PHP Gaining Momentum Among Commercial Developers

A growing number of commercial developers are discovering the merits of using PHP for important data sharing and integration projects. PHP is no longer limited to use on Apache Web servers or other Open Source code projects. It’s finding its way into the core toolkits of high-performance commercial developers.

Jason Sheets, team leader in the Hewlett-Packard LaserJet Firmware Development Laboratory, prefers PHP for Web-based technologies.

Why? Sheets says he prefers PHP because it does what he needs “to increase efficiency [and] accountability [and] decrease overhead with performance and usability in mind.” His first try with PHP — the automation of a cumbersome test-reporting procedure — was dramatically successful. His Web-based system slashed hours of daily manual work.

Sheet’s experience is getting more common. Thousands of other developers in manufacturing, finance, retail, and other commercial and government sectors share his enthusiasm. Here’s why:

PHP Increasingly Supported by Web Servers

As the PHP home page explains, “PHP is a widely-used general-purpose scripting language that is especially suited for Web development.” Rasmus Lerdorf (now an engineer with Yahoo) invented the PHP predecessor in 1995. The current incarnation is far faster and supports many more features. Its usage has also spread: as the year closes, Web servers for almost ten million domains surveyed by Netcraft appear to support PHP.

PHP Advantages

PHP (like Perl, Python, Tcl and other languages) is:

    • portable (available on various operating systems, including Windows and Unix);
    • available at no charge with a liberal license;
    • general-purpose, in that PHP programs can make the usual computations, text filtering, networking exchanges, and so on common in today’s applications;


    • supported by a mix of commercial firms and eager volunteers;


    • generally regarded as an “easy” computing language;


    • documented by extensive on-line files and several printed books; and


  • in widespread “mission-critical” use.

More important, PHP advocates justifiably boast that it’s so easy to use, non-programmers find it inviting. Many of the graphic and Web designers who work with PHP on a daily basis don’t regard what they do as “programming.”

A Powerful Data Integration Tool

At the same time, PHP is sufficiently powerful algorithmically. Sheets tells how he went on from his promising PHP start to implement several projects for his HP lab. His requirements often included scalability, complex security restrictions, network performance, database compatibility, and the ability to pull together personnel information, lab results, and other data (including legacy Excel spreadsheets). So far, PHP has delivered.

The combination of ease-of-use and power-to-integrate is what sets PHP apart from other technologies. For Sheets, PHP was “designed to be a Web-based programming language which gives it an edge over other languages where Web-based features were an afterthought.” The Web is the platform for developers working on everything from Adobe’s GoLive wireless multimedia server to the Dreamweaver MX content environment to complex factory automation projects. Across the board, PHP is the high-performance programming language of choice for thousands of teams.

One recurring theme that emerges when discussing PHP with programmers who work with it daily is its facility at database connection.

PHP is unrivaled for the variety of different databases it supports. It’s as handy as Visual Basic and so-called 4GL “program generators” for making quick, easy front-ends to databases. At the same time, it possesses essentially all the portability, flexibility and development power of such open-source cousins as Perl and Ruby. The result: organization after organization has streamlined its processes by centralizing information in a maintainable database management system. In that architecture, PHP makes developing specific applications to collect, filter and/or distribute data (while preserving security restrictions) very straightforward.

Giving PHP a Try

Will PHP work for you? PHP programmers laud the quality and availability of information on the Web. Most agree that PHP is easy to use from the start. If you’re familiar with HTML, you might begin by writing a Web page such as this:

     <title>PHP Demonstration</title> </head>
           <?php $filename = "somefile.txt" 
           $file = file($filename); echo "<p>
           This is the content of $filename:<p>"; 
           $j = count($file);	
           for($i=0; $i<$j; $i++) 
          { echo "$file[$i]<br>"; } 

If your Web server is enabled for PHP, this page should work “out of the box,” displaying the
contents of local file “somefile.txt” as a Web page. If your server isn’t PHP savvy, you will
simply get a blank Web page with the “PHP Demonstration” title. Most common Web programming concepts — including data retrieval from a form or database, security settings and so on — take only a line or two of PHP to express.

Does PHP’s ease of use mean it lacks the muscle for serious projects? Far from it. Plenty of commercial products and services rely on PHP. The Indianapolis 500 Motor Speedway uses PHP to serve almost three million pages on peak days. The Internet Messaging Program (IMP) — generally recognized as best-of-breed among webmail applications — is a PHP suite. Yahoo Finance, Amazon Auctions and plenty of other commercial sites run under PHP. Most interesting, perhaps, are all the intranet Web sites where PHP’s low cost combines with clear and immediate benefits to yield large paybacks. While these projects are common, most companies are unwilling to discuss them “on the record.”

Pack Your Bags — Upcoming PHP Conferences
Interested readers have an unusual and immediate opportunity to learn more about PHP. The first and only PHP conference in the United States, PHPCon 2002, runs October 24-25 in Millbrae, California. European readers and those in search of even more specialized knowledge should consider the International PHP Conference hosted in Frankfurt November 3-6, 2002.