Setting up Eclipse

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Eclipse is an IDE originally designed for Java, but now with plugins for many languages including PHP. It has lots of very powerful features, and it is the editor that some Moodle developers like to use. Other (more) popular choices are vim and emacs.

However, Eclipse is not the easiest program in the world to get started with, so I'm going to take you through it step by step. These instructions assume Eclipse 3.2, the current version at the time of writing. It should not change much between releases.

This article started off as a brain-dump by Tim Hunt. Since then, several other people have worked through it and made corrections and the information should be pretty accurate.

A new PHP plugin called PDT, which is better, but uses more memory. Follow the instructions #Installing_the_necessary_plugins,_for_Eclipse_Classic PART 1. The following instructions, from the section #Setting_the_preferences_for_Moodle_development mostly still apply after you have done the install, but some of the details are a bit different.


Eclipse is written in Java, so I recommend getting the latest Java runtime environment from for maximum speed and reliability.

Eclipse is quite big, so I recommend lots of memory in your computer. I have used it on Windows, MacOS X and Linux, in each case with 1GB of memory, and that is plenty.

Installing Eclipse

Go to Click on the link corresponding to your operating system where it says Eclipse Classic. Choose a Mirror, and wait for the ~100MB download.

You will notice that what you have got is a zip file (unless your system automatically decompresses it for you).

On Windows, unzip it into C:\Program Files (all the files go into an Eclipse folder there). Then look in the Eclipse folder and drag Eclipse.exe to the Start menu/Desktop/Quicklaunch bar to make a shortcut for starting it.

On MacOS, unzip and copy the Eclipse folder into Applications. Go into the Eclipse folder and drag the Eclipse app to the Dock for ease of launching.

On Linux, unzip somewhere suitable, and make an easy way to launch it.

The first time you run Eclipse

The first time you launch Eclipse it does a bit of setup stuff, for instance, it creates a workspace. This is where it stores the things you are working on. The default location is sensible on all platforms, so use that.

For some reason, every time you start Eclipse, it asks you which workspace you want to use. I have never seen the need to have more than one, so I recommend turning on the checkbox that says "Use this as the default and do not ask again".

Another thing that happens the first time you run Eclipse is that you arrive at a welcome screen. This has links to various bits of help, which you can read if you like, but you probably don't need to if you are following these instructions. So find the button on the welcome page that closes it and gets you to the main Eclipse screen.

Installing the necessary plugins, for Eclipse Classic

By default, Eclipse comes with the Java tools. For everything else you will need to install some plugins. Before we begin make sure Eclipse is up to date. Help > Check for Updates. For old versions of Eclipse, Eclipse 3.4 or before go to Part 2.


PHP Development Tools (PDT) is part of the Eclipse's standard plugins.

  1. Open up Eclipse and on the menu bar go to Help > Install New Software
  2. In the "Work with" box type in<release name>/
for example
  1. In the next box "type filter text" type in "php"
  2. Select the plugin "PHP Development Tools (PDT) SDK Feature"
  3. Make sure "Contact all update sites during install ..." is selected and click "Next"
  4. Follow the rest of the installation process.


The following information of this section about plugins for PHP is for Eclipse 3.4 Ganymede or before.

If you are sitting behind a web proxy, from the Window menu choose Preferences .... Choose Install/Update from the tree view on the left, and enter the proxy information in the boxes on the right. If you aren't behind a proxy, ignore this step. (On Eclipse 3.4.0 on OSX this is in Eclipse > Preferences > General > Network Connections)

From the Help menu choose Check for Updates.

On the first screen of the wizard, make sure that "Search for new features to install" is selected, then click Next >.

The next screen is a list of upgrade sites to check. You need to add one to the list, so click the New Remote Site ... Button.

In the pop-up dialog, give the remote site a name like PHPeclipse Update Site; set the URL to; then click OK. Click Finish. Under PHPEclipse Nightly Builds, check PHPeclipse. Click Finish. Wait while it downloads (this may take a few minutes). Click Install. You will be prompted to restart Eclipse, click Restart.

Note, there is now also another PHP editor for Eclipse. The update URL is

Restart the wizard (from the Help menu choose Software Updates -> Find and Install).

On the first screen of the wizard, make sure that "Search for new features to install" is selected, then click Next >.

Select just two things in the box "Sites to include in search":

  • Your newly created Phpeclipse Update Site; and
  • the one called Europa Discovery Site (or possibly Callisto Discovery Site).

Then click Finish.

It goes off and sees what updates are available at those sites. As it does so, it may occasionally pop up a dialog asking you to choose a mirror. Each time, select a sensible one.

Eventually, you get to a new wizard for selecting and installing the updates you want (Select the features to install). The ones you want (you may have to expand and search the tree structure) are: all the PHPEclipse Nightly Builds (from your newly created PHPEclipse Update Site) and the Web Standard Tools (WST) (usually under Callisto or Europa Discovery Site --> Web and J2EE Development).

Next, and very importantly, you must click the Select Required button which should resolve dependencies and remove the warning message you are probably worrying about. Then you can click the Next > button.

Read and agree to all the license agreements. Then click Next >.

Click Finish, and wait for the plugins to download.

Once the downloads have finished, a warning will pop-up telling you that all the plugins you downloaded are not digitally signed. The Eclipse Foundation built digital signing of plugins into their architecture as a security measure, and then did not sign any of their own plugins! Anyway, click the Install All button.

Finally, a window will pop up asking you to restart Eclipse. Do so.

Setting the preferences for Moodle development

Now go to the Window menu, and choose Preferences ... (Eclipse menu on Mac OS X).

The Eclipse preferences are immense, with a tree view on the left, which selects which screen to display on the right. Don't panic, we'll guide you through it.

General settings

If you have strong feelings about fonts (I would hate to edit code an anything except Andale Mono), choose General -> Appearance -> Colors and Fonts from the tree on the left. Then on the right look under Basic and change Text Font. All the other editor font settings will inherit from this, so this is probably the only one you have to change.

Under General -> Content Types, select PHP Source File, and add *.html to the box at the bottom.

Under General -> Editors -> File Associations, if it is not already there, add *.php to the top box. With *.php selected in the top box, make sure PHP Editor is set to default in the bottom box (use the Default button - the default will appear at the top of the list).

With *.html selected in the top box, if it is not already there, add PHP Editor to the bottom box. Then select PHP Editor in the bottom box and click the Default button to change it, because in Moodle, most HTML files actually contain PHP code.

If you use a web proxy, enter the details under Network Connections. (Yes, I know you have entered them somewhere else before. Now you have to enter them again here. I don't know why. You just do.)

PHP Settings

Under General -> Editors -> Text Editors, check Show line numbers to display line numbers in the left margin (optional). Click Apply. (When you are editing a PHP file, you could left-click in the left margin and tick the Show Line Numbers line in the contextual menu. However, this toggle only applies to plain text files, not to HTML or PHP files. The only place where you can toggle line numbers on/off for such files is in the PHP/Appearance menu.)

Under PHPeclipse -> Browser Preview Defaults, turn off all checkboxes (if necessary). Click Apply.

Under PHPeclipse -> PHP, on the Appearance tab, set Displayed tab width to 4 (if necessary). Click Apply.

Under PHPeclipse -> PHP, on the Typing tab, turn off all the options except Pasting for correct indentation, Insert spaces for tab and Close PHPdocs and comments. Click Apply.

Under PHPeclipse -> PHP -> Editor, turn on Remove trailing spaces on editor save. Click Apply.

Under PHPeclipse -> PHP -> Formatter, on the New Lines tab, turn on Clear all blank lines. Click Apply.

Under PHPeclipse -> PHP -> Formatter, on the Style tab, turn off Indentation is represented by a tab. Click Apply.

Under PHPeclipse -> PHP -> Templates, I like to define a new template to help with debugging:

Dump a PHP variable
print_object(${word_selection}${cursor}); // DONOTCOMMIT

You can do other useful things with templates too. Here are two more I use:

debugging("'${word_selection}${cursor}'"); // DONOTCOMMIT
$$string['${word_selection}${cursor}'] = '.';

That is, a simple debug message with a stack trace, and a new language string.

There is a really stupid bug. Under PHPeclipse -> Project Defaults, you would like to add "." to the Include Paths, but you can't using the GUI. You will have to edit one of the Eclipse config files by hand. So

  1. Note down the path to your Eclipse profile. On Windows it will be something like C:/Documents and settings/XXXX/workspace, and on Unixy systems something like ~/workspace.
  2. Close Eclipse.
  3. Open the file net.sourceforge.phpeclipse.ui.prefs that is in the directory (your workspace)/.metadata/.plugins/org.eclipse.core.runtime/.settings in a text editor.
  4. Look for a line in the file that starts _php_include_paths= If it is not there, add it at the end.
  5. Change this line to say _php_include_paths=.
  6. Run Eclipse again.


You probably want to generate or load a SSH private key, to make it more convenitent to connect to places like github. Hopefully someone can write step-by-step instructions for what needs to be done.

Git Settings

These are almost all hidden under the Team bit of the tree.

Please can someone add step by step instructions here. You need to use git for Moodle development. The default settings may be fine.

Web and XML settings

For each XXX in CSS, HTML, Javascript, XML:

Under Web and XML -> XML Files -> Source, choose Indent using spaces and indentation size 4.

Checking out the Moodle code

From the File menu, choose New -> Project ....

In the wizard that pops up, choose Git -> Projects from Git, then click Next >.

... Please can someone fill in the rest of the steps here. It should match Git for developers.

If you also need another branch (2.8, 2.9, ...) repeat all the other steps with a few changes:

  • Select the appropriate branch.
  • Use a different project name (e.g. moodle28, moodle29, etc.).

Let your development web server know where your files are

Either by editing you web server's config files, or using a symbolic link. Make sure your webserver can see your new working set of files at a sensible URL, so you can test the code you are working on.

Quick tour of some cool features, and remaining configuration changes

I find the default workbench setup is pretty good. Here is a quick guide to some of the bits.


To the left is the Navigator. This is a tree view of all your files. If you double-click on a file, it opens in the editor in the middle. Try opening course/lib.php now. You will notice that it comes up nicely syntax-highlighted.

Error highlighting

In the middle of the file, just type any old text, for example "I like Eclipse". Obviously, this is not valid PHP syntax, and Eclipse will notice this, and put a red underline under it. Also, by the scrollbar is a ruler with a red mark in it to show the error.

You will see some yellow marks lower down the ruler. There are warnings. Click on one, and you will be taken to where that warning is in the file. Hover your mouse over the warning, and you will get a tooltip explaining what the problem might be.

Save the edited file. (Don't worry that it is broken, we'll clean up the mess later.) Notice that a red error marker is added to the file in the navigator, so you can see that there is a problem. Also, error markers are added to the course folder, and the whole project, so you could see there was an error even if the navigator tree was collapsed.

You will probably find lots of warnings that the config.php file can't be found. In the navigator, find the file config-dist.php. Do Copy then Paste and choose to call the new file config.php. Edit this new config.php as normal. You should find that most of the include file warnings have gone now.

Notice also that there is another marker on each file icon. A little yellow cylinder on most files, but a white-on-brown star on the one you have edited. This is telling you the git status of each file. The brown stars are changes you have made but not checked in yet.


Over to the right is the Outline view. This shows a list of functions and classes defined in this file. By default, they are listed in the same order as in the file, but if you click on the az toolbar button, they are sorted into alphabetical order.

Click on the function name add_course_module in the Outline. You will see that the editor scrolls to the definition of that function.

Code navigation

In that function, hover the mouse pointer over the function name insert_record. After a while, the documentation for that function will appear in a big tooltip.

Hold down CTRL, move the mouse pointer over the function name insert_record, then click. Eclipse should load dmllib.php, and scroll you to where this function is defined. (You can also do this by clicking on the function name and pressing the F3 key.)

In the main Eclipse toolbar, there are forward and back arrows like in a web browser. Click back now to get back to course/lib.php.

Open resource

From the Navigate menu, choose Open Resource.... In the dialog that pops up, start typing a filename for instance type moodlel. In the box in the middle of the dialog, you will see it list all the files in the project whose names start that way. At the bottom is a box which lists the different folders that contain a file with that name. This can be a very quick way of opening files with fairly unique names like moodlelib.php, without having to click through the levels of the navigator tree. Of course, it is not so useful for an index.php file! Click OK now to open moodlelib.php. (It would actually work if you just did CTRL + Shift + R, moodlel, Enter.)

Multi-file search

Scroll down moodlelib a little bit, and double click on the name of the constant MOODLE_INTERNAL where it is defined, so that the text is selected. Then, from the Search menu, choose Search.... Notice that the Containing text box has already been filled in for you with the text you just selected. Of course you can just type text into this box without selecting it first. Notice that you can do regular expression searches, but leave that turned off for now. In the File name patterns box type *.css, *.html, *.inc, *.js, *.php, *.xml. (This is the most useful general setting for working on moodle. Eclipse will remember this setting, so you only have to enter it once.) Click Search.

The search results will appear in a new view underneath the editor. That view has a toolbar with yellow up and down arrows. Click the down arrow a few times and it will take you to the first few matches in the code, opening the relevant files as necessary.

Related Links

There is an excellent series of articles published by IBM on using Eclipse for Drupal developement here : Using open source software to design, develop, and deploy a collaborative Web site Tools and techniques for getting relatively complicated Web sites up and running quickly.