No. PHP_CodeSniffer is not a tool for testing that your PHP application works correctly. All PHP_CodeSniffer will do is ensure your PHP code meets the standards that you are following.
Maybe you don't, but if you want to ensure you adhere to a set of coding standards, PHP_CodeSniffer is a quick and easy way to do that. PHP_CodeSniffer is a replacement for the more manual task of checking coding standards in code reviews. With PHP_CodeSniffer, you can reserve code reviews for the checking of code correctness.
Note: Coding standards are a good thing. They will make your code easier to read and maintain, especially when multiple developers are working on the same application. Consider using coding standards if you don't already.
No. PHP_CodeSniffer does not actually parse your code, and so cannot accurately tell if your code contains parse errors. PHP_CodeSniffer does know about some parse errors and will warn you if it finds code that it is unable to sniff correctly due to a suspected parse error. However, as there is no actual parsing taking place, PHP_CodeSniffer may return an incorrect number of errors when checking code that does contain parse errors.
You can easily check for parse errors in a file using the PHP command line interface and the -l (lowercase L) option.
$ php -l /path/to/code/myfile.inc
No syntax errors detected in /path/to/code/myfile.inc
Yes. At its core, PHP_CodeSniffer is just a framework for enforcing coding standards. We release PHP_CodeSniffer with some sample coding standards to help developers get started on projects where there is no standard defined. If you want to write your own standard, read the tutorial on creating coding standards.
Sometimes, errors mask the existence of other errors, or new errors are created as you fix others. For example, PHP_CodeSniffer might tell you that an inline IF statement needs to be defined with braces. Once you make this change, PHP_CodeSniffer may report that the braces you added are not correctly aligned.
Always run PHP_CodeSniffer until you get a passing result. Once you've made the changes PHP_CodeSniffer recommends, run PHP_CodeSniffer again to ensure no new errors have been added.
As much as we trust PHP_CodeSniffer to check your code for coding standard errors, we don't trust any application to ever change code for us without reviewing it first. Considering you would have to check each change PHP_CodeSniffer made before releasing the source code, why not make the changes manually?
Making the changes manually ensures a couple of positive things happen:
Developers learn the coding standards and make less mistakes in the future.
Developers can ensure that PHP_CodeSniffer is working correctly.
Developers can decide if a coding standard doesn't fit a particular piece of code.
So if you find yourself wishing PHP_CodeSniffer would just go ahead and make those changes for you, maybe you just need to read the coding standards and adhere to them a bit better.
Note: No matter how small of a change you make, always test your code before committing it to your code repository or releasing it. Even changes suggested by PHP_CodeSniffer need to be tested, as small and insignificant as they may seem.
For PHP files, PHP_CodeSniffer uses PHP's inbuilt tokenizer functions to parse your code. It then changes that output to include much more data about the file, such as matching function braces to function keywords.
For all other file types, PHP_CodeSniffer includes a custom tokenizer that either makes use of PHP's inbuilt tokenizer or emulates it. In both cases, the token array must be checked and changed manually before all the standard PHP_CodeSniffer matching rules are applied, making tokenizing a bit slower for these file types.