"Beginning PHP4" published by Wrox Press serves to fill the void of books
written by professionals for open-source product. PHP 4.0.0 was
released in May 2000 and since then PHP, a server-side, cross-platform,
HTML embedded scripting language has been growing on the popularity of
the previous version, PHP 3.0
This book is written by a team of authors, namely Wankyu Choi, Allan Kent,
Chris Lea, Ganesh Prasad, Chris Ullman with two contributing authors: Jon
Blank and Sean Cazzell. This is not a case of "too many cooks spoil the
broth" as the pool of experience tends to broaden its coverage.
It is targeted at practically anyone with HTML knowledge who is interested
in developing dynamic web applications using PHP 4. It is not a
prerequisite to have any computer programming knowledge at all but access
to any web server and a relational database management system is a must, to fully
utilise this book.
Unsurprisingly, this thick 800 page book comprises of 17 chapters and 2
appendices. Each chapter is structured nicely, starting with an
introduction and ending with a summary. Examples are given under "Try It
Out" sections that include a "How It Works" subsection to explain in
detail what goes on behind each line of code. Users are not expected to
regurgitate the code in the example but to understand them well so that
they could customise it and write their own code to suit their
requirements. A good way to learn a new programming language is to use
this approach of learning by example.
Since it is absolutely inundated with examples, one should not read it on
its own but to have hands-on sessions to implement the given code. It
also frequently uses analogies and activities from day-to-day life to
illustrate a concept so that they are easier to grasp. One such example
explains branching statements with the decision-making required for
One must not skip the introduction chapter as it gives some basic
information about PHP4 and ways to download the source code and obtain
the errata and support from Wrox web site. They could as well
include the evolution of PHP to PHP4 here but sadly did not.
Reinforcing the fact that PHP is a cross-platform language, Chapter 1
gives instructions for installing PHP4 with Microsoft Personal Web Server
(PWS) on Windows 95/98, with Microsoft Internet Information Server
(IIS) on Windows NT4 or 2000 and with the Apache Web Server on
Linux/UNIX. Apache and PHP4 on Linux are installed using the Red Hat Package
Manager (RPM) instead of compiling from source.
Chapters 2 to 6 cover programming fundamentals. Over these five chapters, programming concepts such
as variables, data types, operations, constants, environment variables,
conditional code, loops, arrays, functions and various HTML form controls
are explained in relation to PHP. It also briefly explains how TCP/IP and
the HTTP protocol work in layman terms.
After ensuring that you are armed with enough basic programming knowledge
to write a standalone web application, the book moves on to techniques for
writing error handling code and debugging in chapter 7. It says that PHP
does not provide its own debugger so this task has to be done
manually. This is not exactly accurate, as the code for PHP's internal
debugger has not been ported to PHP 4 yet but PHP 3 does have its own
debugger. It should be more specific as this may give first time users the
wrong impression of PHP.
HTTP session handling is the main focus of chapter 8. Examples are given
on how to write your own PHP code to manage sessions or by using
cookies. Compared to PHP3 that required PHPLIB, a third-party library to
handle sessions, PHP 4 has greatly improved this by having native inbuilt
session handling functions.
Chapter 9 explores object oriented programming and some simple classes are
included. It does not delve into this subject as it admits that PHP is not
a truly object-oriented language so for a complex application which really
requires object-oriented techniques, they are better off using a
fully-fledged object-oriented language.
File and directory manipulations are introduced in chapter 10 by going
through file-related functions. In the example, a web based text editor is
built. Moving on, the next three chapters talk about database by using
MySQL. Steps are shown on how to install and use MySQL in conjunction with
Since XML is the current buzzword, this book includes it as well. It just
grazes its surface in chapter 14. Then it devotes the next two chapters
solely to handling emails and generating basic graphics using PHP. In the
final chapter, it shows how the bits and pieces that have been presented
in the previous chapters could be used to build a URL Directory
Manager. If you do not have MySQL, appendix A provides the instructions on
using an Open Database Connectivity data source instead and appendix B
provides a handy list of PHP functions.
In a nutshell, this book is great for those who are interested
in developing their very first dynamic web applications using PHP as it
has a broad coverage and many practical examples. Programmers who are
converting to PHP from another language will find this useful too but
maybe a little pedantic. Experts who are well versed in PHP3 are advised to
give this book a wide berth or the book may just end up in Amazon
Marketplace Sellers. One used copy is already up there for sale.