Within PHP, the current Big Thing, in a way, is namespaces. However: it’s brand new and not every PHP developer knows how, if at all, to use then. Good thing there’s tutorials about that. Sitepoint has one in three parts: 1, 2, 3.
When I started out PHP’ing, I bought a little PHP book called ‘PHP pocket reference’. It was one of those small O’Reilly books and it was written by Rasmus Lerdorf himself. I still have it, although of course I don’t use it anymore.
The book focused on PHP3, although PHP4 was already released. So, basically, I learned PHP with version 3. I started out writing scripts with a .php3 extension, something I still don’t understand; why was the version number included in the extension?
Anyway, not long after I started PHP’ing, my environments switched to PHP4 and I became a PHP4-developer. And I still am. One of my employers still uses PHP4 and although today is PHP4′s death date, there is no indication that there’s an urge to speed up the upgrade process (which thankfully is in place and being worked on).
The problem with PHP4 and PHP5 is that the upgrade process actually is a big step. For the software, because not everything ‘just works’ when you upgrade to 5, but also for the developers. Some of my co-workers still consider the features that were introduced or improved in 5 ‘new’, although they’ve now been included with PHP for years. And that’s understandable; when working heavily on projects in PHP4, and without having the opportunity to check out what’s ahead and trying to use newer features, you’ll never get a taste of it. Of course, developers should take those opportunities themselves, checking out new features and developments in their own time, but not everyone does that.
So today is the end of PHP4. Not really of course, because lots of developers will probably still spend months working on PHP4 code. It will work just fine and do just what you want forever, it just won’t have any updates anymore, But if you consider the fact that some servers (even those of my employer) still run a 4.3.X-version of PHP, that hardly matters.
I’m glad I switched the projects at my other employer to PHP5 at the start of 2008; not only are we up to date, but the new features (or simply the small improvements in existing features) make working with PHP a lot nicer. And we’re ready for the future; PHP6 is upon us, and I hope it will be adopted (and adoptable) a lot faster than its predecessor.
PHP4, you’ve served us well. You paved the way for PHP5. Thanks! Now get out, and stay out.
It’s always fun to compare tools. Who works with what and especially, why? Following the example of Flickr and some others, let me list my tools, see if you match:
Living and working:
I take my Mac everywhere. I work on it at work, even though it is a private machine. At home, I use VLC to watch video’s and DVD’s, NetNewsWire for the daily read, Celtx for screenwriting, Mail.app for.. well duh, RealPlayer to listen to BBC Radio 1 or iTunes for my music collection, Twitterific for Twitter and Unison to eh, browse newsgroups.
Well, that’s most of it. What about you?
I like conferences. They bring a combination of information, context, some discussion and all kinds of impressions to you in audible form. In a form that doesn’t require you to browse through blogs or magazine articles. Also, you can reflect on the subjects with others during the break times. Or just reflect on it by yourself. In some way, it differs from just reading about the topics on weblogs or online manuals, it’s got a different vibe. One I like.
So last weekend I went to the Dutch PHP Conference. I went last year, and I liked it, so attending this year’s edition seems logical. But after a day of listening to some interesting talks I’m wondering: who is the indented audience for this conference? Am I even in it?
Let me explain by walking through the day. After @ijansch‘s opening, we were welcomed into the history of PHP by Zeev Suraski, one of the founders of Zend and with that, one of the people who made PHP what it is today. It’s nice to hear the story from someone first-hand, as opposed to reading it in the PHP Manual.
He gave his view on PHP today: it’s mostly done, and our focus as a community has been, and still is, shifting to frameworks. In a way that’s like saying “we’ve been building the car for a few years, now it has become time to do some driving”. And he’s right. PHP is never truly done, of course, but it is fairly done, and now it’s up to the frameworks to mature and become the highly useful, production-ready toolkits we all need (yes, need, even though some of us might not know it yet). In my view: some parts of frameworks wille eventually become more attached to the core of PHP, as often-used parts will grow into the extensions area.
After Zeev, Marco Tabini, publisher of php|architect (which I’m subscribed to), explained how important mayo is to the PHP world. No, wait, that wasn’t it. He wasn’t very PHP-specific, but his keynote was quite interesting nevertheless.
Lunch came and went, and the breakout sessions started. I attended the ones presented by Gaylord Aulke, Lorna Jane Mitchell and Ivo Jansch.
Gaylord talked about how you would go about creating, maintaining and using an infrastructure when you’re working in a team. He explained about development locations, version control management, test- and staging servers and deploying your work to a live server. This very much connected with Lorna’s talk, which focused on deployment in general, and on doing that with subversion in particular.
Both talks were interesting, but only small bits of it were giving me new information or a perspective I didn’t think of before. Both gave me the impression that the intended audience would not include people already working in teams, with version control already very much in place and several live projects to maintain. Those people would already have invented (and/or implemented) the proverbial wheel for their own situation. Which is the case for me: at both of my jobs, an infrastructure is in place and working nicely. Nevertheless, both talks were interesting, and some viewpoints offered, along with a nice feeling of confirmation, some food for though and/or Googling.
After the break, the choice was to be made between Stefan Priebsch’s session on the upcoming PHP releases, a session by Matthew Weier O’Phinney about best practices within Zend Framework (this description is not as accurate as it should be, but we’ll get to that) and Ivo Jansch’s presentation about Enterprise PHP.
Because information about PHP 5.3 and 6 can be found on the mailing list, wiki pages, blogs and the slides Stefan posted before the conference, that one was an easy choice: no need to attend. The session on Best practices within Zend Framework would only make sense if you were actively using ZF, I thought, so that would not be very practical at this very moment (I was wrong, as you can see by reading the actual description on the site, it’s not ‘within’ Zend Framework, but ‘inspired by’ it, if I understand correctly). So I entered the room in which I would be very cautious about product placement (kidding).
Ivo’s session had ‘Enterprise PHP Development’ as its title. Because I work in a couple of teams/environments where the label ‘enterprise’ might, in some way, be a suitable one, I thought I’d attend this session. It’s always nice to get some tips, attention points and such. But, the session was basically about the same as Gaylord’s and Lorna’s. Not that he covered the same topics, but again I felt like I knew a lot of it already. He covered ten main points you need to be thoughtful of when working on your projects, of which some were very obvious, and others inspired some thinking while in itself not being new (to me, at least).
After all this, my colleagues and me were interviewed for a Bachelor ICT video, in which we expressed our concerns about the lack of depth in the sessions. Terry Chay had already started his keynote by that time, so after missing the beginning, we hurried in and stood in the back, while listening to a very interesting and nice keynote. Chay is a wise man, I said to myself.
Looking back at the day in its entirety, I think I expected more. I already called my feeling about the sessions a ‘lack of depth’. This of course isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A PHP Conference, especially one in a community that’s still growing and has a lot of people still learning how to be the best, should be aiming for a wide audience and not exclude beginners. However, if some f the sessions would last longer, maybe the contents could become more hands-on and give you more the feeling you’re walking away with lots of information to research in the days or weeks after the conference.
I’ll probably attend next year’s edition, but can I silently hope for some more advanced content?
» MacGDBp – a PHP debugger using XDebug
» Dutch PHP Conference 2008 – The Video – I was interviewed. Did I make the cut?
» DPC’08 review by Rick Buitenman
» The Top Ten Subversion Tips for CVS Users
» The Subversion Book
» Running multiple FireFoxes on your Mac
» PHP Performance Series: Maximizing Your MySQL Database
» Which is the fastest browser?
» Download FireFox 3 and install it on my Mac (my Ubuntu machine switched to FF3 weeks ago)
» Download this possibly very interesting PHP Debug thingy for the Mac
Hmm, nice step: the Zend Framework will be included in the repositories for Ubuntu Hardy Heron, scheduled for release in April. Not that the average developer wouldn’t be able to obtain a copy of ZF otherwise, but it’s nice that it will be included.
Let’s hope updates to the Zend Framework will be ported rapidly into Ubuntu, so Ubuntu/ZF users wille be able to truly depend on the packaging system.
It’s those little things: in PHP 5.3, the constant
__DIR__ will be available. Of course, this is the same as the output from
dirname(__FILE__), but it makes life just that little bit easier.
For the last two months, I have been using a new Zend product as my default PHP editor. I haven’t blogged anything about it, because until last week, it was a closed beta.
At ZendCon ’07, however, the beta of Zend Studio Neon (with Neon being the beta-name) was released to the public, inviting everyone who’s interested to the party. So now it’s okay to blog about it, and I would like to take this opportunity to name a few things that might cause Neon to become my default editor, permanently.
1. Custom formatting
In the classic Zend Studio, you can select a piece of code and have Studio re-do the indenting of that section for you. Very handy when you’ve messed up your code in some way, or several CVS commits from different people have thrown the structure out of whack. In Neon, this feature works even better:
I can configure exactly how I want my code to look: where I want my spaces, where the braces should be placed, how the code needs to be indented and lots more. I can configure the formatter to follow my personal coding standards, select a piece of code and have Neon apply my standards to the selection. Brilliant!
However, Neon doesn’t remember my preferences, so I have to export them whenever I make a change and import them every time I start Neon. Also, a few bits of my prefs cannot be configured, such as the way arrays should look when you divide the declaration over multiple lines. But I expect Zend to be looking into that, as several of the closed-beta testers have already mentioned it in the testers group.
2. Easy compare and CVS-integration
When Neon recognises a project to be a checkout of a CVS-module, several options are added to the navigator (the outline of files and folders on the left side of the screen). To name a few:
- Every file that has been changed is visually marked as being different from CVS. This makes it easy to find what you have changed and might be ready to be commited into CVS.
- I can update and commit from the navigator. The classic Studio had this as well, but it was useless because the following feature was missing:
- Compare! I can right-click a file and compare it to the latest version from CVS, or a specific revision, or just compare it to another file I also selected. The ability to compare makes it possible to check if the file I want to commit is ready to be commited: I can see all the changes and if I left in some junk (an echo, some commented-out code, you name it), it shows up as a difference and I can edit it while still in the compare screen. Brilliant! I’m used to the way Kompare works, and frankly that one has a better overview of the changes, but Neon makes a good second best, especially when combined with the CVS options.
- Neon acts as a complete CVS client. I can change the revision of a file, create branches, browse the history of a file, commit several files at once and more.
3. It’s more than a PHP editor
4. Choose the PHP version per project
In the classic Zend Studio, I have to change the PHP version from 4 to 5 and back when working with different projects. In Neon, I can configure this in the project-specific settings, instead of editor-wide. Quite a time-saver, as it prevents me from looking surprised at my editor, wondering why it thinks a bit of code has an error when it clearly doesn’t.
5. Project-wide error checking
When I open a project, Neon checks all the files, both PHP and other types, for errors. When it finds them, the erroneous file is marked as such in the navigator, and so are all the folders above it. I can easily follow the path in the navigator to find the file with the error, fix it and when saved, the mark disappears. And of course I can commit it immediately.
The downside to this is a heavier editor, though. When a project resides on a remote server, and Neon startes opening and parsing them all, my computer gets very, very slow due to the heavy traffic. In fact, Neon already is very memory-consuming and needs to be shut down if I want to open something else that’s big in memory (a video player, for instance). I really hope Zend is able to do something about that.
There you have it, five things I like. There are also things I don’t like: the memory Neon consumes, the multitude of ‘perspectives’, editors, outlines and other screens I don’t really ‘get’ yet, the fact that even a closed project shows up in the navigator and some other minor things. But those are all little bumps in the road, and as Neon is still in beta, I’m not really worrying about it.
Whenever I need to make large (laaaarge) changes in code that has been sitting in its place for a while, an exciting and a bit frightening thought enters my mind: “throw it all out and start from scratch”. Exciting, because starting to build something that you know is gonna be great simply rocks. Fresh, clean code without months or years of editing history is just lovely to work with. Frightening, because you know how long it took to create the existing code, you know how long other rewrites took to do and you know that this is no exception. Also, you know you are gonna have to address all the problems you had in the first run.
But the feeling that you should start from scratch is always there. In my own forum software, Replique, I already did this twice (although the second was a partial rewrite). With reasons and, fortunately, the desired result: a better application. In a CMS that runs at a website I work for, we also did it twice. And it will probably happen again in a few years.
And this is why. Just this afternoon, I stumbled upon Derek Sivers‘s weblog, who tried to rewrite a website in Ruby but failed miserably. Rafe Colburn replied to his and linked to a piece by Joel Spolsky, from which I quote:
There’s a subtle reason that programmers always want to throw away the code and start over. The reason is that they think the old code is a mess. And here is the interesting observation: they are probably wrong. The reason that they think the old code is a mess is because of a cardinal, fundamental law of programming:
It’s harder to read code than to write it.
And that is so true. As is probably true for most developers, my coding style has evolved over the years. Indentation, the placing of braces, the naming of variables and so on, when I look at how I did in a few years ago I scare myself. Did I really write this? Yes I did.
And it’s not just the style. Over the years, if you’re (aiming to be) a professional developer, you learn more and more new stuff. And every now and then there’s the urge to try out those new things. And every now and then one of those urges makes it into your code and stays there for years. When you look at it, years later, you know that you should have resisted the urge. Not that it’s bad code, of course not, you’re a pro. No, it’s just.. silly. The old method of doing whatever it was that that code did was just as good. You didn’t keep it simple, stupid.
The Big Question you should ask yourself before starting a rewrite is: am I doing this because I want to, or because the changes I want to make need me to? Is it so damn hard to make the changes in the existing code? Does it hurt to just refactor the bits and pieces you are going to use? Will it hurt the performance when you don’t do the rewrite? Okay then, do it. If not: just make the changes and be happy about it not costing you time you could use for really new, fresh projects.