Upgrading to PHP 5 by Adam Trachtenberg, ISBN: 0-596-00636-5

Reviewed by: Paul Schneider, Ph.D., August 2004, send e-mail
Published by: O’Reilly, go to the web site
Requires: PHP 5 (any version)
MSRP: US$29.95, CAN$43.95, UK£20.95

PHP 5.0 is the latest version of PHP, a popular open source web programming language. Oddly enough it comes at about the same time as the latest release of the 4x series, 4.3. PHP 5.0 was designed to be a major break from previous PHP versions and to help the language to reach the next level in programming. To assist PHP programmers with this transition O’Reilly has released Upgrading to PHP which focuses solely on what is new in PHP.

The Galapagos tortoises grace the cover of this O’Reilly book. One interesting aspect of this species of tortoises is that they are the largest of their kind, measuring 6 feet head to tail and weighing up to 500 pounds. The target audience of this book is a bit like these tortoises. No—they are not slow! The folks who will make the most of this audience are the proverbially 100lb gorillas of their world. In other words, this book is for those folks who live and breathe PHP. Beginners and dabblers will probably want to look elsewhere to something such as Learning PHP 5.

Advanced and intermediate texts have certain advantages and one of them is that they usually take no time in getting to the meat of the subject without insulting your experience level. Upgrading to PHP 5 is successful in this aspect. Although some PHP beginners might find some of the topics presented easy enough to digest, most of the topics are quite advanced and assume a level of knowledge beyond typical beginner and intermediate level programmers.

Topics covered include an Introduction which addresses the question “Why PHP 5?” along with a nice overview followed by chapters on Object-Oriented Programming, MySQL, SQLite, XML, Iterators and SPL, Error Handling and Debugging, Streams, Wrappers and Filters and Other Extensions. Upgrading to PHP 5 wraps up with a chapter on applying the different principles covered in the text by trying to touch on each of them through the development of a simple address book—"simple" obviously being a relative term! In addition to the main topics there is a nice introduction to XML, information about additional minor changes to PHP and a section on how to install PHP 5 alongside PHP 4.

The overall tone of the book is one of a senior programmer showing you the ropes. You’ll find several “you’s” and “What’s cool” throughout the text. The tone helps to make the text a bit more personal, but at the same time it doesn’t get caught up in jargon and makes sure that each explanation remains clear. Along with the text descriptions, there is usually one example of the target concept which is occasionally coupled with examples that build on the previously presented items.

Although the book assumes you know PHP well, there are changes such as Object Oriented Programming (OOP) in PHP 5 that are almost completely new to the language. In the case of this topic, author Adam Trachtenberg does pause to give the reader a nice concise introduction to the concept of OOP and how it can be used effectively. That being said, if you’ve never even thought about using OOP you might struggle a bit in the actual application of some of the concepts presented.

The final chapter attempts to pull the various concepts together into a single project. This is a bit harder than one might imagine, but overall the choices for using each of the new features is appropriate and logical. Whether each choice would be the best one in a real world situation might be debatable, but as a teaching example the project performs its function well.

Upgrading to PHP 5 is pretty solid, but it is not light reading. The style of the book falls between a reference and instructional approach which is probably just about right for its audience. Readers that have experience in the topics covered will probably benefit most from this book and find it to be a good match. Each concept, OOP included, is treated with an assumption of a strong core level understanding and regular use of PHP. If you are a PHP programmer then this text will probably hit the mark, giving you the jump on PHP 5 you need without wasting your time covering the stuff you already know.

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