given the few times I've needed it, I could have done just as well with one of the free image editors listed on the Free Image and Photo Editing Programs page. But my policy is to not skimp on things that may affect my productivity, so if a certain tool is the best of its kind for a task, I try to get it (where possible, within reason).

SSH Client

There are times when I need to log into a shell account to perform certain tasks on my website. For such occasions, I use a free SSH client called Putty. It works well for my purposes, and even supports tunnelling, so I've not bothered to try out commercial equivalents, or for that matter, the other free SSH clients around.

Incidentally, if you are currently using a telnet client to log into your shell account, I suggest that you switch to an SSH client. They're more secure. Others can "eavesdrop" on your password and things like that if you use telnet.

(Before you ask, if don't know what telnet and SSH is, and you have had no reason to use them before, just ignore this entire category. Don't feel obligated to download a program just because I mentioned it. Different websites have different requirements.)

Search and Replace

From time to time, when I have to search for a particular piece of text in multiple files in order to replace it with a more updated version (such as when I'm updating the design for a website), I either use the built-in search and replace capabilities of my text editor, or a standalone program called PowerGrep, a commercial search and replace tools similar to (but more flexible and easy-to-use, in my opinion, than) the free software listed on the Free Text Search and Replace Utilities page.

However, not everyone needs a separate search and replace utility. If your site is one of those where you create once, and rarely ever modify, then chances are that your editor's facilities are more than sufficient. The utility also tends to be more useful (and more likely to be used) if you have some knowledge of regular expressions, since you will then be able to use its full power to extract information and transform them, sparing you the tedium of manual editing or writing a program to do the job.

Web Statistics and Log Analyzers

I don't really rely on the default web statistics software provided by my web host. I usually use third-party log analyzer tools because they provide a bit more analysis of my logs.

I move from log analyzer to log analyzer every now and then, and the tool that I currently use is usually mentioned in the introduction of the Free Web Log Analyzers page. I don't want to name my current one in this article because I probably change log analyzers more frequently than any other tool, depending on my needs and whether the software has the feature I want. I have yet to find the perfect log analyzer, and I don't want to have to update multiple pages scattered across all my sites every time I try out a new stats tool.

On occasion, where no software provides the information I want, I simply use a search tool to grep (ie, search using regular expressions) my logs to extract the relevant lines. It's a quick and dirty way to get one-off information for checking. If needed, I write a Perl script to do the job. But those times are rare.

Sizer

I have already written about this nifty free tool, Sizer, in my article How to Test Your Website Under Different Screen Resolutions under Windows the Easy Way. It allows me to check my sites under multiple resolutions. For more details, please see that article.

If you don't already have a way to test your sites under different resolutions, you should get it. It's really handy.

Web Browsers

I test my sites under these browsers (although probably not as regularly as I should): Firefox, Opera, the latest version of Internet Explorer, and on occasion (when I make drastic changes to my site design), Safari for Windows and Google Chrome. Once in a blue moon, I also fire up a bootable Linux "live" CD to check the sites with Konqueror (a Linux web browser).

In the past, when Internet Explorer 6 ("IE 6") was popular, I also checked my site under that browser, but now that it's as good as dead, I don't even have a virtual machine with IE 6 around any more. If you think you still need to support that old browser, please see my article How to Check Your Website with Multiple Browsers on a Single Machine (Cross-Browser Compatibility Checking) for more information.

And So On

I can probably go on forever, since, like you, I use many programs, some of which are probably only incidental to the main task of web development. However, instead of making this article tediously long, let me just refer you to the programmer and webmaster sections of thefreecountry.com. You may be surprised at the number of tools that are available for different tasks, making your development a tad easier.

Copyright © 2008-2014 by Christopher Heng. All rights reserved.
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