A PHP book for serious programmers,
This review is from: Core PHP Programming (3rd Edition) (Paperback)
A PHP book for serious programmers
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.