Setting up your Drupal development environment

| drupal, geek

People found the 7-minute impromptu braindump I gave at last night’s Drupal Toronto meetup useful enough to vote it the best talk, so I thought I’d write it up. =)


  • Use source code control. No, seriously. Use it. Religiously. It’s going to save you someday. CVS is popular. Subversion is also easy to set up. It’s a must when you’re working with other people, but even if you’re on your own, it’s really handy to be able to go back to previous versions or to check your changes.
  • Get to know your integrated development environment (IDE). For example, I use Eclipse + PHP Development Toolkit (PDT) + Xdebug, and the keyboard shortcuts save me so much time and make it easier for me to think about my code instead of thinking about editing my code. F3 to jump to a function definition, Ctrl-Shift-R to open a file by typing part of the filename, Ctrl-space to complete text… I’ve also gotten XDebug integration to work, so I can step through code and examine variables without putting var_dump everywhere. Know your tools.
  • Add the XDebug extension to your PHP installation. Even if you don’t get XDebug integrated with Eclipse, you’ll like the new and improved var_dump and other debugging functions. I’ve heard good things about Zend Debugger, too.
  • Put your entire Drupal directory into your project in the IDE, not just your site-specific code. You can even check your entire Drupal directory into your source code control repository. This makes it easier to look up functions in Drupal core, not just your sites/all/modules directory. You _could_ version-control just your site-specific code (profiles/, sites/, etc.), but set-up becomes a little more complicated.
  • Use an installation profile to manage your configuration. Experiment with things using the administration interface, then create/update an installation profile that sets up a brand-new Drupal installation. This will save you lots of time and head-scratching when you need to reproduce your setup.
  • Make starting from scratch easier, and do it often. I have a Makefile that drops my database and recreates it, resets my settings.php, and even opens up a Firefox browser that uses my installation profile to set everything up from scratch. Drupal 5: Copy your settings.php to settings-default.php or something like that before you install your system, then copy settings-default.php over settings.php when you want to refresh your setup. Drupal 6: Delete settings.php when you want to refresh your setup.


  • Use multiple profiles. You can start completely independent Firefox processes by using profiles. For example, you could have your default profile with all the bells and whistles, and a test profile with just FireBug. You can log in as different users, too. Use this command to start a new Firefox process: firefox -ProfileManager -no-remote
  • Install and use FireBug. Best web development extension ever. I use this to examine the document object model, debug my CSS rules, experiment with my CSS and HTML on the fly, and monitor the network requests.
  • Set up quick searches for and You can define quick searches by creating bookmarks that use keywords and %s placeholders in Location:. Example: Do a quick Google-search of by adding a bookmark with Location: and Keyword: gd (short for Google Drupal). To use your new quick search, type Ctrl-L or Alt-D to get to the address bar, then type gd keywords. Set up ways to search and, too. =)

Multi-site / virtual hosts

  • Simplify switching between your computer and your remote server. If you’ve set up your local system for virtual hosts and you have a remote server for testing, you’ll want to be able to switch between testing locally and testing remotely. Set up your local system to respond to all the domain names for the site (ex:,, and a local subdomain (ex: Set up your remote server to respond to all the domain names for the site (,, and a remote subdomain (ex: Then set up your /etc/hosts (c:\windows\system32\drivers\etc\hosts on Microsoft Windows) to look like this: localhost
 will always resolve to your computer, will always resolve to the other computer, and everything else depends on which line is active. # comments out a line. When you want to switch to testing on the remote server, add # to the beginning of the line for… and remove # from the line for your remote server. If you want to automate this even further, write a script that swaps different /etc/hosts files around.

Hope that helps! I’d love to find out what you’ve done to tweak your environment. Feel free to share your tips here!

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