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Foundation PHP 5 for Flash

David Powers

friends of ED, 2005

book coverThis is a book I wrote myself, so the review is by no means impartial. I think it's the best thing since sliced bread. I hope you do, too.

Are you a reasonably experienced Flash user who has certain mastered the basics, but wished you could take your SWFs further into the realm of dynamic data rich applications? Well, look no further.

Foundation PHP 5 for Flash brings together three of the web's hottest technologies - Flash, the server-side language PHP, and the MySQL database system. It's bang up to date, using ActionScript 2.0, PHP 5.0, and MySQL 4.1, but has been designed to be version-neutral. In other words, you can be confident that you're working with the latest standards, but that your applications won't break if deployed on an older server. The book also provides a brief introduction to an alternative database system, SQLite, which is now automatically bundled with PHP 5 and requires no installation.

At each stage in the learning you are given an overview of a new area of PHP/MySQL, introducing you to the syntax while showing how it compares to ActionScript, and how it integrates with Flash to produce increasingly complex applications. For example, earlier chapters cover things such as getting data from PHP to Flash and back again, variables, arrays, string manipulation, validating user input, and feedback forms. Later on, you move on to more advanced subjects such as creating databases with MySQL Monitor and phpMyAdmin, manipulating database data through a Flash interface, displaying data from an RSS feed in Flash, persisting data with sessions, and creating a full blown content management system.

In addition, to get you up and running, the book features a detailed guide to setting up your environment - PHP, MySQL, and the Apache web server - along with extensive troubleshooting information.

PHP is the language of choice on nearly 18 million domains, and MySQL has more than five million active users, including industry leaders like Google, the Associated Press, Sony, and NASA. They're open source and free; and with the help of this book, you'll see that they're easy and fun to learn.

Beginning PHP 5 and MySQL: From Novice to Professional

Jason Gilmore

Apress, 2004

book coverIf I have a complaint about this book, it's the title. It gives the impression that a beginner might be able to use it to learn PHP and MySQL from scratch. Not really. It's much more of a reference book that will be of value to anyone from novice to professional. It covers just about every aspect of PHP 5 - from basics, such as datatypes and variables, to advanced subjects like the new object-oriented syntax.

The book is laid out in much the same way as a grammar book, with a chapter on funtions, another on arrays, two on OOP. There's also coverage of file handling, strings and regular expressions, as well as the new error and exception handling features of PHP 5, using try, throw and catch. All the main functions are laid out under separate headings, usually with one of two useful examples of how they work.

A nice touch is that Jason Gilmore doesn't restrict himself to core PHP. He also introduces some PHP add-ons, like templating with Smarty, and the very useful RSS feed parser, MagpieRSS. Before moving on to MySQL, there's also a chapter on SQLite, the lightweight, but very powerful relational database system that's now an integral part of PHP.

The MySQL section of the book is much shorter, but it covers all the essential ingredients for getting a MySQL database working with PHP. The book was written before MySQL 4.1 was generally available, so there's no coverage of mysqli, the Improved MySQL extension that's new to PHP 5.

If you're looking for a good reference book for PHP 5, this is the best one I've found so far. If you're a beginner who wants to learn PHP from scratch, I would recommend "PHP and MySQL Web Development" by Welling and Thomson. Or if you want to learn PHP in a Dreamweaver context, either of the books I have co-authored, "Foundation Dreamweaver MX 2004" and "PHP Web Development with Dreamweaver MX 2004".

PHP Web Development with Dreamweaver MX 2004

Allan Kent, David Powers et al

Apress, 2004

book coverThis is my second foray into writing about creating database-driven websites using PHP/MySQL and Dreamweaver. Like my earlier book (Foundation Dreamweaver MX 2004, published by friends of ED), this book assumes no previous knowledge of either PHP or MySQL. Where it differs is that we assume readers already know the basics of building a static website, so we can concentrate on the main subject - putting PHP to work.

Allan Kent kicks off the book with three chapters offering a broad overview of the three main technologies being used: PHP, MySQL and Dreamweaver MX 2004. Then Rachel Andrew of the Web Standards Project takes an in-depth look at designing with web standards, something made considerably easier by many of the improvements in the latest version of Dreamweaver. Using CSS and valid XHTML is not just a fad as far as dynamic websites are concerned; it's a necessity. Server-side languages like PHP are very fussy about correct coding. One comma or quote out of place, and your website can come crashing down like a pack of cards. Yes, you can build a PHP website without CSS or a valid doctype, but it makes your life a lot harder, and any time "saved" by using outdated methods is usually lost many times over in increased site maintenance.

Then it's down to business, building database-driven pages. Allan looks at the various server behaviors built into Dreamweaver MX 2004 that make this process much simpler. I follow up with a detailed look at code reuse, utilizing Dreamweaver templates and library items, but most importantly building your own code library and creating your own custom-built functions in PHP. I take a hard look at the pros and cons of templates, and compare them with PHP includes, a subject that can be difficult for beginners to grasp, but which offers considerable benefits - and which Dreamweaver, incidentally, makes a lot easier to implement. Allan then offers advice on other Dreamweaver time-saving devices - extensions, telling you not only how to install those created by others, but also showing you how to build your own. It's not as difficult as it sounds! My second chapter deals with the less glamorous, but nevertheless essential subject of what to do when things go wrong - not only error detection and troubleshooting, but plenty of tips on how to avoid errors in the first place.

Finally, the crowning glory of the book (well, I think so, because I wrote it!) - a really detailed case study, looking at how a real-life content management system is put together. It's a mini-book in itself (120 pages long), showing how to plan the database tables, and building the administrative back-end with solid procedures to ensure that only valid content is entered into the database. In the process, you build several new server behaviors that can be used again and again in different sites. When putting the front-end together, I look at some advanced SQL queries drawing information from four separate tables. The finished site could be used as the basis for a club, an online product catalogue, or a personal blog.

Foundation Dreamweaver MX 2004

Craig Grannell, David Powers et al

Friends of ED, 2004

book coverAs one of the authors of this book, you'll understand if my review is slightly partial, but I think Craig Grannell, George McLachlan and I have put together something really special. I wrote the second half of the book in conjunction with George, all about building dynamic websites with MX 2004 and PHP/MySQL. I also created some of the JavaScript for Craig's half of the book, which is a thoroughly enjoyable and in-depth tutorial on building a static website, using MX 2004's standards-compliant XHTML and CSS features.

The friends of ED Foundation series takes a hands-on approach, and the book teaches you all the ins and outs of Dreamweaver MX 2004 through a case study that builds an online photo gallery. Although readers are expected to know the basics of web design, the book is aimed at the beginner to intermediate level. Even if you're completely new to Dreamweaver, you should have little difficulty in following the detailed instructions. If you're familiar with earlier versions of Dreamweaver, this book will quickly introduce you to the new features, particularly the way the program is now almost entirely CSS focused. I promise you - there's not a single font tag in the book, and tables make only a brief appearance. If that worries you, don't let it. We don't preach. We guide you through the steps, and help you feel just at home with CSS layout as you may have been with old-school designs.

The second half of the book is devoted to the dynamic capabilities of Dreamweaver MX 2004. Rather than skirt over a little of each of the server-side technologies, we chose to concentrate on PHP and MySQL. There are full instructions for installing them on both the PC and Mac OS X (not difficult - honest). We also decided not to dive straight into MX 2004's automatic code generation. That approach may give you quick results, but leaves you banging your head on the keyboard because you don't understand what's happening behind the scenes. Instead, you learn all the basics of PHP through a series of practical examples. By the end of the book, the static website created in the first half is converted to a database-driven version. You will also have learned about sessions, user authentication and dynamic navigation bars. What's more, you'll be able to dig into MX 2004's code and tweak it to get things to work just the way you want.

If you plan to buy online, support one of the authors by purchasing through this site.

Usable Shopping Carts (Reprint)

Clifton Evans, Jody Kerr et al

friends of ED, 2004

book coverThis is a reprint of the very popular book of the same title, published by Glasshaus just before its collapse. It's now published by friends of ED. I've not seen the new edition, but I understand it's not just a straight reprint. The code is said to have been considerably improved. If so, that's very good news, because the original was superb.

For anyone with intermediate skills in ASP or PHP and database design, this is an ideal route-map to rolling your own solution to building an online e-commerce site. Full coding is given for both implementations - ASP and PHP - and each section is presented separately, so ASP developers do not have to worry about irrelevant (to them) explanations about PHP, and vice versa. ASP developers should note, though, that the entire project uses Microsoft's high-end database, SQL Server, not Access. So the target readership is developers interested in creating robust, scalable solutions. The PHP implementation makes use of the most popular open source database, MySQL.

Although the final chapter covers security issues, the emphasis is on cataloguing, database design, content management, and the shopping cart that leads customers to the final checkout (with options to change their choices right up to the last minute). It does not provide details of how to set up secure credit card transactions - a specialist area beyond the scope of the book. Of particular value, though, are the discussions of information architecture and e-commerce site design. The authors believe strongly that the success of any online e-commerce site lies in well thought-out planning, and provide useful guidelines as to what contributes to success in this area.

Although the coding is fully explained throughout the book, readers are expected to have at least a basic understanding of PHP/MySQL or ASP/MS SQL. Even for anyone not yet needing to implement an e-commerce site, this book would provide a very solid grounding for the development of any database or content management system. There's no CD-ROM, but all the files can be downloaded from the accompanying website.

The Definitive Guide to MySQL, 2nd Edition

Michael Kofler

Apress, 2003

book coverApress sent me a free copy of this book to assist me with writing "PHP Web Development with Dreamweaver MX 2004" (co-authored with Allan Kent and Rachel Andrew, due out in May 2004). I'm delighted they did. I've always relied on "MySQL" by Paul DuBois, which I still think is an excellent book, but so is this one, and it has many features that probably make it a better choice for many people.

Both books assume no previous knowledge of database design or SQL, and adopt a tutorial-style approach to creating and manipulating a database in MySQL. They also serve as useful reference books to experienced users, covering all aspects of installation, SQL usage, administration, and backup. What I have found particularly useful in Kofler's book is the clear, logical layout with bold headings and important points highlighted, making it much easier to browse and find the information you're looking for. Another strong point in Kofler's favour is Chapter 5, a 50-page primer in database design. He takes the example of a database of books, and leads you through the process of working out the best structure for the tables. He handles the subject of normalization in strightforward, easy-to-understand terms, and describes the various types of table columns, with examples of how they should be used. There is no single "right" answer to database design, but Kofler presents a solution and then discusses the pros and cons. He takes a similar approach to many other issues, such as the choice between MySQL's default MyISAM tables and the newer InnoDB. Both have their advantages and drawbacks, but Kofler's sound advice makes the decision a lot clearer.

A large part of the book is devoted to how web applications can be built by combining MySQL with a variety of programming languages - PHP, Perl, Java, C, C++, Visual Basic and C# (but not ColdFusion). Because of PHP's close integration with MySQL, the lion's share is devoted to PHP, with two chapters given over to developing a fully functional database of books and web forum. PHP users also benefit from a tutorial in the use of phpMyAdmin, the user-friendly graphical interface for MySQL offered by many ISPs.

Where this book suffers in comparison with DuBois is in its coverage of MySQL functions. Although they're listed and described, there are fewer worked examples. It's probably not worth owning both books, but if you don't have either, on balance I'd say Kofler is the one to go for (and not just because of my Apress connnections). For anyone planning to use MySQL a lot, a good companion to this book would be the O'Reilly "MySQL Cookbook" (by Paul DuBois, so he still gets my vote).

By the way, don't be put off by the fact that this book is a translation from the German. It reads very well; in fact, a lot more smoothly than some books written by native English speakers.

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