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Programming PHP

Rasmus Lerdorf, Kevin Tatroe and Peter MacIntyre
Published by O'Reilly
540 pages
£ 28.50
Published: 12 May 2006
reviewed by Lindsay Marshall
   in the September 2006 issue (pdf), (html)

PHP is still holding up as one of the most popular server-side development languages for the web, and it is certainly a language that anyone interested in web development ought to know their way around. It's also a language that you have to program using a great deal of discipline and restraint - there's a lot of truly dreadful PHP coding out in the wild - and I have to say that I there are aspects of PHP programming style that this book introduces with which I vehemently disagree, but that is a relatively minor issue.

The book takes a traditional approach to describing the lanugage: staring with variables and then flow control and then functions and so in. However it isn't really put together as a first steps in programming primer either so it is best suited to experienced programmers who want a gentle introduction to the language, picking up the syntax with a few simple examples. It can be a little terse, however, for example the section on regular expressions covers the whole subject in a few pages, and I have to say that I don't really understand their example of negative lookahead after a couple of readings (that might just be me being obtuse of course). There's also a lot of stuff that is taken from the PHP manual pages with a small amount of cosmetic dusted on them.

The book also has chapters devoted to PDF, XML, the web and databases which discuss various PHP interfaces to these topics again tersely but in useful enough depth for a learner. The chapter on PHP security covers much useful ground and I would have definitely made it a lot less terse and probably printed it in red or something to emphasise its importance: PHP is powerful and so the inexperienced can do dangerous things by accident. They need to be strongly warned off.

This is probably one of the better PHP books around but, and it's an important but, there is a claim that the book ``covers PHP5''. There are certainly some PHP5 features described (though not identified as PHP5 as such), but I can't find anything about some of the really essential new features that people really need to be using such as exception handling. This is the second book I've reviewed that claims to be about PHP5 that omits any mention that I can find of exception handling. I would have a chapter devoted to it alone, but nothing. Odd. But if you want a printed book to start you off this is fine, but I still recommend reading through the online manual.

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