I wrote my first application on PHP

17 09 2012

Why?

A friend needs a small application to sell some courses. The business model will make the use of a proper shopping cart (like Magento) overkill in some aspects and, in the other hand, some specific price rules and the payments process (Integration with Latin American Payments) will need a extensive development.

The hosting was on GoDaddy, so the only option was PHP.

So, here are my opnions

The language

Some readers from years ago (and my close friends) will know that I don’t like PHP. And when you read some horror stories like PHP: A fractal of bad design

My not-at-all-extensive experience was:

  • The max PHP version that GoDaddy support is 5.3.10. So maybe some issues are resolved on later releases, this also limit my framework choices (more on that later)
  • Speaking about frameworks, I suspect that my Framewrok of choice (Yii) hides some language’s oddities from the developer
  • I like the instant-no-redeploy nature, That feels very productive coming from a Java experience (Some frameworks like Play and Grails have this feature too, also JRebel could make this on plain Java projects, but I don’t test it yet)
  • In the other hand that sense of productivity falls when you need to type those strange characters that the language designers love. Also this makes the code very hard to read, Some examples
    • “$” as prefix of every variable and parameter
    • “->” to call a “instance” method. (I don’t know if the language designers have this concept clear)
    • “::” to call class or static method (More on that later)
    • “$this->” as prefix of every instance method call inside the same class (This makes me thing that the whole OOP features are no more than makeup)
    • “self::” as prefix of every class or static method call inside the same class (Please note, that “self::” is a reserved word that represent a “class” but “$this” is a variable that represent the actual instance, “this” isn’t a reserved word. So you could have
      const this = 3

      . Also note that the reserved word is “self::” not “self”, So you could have

      const self = 3

      and continue to use

      self::staticMethod()

      but you could call your instance methods like this

      self::instanceMethod()

      So really “self::” could be the “class” or the “instance”. As you could see, the “fun” with PHP never ends 😉

      UPDATE Sep 18 2012
      Seems that “self::” or “self” aren’t reserved words at all… Oh, the humanity
      END UPDATE
      )

  • The “array” thing that isn’t array nor a dictionary, but could be anything and both at the same time (PHP arrays could be use as metaphor in the Arminian-Calvinist controversy).

    The whole syntax is ugly and very hard to read, and worst of all, could be very error prone, Example (actual code):

    return array(
                array('allow', // allow all users to perform 'index' and 'view' actions
                    'actions' => array('index', 'view'),
                    'users' => array('admin'),
                ),
                array('allow', // allow authenticated user to perform 'create' and 'update' actions
                    'actions' => array('create', 'update', 'course', 'user'),
                    'users' => array('@'),
                ),
                array('allow', // allow admin user to perform 'admin' and 'delete' actions
                    'actions' => array('admin', 'delete', 'pending', 'ready'),
                    'users' => array('admin'),
                ),
                array('allow',
                    'actions' => array('response', 'confirmation'),
                    'users' => array('*'),
                ),
                array('deny', // deny all users
                    'users' => array('*'),
                ),
            );
    

    And I choose not the worst example, this could be grow quickly in a huge mess.

    IMHO, PHP needs named parameters very badly, and the developers need to take a more OOP approach to clean this mess

  • Errors are terrible, Yii will show you some nice error report (But some times isn’t clear where the error is), but other errors will show you a blank page, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference

The framework

I examine some of the myriads of PHP frameworks

  • CodeIgniter was my first option, I like what I see, but in some cases is bare-bones and have a lack of functionality that already come with other frameworks
  • CakePHP 1.3 come with many nice things but is also very restrictive
  • CakePHP 2.0, FuelPHP and Symfony 2.0 don’t have support for the PHP version that I have (I’ll like to test Symfony 2.0, its seems very Java-like)
  • Yii was my option, the last stable version (1.12) have support for my PHP version, is very well documented and are very feature rich
    • Some of my toughs:

      • As I told you before, I suspect that Yii hides some language oddities
      • The framework is well structured, and no more different from other frameworks like Django or Grails
      • Gii, a nice GUI for generate code (Models, controllers, forms, views) is a huge save time, but isn’t so powerful. The code generator that come with Grails is more powerful, and the Django Admin is almost perfect (in fact I’ll love make this project with Django)
      • Yii comes with a great widgets selection, but the syntax to use isn’t so nice (“array” based)
        widget('zii.widgets.jui.CJuiDatePicker', array(
            'attribute' => 'birthday',
            'model' => $model,
            'options' => array(
                'dateFormat' => 'yy-mm-dd'
            )
        ))?>
        //There's another alternative syntax, but I don't test it
        
      • Yii have hundreds (if not thousand) of extensions, but almost every extensions that I try fails miserably.

      The IDE

      I use IntelliJ as always, with the PHP plugin, it’s a very nice environment and have integration with an FTP client, so every change that you made on the code is auto-magically synchronized with the server, that could ensure some errors in production and hilarity.

      The Yii community likes PHPStorm that, in theory, is a Slim-down IntelliJ with only PHP/HTML/CSS/JS/SQL functionality.

      Conclusion

      My experience with PHP, was mixed, The language is really bad, but the instant-redeploy-on-server is nice, also Yii made a great job giving some sanity and features for free.

      I really hope that this will be my last experience with PHP, other options like Django or Grails are much better.