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The VS Code extensions I use for PHP development in 2019

Dear Reader,

I hate IDEs. I always have, I probably always will. I don’t always want to edit a file that is in a project and I don’t like any of the ‘project-less’ kludges that are out there.  So for the majority of my programming career, I’ve used “program editors”.  Programs just smart enough to know that I’m working in code and give me tools to do that properly, but not so smart that they get in my way. For the last few years I’ve been a huge fan of “Sublime Text”. I’ve owned a license at the last three places I’ve worked and even maintained my own personal license.  All that changed last year when I became one of the last developers on earth to notice VS Code by Microsoft.

Back in April, since I found myself with some time on my hands, I decided I would spend a day actually learning how to use VS Code. Maybe if I had bothered to do that with Sublime Text, I’d still be using it. but that’s a discussion for another day.

Once I got the basics setup, I started exploring Extensions. I’ve loaded more than 40 of them now at one time or another but I’ve paired my list down to my “Essential 12”. Here they are for you.

WAIT! Before we get started though, let me describe my setup.

I use Windows 10, but I use the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) for all of my development. My production servers are all Linux (CentOS if you MUST know) All of my projects are stored on either GitLab or GitHub.  You may be using MacOS or Linux, but since all my development is Linux, almost everything I talk about here will apply.

“Absolutely must have or it’s not worth using” extensions

Visual Studio Code Remote Development Extension Pack

This is the grandaddy of all the extensions. This is what made VSC actually useful to me on a day to day basis. It was only released in May, so I have the least amount of experience with this one but trust me, this is the ONE you have to install if you don’t install anything else.

This is actually an extension pack, not a single extension.

  • Remote – WSL
  • Remote – Containers
  • Remote – SSH: Explorer
  • Remote – SSH: Editing Configuration Files

The first three are the secret sauce. They allow you to edit files natively inside of the WSL, inside of running Docker containers, or on any machine that you can ssh into.

From a command prompt inside the WSL (I use bash so I’m going to say bash prompt form now on. You can translate into your favorite command prompt) developers can open a single file  or a directory by simply typing code.

e.g.

code .

This will open VCS, instantiate a running instance of it’s server piece inside the WSL, and open the current directory ready for us to begin working.

It’s that middle task that makes the magic happen. VSC Remote Development Extension Pack actually has a server piece that it runs in Containers, WSL, and over SSH to allow it to seamlessly manipulate files and directories.

This group of extensions also integrate the remote file system into VSC so you can use File->New/Save/SaveAs/Delete etc on remote systems, WSL, and inside containers. That did away with the need for an extension solely for that purpose.

The fourth item on the list above is a convenience extension that makes editing remote ssh config files easier by giving keyword intellisense and syntax coloring.

BONUS: When you open the terminal window while connected to WSL, a container, or SSH, you get a command prompt in that environment. This means a bash shell in WSL for me, not the PowerShell. (which I still hate) The shell it presents is better and more compatible than any shell I’ve used in Windows so far. If you want, you can even setup forwarders. This could be your complete ssh solution if you so desired.

If you don’t have this extension, you are missing the power of VSC, especially if you work in Win/WSL.

PHP IntelliSense

Since the vast majority of my work in VSC is PHP code, I wanted more than the basic intellisense that is built into VSC. (It is actually recommended that when you install this extension, you turn off the native PHP intellisense) There are a couple of Extensions that do this, I tried them all and this is by far the best and least intrusive.

At least one of them tried to format things as I pasted them in. This caused me to have to do a lot of correcting, removing spaces, and reformatting before I could use the code I just pasted in. This plugin does not do anything too wild. It gives you basic keyword intellisense, tab completion, advanced searching, etc. One of my favorite things about this extension is that if you click on a use statement, it will locate the file that class is defined in and open it for you.

As I said, this plugin does not attempt to format your code for you. It recommends that you use the PHPCS extension for that. (Another reason I love it)

“Sugar coating that make the tool very nice to use” Extensions

Polacode

This one really should be in a category all it’s own called “This is so cool” Extensions. Polacode allows you to create “snapshots” of your code. You activate it, you highlight the code you want snapshoted, and you click the shutter button. BOOK, you’ve got a png of your code ready to share on social media or incorporate into your next slide presentation. It really is that simple. (Well, when you click the button, it asks you where to save it and what to name it. Other than that it’s that simple.)

Outside of the Remote Development Extension Pack, this is probably the coolest extension I use.

vscode-php-cs-fixer

If you do want your code auto-formatted, this is the extension to use. You have complete control over which standards to implement and those can even change on a project by project basis. If you use phpcs in your development process this is a must-have extension. If you install it though, take the time necessary to configure it properly for your base configuration and then modify that as needed on a per-project basis. Since I work in several communities, this allows me to say that my base config is PSR1/1, but my WordPress plugins adhere to the WordPress coding standards. (Mostly) The investment of 30 minutes to get everything setup and configured is time well spent.

Twig Language 2

Some of the work I do requires views and when I use a view, I always use Twig as my templating engine. This extension provides syntax highlighting and hovers for my twig templates. Syntax highlighting might not sound important but once you get used to it, and then you open a file that does not have it, you begin to wonder if your program is broke or if you’ve suddenly been transported into a black & white movie.

Code Spell Checker

Anyone who has ever received an email from me (or read one of my blog posts that pre-dates spellcheckers built into browsers) knows that I seriously suck at spelling. Even when I do have spell checkers they rarely work in code because $somethingImportant will never pass a spell checker. So I have this plugin. This one is hit or miss. It almost always identifies misspelled words in strings or comments (YEA COMMENTS!) but it used to be that I could have it fix them. That stopped working in the latest update. Hopefully they get that fixed soon.

Bracket Pair Colorizer

First, you should not have a lot of nested IF and FOR statements. Down that road is madness. However there are a lot of times where we have function calls nested inside other function calls, nested inside an IF. When you do find yourself in that situation, you want this plugin. This plugin assigns a color to each pair of brackets, braces, and parentheses.  This makes tracing down missing ones trivial and helps you understand the actual nesting of your code.

 

“You may not needs these but I sure do” Extensions

markdownlint

I write a lot. Of late I’ve been writing two books “Using the WordPress REST API” and “Extending the WordPress REST API”. These books are written in MarkDown and stored in private repos on github. (Leanpub refuses to support GitLab, my preferred site. ) Most of the time, MarkDown is easy to do, however, there are some rules that have to be followed. This plugin keeps all of my markdown clean and parse-able.

Prettify JSON

JSON is the lingua franca of APIs. It is heads and shoulders better than XML in every respect except one, readability. XML is human readable. This plugin basically does what PHP’s json_encode($payload, JSON_PRETTY_PRINT) does. It puts linefeeds where we need them and indents where we need them. It also does syntax highlighting and linting for JSON. If you find yourself pasting JSON into a text editor and making it readable by hand, you want this extension.  If on the other hand, you prefer XML, well, you have problems beyond the scope of this article. :)

Word Count

Again, another writing tool. Not even a tool, just a simple little plugin that tells me how many words are in a given MarkDown file. It is not important if you don’t do a lot of writing, but without it I couldn’t tweet out my “how many words I wrote today” tweets.

“I’m keeping an eye on this” Extensions

SQLTools

I’m an old database programmer. I still hand code every line of SQL I write. So I am always looking for new ways to access and manipulate data. I had high hopes for this extension because it looked like it would give me a powerful command line to access my database. To date I’ve not been able to do anything other than get a list of tables on a server.

Still, I have not uninstalled it. Every time there is an update, I try again to see if it is working better.

 

fClose()

That’s it, that’s my current extension list. I hope I’ve introduced you to a new friend or two. If you are new to VS Code, I hope I’ve given you a few new toys to play with.

Until next time,
I <3 |<
=C=

In Celebration of B-Sides

Dear Reader,

One of the most beautiful rock songs of my lifetime, “Beth” by Kiss, was originally released as the “B-Side” to “Detroit, Rick City”.

I know I’m in the minority here but I will go to my grave believing that with “Beth”, Kiss hit it’s pinnacle. Yet, the relegated it to a B-side.

The band, and their producers couldn’t see the beauty they had until much later when fans started clamoring for it to be played on the radio. It was the band’s highest charting single…ever.  (It hit #7 on Billboards Hot 100 chart.)

Tech Conference B-Side Talks

Tech conferences are sometimes like that. Some CFP programs actually ask speakers “Is this your best talk?”. They are looking for the A-Sides.

Honestly, I have no idea what my “best talk” is. I know the ones that I get a lot of comments about, but I can’t say that those are my best.

I can tell you my favorite talks. My favorite talks are not my keynote talks, my favorite talks are the ones where someone comes up afterwards and tells me that they picked up something that they can use in a project they are working on. They are my favorite talks because they actually helped someone.

I recently tweeted out a piece of speaker advice.

Speaker Pro Tip: Write a second talk. Call it your “B-Side” talk. (Kids, ask your parents what that means) Have the slides with you at any Conf or Camp you attend. So far in the past 3 months I’ve scored 2 extra speaking slots because I was prepared.

I didn’t mean to classify the talks by importance, more by “acceptability”.  There are some talks that it’s easy to get accepted at a conference because they push a hot button or they are about the “shiny”.

“B-Side” talks are talks that are important but that conference organizers don’t feel they can take a chance on.

The next time you attend a conference, look for talks that are off the beaten path. Look for those B-side talks.

Hidden in among all those great sessions is the next “ZOMG DID YOU SEE…” and you will be able to say “Yeah. I saw that one last year and it was great.” :)

Until next time,
I <3 |<
=C=

p.s. There’s nothing wrong with “Detroit Rock City” but it’s an obvious attempt to write a rock anthem. “Beth” was art for the sake of art. Thank you Peter Chriss.

WordPress, REST, and RegEx

Dear Reader,

I’m going to add this to “Using the WordPress REST API“, but I thought I would blog it here as well.

I have a tendency to over think things.

Today, I was working on a REST API endpoint for a client and it needed to have RegEx in it. I hate RegEx with a passion usually reserved for XML, but unlike XML, it’s a necessary evil, so I dove into it.

1
/item/(?P<itemId>\d+)

That’s an example.

For the uninitiated, when you are defining a custom WordPress REST endpoint, one of the things you can do is put in Regex into the route definition and WordPress will use that to pull out content and make it a parameter. The code above defines an endpoint for

https://example.com/wp-json/my-namespace/v1/item/4

When run, it will make a parameter named itemId whose value is the 4 from the URI. It’s incredibly handy. They are very easy to work with, especially if you are using numbers like 4, or even 294875.  Strings…well, strings get tricky.

The above example expect a number (so no alpha, just numeric) and numbers are contiguous.  You don’t have numbers with a space in them. Phrases however, have spaces. And what I needed to pull out was a phrase. So, I did what I always do, I pulled out Regex 101, and started figuring this out. This is where the overthinking part comes in.

I got it working in short order, then I started thinking. “What if…”

  • What if There’s a query string at the end
  • What if there’s more to the URI
  • What if there’s a slash at the end
  • …what if

This is where I got into trouble. I lost a good 2-3 hours designing a beautiful piece of RegEx that handled every situation I could think of. It was art, if I do say so myself. The only problem was that once I pasted it into my WordPress REST Controller, it did not work.

So I did what every developer does, I assumed the problem had to be in WordPress. I rolled up my sleeves and found out how WordPress matches routes.

What WordPress does

WordPress matches REST routes in WP_REST_Server::dispatch() (wp-includes/rest-api/class-wp-rest-server.php)

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$match = preg_match( '@^' . $route . '$@i', $path, $matches );
$path is the URI. IN my case
https://example.com/wp-json/my-namespace/v1/item/this%20item%20name
$route was the route I defined in regex.
1
item/(?P<itemName>[w+].*)[?|/|\$]
(I’m working from memory but I think that was it.)
If – and only if – I could set some pattern modifiers I could make it work…but I couldn’t.
Then I began doing the other thing that PHP developers do a lot, I began throwing var_dump();die(); into WP_REST_Server. I thought I needed to see what was going on. Turns out, the answer was there in front of me all the time.
I was assuming that WordPress was applying my RegEx standalone from everything else. If you look at the line above though, you can see that is uses the route that I define in it’s entirety.
  • It puts a ‘@’ at the beginning of it. This tells PHP that ‘@’ is the regex delimiter, not ‘/’ like usual
  • It adds the caret ‘^’ to match the beginning of the line
  • It concatenates the route I defined
  • It adds the $ to match the end of the line
  • It puts the ‘@’ to signify that this is the end of the RegEx
  • It adds the ‘i’ pattern modifier (the things I needed to tinker with) to indicate that all matches should be case insensitive
WordPress doesn’t worry about the query string, or anything after that because it’s already stripped it off. I don’t have to overthink this thing with subgroups and special characters, WordPress has got my back.
My finished product ended up looking like this:
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item/(?P<itemName>w+.*)
This gives me a parameter named itemNamethat includes everything past item/ to the end of the line.

Conclusion

Stop over-thinking things. Sometimes just let the framework do it’s job. :)

Did I meantion I hate Regex? :)

Until next time,
I <3 |<
=C=

p.s. the section in the book will be more coherant. I’ve spent the day with RegEx so I’m a bit scatterbrained now. :)

Great writers read…a lot

Dear Reader,

Have you ever watched one of those movies where  a software developer (usually called a hacker) is sitting in front of 2 screens and on both of them code is scrolling by at a fast pace while the hacker nods knowingly like they are reading and understanding what they are seeing?

Yeah, that doesn’t happen.

A more common scenario is that a software developer will fork a repo, clone it locally, open their editor of choice and start reading through the code. Scrolling through it slowly. opening another edito for the same code and scrolling back up to a previous section and comparing the two. This goes on for a long time.

Reading other people’s code is probably the best way to learn how to program. If you know what the code does then reading the code shows you how someone else solved the problem.

Just like a great writer reads more than they write, a great software developer will read code, theirs and other peoples, more than they will write code. As a junior developer this goes double for you. Since you do not have a body of work to copy and paste from, you need to see how other people solved common problems so you can understand how to solve them yourself.

Until next time,
I <3 |<

Conferences are for making new friends

Dear Reader,

I met my three best friends, Paul, Keith, and Adam, at PHP conferences.

Meeting people and making new friends is one of the major benefits of participating in a conference. I would not say that ‘the hallway track’ is the reason to attend a conference, but it is in the top 3.

The friends you make at a conference can:

  • Help you find an answer to a problem you are facing
  • Help you locate someone you need to talk to
  • Be your rubber duck for a problem you are having
  • Help you find your next job

Before you travel across the street, or around the world to participate in a conference, sit down, make a plan. Look at the speakers who will be there, and follow the conference hashtag on social media to see who has announced they are participating. Make a list of the people that you want to meet.

As you participate in the conference, look for those people. Seek them out, and make new friends.

The friends you make at a conference will last a lot longer than any knowledge you may pick up in a session.

Until next time,
I <3 |<
=C=

Here’s a video where I give a little on the HOW.