Upgrading from Dreamweaver 8 to CS4

by James Cook on April 2, 2009

IMPORTANT: With the announcement of Creative Cloud, Adobe has also changed its upgrade pricing policy. For CS6 only owners of CS5 and CS5.5 will qualify for upgrade pricing discounts. For more on this critical change and how it will affect your upgrade plans see Creative Suite: Upgrade, Wait for Creative Cloud or ???

Personally I considered Dreamweaver CS3, Adobe's first upgrade to the program after acquiring it, to be a "must have" update. Obviously, a lot of you didn't see it that way.

Lately I've fielded a lot of questions from people considering upgrading from Dreamweaver 8 (CS2) to Dreamweaver CS4. While it's fairly easy to find information about the incremental updates: from DW8 to CS3 and from CS3 to CS4 (links at the end of this post) I haven't found a source that offers an overview of what's in store if you make the leap from 8 directly to CS4. So I've put together a quick  overview with some brief comments of the features that await you at the end of the DW8 to DWCS4 upgrade process.

New in CS3

Overview: CS3 marked the beginning of the process of integrating Dreamweaver into Creative Suite but more importantly it was the first version of Dreamweaver  to support CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) styles and layout in a manner accessible to non-programmers. That feature alone made CS3 a required update in my book. Of course with the new functionality there was also a bit of a learning curve.

  • Integration with Adobe Creative Suite
    • Copy and paste from Photoshop
  • Improved CSS handling
    • Convert inline CSS to a rule
    • Built-in CSS-based page layouts

    Spry (AJAX) widgets and effects

    • Pop-out menus, "accordion" panels and more
    • Browser compatibility checking
      Community-based help
  • Tag Inspector: right click to view
  • Adobe Device Central
    • Preview designs for mobile devices
  • Better Intel support for Macs

New in CS4

CS4 continues Dreamweaver's integration into Creative Suite but the changes are more evolutionary than those in CS3. What you'll notice immediately is several UI (user interface) changes that may take a bit of getting used to. Other changes offer increase functionality - especially In-Context Edit and AIR Authoring - but you might never notice them if you don't go looking.

  • Improved integration with Adobe Creative Suite
    • Photoshop Smart Objects automatically update placed images when the linked Photoshop image is changed
  • New Workspaces
    • Built in workspaces: App Developer, App Developer Plus, Classic, Coder, Coder Plus, Designer, Designer Compact
    • Ability to create and save custom workspaces
  • Related Files Bar
    • Easy access to linked JavaScript and CSS files
  • Live View
    • View JavaScript and CSS effects within Dreamweaver
    • View effects of code changes "live"
  • Improved code hinting
    • AJAX and JavaScript code hinting
  • In-context  editing
    • Online editing through an Adobe hosted service
  • HTML Datasets
    • Import tabular data from an HTML file into a sortable table
  • Subversion Version Control
    • Improved version control for site with multiple authors
  • AIR Authoring
    • Convert your web site into a stand-alone application
  • Additional document viewing options
    • When viewing code and design in the Split view, the window can now be split vertically as well as horizontally (menu: View>Split Vertically)
    • Menu: View>Visual Aids> offers a variety of viewing options to make page elements more readily identifiable
  • Code Navigator
    • Easily access code in linked files
  • Layout Mode for "drawing" tables no longer available

The bottom line

Should you upgrade from Dreamweaver 8 to CS4?

In a word, YES. You'll get the benefit of two excellent updates, an improved UI and access to "modern" web technologies like CSS and AJAX.

What about the learning curve?

Make no mistake you may encounter a significant learning curve moving to CS4. How steep it is will depend upon your familiarity with advanced web technologies such as CSS. If the move to CS4 marks your first venture into CSS-based (as opposed to table-based) layout, expect a few headaches as the wonders (and eccentricities) of Cacscading Style Sheets are revealed.

However, if you're serious about web design, the transition to CSS is a requirement and CS4 offers the tools and templates to make the transition possible and rewarding if not always pleasant.

Additional resources:

What's your experience?

If you've got information or tips that you'd like to share about the Dreamweaver upgrade experience or if you got questions before or after making the link, please leave a comment below.

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Tyler Hawks December 16, 2009 at 12:48 pm

I recently got CS4. So here’s my question: I’ve been working with Dreamweaver MX2004 and was wondering how to convert my sites over to Dreamweaver CS4? Any suggestions?

jcook December 16, 2009 at 1:45 pm

There is really no conversion process. If CS4 doesn’t find your sites when you install it, then you’ll need to redefine the sites. Once that’s done you should be able to open and edit your MX2004 pages.

The major issue is that DW CS4 focuses on CSS. If you’re accustomed to using tables and HTML attributes in your design, you’ll have a learning curve.

Also, I do remember that at one point (not sure if it was before or after MX2004) some behaviors (like swap image) broke if they were edited in a newer version. If so, you might need to rebuild those behaviors.

Michelle December 10, 2009 at 3:59 am

Thanks for the article – it’s just exactly what I need as I’m using Dreamweaver 8 right now and have been trying to decide if I should switch to CS4 for the last few days.

The only thing is I’m using a netbook (Samsung N110 2GB RAM & 1.6GB Intel Atom N280 processor) and I’m concerned it won’t be high enough spec. to run CS4

Any thoughts?

Thanks in advance

jcook December 10, 2009 at 11:00 am

I’d suggest downloading the 30-day CS4 trial and checking it out.

Robert Scanlon December 2, 2009 at 6:55 pm

Hmmm. I’m a long-time DW8 user, just upgraded to Windows 7 64-bit and finding the right-click context menu options in DW I used to use a lot (CSS especially) are now grayed out except the first option; as is the “recent items” option.

A parallel install in XP-Virtual PC is working fine, so that’s my backup – but maybe it’s time for me to move to CS4.

Do you have any experience with CS4 on Windows 7 64-bit? If so, any issues?

Thanks for a great site! (Found by Google of course)


jcook December 2, 2009 at 7:30 pm

Robert, thanks for the kind words.

I don’t have any experience using CS4 in Windows 7 64-bit (maybe after the holidays). the only thing I know that might be an issue is the problem mentioned here:

I originally thought it was a 64-bit issue but seems more widespread (although I’m not sure what the the exact issue might be and how it’s triggered).

If you do upgrade, let me know how it goes.

Saety November 20, 2009 at 12:50 pm

At last i get into DWcs4. But it is very difficult to explore it.

DW8 is quite simple and handsome.

jcook November 20, 2009 at 1:54 pm

But DW8 doesn’t offer the functionality or the advanced CSS features that make building standards-based website easier.

Yenn November 1, 2010 at 6:42 am

The only was CSS makes building “standard-based” websites easy is IF you understand CSS. And most people don’t. There isn’t a place to really learn it, or at least I haven’t found it! Learning HTML was easier! I’m not a programmer! DW8 was EASIER to do what I needed for my pages (like changing the size of the text to 8pts or whatever size I needed. Now in CS4 I have to design a RULE for stuff like that and is very frustrating!)
Perhaps I’m just an ignorant fool, but even my boss – supposedly a hardcore Web guru – can’t turn the team into a good way to learn the whole CSS subject. Perhaps some good advice from your part would be availble for us? (just please, don’t say going back to college since that’s not an option here and we would prefer online resources if posible. Thanks in advance.)

jcook November 1, 2010 at 8:18 am

@Yenn, the key is “standards-baed.” Tables are not baed upon current web standards. If you look at the code of table-based layouts and pages that make use of the tag (or worse yet try to redesign them) you’ll see that they cause a lot of problems. Not to mention that they are very bloated.

Yes it does take some time and effort to learn and yes it can be frustrating but it took some time to learn to use and manipulate tables as well.

Also, as I recommend to my students, working with Dreamweaver’s built in CSS-based layouts and reading the comments in the CSS and HTML is a good way to start.

In the Dreamweaver tutorials for my Dominate Dreamweaver course (https://www.dwcourse.com) I focus on CSS throughout the twelve week course. Our next session will begin in January 2011. Contact me at jcook@dwcourse.com if you’d like more information.

Peter April 28, 2009 at 1:22 pm

I have finally got DW CS4 – I have aproblem – it hasn’t seen any of my sites and I don’t fancy expoerting and importing one by one (I have many) – is there a way of getting DW CS4 to see my DW 8 sites ?

jcook April 28, 2009 at 1:54 pm

When I installed DW CS4 it recognized my sites from CS3 but I guess that didn’t work for you.

You should be able to import and export all your sites at once (although I don’t have a copy of DW8 in front of me to verify).

In DW8

1. Select the Sites>Manage Sites menu option.

2. In the Manage Sites dialog you should be able to select all the sites you want to export and click the Export… button. To make it easier on yourself, you might want to create a special folder to save the site definitions into.


1. Select the Sites>Manage Sites menu option.

2. In the Manage Sites dialog click the Import… button

3. Select the .ste files for all the files you want to import and click Open.

Dreamweaver CS4 should now recognize all your sites.

jcook April 27, 2009 at 1:19 pm


Whatever you do, make sure you save a copy of the existing site so you can go back to it if everything blows up. From just your basic description, I’d say you have a couple of options.

1. If the original site was built using a template. Build a new template using the same editable regions and apply it to the pages.

2. If the original site wasn’t built using a template, I’d start the site from scratch. I’d create a template, create new pages from the template (with the same names as the existing files) and then cut and paste the content in. Your existing HTML should paste over although you should consider replacing it with CSS formatting which is the current standard (and will make future updtes easier).

You may be able to just open your current site in CS4 and start directly editing the individual pages but a few things might break (like rollover images, etc.). And really, the more of the existing code you delete or clean up the better off you will be.

Hope this helps, feel free to ask additional questions.

Mary Emerson April 27, 2009 at 12:51 pm

My coding is ancient, Dreamweaver 4, 2001. Our online e-commerce site is doing well, but I know the html and search engine requirements are changing and I am afraid at some point our site my not display properly or be recognized by all search engines. So..please tell me if I can purchase CS3 or CS4 and haul in my DW4 files and then after hours of learning curve, convert the hundreds of DW4 files into the updated CS3 or CS4. What do you suggest? THank you so MUCH!!

jcook April 26, 2009 at 7:43 am

Gordon, several sites still sell old version of Dreamweaver they have in stock. In the U.S. the price seems to start around $120. As long as you buy from a reputable dealer you should be OK. While I recommend CS4, CS3 is a very good program and should work for you.

BTW, according to the Adobe site you can upgrade to Dreamweaver 4 from Dreamweaver MX, 8 or CS3. So, if you buy an older version, you should be able to get upgrade pricing on CS4 later. But I wouldn’t buy MX or 8 unless you plan to upgrade immediately.

Gordon Irons April 25, 2009 at 11:49 pm

I landed at this forum by a circuituous route, having begun the journey after discovering my proposed (simple) website was designed in an obslescent format, namely FrontPage. My search for an alternative led naturally to Dreamweaver. Trawling among the many references to Dreamweaver 8, CS3 and CS4, I started to appreciate the evolutionary progression.

However, do I really need CS4. As a novice I’m going to struggle to assimilate the esoteric sophistication of a version that taxes the minds of more experienced practioners. Maybe CS3 is sufficient.

And then I confront the price and availability conundrum. So many sites, a plethora of products; upgrades, training, manuals, discount stores. I copied the following detail from the site shown. If it wasn’t the full version I couldn’t see it mentioned – but then I can’t find a pair of socks in the drawer either!

Dreamweaver CS3

Price: £40.00

So, if someone can point towards a solution to this puzzle I would be grateful.

Gordon Irons
(UK based)

Cyndi Smith April 3, 2009 at 4:43 pm

Brilliant article, thank you! I’ve been working with DW8 for longer than I’d care to admit, actually, and so have many of my professional peers! We’ve been doing collaborative projects, corporate sites, re-skins, CSS overhauls, etc., and have been holding out on an upgrade because (seriously) who wants to spend the money unless there’s something groundbreaking? Especially in times like these.

I finally purchased the Master edition of the CS4 suite (had to throw down a large chunk of a project’s profits to do it, too) because I’d been told that CS4 is “THE ONE” we all need to upgrade to. I actually purchased it a few months ago. But I’d been dragging my heels because of the workload I’ve been handling AND a serious fear of the learning curve. Would it slow me down? Would it be worth it?

Your article clearly helped me make that decision, and I’ve completed the CS4 installation. (Wow, did THAT take a long time!) I’ve never been happier! Thank you for pushing me over the edge. It’s truly worth the upgrade. The workplace views, the AJAX code hints, the code navigation in linked files, and AIR authoring are must-haves. (For me, anyway.)

I’ll definitely be sharing your list with my team and my colleagues!

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