The PHP Anthology, 2nd Edition

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PHP Anthology, 2nd Edition

When veteran PHP developers have specific and nontrivial functionality that they want to implement in their code, they can do so from scratch, but this can be time-consuming or essentially reinventing the wheel. They can adopt completed code posted in an online discussion forum, but such code tends to be buggy. They can use an open source library or other packaged code, but this approach can oftentimes prove to be overkill. Consequently, many developers prefer focused solutions found in PHP cookbooks, such as The PHP Anthology: 101 Essential Tips, Tricks & Hacks.

The second edition of this book was published by SitePoint on 23 October 2007, under the ISBN 978-0975841990. On the book's Web page, the publisher makes available an overview of the book, links to the authors' sites, chapter descriptions, the table of contents, the index, editorial and customer reviews, the book's sample code, and errata (there are none as of this writing). In addition, there is a link for downloading three sample chapters (2, 10, and 11), in PDF format. The pop-up window for entering an email address for receiving the download link, also gives one a chance to subscribe to SitePoint's Web development newsletters.

All of the authors of The PHP Anthology — Davey Shafik, Matthew O'Phinney, Ligaya Turmelle, Harry Fuecks, and Ben Balbo — appear to have plenty of experience with the language, and probably also have spent time interacting with other PHP programmers in online forums, including SitePoint's own PHP forum. Experience reading the questions posted by programmers of all skill levels, and especially trying to answer them, can give anyone a better understanding of what are the most common challenges encountered by the typical PHP coder. In the book's preface, the authors note that, for choosing the particular problems for their book, they chose ones frequently seen in the SitePoint forum, which is likely representative of all active PHP forums.

This new edition of the book has been updated for PHP version 5, including PHP's major improvements to its implementation of classes and objects, among other aspects of the language. It is one of a growing number of PHP books that depart from the traditional tutorial and reference formats, and is instead written in the increasingly popular "cookbook style". Each section presents first a common problem that Web programmers often encounter, followed by generally complete source code that solves the problem, and commentary that explains the overall solution, along with special considerations that the programmer should watch out for in adapting the given source code to their own situation.

As seen in the majority of cookbook-style programming books, this one groups the problem-and-solution sections into chapters, of which there are 13: an introduction; working with databases using the PHP Data Objects (PDO) extension; strings; dates and times; forms, tables, and clean URLs; files; email; digital images; error handling; access control; client- and server-side caching; XML and Web services; PHP coding best practices. In addition to the preface and index, the book also has four appendices: configuring PHP; a checklist for choosing a Web hosting service; a security checklist; and working with the PHP Extension and Application Repository (PEAR). In total, the book is 542 pages long, and yet it is not visually overwhelming, partly because of the large and readable font chosen by the publisher, as well as the innumerable code snippets and browser screen shots interspersed throughout the narrative.

The primary strength of this book is the significant amount of information provided to the reader, in the form of summaries of critical Web programming problems, working PHP code that addresses those problems, discussion as to why each particular approach was taken, and occasional asides that warn the reader about special difficulties that they might encounter as they implement the solutions within their own development environments and for their own projects. Some of the material may be of little interest to the average reader — such as the chapters on PDO and XML — but most of the material would be of interest and benefit to any conscientious PHP programmer. The chapters on error handling and access control are alone worth the price of the book.

However, this second edition of the book has some weaknesses that may or may not have been introduced since the first edition (which was not readily available for comparison). But none of them are overwhelming or unfixable. Firstly, a reader hoping for a well-edited book will likely become distrustful by the authors' misuse of the term "that" in place of "who". Secondly, there are far too many ambiguous comments in the first-person, e.g., "I would dare to say that..." In a book written by five authors, the reader naturally has no idea who is speaking. Thirdly, there is a fair amount of inconsistency in the formatting of the code throughout the book, including indentation and other spacing, as well as variable naming. Also, every instance of a "{" on its own line (presumably to line up vertically with the corresponding "}"), is an antiquated waste of space, since any decent programmer's editor or integrated development environment (IDE) can do brace matching automatically.

Lastly, almost all of the section titles begin with the phrase "How do I". That is fine within the body of the book, at the beginning of every section. But when dozens of these section titles are listed together in the table of contents, that phrase could be excised so each section's topic would be faster to spot, and there would be fewer unnecessary words. In fact, the section titles don't necessarily have to be posed as questions. For instance, "Using Sessions" would be just as clear as "How do I use sessions?" and faster to read.

It should be noted that this book is best suited for intermediate to advanced PHP programmers, who will certainly get the most out of it. A programmer new to PHP, who would like to begin learning the language, should start with any one of the many tutorial-style PHP books available.

For readers who prefer the portability or environmental benefits of e-books, a PDF version of The PHP Anthology is available from the publisher, on the aforesaid Web page. Any programmer who is — or anticipates — doing PHP work away from their print technical library, should definitely consider obtaining the e-book, which thus can be added to their laptop's development environment, and be readily available for quick reference. The e-book contains all of the content of the print version. It also makes good use of color, for screenshots and other illustrations, as well as using a blue background for the sample code, which is a bit easier to read than the gray used in the print version.

Overall, this new edition of The PHP Anthology offers practical solutions to many common PHP problems, clear explanations of those solutions, and working code — in print and online — that can be quickly used as is or modified as needed. PHP developers should find this book an informative and valuable part of their technical library.

Copyright © 2007 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.
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