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 This list may be out of date.

    By the time you read this page, this list may also be outdated.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 a plain text 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 DRM (ie, digital restrictions). Since I dislike this (though I understand why developers feel they need to implement it), I'm not even going to mention its name so as to give it publicity.

Anyway, if you are looking for an editor, you can find many free ones listed on thefreecountry.com's Free Programmer's Editors and Free HTML Editors and Web Editors pages.

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.

For the most part, though, 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. However, 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. In the past, I used a lightweight and free program known as ClipX, although now that the latest version of Windows 10 (starting from version 1903) comes with its own rudimentary clipboard history facility, I have switched to it instead.

If you want a more sophisticated and fully-featured clipboard manager, see the Free Clipboard Extenders and Clipboard History Managers page, where ClipX and others are listed.

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 may 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

At present, I'm using Jasc Paint Shop Pro 8, an obsolete graphics editor that was developed in the Windows XP era, to create and maintain what few graphics I actually display on my sites. I have considered moving on to one of the many free image editors around, and will probably do so one day, but have delayed doing so since I so rarely deal with pictures.

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.

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 © 2008-2019 by Christopher Heng. All rights reserved.
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