Expression Web 4 vs. Rapid PHP 2016

March 30, 2018 - Yes, I Still Use Them both

I think my previous articles about my development work, "Why I Continue to Use Expression Web" and "Blumentals' Rapid PHP 2016", continue to be an accurate representation of my use of the two products and their various strengths and weaknesses.

Now six months in to my use of Rapid PHP ("Rapid), I'm in a better position to offer a more real world assessment. In particular, it's worth offering some observations about my strange hybrid approach of using Rapid and Expression Web ("EW4") simultaneously. Here are those observations, in no particular order.

Multiple Instances

I mentioned this in my review of Rapid as a missing feature. I very much miss the ability to open another project quickly to make an adjustment or update some code without shutting down what I was doing. It is not unusual for me to have three projects open at the same time. As I mentioned in previous articles, when multiple instances was removed from Expression Web there was such a hue and cry that Microsoft put it right back in. I'm not the only one who thinks it's a handy way to work.

The effect of the absence of multiple instances in Rapid is that I always have EW4 open to deal with quick fixes even if I am deeply immersed in a PHP editing session in Rapid. If there was some way to switch between projects rapidly in Rapid, without losing my work or my place, I'd spend more time in Rapid.

Rapid opens projects rapidly (my having my work on an SSD probably helps) and remembers the state of a project that has been closed, restoring that state on the next run. However, it only remembers the most recent project, not all of them. It's no help for my multiple instances problem.

Editing Performance

There are some quirks in the editor in EW4, especially when it comes to scrolling through code. The editor really slows down as the module being edited gets larger. When I was using EW4 exclusively, I simply put up with the bad behavior. Rapid has no such quirks and zooms through code at great speed. There is a little performance hit when a file is opened and the code navigator is populated, but after that the editor is fast.

Because the difference is striking, I have a higher degree of annoyance with EW4 than I did when I tolerated the behavior. Now for any large module I turn to Rapid first.

Obviously, EW4 isn't going to get any better. Rapid lives up to its name in this category.

PHP Syntax Checking

My speculation that the presence of in-editor syntax checking for PHP would dramatically improve my productivity has been proven entirely correct. I still edit in EW4 but if I code myself into a box, with a syntax error that I can't quickly see, I switch to Rapid, load the file, and have the answer within a second or two. I'm getting the benefit of syntax checking regardless of which editor I happen to be using at the moment.

Now I find myself in the odd position of being critical about the way Rapid handles syntax checking. It could be better, smoother, and of even better value to the coder. I've posted several suggestions for improvements in the Blumentals forums.

In my review I complained that Rapid was not ready for PHP 7. The editor does not know any v7 constructs. Worse, Blumentals has downloadable packages for various PHP versions but again does not have PHP 7.

I decided to take the bull by the horns - I installed PHP 7 locally and pointed Rapid to it. It worked but I found that getting PHP 7 running the first time was extremely slow. I don't know why this is but it occurred to me that the Blumentals packages may somehow be optimized for the editing environment. We'll see what happens when Rapid's next version is available. After the first syntax check, there is no further delay.

Intensive PHP

It won't come as much of a surprise that doing intensive, heads down PHP coding is better in Rapid. It's not just syntax checking, it's everything. Especially helpful is the code navigator, which allows rapid movement around large modules. And, of course, the fact that Rapid provides "RapidSense" to user-defined items (functions, classes, constants, etc.) makes writing code much faster and less error-prone.

EW4 is no match. These days the only thing I write from scratch in EW4 is tiny stuff for which the entire extent can be seen on the screen. Anything bigger than that and it's all Rapid.

JavaScript Syntax Checking

As with PHP, EW4 has no syntax checking for JavaScript and Rapid does. As with PHP, it's a plus.

But for some reason, it seems less helpful. Part of the reason is that JavaScript is a bit more forgiving, so some things that would be an error in other languages are acceptable in JavaScript. I think the real problem is the editor's technique of waiting for a line of code to be added or deleted before doing a syntax check. This means that a line of code can be modified in such a way as to introduce a syntax error and Rapid will not detect it.

This happens in PHP syntax checking, too, but I don't notice it as much. Perhaps it's because my expertise with PHP is higher than with JavaScript. I do know this is something that needs to be improved in Rapid.

Static Sites

While I don't do a lot of static pages these days, there are some. For example, the help topics in my CMS are all static pages. Honestly, it's just simpler to do them that way. EW4 wins hands down when it comes to such work because it has a design mode. While it's not 100% WYSIWYG because EW4 hasn't kept up with advances in HTML and CSS, it does let me type paragraphs and do basic formatting like any other visual editor. I can also drag and drop images to place them, format heading tags, make links, and handle many other little chores visually. It's incredibly handy.

There is no such design mode in Rapid. I'm not necessarily suggesting that there should be but its absence is keenly felt. I find myself wondering what I would do if EW4 suddenly was no longer available.

Some might suggest that preview is a suitable replacement. It is not. Preview verifies appearance. Design view provides WYSIMWYG (what you see is mostly what you get).

Rapid PHP 2018

The newest edition of Rapid has arrived. I've been using it for a couple of weeks. In a few months, I'll write its review. For now I'll only say that it does not appear to be a huge advance over 2016 but it does have some key improvements, especially with PHP syntax checking. Stay tuned.


Tags: Expression Web, PHP, Programming, Rapid PHP, Web

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