A web development environment for Linux

By   |  February 13, 2001

When it comes to web development tools there is an almost endless array of options. And while we can’t go into all the possibilities here we can offer a few suggestiosn on where to start.

To kick off this series of articles, I’ll look at what I consider to be both the starting point and the most crucial element in the entire process: the HTML editor. (In coming weeks we’ll look at other tools such as web servers, scripting languages and file uploading applications).

HTML editors come in many guises – some are WYSIWYG editors with a point and click interface while others are text based, offering little more than an average word processor and may often be exactly that.

If you come from a Windows or Macintosh background, you’re probably very well aquainted with the WYSIWYG html environment using programs like FrontPage, HomePage, DreamWeaver, GoLive and many other point and click web builder applications. If you do come from this environment the tools avaialable for Linux could be something of a dissapointment. Linux has a somewhat limited selection of WYSIWYG development tools many of which are still in the very early stages of development. Applications that do fit in this category include

IBM’s WebSphere Homepage Builder and WebHand.

The good news is that there are many more text-based development tools many of which are more than up to the task of producing industry standard HTML pages. And if you are planning to write a dynamic site using PHP or CGI scripts you’ll soon realise the value in having a simple tool which doesn’t like to re-write your coding as you go, which is a tendency of WYSIWYG editors. Text editors also give you the most control over your code so that you can make it as lean and fast as you care to.

If it’s just a text editor you’re after, then applicatins such as vi and emacs are more than up to the task. However, if you recently migrated from another operating system these two applications could be very unfamiliar to you. In this case, or even if you just prefer to work in a graphic environment, then something like kedit, gedit or nedit would be better choices.

While coding sites by hand gives you ultimate control, it does come at a price: ease-of-use. Typing in tags repeatedly is mind numbing and often leads to errors. Fortunately there are many “enhanced” editors out there whcih include everything from html templates to pre-coded scripts and these can make you life so much easier.

Bluefish is one of of the more popular editors in this category and it has an extensive collection of html arranged in option bars across the top. Bluefish also includes support for multiple open documents as well as checking for missing tags or closing tags. Bluefish is still in its early stages of development (versionj 0.6) and can be a little unpredictable. The Blowfish interface can also become a little over cluttered early on making it cumbersome to deal with. However, it does include a built in colour selection tool making it dead easy to select the hex codes for your colour scheme.

However, my favourite tool when it comes to html is WebMaker (find Webmaker 0.8 at rpmfind). Webmaker is not as flashy as BlueFish and it doesn’t have as many tool bars but it does the job quickly and efficiently. On the plus side it includes support for having multiple documents open at a time, it gathers all project files in one easily accessible sidebar and the current version – 0.8.5-9 – has been far more stable than previous releases. On the downside not all of the options are fully functional but it does the basic editing well. BlueFish is infinitely more featured than WebMaker but WM makes the process simple.

Both WebMaker and BlueFish include tag highlights – different tags display in different colours making it easier to track missing tags – as well as build in buttons for formatting such as bold, italics and basic font sizes. Bluefish has a more extensive collection of tag templates including “wizards” for building items such as tables and forms. Both applications support PHP tags although error checking on these is somewhat limited. Bluefish also includes basic PHP and CSS functions in a user-selectable window. Both can be downloaded for free from the Internet.

Either way, editing html code by hand is both the best way to learn the markupo language as well as the most reliable way to maintain full control over your site.

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