Filling Out Your Free Web Development Toolkit

by Ostatic Staff - Jan. 28, 2016

Web site and application development is becoming in reach for nearly everyone, thanks to easier and better tools. Software as a Service (SaaS) applications are increasingly either employing open source or are built entirely on it. And all of this adds up to an increasing need for web development toolsets focused on the open source community. The good news is that there are many open source tools to help you with your web project, and given the costs of web development environments and the like, they can save you a lot of money. Here are many good examples of tools and tutorials, with a few that we've covered before appended at the end, in case you missed them.

Of course, one of the most beloved tools for web developers is the Firebug extension for Firefox. If you're deep into development for the web, you probably already use it. In a previous post, we noted that: "[With Firebug], experimenting with CSS changes no longer requires that you reload a page dozens of times; using Firebug, you can dynamically edit an HTML element's styling, looking at the effects as you change each variable value. Similarly, Firebug's JavaScript console makes it easy to work with JavaScript interactively."

Whether you do some blogging, keep up a simple website or make use of popular social media and cloud computing tools, you probably regularly need to acquire and customize publishable graphics. The good people at NPR have made development tasks surrounding graphics much easier by releasing a collection of fully customizable, open source tools to help anyone develop appealing images for social media, the cloud or websites. The tools, dubbed Quotable, Factlist and Waterbug, are part of an overarching suite of open source offerings called Lunchbox. You can get the tools for Windows or Mac systems on NPR's blog, which includes useful and visual guidelines, or you can go to GitHub to get the source code and customize the suite.

Dragonfly is an open source (under a BSD license) tool for debugging web pages from the folks at Opera. Dragonfly is built to support remote debugging with other Opera sessions, on many types of machines and devices; this is especially useful for non-PC devices. We covered it in its alpha version here, and it's made much progress since then.

Cloud computing is all the rage these days, but did you know that there are many open source infrastructure tools for cloud computing that can provide free flexibility, cost savings, and more? Try these guides to the open cloud.

There are a number of excellent sites where you can get tutorials on open source web development topics. DevShed is a great one, with multi-chapter tutorials on everything from Python, to PHP to Tomcat performance tuning. W3Schools is an excellent site for learning everything from CSS to AJAX to PHP, and it lets you see how your published attempts will look online. You can also find many good screencasts on web development topics online, such as the outstanding ones at Railscasts. Plus, don't miss OpenSourceCMS if you'd like to try open source content management systems such as Drupal and Joomla for free.

Ruby On Rails has emerged as a giant hit with web developers, and one of the best places to find open source Rails applications is Open Source Rails. There are free starter kits there for everything from launching a blog to starting a wiki, and much more.

One challenge in delivering quality sites and applications on the web is delivering solid uptime, and monitoring network applications and devices. This job often falls on developers. There are numerous good open source site monitoring tools available to help. Nagios is well-liked for its complete site monitoring services for both Windows and Linux platforms, and is built in to other open source monitoring tools. It provides flexible reporting, and can help solve problems with failed applications, while constantly monitoring routers, switches, firewalls and more.

Most web development environments cater especially to developers who favor certain languages and environments. Kompozer, seen at left, is a huge favorite with developers who are into CSS (cascading style sheets). Kompozer's rendering engine uses Gecko, the same layout engine in Mozilla's Firefox. It stands out for its very easy-to-use CSS editor, and strong WYSIWYG features. You also don't have to be very experienced with HTML or other web development langauges to use Kompozer. Windows, Mac and Linux users can get going with it.

Piwik, at left, is open source web analytics software, and I've written once before about it--highly recommended. When it comes to doing web analytics, it's beneficial to get as many views of your data as possible, so you can use Piwik in conjunction with a tool like Google Analytics or on its own.

Piwik's features are built inside plug-ins, and a community of developers contributes interesting plug-ins. It also has a very customizable interface where you can drag and drop site metrics widgets you would like to keep an eye on onto web pages.

Quanta Plus is a very rich, open source web development environment, especially popular with those who concentrate on PHP for building sites and applications. It's based on KDE, so it appeals to those in the Linux community most. It does a good job of letting you work with multiple pages at once, and has very complete PHP debugging.

Finally, many web-based projects are now including video. There are also a lot of good open source tools for creating, editing and working with it. Check out my list of favorite guides for video here.