Coda for Mac

Coda is a powerful one-window text-based web development application for Mac OSX targeting developers who like to get their hands dirty. With a wide range of features available Coda can save quite a bit of time for the average PHP developer and offers a pleasant coding experience to boot. We review Coda 1.7.4.

Rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf Star

Good Bits: Quick project switching; Easy to use; Easy to publish updated work; Lots of handy features; Genuine timesaver

Bad Bits: Does nothing to help with uploading MySQL databases; CSS editor could do with better previews.

We discuss Coda for OSX in AtRandom Episode 08. Download episode 08 of AtRandom (MP3 or M4A) or subscribe through iTunes.

What is Coda?

Coda is a text-based OSX application for website developers who are expecting to code websites in PHP or another ‘web-language’ by hand. It brings together a range of features all in one (tabbed) window, so that you can get to everything you need to without having to leave Coda.

Coda for OSX - Editing a PHP Document
Coda for OSX – Editing a PHP Document

The sites tab allows you to setup individual workspaces for each site you work on. You can store both local hosting information and remote hosting information for each site. The edit tab is where you will do most of your work, with your project files accessible down the left hand side and all open files across the top. Naturally, it features code-highlighting as you would expect. The preview tab offers an embedded web browser and the CSStab lists your CSS definitions down the side and presents a handy editor for each on the right. The terminal tab gives you quick access to an SSH terminal to your server and the books tab gives you quick and easy access to any reference information you may have loaded in.

How will Coda save me time?

Whether you’re a freelance developer, business owner or employee – saving time at the end of the day is of benefit to us all. You can think of it as extra pennies in your pocket, going home a few minutes earlier  or a bit more time on Twitter / Facebook.

If you spend a lot of your time switching between a number of projects – possibly a combination of present work and old sites that need the odd tweak / bug fix, then having everything in one place makes it much easier to switch between projects. When you need to revisit an old site, you just double click on the site name and you’re there – all of your local files are present, you can browse files directly on the server and you’ve got an SSH terminal ready and waiting for you. You’re instantly back in that project and ready to go. While it’s hard to measure the time saved from this feature, it’s damn helpful when a client comes back with a one-line change that needs doing.

Coda for OSX - Using the embedded SSH terminal
Coda for OSX – Using the embedded SSH terminal

The main area in which I find Coda saving me minutes every day is with publishing my changes after a hard days work. Coda keeps track of all of the files that  you’ve edited and already knows the SFTP information to publish your site. With a quick click of a button, your code and assets are no longer sitting on localhost but are there on your server. No need to fire up Cyberduck and upload the whole site again. Unfortunately, there is no provision for uploading your MySQL database when you publish. I’m not sure how it would be best to handle this – but it would be nice if there was an option to export your SQL and import it on the server somehow.

Coda’s text editor has all of the features you would expect from a premium edit and they’re all pleasant and easy to find. With a useful code navigator to help you get around your code quickly I find developing with Coda a very pleasant experience. The only thing that would be nice here is perhaps a more fully featured ‘clips’ insertion, kind of like the bundles that come with TextMate. While the CSS Editor is nice if you can’t remember the code you need, I don’t find myself using it as it lacks a proper preview panel for your choices. This feature would be much more useful there was a preview panel in the top corner showing all of the effects you’ve chosen.

Is Coda worth the price ($100)?

I find Coda saves me a good 10-15 minutes every day when developing with PHP and overall makes certain experiences, such as darting back to change old sites, a lot more pleasant. If you’re spending most of your 9-5 developing websites on a mac, you really should check out Coda as it’s definitely worth $100. If you’re just editing a single website in your spare time, then I’m not sure you’ll get your money’s worth for such a high price tag however.

Other Strengths and Weaknesses of Coda

I haven’t really used them much but Coda does come with HTML, CSS, Javascript and PHP reference books. While based on content that’s readily available on the internet, I can see that having these right there in the app could be useful for the beginner or intermediate developer.

Coda - Reading the PHP Reference Guide
Coda – Reading the PHP Reference Guide

Other useful features include the fact that your active windows are saved when you leave a site, so when you come back to work the next day – your workspace is as you left it with your documents still open. It’s also quite handy that Coda offers code completion when editing PHP (and presumably other languages) – so if you can’t remember which order the parameters should be entered for strftime() for instance, Coda will give you a handy hint.

As I said previously, while I don’t know what the solution would be – I find the only reason I need to leave coda now while developing with PHP is to upload changes to the database at the end of the day. While I don’t expect this to be automated, it would be great if there was a Database tab which provided a simple database viewer with an export / import option for data / table structure.

Conclusion

If you work on a daily basis with PHP as a developer on OSX then I can’t recommend Coda strongly enough. It’s powerful even if you only work on a handful of sites but it’s features shine through even more as your site library grows and you have to worry about sites from numerous clients. While the price-tag might seem hefty, you’ll earn it back in buckets of time saved.

If you’re a part-time developer, or you’re just developing and maintaining a single site in your spare time, then while I still think Coda would be a useful tool for you – you might have to pass based on the price tag.

Either way, you should trial Coda for free for 30 days. I can guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.

Coda for Mac from Panic Software

Coda on the OSX App Store

John Wordsworth

All round geek and gamer with extensive experience developing for the web and mobile platforms. Having spent far too many years in education acquiring a PhD in Applied Mathematics, John is now looking to keep up the fun by developing apps and games.

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