PHP, a recursive acronym which stands for PHP: Hypertext Preprocessing, is arguably one of the most admired, robust programming languages around. It spawned Facebook, WordPress, and a host of powerful web applications we use today.
Web developers are rapidly moving toward PHP because of the many advantages it provides, which are:
- Platform diversity
- High security
- Open source
As a beginner, you may be wondering:
There’s nothing simple and easy about PHP, or any server-scripting language for that matter.
Perhaps, you’re right. Server-scripting languages were made to be complicated so that websites are not vulnerable to malicious attacks. But due to PHP’s open source nature, it has created a vast and growing community of web developers that made it into what it is today. We have inherited an endless list of functions and frameworks that streamline the coding process.
Mastery of this technology is the key to creating innovative and dynamic websites, applications, and page content at a faster, more affordable rate. So if you want to be a good web developer, building a strong PHP foundation is important.
Here’s a briefer and some PHP tricks and hacks to help you get started:
Table of Contents:
I. How Does PHP Work?
II. Is Learning PHP Worth It?
If you’re new to coding, you may be asking these questions:
“Is PHP dead?” or “Is it worth it to learn PHP?”
Whether PHP is dead or not has been a moot point in the web development community. In fact, there is talk going around that if Facebook were built today, a different tech would be powering it. The main argument is that there are other worthy languages, like Python, whose object-oriented approach eclipses that of PHP’s procedural iterations.
But Mark Zuckerberg himself said that he would still build Facebook with PHP. Nearly 80 percent of websites and many popular web applications, like WordPress, Wikipedia, and Tumblr, are developed on a foundation of PHP. That means PHP stills holds the largest server-side market share and that PHP is not dead. In fact, it experiences a continuous rebirth, making it a worthy discipline to master.
III. 10 Tips and Tricks for Beginners
Many back-end developers would agree that PHP is very easy to get started with. Follow these tips and tricks to build on your knowledge.
1. Turn on error reporting feature
Before you start working on a new project, turning the error reporting feature is one of the first things you should do. Even pro developers swear by it. What will happen is that, throughout the production mode, you will see a helpful error message instead of just a blank screen when problems occur. This helps you cope with errors as you run through the code, making the process more efficient.
Enable error reporting by modifying your php.ini with this line:
Include this function immediately after opening the script. This ensures that the display_errors is on and the appropriate error_reporting level is used. This will save you the agony of going over thousands of lines of codes to detect an error.
As you move on to writing more complex codes, you’ll need to implement advanced functions to catch syntax and parse errors.
2. Familiarize yourself with security practices
All websites and applications should be developed and designed using the best security practices. There are two rules to follow:
- Don’t trust data received from anywhere else other than your website or application
- Escape the data before you decide to send it to another website or application.
These two rules make up the building blocks of web security, aka Filter Input, Escape Output (FIEO), as they protect your website or application against SQL injections. A failure in escaping output could lead to a security breach. The solutions to these attacks are 1) remove the quote mark, 2) escape the quote mark, or 3) use a built-in feature to protect against the quote mark.
But that’s just scratching the surface. If you want to develop a deeper understanding of web security, know what this code is for and where to place it in the application:
3. Familiarize yourself with ternary expression
The ternary operator logic provides a way to shorten if-else code blocks. Use ternary operators instead of IF constructions to simplify and nest your code without any hassles. Adopting this logic helps you enhance your code’s performance. Your codes not only look shorter, they will also be easier and quicker to maintain.
Here’s a basic if-else statement:
$variable = true;
$variable = false;
$variable = false;
Here’s a simple use of the ternary operator logic:
$ variable = ($x==1) ? (($==2) ? true : false) : false;
By expanding your vocabulary beyond shorthand, you’ll be able to move up from your novice status quickly and get a better grasp of the subtleties of the language. This way, you’ll handle micro-optimizations like a pro.
4. Sketch your code
As with all programs built with PHP, the end goal is to create a usable interface for your code. Before you dive into development, you may want to sketch out your code and data structure first. You’d also want to have an idea of how your interface will look like before you start. When sketching, think about this:
“How would you like to interact with the module or web service?”
If you think about it, API is basically a visual and intuitive connection between the end user and the web service. You’d want to have a clear and consistent idea of what your code’s end goal will be. And one of the best ways to achieve this is to plot out key variables from the get-go. This will also help you to understand your code in detail before you jump into working on the real platform.
One more thing: keep the latest UX/UI principles in mind and you’ll arrive at a well-designed code.
5. Keep yourself updated
PHP is a widely used programming language. Every day, PHP receives new updates to match user requirements and deliver technology quickly and more efficiently. If you want to know how to become a good PHP developer, it’s vital to be familiar with all the latest updates to find out the best ways to code a website.
Also, make sure your PHP software and code editing program are the latest versions.
6. Widen your vocabulary
Functions, classes, constants, and interfaces: these four things make up the bulk of PHP vocabulary and are the keys to expanding the functionality and look of websites, web pages, and applications. Mastering these will streamline your coding and make your program awesome. They not only help you accomplish a chore repeatedly, but they also add unique features to your program.
PHP.net has an extensive manual to help you expand your vocabulary and understanding of the language. From basic syntax to supporter protocols, it basically covers everything. And as mentioned above, good vocabulary is the key to more advanced skills. Refer to the manual regularly to support your learning.
7. Create a master file
One of the key aspects of simplifying the coding process is to consolidate all the necessary settings into a single file. You can then associate the file with different PHP scripts and avoid disseminated data connections. Instead of making changes in multiple files, now you just need to make changes in a single file, especially in instances where a new function has to be added to multiple files.
8. Comment and Document
Many novice developers believe that commentaries should be the least of their worries. But the truth is, it’s a good habit to pick up as early as possible. And you may want to be as attentive and voracious when commenting as when you’re coding. Comments within the code will serve as your reference should you forget the essence of a piece of code.
You wouldn’t want to clutter your code with comments, though. Just make a few, brief notes to enhance the code’s readability.
Another alternative is to document the code for the most complicated section so that when you revisit that section, you can quickly recall the most complex details. And don’t forget to change comments when you change the code. phpDocumentor and Doxygen are useful tools to read these comments and produce usable documentation pages.
Stfalcon.com offers a step-by-step guide on how to document and comment within the program code.
9. Use a PHP Framework
A PHP Framework is designed to make the web developer’s life easier. Back in the day, or if you’re still a coding purist, creating a web application from scratch would take weeks to months. Much of it will go to producing repetitive code. There’s no harm in that, except that it takes loads of time and effort.
As a web developer, you want to create more (high-quality) products efficiently to earn big bucks and win your clients’ good graces. Writing everything from scratch is obviously not a good strategy. PHP frameworks are the solution to that. A framework is simply a platform that provides the basic structure for your program. On top of that, it ensures the connection between your database and whatever application you build from scratch.
The best PHP frameworks also provide database support, an easy-to-follow user guide, and a strong, helpful community. So when you’re choosing one, make sure it has all these characteristics.
10. Use object-oriented programming (OOP)
Object-oriented programming (OOP) is something that every PHP developer needs to know and be familiar with. OOP helps you to skip code that keeps repeating, allowing the code to be executed efficiently. It helps in building complex, reusable web applications that would otherwise take a lot more time and effort in a procedural approach. Here are OO concepts in PHP you should explore:
- Magic MethodsValuebound.com
Here’s a more thorough discussion on this topic at Valuebound.com.
Overall, OOP reduces the length of procedures associated with coding and execution. But as your skills advance, you’ll learn to code and test both object-oriented and procedural programs and assemble them seamlessly into a complete program.
IV. The PHP Frameworks That are Good for Beginners
Many advanced techniques can be accomplished with PHP, especially now that it’s being constantly upgraded with more APIs and capabilities. Many elite developers now swear by PHP because it allows the code to be highly personalized, allowing them to transform a program or website at their will or according to the requirements of the client.
The best part about PHP is that it has a global community of supportive and friendly developers who are willing to answer all your questions. You can join a local user group, open source project community, or IRC channel to fine-tune your skills and discover other resources. More importantly, polishing your PHP coding skills gives you a better chance at landing a high-paying job and developing the next groundbreaking web application.
Take these beginner PHP tips and tricks, sign up for advanced PHP classes online, put what you learn into practice and you’ll be a pro developer in no time.
Keep calm and code on.