Essential PHP Development Tools Every Project Needs

Essential php development tools every project needs

In today's modern PHP building environment, we're blessed with a wealth of open-source community PHP projects to use and aid our projects and website ideas. With so many great PHP software repositories available, it can be hard to determine which will help our development during the build and even beyond it going live in production mode for the world to see. Tools that you use in the future are just as important to maintain a healthy and up-to-date website. Luckily taking our years of experience we've managed to put a list together of the best and essential PHP development tools that every project needs from day one. To better understand why each has been chosen, we've broken down each into separate categories, let's check them out.


The hugely popular PHPStan is a great tool that every project needs. Why? Because it will automatically help you find bugs in your code without having to write endless tests such as Unit Tests. This is extremely beneficial because getting 100% code test coverage is very hard. However using a tool like PHPStan enables one to write the core functionality and test it, without rolling into a production environment without any form of testing.

Of course, this isn't a bulletproof solution, but running this tool against all code changes across a project is something you should be doing rather than not. We're avocated of PHPStan because it will highlight obvious bugs, and test code that is likely to be rarely run, all because it's scanning the whole project.

Using PHPStan is easy, and most commonly run locally on your development machine on the command line or inside a development pipeline. Because you can run locally, it then allows you the freedom to run PHPStan on legacy projects, even those without autoloaders!

It's important to note that to run PHPStan you require PHP 7.2 or higher, but the code it checks could be PHP 5.6 (for example). Perfect for legacy code. To get started open up the command line the run the following to add PHPStan into your composer package.

# To install PHPStan
composer require --dev phpstan/phpstan

# And to run your first test
vendor/bin/phpstan analyse [options] [<paths>...]

You can find out more about PHPStan by taking a look at their full guide.

PHP Coding Standards Fixer or PHP CodeSniffer

When it comes to linting, you'll soon find when looking for a PHP linter that two main tools come up to the surface. PHP Coding Standards Fixer (PHP CS Fixer) and PHP_CodeSniffer (PHP CS). Before you choose between the two, why have we included a PHP linter in our list?

Whilst they both do the same thing, it mainly depends on the needs of your project. Because of this, we've included both instead of just one. If you want a fully automated process, checking against PHP, JS, and CSS files, PHP CS is the likely choice here. But if you want to only check PHP, then using PHP CS Fixer is a better choice because a single tool per language is generally a better approach.

Other popular open-source linters also include PHP Mess Detector (PHP MD) and if you are developing in Laravel, you might consider Laravel Pint. That's Laravel's version of PHPStan tailored specifically for Laravel-based applications.

All of the above tools integrate perfectly into IDEs such as PHPStorm and Visual Studios Detector and can be installed using "composer require" on the command line.


FakerPHP is a great open-sourced PHP project used by Laravel and developers alike to populate staging and local development databases with real-world test data. Taken from the Ruby Faker Gem, which is ported from Data::Faker in Perl, FakerPHP is PHP's version of this. When testing and developing websites, it makes sense to use data that closely matches when you're building. for example, if you're displaying a list of customer data to your administrators in an admin panel, the data you render makes better sense to be closer to the real thing compared to lorem ipsum text. This matters because you might be running validation or something similar and having for example a phone number that matches what your production environment will render, is a good option.

Using FakerPHP is easy to install and use as long as you're running PHP 7.4 or higher. Running FakerPHP methods more than once will output different results each time, handy for truly random but relevant data. Read more from their great documentation.

# To install FakerPHP
composer require fakerphp/faker

# Create a "fake" email
require_once 'vendor/autoload.php';
$faker = Faker\Factory::create();


Possibly one of the most popular if not the most popular HTTP cURL project for PHP. The perfect tool for sending HTTP requests across the web with PHP. Building or using API? Guzzle will have you covered. Guzzle creates an easy-to-use interface for sending both synchronous and asynchronous requests whilst setting things like headers, query strings, streaming, and cookies are all available within the same interface. With no real dependency on the cURL library, Guzzle is especially great when working with PHP locally. Aabaible through composer, it's PSR compliant ready. Guzzle requires at least PHP 7.2 or higher to work with the latest version and they offer helpful documentation to help you deep drive in sending and receiving HTTP requests with PHP.

Testing PHP with PHPUnit or Pest

PHPUnit and Pest are two popular choices when it comes to testing a PHP project. With processes such as test-driven development (TDD) and ensuring production-level code is maintained to high standards, testing PHP is an important part of the development process. PHPUnit which has been around for a long time allows developers to test "units" of code to ensure they behave the way they intended. The aim of unit testing PHP is to find and fix issues before they hit your production-level website, which becomes extremely helpful when working in large teams and/or a large codebase. Automating the process allows to catch issues when new or existing functionality is added or changed. PHPUnit offers a wealth of past feature sets, and community and is already highly integrated into many PHP projects, including those on GitHub.

Pest on the other hand, which is built on top of PHPUnit offers a step up from the "standard" way of testing PHP (using PHPUnit). By offering improved syntax, and sophisticated clear, and concise error reporting, Pest tries to make the testing experience more streamlined for developers. They do this by using clearer human-like language when writing the test code. Pest requires PHP 8.1 or higher and you can get started straight away.


When it comes to sending emails with PHP, the standard mail function does not cut it anymore. Thankfully PHPMailer heavily used by WordPress saves the day. We highly recommend not using PHP mail() and switching to PHPMailer to ensure the deliverability of your emails. Why? Well, PHPMailer expands on PHP's mailer function allowing you to connect via SMTP, correctly connect over TLS, and more.


If you have never tried any of these projects before, we highly recommend that you do. They will open your world when transform your PHP project to the next level.

Senior PHP developer with near two decades of PHP experience. Author of Dev Lateral guides and tools. The complete place for PHP programmers. Available to hire to help you build or maintain your PHP application.

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