PHP Phrasebook, by Christian Wenz, ISBN: 0672328178

Reviewed by: Paul Schneider, Ph.D., May 2006
Published by: Sams Publishing (Developer's Library series)
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$14.99, CAN$19.99

As the introduction from author Christian Wenz notes, the idea for the format of this book came from the language phrase books you can buy to help make yourself understood when traveling. These are great little books, easy to carry around, but instead of an abbreviated dictionary, they provide translations and help for some of the more common phrases and everyday situations one might encounter when using that language. Now while PHP is technically not a foreign language, at least for most of us, the conceptual approach actually works quite well.

Like language phrase books, PHP Phrasebook, does not aim to be the be-all, end-all reference guide. What it is best for is jogging your memory or learning the basics about any new or rarely used code technique or syntax. The general approach Wenz takes to each of his concepts is to provide a short overview of the issue and follow it up with some code examples and explanation about the results. In some cases more than one example is provided, but generally speaking the coverage for each concept is kept brief.


The book covers a slew of everyday PHP topics. The nine primary focus areas are: Manipulating Strings, Working with Arrays, Date and Time, Interacting with Web Forms, Remembering Users (Cookies and Sessions), Using Files on the Server File System, Making Data Dynamic, Using XML, and Communicating with Others. By selecting these topics, Wenz effectively covers most of the programming areas typically experienced when developing web pages and applications in PHP.

The amount of coverage for the individual areas does vary, but each manages to include a wealth of material in a short span. For example in the Date and Time section he covers the basic function syntax, using Text with Dates, Localizing Dates automatically or manually, changing dates to format according to locale, formatting and calculating dates, converting, sorting, sunrise, sunset, form fields and more. Each of these mini topics receives the same treatment, an overview, example and explanation.

Your level of programming expertise will determine the relevance of this book. The nice thing is it can be helpful for just about any level of PHP programmer. Beginners will like its brevity and wealth of topics, making it an easy book to turn to when you forget something or want to be briefed on a new topic. More advanced users will probably find it useful for refreshing their memory as well as learning slightly better ways to program some things they might already be familiar with.

For myself, I found PHP Phrasebook to be a handy reference to keep at my desk and in my travel bag. Admittedly part of this is due to it small, clever packaging. While many other PHP texts are more thorough, the size and approach of PHP Phrasebook makes it one of the only practical books I arry with me when traveling.

Overall, I was quite pleased with the novel approach that PHP Phrasebook took to communicating information about PHP. It’s a bit of a reference guide and an instructional guide, and in both cases it aims to deliver the essence of its topics. As with a language phrase book, this means a beginner might not get it perfect, but will get the gist, and an advanced learner will be able to quickly pick up new areas when needed. Definitely a must buy for the traveling PHP programmer.

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