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PHP Hacks: Tips & Tools For Creating Dynamic Websites [Paperback]

Jack D. Herrington

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Book Description

Dec 22 2005 0596101392 978-0596101398 1

Programmers love its flexibility and speed; designers love its accessibility and convenience. When it comes to creating web sites, the PHP scripting language is truly a red-hot property. In fact, PHP is currently used on more than 19 million web sites, surpassing Microsoft's ASP .NET technology in popularity. Not surprisingly, this surge in usage has resulted in a number of PHP books hitting the market. Only one, though, takes the language beyond traditional Web programming and into mapping, graphing, multimedia, and beyond: PHP Hacks.

In PHP Hacks, author Jack Herrington wrings out his 20 years of code generation experience to deliver hands-on tools ranging from basic PHP and PEAR installation and scripting to advanced multimedia and database optimizing tricks.

On the practical side of things, PHP Hacks helps you develop more robust PHP applications by explaining how to improve your database design, automate application testing, and employ design patterns in your PHP scripts and classes. In the category of "cool," Herrington explains how to upgrade your Web interface through the creation of tabs, stickies, popups, and calendars. He even examines how to leverage maps and graphics in PHP. There's also a bounty of image and application hacks, including those that show you how to:

  • Integrate web sites with Google maps and satellite imaging
  • Dynamically display iPhoto libraries online
  • Add IRC, SMS, and Instant Messaging capabilities to your Web applications
  • Drop the latest Wikipedia dictionary onto your Sony PSP
  • Render graphics and user interfaces with SVG, DHTML, and Ajax

Whether you're a newcomer or an expert, you'll find great value in PHP Hacks, the only PHP guide that offers something useful and fun for everyone.

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Product Description

About the Author

Jack Herrington is an engineer, author and presenter who lives and works in the Bay Area. His mission is to expose his fellow engineers to new technologies. That covers a broad spectrum, from demonstrating programs that write other programs in the book Code Generation in Action. Providing techniques for building customer centered web sites in PHP Hacks. All the way writing a how-to on audio blogging called Podcasting Hacks. All of which make great holiday gifts and are available online here, and at your local bookstore. Jack also writes articles for O'Reilly, DevX and IBM Developerworks.

Jack lives with his wife, daughter and two adopted dogs. When he is not writing software, books or articles you can find him on his bike, running or in the pool training for triathlons. You can keep up with Jack's work and his writing at

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful For The Ideas It Offers; Graphics, Database and Testing Hacks Feb. 5 2006
By Robert L. Cochran - Published on
I tried several of the hacks in this book and quickly scanned some others. It offers numerous ideas for dynamic web page presentation. Hack 11, "Put an Interactive Spreadsheet on Your Page", provides a fresh way to present tabular data in an Excel-like grid format, using a proprietary solution called ActiveWidgets. I downloaded the free version of the ActiveWidgets code and ran this hack. It is giving me ideas for how to present the kind of tabular data that might look good on a web page. At no cost, you can study a given bit of PHP code and decide for yourself if you can put it to further use.

I also tried Hack 10, "Send HTML Email". It works fine as stated, and for the first time I learned how to construct a multipart email. That is what prompted me to implement the hack, I have always wanted to do exactly this. I have some work to do with my sendmail mail transfer agent (MTA) software for this to work even better. The hack can be improved by showing how to avoid the problem of the MTA writing the wrong from and to email addresses and how to work around potential mail relaying issues. The bottom line, however, is that the code presented works as indicated.

I experimented with Hacks 4, "Build A Breadcrumb Trail", and 12, "Create Popup Hints". These work acceptably.

An exciting hack that I haven't tried yet is #44, "Scrape Web Pages For Data". I would like to use this one to scrape weather-related data from [...] for my zip code.

Another attention-getter are the hacks presented in Chapter 8, "Testing". I have not tried these hacks myself, but I think unit testing needs more attention in web pages that utilize heavy scripting, and I'll be sure to experiment with these hacks in two projects of my own that are currently ongoing. I definitely feel the need of automated testing.

Other good points about this book is that it offers hacks which cover graphics tricks such as implementing Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG). SVG deserves attention because the image renditions possible are stunning, and you can render them right now. Recent builds of Mozilla and Firefox support SVG natively and you do not need the Adobe plugin with these browsers. Author Herrington neglects to state this in Hack 28. When you see the graphical renditions you realize they are worth implementing in your PHP code.

I like the numerous screen shots the book provides. They offer a way to check my own results against what he suggests or shows are possible.

I would have given this book a 5 star rating if I had seen hacks that implement PHP Data Objects (PDO) with databases such as MySQL and SQLite. PDOs have been available in PHP for a long time now, I use them in most of my coding because they work so well and offer a cleaner interface to the database engine than the "traditional" PHP code taught in a lot of books. Likewise, there is a focus on PEAR programming, but in PHP version 6, which is now in development, there is no longer a default install of PEAR. Herrington also didn't test his Hacks code on different platforms. He appears to have settled on the Windows versions of Firefox 1.x, Apache server, and PHP. There is some reliance on Internet Explorer. I can see the results when I test his hacks in Mozilla and Firefox on the Linux OS. Indeed, it doesn't look like Herrington did extensive research for the book; otherwise he would have quickly learned that SVG is supported natively in Firefox. There is too much code printed, and not enough discussion about the code itself. I can download the example code easily enough; why print it at the expense of discussing it? The book index also needs improvement. You can see entries for "ActiveWidgets", for example, but not a related one for "widgets".

I ran all my tests of these hacks on Fedora Core 4 Linux, running MySQL 5.0.18, SQLite 3.2.x and higher, and development versions of PHP 6 available from [...] . I did not test these in Microsoft Windows XP.

This book belongs on your desk as you code PHP. I recommend studying it for the ideas it offers.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding PHP Tips & Tricks Book March 10 2006
By Dan McKinnon - Published on
'PHP Hacks' by Jack Herrington truly is a book of hacks, tips, and tricks that I have found to be very useful. Covering 100 different ways to use PHP to perform a myriad of different tasks, this book covers many of the neat things that can be done to turn your web site from 'bland to grand' with little effort required!!

Some highlights of what this book will enable you to do with your PHP-based web site:

Create a skinnable interface

Add tabs to your web interface

Put an interactive spreadsheet on your page

Create drop down lists

Create dynamic menus for your site

Make a DHTML slideshow

Create an interactive calendar

Create thumbnail images

Read XML easily with regular expressions

Create RTF and Excel documents dynamically

Turn any object into an array

Create a login system for your web site

Aside from these top hacks/tips that I especially enjoyed, there is also time spent on better object oriented development with PHP, advice for testing your site out, and a whole myriad of other outstanding things you can do!

If you use PHP at your job and you want to tack on some more skills, you would be at a loss if you didn't pick up a copy of PHP Hacks.

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars best PHP reference I have used, bar none Feb. 20 2006
By Abe Usher - Published on
I've read at least a dozen books on web development with PHP. This book is the best, by far!

The good:

* Excellent coverage of elegant PHP for dealing with databases and XML

* Outstanding explanation of automated code generation (a must for professional PHP developers)

* Description (and code implementation) of how to use design patterns with PHP. Former J2EE guys will love this.

* High quality prose and clear descriptions. I did not find any grammatical or spelling errors.

* Light sense of humor (without the unnecessary banter that one finds in most "... for Dummies" books)

The bad:

* Nothing.

As a software developer of 10 years, I give this book my highest recommendation.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid, Quality Reference For Many Possible Uses May 13 2007
By Steve Bailey - Published on
It's very packed full of php solutions that, instead of having you thinking: "I might need this particularly obscure thing later, but then again probably not", like a lot of other books, you'll very likely consider getting a lot of use out of at least 75% of the "hack" recipes eventually.

They're not really hacks by the way, in the negative sense of the word. (Maybe the Recipes book came out first and "Hacks" was the next best word for the title, who knows). But these hack/tips are based on fundamental technologies such as reading/writing XML, preventing double submission on ecommerce sites, making use of design patterns in PHP, great UI tips ( I immediately put one of them to use, which had a url to a popular dhtml library I didn't even know of).

A major portion of the hacks involve excellent user interface advice such as dhtml menus, generating images, etc..

Excellent real-world MySQL tips that include a basic login system, or a PHP recipe that you can use over and over to auto-generate sql CRUD (create/read/update/delete) PHP code. And the other way around. Auto-create mysql code from xml files that contain the schema for the tables.

Also recipes that involve basic knowledge in adding a paypal buy button, php unit testing, testing with simulated users. I shouldn't even attempt at trying to be specific with the types of tips. There are so many of them, varying through different levels of categories

I'd consider it a must-have for all PHP coders. And the reason why I say this, is it's very likely that you will find value in your situation, in at least 2 or 3 of the included "hacks", that would easily cancel out the price of the book. But that's a worst case scenario
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a tutorial, a reference, or PEAR Feb. 15 2007
By Roy Eassa - Published on
The hacks (PHP scripts) may be good ones, but who is this book for?

If you need to learn PHP, get a tutorial book. There are several. This is NOT one. Strangely, it walks you through installing PHP as if you were a beginner, but then it dives right into the hacks with no real discussion of the language. And there are no details about the lines of script within each hack -- you're essentially being asked to take each hack as a wonderful black box from on high.

If you already know PHP pretty well, then you know you can find nearly an infinite supply of great scripts for free on the web (for example, at PEAR, the PHP Extension and Application Repository). Many of them are updated based on feedback and have detailed explanations and discussions to go along with them. Why pay for a small sampling from a book?

And if you're a PHP programmer and want a reference book for looking things up quickly, well, this certainly isn't THAT either.

So I'm again left wondering, who does that leave?

(Edit: I think O'Reilly is a great book company. I own several other O'Reilly books, recommend them highly, and use them all the time. I just have reservations about this particular book's value given that PEAR is free, has user feedback, and is constantly updated.)

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