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PHP Essentials (book review)

By Patrick Lambert

In this short article I will talk about a book on PHP, a web scripting language. But before going into the book itself, let's see what web scripting is and what PHP is all about. Web sites, 5 years ago, were simple text files with some images inserted. They were all done using HTML, the standard markup language. Now, in the year 2000, things have changed dramatically. Sites now provide more than just static, textual information. Web sites include dynamic information, animation files, session management (which allows them to recognize you at each visit) and other modern features. All of these features can't be created using only static HTML pages. Scripting languages need to be used to make the connection to the databases, to handle session management and to do all of the other back-end processing required to have good, modern pages.

PHP is a server-side scripting language. This means that it is composed of lines of code inserted in HTML pages. The web server processes the code, and its output is printed on the web page. Several other server-based scripting languages exist, including Microsoft ASP and CodeFusion. PHP is available on most Unix platforms and on Microsoft Windows.

PHP Essentials is a book for the HTML writer who wants to get into web scripting. If you have experience in making simple web sites and want to do complex dynamic sites, then this is the book for you. The book was published in Spring 2000 by Prima Publishing, a company that publishes dozens of computer books, and was written by Julie Meloni, a technical director for a multimedia company located in Campbell, California.

The information is very well presented; it is easy to read and is always supported with examples. Another plus is that it uses real life scenarios-- works you may need to accomplish in a real life situation where you need to create web sites. For example, most sites use databases to store user data, so the book thoroughly discusses database connections.

The author also provides an in-depth coverage of most topics. For example, in the first chapter, she talks about the installation phase and describes how to install PHP on various platforms and with several web servers, including Apache and Internet Information Server. In the database section, the book spends some time describing database systems as well as basic queries.

Also, the book is very up to date. It covers the latest PHP version, PHP4. Database examples are based on the MySQL database, which is currently the most popular database with Linux users. It is a recent book, and it shows.

While these are good features, there are also some problems. First, while it covers certain subjects in depth, it doesn't cover everything. Some topics that might be useful for web developers are not covered at all--the book is quite short.

Another thing that would have been nice is a CD-ROM with the example source code and with PHP itself. The book comes with no CD-ROM at all, and this is a down point.

Globally, PHP Essentials is a very good book for people who want to learn more about advanced web development using the PHP language. The book is listed at $39.99, which is very reasonable for a computer book. It's not the first book about PHP and most likely will not be the last, but it is the best choice for people beginning with PHP programming.

[The publisher's site is The program listings in the book are at The hyperlink should go right to the page, but if it doesn't, go to the site and choose "code" on the main menu. -Ed.]

Copyright © 2000, Patrick Lambert. Copying license
Published in Issue 59 of Linux Gazette, November 2000

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