Over 15 Top Open Source Tools for Web Developers

by Ostatic Staff - Feb. 12, 2009

Recently, we covered research showing that nearly half of open source developers are focused on applications for delivery in the cloud. 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 premium on web development skills and good tools for web development in 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 over 15 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 this post, Reuven points out 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."

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 five examples.

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. We also covered Groundwork Monitor Community Edition here, and Groundwork Monitor 5.3 here. Groundwork monitors hundreds of devices from a single management server. Groundwork Monitor incorporates Nagios 3.0.6.

Are you in need of a web site design? Mike Gunderloy has covered Open Source Designs, which provides over 2000 web site designs, with the majority of them XHTML/CSS-based. This looks like an awesome way to get a site going with a good theme, look and platform to build on. In a similar vein to Open Source Designs, check out Open Designs. This site relies on The Open Design Community (TODC), a group of Open Source Website Designers from around the world providing thousands more XHTML- and CSS- based free web design templates for download.

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.

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization--you're probably very familiar with it, but there are many new, free tools to help you bring traffic to your web site that you may not know about. I'm a big fan of the list of 10 of these from Not Your Average Geeks. You'll find free, graphical tools from Google, Yahoo, and MSN, among others.

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.

I'm always surprised by how few people doing advertising-driven things on the web don't know about OpenX, a free, open source ad server that serves more than 30,000 customers. OpenX recently secured $15.5 million in second round funding, and stands out for its flexibility. You can use it as a hosted service or you can download it if you want to run it on your own servers, keeping your ad revenue and information in-house. OpenX is ideal for small- to medium-size publishers who may not meet the hefty thresholds for traffic that can be required for big ad revenue dollars through other ad servers.

With OpenX you can deliver ads from multiple advertisers and ad networks, give high priority to higher value ad campaigns, increase overall click-through rates by limiting how often visitors see a campaign, and integrate the service with most popular existing databases.

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 favorites and the many excellent, free tools cited in the reader comments. I happen to work with web-based video intensively, and I was surprised by the quality of the recommended applications that readers came up with there in the comments, including the incredible MediaCoder, and MPEG Streamclip.