Introduction to open-source web development with PHP


With this article, we start our journey into the fascinating and powerful world of web development with PHP. PHP is one of the most powerful and preferred languages to create dynamic web content and pages. We start right from the basics and work our way up gradually through the PHP learning curve, and hope this information will benefit many aspiring web developers.

Please Note : A basic knowledge of HTML and CSS is essential to understanding PHP.

PHP is a server side scripting language that is used today to create dynamic web pages and content. A server side scripting language is basically a piece of code that gets executed on a Web server and the result is displayed in a browser running on a user's machine. Developing web content with PHP involves the use of powerful open-source tools which includes PHP itself; Apache - a web server that is used to host web content/pages and MySql - an open-source relational database management system that is primarily used to store and retrieve data required by a web page. When we talk of a 'dynamic' web page, we basically refer to a page on the internet that has a 'customized' interface for every user trying to access it. A super example of this is Facebook, where the profile page is coded in such a way that it shows information pertaining only to the user who has logged into his or her profile.

What is Open Source


PHP, Apache and MySql- all belong to the Open Source group of software programs. The open-source movement allows for a global collaboration of software developers through open exchange of information, thereby enabling the developers to create a reliable and powerful piece of software that is available to everyone. For end users, this means that great software is available free of charge, ensuring a solid level of reliability and productivity. In general, open-source programs offer the following benefits:

1. Open-Source programs are free: This is perhaps the greatest benefit that open-source programs are available to the public for free. In addition to this, open-source programs by the nature of their definition cannot have any licensing or sales fees.

2. Open-Source programs are Platform-Neutral: The basic requirement for any open-source program is that it should be platform independent. So these programs can be used by anyone, no matter what type of system and operating system they have. The programs are developed in a way to ensure reliability and productivity across all platforms.

Open-Source programs encourage diversity: Open-Source programs embrace diversity firstly by allowing developers from different cultures around the world to participate in the development process. Secondly if an open-source program is being used by a certain community for a specific purpose, there is absolutely no restriction for another community to take the same program and modify it to suit a different purpose.

Diving in to PHP Development


It's now time to bring our attention back to the topic on hand and dive deep into PHP development. PHP as we noted earlier, is a free and open-source development tool for creating dynamic web content. Together, PHP, Apache and MySql form what is called the 'AMP' package that allows for the development of dynamic web content. To understand better how these tree components work with each other, let us take an example of a very basic social network site that allows users to sign-up and customize their profile pages. So, every user using the site will have his own customization applied to their personal page. Users of the site will not be interested in how the site works behind the scenes, so when they sign up, they are presented with a nice wizard that walks them through customizing their page. So the three components of the 'AMP' package apply to this scenario in the following ways:

Apache: This is the master behind the scenes where all the processing of the customization is actually performed and implemented in the way the user intended it to be. Apache is basically the http server whose main task is to parse files, data, and implement the required result.

PHP: This is the wizard with which users are presented during the sign-up stage. It makes a detailed note of what a user wants and sends off those instructions to the Apache server, notifying it of what results are expected.

MySql: All the information pertaining to the user is stored here and ready to be accessed by the web server whenever required.

A detailed description of each component is given below:

Apache

Apache is the web server and the task of any web server is to parse and process any information or file requested by a browser and display the correct results as mandated by the code within that file. The Apache web server program has been the most stable and reliable program and is used to power millions of web sites on the internet today. According to the latest statistics, there are about 25 million web sites on the internet today that use Apache Web Server for hosting. The volume speaks highly of the kind of service being provided by the program.

PHP

PHP as we noted earlier is a server side scripting language that allows a web site to be truly dynamic. It stands for "Hypertext Preprocessor". The flexibility and comparatively small learning curve make it a very popular scripting language around the world. It is currently being embraced as a powerful alternative to Microsoft's ASP.NET technology, owing to its features and the fact that it is free to use.

MySql

Another powerful open-source program, MySql allows Apache and PHP to access and process the information that is to be displayed in a browser. It is based on the Structured Query Language and is designed to handle heavy loads of data and very complex transactions. MySql is a relational database system and thus allows for the joining of multiple tables together in order to achieve data efficiency.

Setting up the PHP Development Environment

Any system be it Windows, Mac or Linux can be setup for PHP development. Our focus for this series remains on Windows systems. All three components can be installed separately; whereas, there are certain Server packages that can be installed on Windows, containing all three components. The most popular of these packages are WAMP Server and XAMPP. We have a detailed article on how to install and configure WAMP server on this site which can be referred to for installing the PHP tools for development.

Once the tools are installed, we are ready to start developing web applications with PHP. In the next article we will introduce ourselves to the syntax of PHP and write our first program that will be run in a browser.

Read Review of Zend Studio 10: An efficient tool for PHP programming


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