The Quest for the Ultimate Dev Environment

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I’ve been a long-time user of PhpStorm for my PHP and Javascript (React) development. It’s an extremely powerful tool but let’s face it - it’s a pretty big beast. You can tell it’s running by the fans on the laptop spinning up.

Enter WSL2

I recently rebuilt my PC using the latest Windows Insider build in order to take advantage of Docker on WSL2 - this is a massive step-change from WSL1 in terms of performance and reliability. Unfortunately, PhpStorm doesn’t support it, and doesn’t look like it will any time soon. So, I decided to step out on a limb and give Visual Studio Code a shot.

Visual Studio Code - First Impressions

Number one: it is fast. Unbelievably so! The workspace opens instantly, and there’s no delays searching. There’s some magic pixie dust in there I’m sure.

Number two: VSCode Remote is a game-changer. Essentially the editor is split into a client/server, and the server runs directly in my WSL2 virtual machine. Broken file watchers are a thing of the past.

Number three: for PHP development, it’s kinda…basic. At least to start with. As I’ve discovered, there are a plethora of extensions that enhance the editor in almost every way imaginable.


Because a large amount of the functionality is in the extensions, I’m likely to forget what I’ve installed and how I’ve configured it, so here is a rundown of what I’ve set up.


You need to be running Windows 10 build 18917 (currently Insider Preview) in order to get and install WSL2. You’ll also need Docker build 36883 or higher (currently edge channel) and enable WSL2 in Docker.


With VSCode Remote, extensions can be installed locally (ie in your profile or workspace) or remotely. WSL2 acts as a remote environment. So, the first extension we need, and the one you’ll probably be prompted for when VSCode detects the presence of WSL2 is Remote - WSL.

I do have some other extensions installed locally, but they’re mainly for convenience, not development.

Extensions installed in WSL:

  • Code Spell Checker - I’m a terrible speller, and it also helps to keep on top of variable misnaming
  • Composer - PHP’s defacto package manager. Handles all the updates and stuff
  • Docker - Docker integration
  • Docker Compose - Docker Compose integration
  • PHP Debug - PHP Debug tools
  • PHP DocBlocker - Helpers for writing php docblocks
  • PHP Intelephense - Intelisense for your PHP. This one is critical - I paid the ~$15 for the pro version
  • PHP-CS-Fixer - Fix any issues phpcs picks up
  • phpcs - Code sniffer for bad php code

A couple of points:

  • To get the most out of Intelephense you need to disable the built-in PHP Language Features (follow the quickstart guide)
  • Make sure you set the phpcs.standard to what your project adheres to, otherwise all the warnings will make you really sad


That’s all for now. I’m new to VSCode so if you’ve got any great tips let me know via the comments. As I iterate on this environment I’ll try and keep this page updated.