Learning PHP 5

A Pain-Free Introduction to Building Interactive Web Sites
David Sklar
copyright 2004
Publisher: O'Reilly
368 pages

Review by
George Dekelbaum, a member of MELUG-Central
A division of MELUG, the Maine Linux User's Group

The front cover says the book is an introduction to building interactive web sites, the back cover proclaims the intended audience is an intelligent but not necessarily highly technical reader. The book lives up to it's billing.

The first chapter is a general overview of using PHP on a web server. The next 4 chapters are an introduction to programming PHP. Basic data types, decision making, looping, arrays, and functions are covered. There is just enough information to get the beginner started. The author points the user to more in depth documentation. More experienced programmers will skim over these chapters.

All of the following chapters use the same technique, enough information to get you going, and even do useful work, with pointers to more in depth information as the user builds his/her skills.

Chapters 6 through 11 cover the meat of interactive web building. Topics covered include building web forms, using data bases mostly PEAR DB with a short intro to MYSQL, cookies and sessions, dates and times, working with flat files, and parsing and generating XML documents. The chapter on data bases had a good introduction to basic sql.

The text is liberally sprinkled with examples to illustrate the points being made. The ones I tried all worked as advertised. Many of the examples can be tweaked to use in one's own application.

Chapter 12 is a short introduction to debugging, containing hints and guidelines useful for the novice programmer.

The concluding chapter is a catch all of other things you can do with PHP. Again, enough to get you started, not enough to overwhelm you, and pointers to more information.

The 3 appendices cover installing PHP, PEAR, MYSQL, and APACHE on a stand alone system, an introduction to regular expressions, and answers to the exercises that appear at the end of each chapter. The appendix on installing PHP on a stand alone system is heavily weighted to Windows users. Linux and Apple users get little more than a paragraph each, presumably because more isn't really needed.

The book lives up to it's billing. I would recommend this to anyone with little or no experience in building interactive web sites. However it is not a book on how to design web sites, nor is it a text on basic html or xml. Although not explicitly stated it's clear the reader is expected to have at least a rudimentary knowledge of how to build a web site with html.