Core PHP Programming, Third Edition is the authoritative guide to the new PHP 5 for experienced developers. Top PHP developer Leon Atkinson and PHP 5 contributor/Zend Engine 2 co-creator Zeev Suraski cover every facet of real-world PHP 5 development, from basic syntax to advanced object-oriented development -- even design patterns! It’s all here: networking, data structures, regular expressions, math, configuration, graphics, MySQL/PostgreSQL support, XML, algorithms, debugging, optimization…and 650 downloadable code examples, with a Foreword by PHP 5 contributor and Zend Engine 2 co-creator Andi Gutmans!
LEON ATKINSON is a freelance Web developer and architect who has been working with PHP since 1997. He formerly served as chief technologist for Clear Ink in Walnut Creek, CA, where he specialized in designing and implementing complex, PHP-based Web applications that automate business processes. He is author of Core MySQL.
ZEEV SURASKI is co-creator of PHP 5’s Zend Engine 2. He also wrote many of PHP’s core features, including its abstracted Web server API, thread safety, MySQL support, and output buffering. He co-founded Zend Technologies and currently serves as its chief technology officer.
I have been a programmer for over 6 years, but have never had the pleasure of doing anything with PHP before I started reading this book. I must say, I was totally impressed after I had finished reading Leon's book. The PHP language itself has grown tremendously over the past 8 years or so, and I can certainly see why it is so appealing to users of all levels. The author of the book, Core PHP Programming, does an amazing job explaining the nuance of PHP that any level READER can understand the topic and does whatever it is that he or she is after - which would be designing a dynamic web site in this case.
Leon starts the book with the paraphrase "...answer is that PHP is better" and goes on to explain why that is the case. His answers would compel any PHP user or potential users:
1) PHP is free
2) PHP runs on UNIX, Windows, and Mac OS X
3) PHP is modifiable
4) PHP was written for Web Page creation
5) Support for PHP is free and readily available
6) PHP is popular
7) Programming skills developed in other structured languages can be applied to PHP
By the end of page 11 (5 pages into chapter 1) the reader is hooked and wants to read on to find out what all Leon is talking about. All the key phrases are there: free, extendible, lots of supports, and ease of use.
By the end of Chapter 7 or page 160, you are ready to rock. By now, you know what PHP is all about and have learned its syntax, features, and have even looked (or hopefully written) some code.
Dynamic Function Calls ends chapter 4. This section CLEARLY shows to any programmer how powerful PHP really is and how easy it would be for anyone to utilize that power. Dynamic Function Call is very difficult to implement in Java (I don't know of any way to do in C++ actually - specially in one line of code). In one line of code PHP is able to accomplish this task. Very powerful stuff...
I was personally very impressed with the OO features of the language, which was depicted very well in chapter 6. I also need to say that Leon's introduction to Objects and Classes are very easy to understand for users new to the topic.
For the next few hundred pages, in Part II of the book - Functional Reference, various functions that PHP supports are shown and each one is explained in a great detail. Most of the functions have also been followed by an example that shows the usage each function just described. These chapters are very good reference even for the advanced users as PHP has grown so much that keeping track and memorizing of all the functions would be nearly impossible.
Leon ends the book with a section called Software Engineering. The two chapters that I liked in this section were the design and the design patterns chapters. Chapter 27, Design, is basic software engineering practices in a nutshell. Something that took me over two graduate level courses to cover, the author gives an overview in about 25 pages. I recommend this chapter to any novice programmer. The chapter on Design Patterns is simply put, great. 4 Design Patterns from the popular GoF book are described:
A reader can benefit the specific examples that are given in this chapter as they apply to Web site design and implementation. The examples given are reusable and would benefit any user of PHP.
Throughout the book the author does a very good job at showing the reader what the differences between PHP and other languages are. I think PHP would be a very good first language to learn b/c it has all the features of other popular scripting languages such as Perl and structural/OO languages such as Java and C/C++.
Core PHP is a book for serious programmers written by people who obviously know the subject inside out. The book is over a 1,000 pages long with densely packed pages. One of the authors Zeev Suraski is the co-creator of the upcoming PHP5 Zend Engine (the heart of the PHP system). The fact that it covers PHP 5 from people involved with that development give it an edge on many older books currently on shelves. The writing style is dry and factual (which is what I want from a technical book). If you have experience with other programming languages such as perl or C/C++ this book could be your rapid transition tool. I have a significant background in Java and a few years ago regarded PHP as just another scripting language that would allow trivial jobs to be done easily and give me sufficient rope to do damage when attempting bigger jobs. I was wrong, and the new features of PHP 5 may help it capture more of the hearts and minds of web developers. Unlike Java there is a shortage of good PHP books.
The tutorial section
The tutorial section covers the basics of obtaining and installing PHP both on Windows and UNIX style platforms. I would have preferred it if they had gone into more details on this subject as I seem to manage to mess up installation and configuration every time I do it under Linux. I always seem to fumble around, missing vital components and when I finally get it working I am not quite sure what it was that made it work. The brevity of the installation instructions are rather summed up by the comment "if you have ever compiled software you've found on the net you will have little trouble with this installation".
The book includes some basic tutorial material at the start but it quickly moves on to topics that would only be of interest to people who have real problems to solve. For example, before page fifty the book covers indirect references to variable names. I found this quite useful as it is something I have wondered about when using other programming languages The book covers the subject of recursion, which is a powerful technique but probably only appropriate for a fairly serious programmer.
Chapter 6 consists of about 40 pages covering PHP and Object Orientation. This is approximately 40 pages more than most PHP books. I have used th OO features of PHP4 but always felt they were a "bolt on afterthought". It looks like PHP5 has integrated OO more deeply into the core of the language. I appreciated the new features of PHP5 such as constructors and destructors, the access specifiers (public, private etc) and abstract classes. It is only a matter of time before PHP5 becomes the default version of the language, so it is a good idea to understand the ideas as soon as possible. It also means you can transfer concepts from other OO languages such as Java and C++. Because the authors are so intimately involved with PHP they were able not only to comment on the changes in syntax in PHP5 but also how it may improve performance in certain circumstances. To quote from chapter 6, "In addition to providing a more intuitive object model, the handle-based system has several additional advantages; improved performance, reduced memory consumption, and increased flexibility".
The function reference
The middle 670 pages of the book are a functional reference covering almost anything you can do with PHP, from interacting with databases to xml processing. Some of the API calls listed struck me as somewhat odd for such a section. For example the interface to the MnoGoSearch search system might be quite useful but is hardly part of every programmers essential PHP toolkit. The function reference also covers System V messages, semaphores and shared memory, hmmm might be a while before I need that information. On the more common front it covers Apache, IMAP, several XML systems and automatically creating and manipulating images and graphics. I couldn't see anything on manipulating flash movies but any geek knows that flash is the work of the devil and everything should be done on the server. The PHP community has created some excellent online documentation for the PHP function calls, but this book would make a good additional commentary for any programmer. Personally I can live with as much explanatory code examples as I can get my hands on.
PHP & Software Engineering
I know that some people do not like to see the words "software engineering" and PHP on the same page. The section on Software Engineering is interesting in that PHP is frequently regarded as a tool for Quick and Dirty style of programming. My comment on this is that Quick and Dirty programming is always dirty and never quick in the long run. This section covers the use of the language features of PHP 5 to implement classic design patterns such as the singleton and factory patterns. It seems like every programmer and his dog has written about design patterns and the Java language and it is a delight to see someone tackle this subject in PHP, particularly using the new features of the upcoming PHP 5 version.
There are some surprising omissions such as a very brief coverage of database independent API's such as adoDB and the pearDB classes. With the pearDB classes now part of the core PHP distribution this seems a surprising omission. For me database portability is important, I would like to be able to at least easily port my code between popular databases. I could find no mention of SQL Lite, one of the features due to be bundled with PHP5 when it ships.
A good comprehensive reference, not for beginners. A combination of this book, a "cookbook" style reference and the web documentation and you are set for programming anything with PHP.