PHP Pocket Reference, 2nd Edition, by Rasmus Lerdorf

Reviewed by: Wayne Bridges, March 2003, send e-mail
Published by: O’Reilly and Associates, Inc., go to the web site
Requires: N/A
MSRP: $14.95

Rasmus Lerdorf, the man who created PHP and still heads the PHP project, brings the essentials of the language to the PHP Pocket Reference. The book outlines the basic syntax and structure of PHP, providing a tutorial for learning the basics of developing web applications with PHP. It also includes a few real-world examples of PHP in action and a quick reference for the vast array of functions provided by PHP. In case you're just getting into the subject, PHP is an open-source, HTML-embedded scripting language that handles tasks such as processing form input and working with databases directly in your HTML pages, rather than through CGI scripts.

Lerdorf begins the book with an introduction to PHP followed by a section on how to install PHP as a module on the Apache web server. A section covering the basics of the language follows, with instructions on embedding PHP in HTML, using includes, commenting PHP code, variables (including an overview of dynamic variables), data types, operators and control structures. Syntax highlighting and language basics are well described and efficiently ordered (space is tight in a pocket reference after all). This may sound like a lot of information for such a small book, but Lerdorf summarizes each of these topics well - and that's only in the first twenty pages.

The next few pages bring an equally concise, yet complete overview of functions, web-related variables, sessions and web database integration - all very large subjects summed up in another fourteen pages.

The meat of this mini-tome comes in the form of a ninety eight page function reference section in which Lerdorf explains 1,404 of the approximately 2,750 functions bundled with v4.3 of PHP. The reference provides a brief explanation of each function, lists the expected argument types, its return type and the version of PHP in which the function was introduced. Functions are listed alphabetically, which makes locating them quick and painless (unless you're a fan of categorization divisions that is, in which case the alphabetization won't suit you at all).

We were a bit disappointed about two things: a) the book does not have an index, and b) the function explanations are too brief (some function listings are actually longer than their corresponding descriptions). But the book is touted as a pocket reference, not a training guide, which means that you really do have to know a bit about the subject of PHP in order to get the most out of this publication.

Touted by O'Reilly as "an indispensable tool for any serious PHP programmer" this book will be a welcome addition to any web developer's bookshelf (or pocket). At a hefty (for a pocket reference) 132 pages, this book does an excellent job of defining the basics of PHP.

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