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2004

 
weblogs come weblogs go
The most painful kind of generosity are the promises you cannot fulfill. The people who were once so grateful then turn on you, and your self-esteem is sure to take a beating.

Many years ago, in a fit of generosity, Dave Winer offered to host all early-bird adopters of editthispage.com free hosting of their weblogs. This included php.weblogs.com. Well Dave Winer recently announced that he was closing down the weblogs.com and editthispage.com websites. He no longer runs a company that can support these sites and they are a personal and financial strain on him.

I was disappointed, but I had no expectations that Dave would do this in perpetuity. My momma taught me to keep my expectations low when it comes to free things. After all, Dave and I have never met, and I've only exchanged a couple of emails with him.

I had a feeling that something like this was going to happen because the site has suffering from poor performance this past month. So my contingency plan was to ship the weblog to a commercial hosting service like weblogger if need be. During the weekend, just before the site was cut off, and before any announcement by Dave, I moved my most important open source project to sourceforge, to http://adodb.sourceforge.net/.

Today I got an email from Lawrence, Userland's webmaster:

Subject:   php.weblogs.com 
From:      "Lawrence Lee" deleted#userland.com
Date:      Wed, June 16, 2004 1:46 am 
To:        jlim#natsoft.com
Priority:  Normal 
Mailer:    Microsoft Office Outlook, Build 11.0.5510 

We'll be continuing to host php.weblogs.com, we made special arrangements with Dave to keep it running.

Lawrence

I didn't ask for special treatment, so this is a pleasant surprise. Apparently the people at Userland decided to host this weblog and Dave emailed me, saying he had nothing to do with this decision. Of course I don't expect this offer to be permanent either, and I will deal with that when the time comes. The website's performance is still terrible though, and I have no expectations about this either.

For those who ever wondered what the icon below each post means, it's a graphic emoticon of how i feel. I think the jazz singer Billie Holiday is an appropriate image for this post; her songs are always bitter-sweet. It sure feels like Stormy Weather or Come Rain or Shine.

I would also like to thank those of you who emailed me privately about this issue. RSS seems the best way to access this web-site at the moment, as it continues to go down at random times.

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ADOdb and PDO
PDO is a new database API that will be part of the official PHP 5.1 release. AFAIK, PDO will not be a full-fledged database abstraction library, but will provide a standard database API for PHP.

Here is a sample taken from the PDO download:

<?php
   $x = new PDO("odbc:ram", 'php', 'php', array(PDO_ATTR_AUTOCOMMIT => 0));
   $stmt = $x->prepare("select NAME, VALUE from test where value like ?");
   $the_name = 'bar%';
   $stmt->execute(array($the_name)) or die("failed to execute!");
   $stmt->bindColumn('VALUE', $value);
   while ($row = $stmt->fetch()) {
   	echo "name=$row[NAME] value=$row[VALUE]\n";
   	echo "value is $value\n";
   	echo "\n";
   }
    echo "Let's try an update\n"
   $stmt = $x->prepare("INSERT INTO test (NAME, VALUE) VALUES (:name, :value)");
    $stmt->bindParam(":name", $the_name, PDO_PARAM_STR, 32);
   $stmt->bindParam(":value", $the_value, PDO_PARAM_STR, 32);
    for ($i = 0; $i < 4; $i++) {
   	$the_name = "foo" . rand();
   	$the_value = "bar" . rand();
	if (!$stmt->execute()) {
   		break;
   	}
   }
    echo "All done\n";
?>

Highlights of PDO include the unified object-oriented API, compiled statements are now first class objects (the PDOStatement class), and better support for bind variables, which will give a substantial speed boost for performance freaks.

Does this make ADOdb superflous? If you are looking for something that just works with mysql, then ADOdb might not be for you. However ADOdb still has a big role to play, because:

(1) ADOdb makes it easier to develop PHP apps that work with multiple databases, with portable handling of data types and schemas.

(2) PDO does not provide an infrastructure for enterprise database access, such as recordset caching, sql logging and tuning, and session management.

(3) If you come from a Windows background (like me), it is easy to learn ADOdb because it follows many M'soft conventions.

So the next question is, how to extend ADOdb to support PDO? I think we can retain the existing ADOdb infrastructure, treating PDO as just another ADOdb driver. At the same time, we will add PDO specific extensions to the ADOdb PDO driver.

So the classic ADOdb calling conventions will still work:

	
        include('adodb.inc.php');
	$DB = NewADOConnection('pdo');
	$DB->Connect($host, $user, $pwd, $db);
	$rs = $DB->Execute("select * from table where name=?",array('Jill'));
	while (!$rs->EOF) {
		var_dump($rs->fields);
		$rs->MoveNext();
	}
And we will add a new ADOdb statement class to support PDO conventions:
        include('adodb.inc.php');
	$DB = NewADOConnection('pdo');
	$DB->Connect($pdo_connection_string);
	$stmt = $DB->PrepareStmt("select * from table where name=?");
	$stmt->Execute(array('Jill'));
	while ($arr = $stmt->Fetch()) {
		var_dump($arr);
	}

Wez has more PDO examples. A PDO discussion at sitepoint.

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Catching Uncaught Exceptions
Continuing my belief that the best way to learn the fine art of programming is to learn from your better looking neighbours, here's a very interesting article on using exceptions in Java that can be applied to PHP5. Dr Kabutz (love the name), gives several excellent real-world examples of how hard it is to handle exceptions.

Of course there are exceptions to the exceptions. Don't use an exception when:

  • the error is not really an error, but a change of state, such an end-of-file condition. Confusing this point is the most common beginner mistake.

  • you want to write obfusticated code because your job has been made redundant :-)

  • the error is so difficult to fix that you have to write custom code at the point the error occurred.

  • you're still using PHP3, and planning to upgrade to PHP4 next year :-)

  • you are doing something mission-critical, and you want to enumerate and handle every possible error where it occurs, to ensure safety and timeliness.

  • your very experienced boss tells you that it's better to return an error code that is ignored than raise an exception that is ignored :-)

tri: Doug Ross opinion on exceptions, and my response. I also stumbled onto Jeff's response while browsing around.

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Apache Penetration in Asia
It's interesting to see that Malaysia is one of the few countries where IIS is dominant. But it's not a big surprise because Microsoft is very strongly entrenched in the Malaysian IT mindset, definitely more so than in Europe or US. And although i'm a long-time IIS supporter, these figures have made me realize that we don't really care either way. A rough mental count tells me that 30% of our websites are on IIS, and 70% on Apache.

Rank Country Apache% IIS%
1 Japan 73 9
2= Indonesia 70 23
2= Korea 70 25
- Global average 67 21
4= Philippines 60 24
4= New Zealand 60 30
6 Pakistan 57 28
7= Thailand 54 38
7= Australia 54 38
9 Taiwan 47 46
10 Singapore 45 40
11 Malaysia 42 51
12 India 41 49
13 China 35 56

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Secret # 812 of the PHP Kung Fu Masters
Keith Devens says: It turns out it's much faster to build large strings from many smaller strings by concatenating them onto one string than it is to append to an array repeatedly and then join that array into a string. I timed it and was surprised by the results.

But that's not Secret #812. Read what Joshua Paine has to say in that post's comments.

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Using DataSets to Lick Web Services
There's a debate on web services in the .NET world. Datasets are XML objects that contain recordset information. You can perform various operations on them (such as insert/delete/update) and they can be replicated back to the host database. Developers are using DataSets for data exchange in web services. MSDN has a good article on this. Is this a good idea?

Scott Hanselmann doesn't think so, in this post: Returning DataSets from WebServices is the Spawn of Satan and Represents All That Is Truly Evil in the World. But Barry Gervin thinks it's ok.

I agree with Scott, it's a bad idea. Exposing internal details is usually a lousy idea for web services (or any API that has a public interface). It defeats the concepts of information hiding and easy interoperatability between heterogenous systems; it also provides info that is potentially useful for sql-injection attacks.

What do you think?

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The Fruity Taste of PEAR
You cannot help but like someone like Greg who is honest and humble:

"I am one of the core developers of the PEAR package who has joined the game relatively late... The base PEAR class is one monstrous mistake, and PEAR_Error is pretty close. Everyone knows this. I designed an error class that is much, much more flexible and it is part of PEAR 1.3.1 (PEAR_ErrorStack) - check it out. "

Sadly it's just not true that everyone knows that PEAR class is big mistake (Jeff Moore has more on why PEAR.php is awful). Given that PEAR is both an important framework and a worthless class, the confusion in names will definitely cause the value of the PEAR class to be overestimated. Just read any article on PEAR and you can see what nice words they have to say about the base classes :-(

I once said once that too many PEAR developers were journeymen. This might have offended some people, but I was trying hard to be diplomatic. I must say that today the PEAR group is definitely more mature, and they have learnt a lot about library design. What would really make my eyes light up would be an PEAR2 initiative that kept the existing classes, but dropped the bad seeds such as PEAR.php (e.g. the PEAR and PEAR_Error classes).

And in case you were wondering, I do think there's great value in the PEAR DB API. API's are important for interoperatability. For example, ADOdb has a PEAR DB compatibility mode. I would certainly be flattered if PEAR DB had an ADOdb compat mode too :-)

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Accelerating PHP Applications
A great presentation by Ilia Alshanetsky from the International PHP Conference 2004. The only thing I would like to point out is that MMCache is still being actively developed, as evidenced by the CVS activity at sourceforge.

PS: You might need to use Mozilla to view this. IE sometimes doesn't work properly. I thought IE was a defacto standard :-)

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The Spice of Anticipation
Apparently PHP5 RC3 is going to be the last release candidate. This is supposed to be coming out at the end of this week, so PHP5 will probably be released next month.

It's a bit like looking through a window into a candy store. The sweetener I most look forward to is the improved object assignment semantics.

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MSDN: The Quest for ASP.NET Scalability
A little bit of cross-pollenization never hurt anyone. There's a lot to be learnt from .NET:

At the height of the dot-com boom in the mid-1990's, many companies burst onto the scene as Application Services Providers (ASPs) hoping to capitalize on the wave of Internet success stories, and rake in some loot. Aside from the unfortunate market collapse that followed, ASPs had other issues to deal with such as training staff to effectively build and manage a secure, reliable and highly available operation.

Today, Web-enabling architecture is prevalent, particularly since Web services have become a staple for most applications, and the growing pains of ASPs past are feeding businesses everywhere with a hunger for successful implementations for 24x7 applications. As Service-Oriented Architectures (SOA) themes spread across organizations, applications are now reaching wider audiences than ever before. Gone are the days where you can sling some code, ship product, and cross your fingers.

The key points that i see addressed in this article:

  1. You need to be able to handle long-running jobs, and you can do that by storing the job in a queue to be handled later by a background process. In the PHP world, this can be implemented by storing a queue of jobs in a database table or shared memory. Then you have a background process monitoring this table for new jobs to run.

  2. Distributed processing to spread the load. COM+ is discussed. In PHP, we could use XML-RPC or SOAP to work with a set of distributed servers.

  3. And when you have distributed processing, you might need to synchronize distributed transactions. This is something that's difficult to implement in PHP, and it is probably best to structure your design to allow only a single master software to perform data synchronization, instead of allowing multiple masters.

    For example, in the typical PHP-distributed MySQL scenario, you would have one single master database which you write to, and multiple read-only slave databases to which the changes are replicated to.

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Return-codes vs. Exceptions, Part 129
Doug Ross, CTO of BadBlue (which sells a mean web server that runs PHP), has a nice recap of the debate on how to handle errors. Should we use error codes or exceptions? Doug weaves a nice story around several people's opinions. I totally agree with Doug with regards to real-time software (you want to handle the error as soon as possible with an error code).

However that's not the way I would want to write financial code nowadays. With the relational databases we now use, I'm more likely to throw an exception and perform a database rollback in the exception handler.

In general, technologies that provide timely automated resource cleanup (such as database transactions) make throwing exceptions practical for industrial strength apps.

New: Wez talks about Structured Exceptions in PHP. Looks interesting, but I would like something more elegant if possible.

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Who Wags the Dog?
I see many popular PHP web sites linking to the recent nonsensical "Scalable Applications with PHP" article at linuxjournal.com. Guys and gals, you may think that its your duty to link to any PHP article that comes out, but you really have to show more perspicacity. By linking to nonsense articles, you are allowing the tail to wag the dog.

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You don't have to be Microsoft to be evil
And if you thought a piece of fruit was innocent, then how about these wonderful open sourcerers.

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Toy Poodles and The Real Thing
I cannot imagine why anyone would write this dog of an article called Writing Scalable Applications with PHP (at www.linuxjournal.com/article.php?sid=7593). There's no real discussion of scalability at all; the article talks very superficially about database connectivity. Why bother writing? For lame bragging rights perhaps? My respect for Linux Journal continues to drop.

In contrast, George Schlossnagle writes a really good article on Scaling Oracle and PHP. Congratulations to Oracle for continuing to support PHP. And George, you the man!

The only thing I would have liked included in George's article was a more thorough discussion of Oracle's Shared Servers (formerly MTS). Unlike George, I have found it a good connection pooling solution when properly tuned, definitely better than PHP persistent connections.

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Harry Fuecks: About PHP usage
Another (guess) big user group which is largely ignored is those employing PHP on corporate Intranets / Extranets (that includes me so I've got opinions). I would hazard a guess that of the top 1000 companies in the world, 80%+ have PHP in action somewhere (although probably also unaware of the fact at a managerial level).

This group faces an entirely different set of problems - performance is often less important, traffic being relatively low. Being able to integrate PHP with a whole range of "back office" systems as well as desktop applications is the biggest issue for this group, integration with Windows being the #1 problem.

Great post, Harry. Most of my PHP work is on corporate Intranets/Extranets. Integration with MS Office is the biggest desktop hurdle we had to face. For reports and document generation, this can be solved by generating MS-Word files in RTF format or Excel format. There are several such document libraries available (both commercial and open source).

PHP allows you to call COM objects. However if integration to COM objects is required, then writing XML-RPC stubs that communicate with servers running COM objects is definitely more robust than calling COM from PHP.

I must admit performance is still an issue, especially if you are rolling out web applications that are used by large numbers of users, eg. for online transaction processing. Fortunately, bandwidth is normally not a problem, except for Extranets that allow connection via modem.

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Slashdot: The Hardened-PHP Project
Stefan Esser is the author of the Hardened PHP project. Reading through the feature-list, i cannot help but feel that some of these features should have been rolled into PHP's standard safe-mode. Implementing it as a set of patches just means a lot more work for everyone, particularly the maintainer.

Some of the responses to this post were quite interesting. Among other things, PHP appears to be a great programming tool for porn.

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Self-replicating PHP
Doug Ross solves this interesting problem in PHP: to write a source program that, when compiled and executed, will produce as output an exact copy of its source. This is trickier than it sounds, because using the file system or intermediate storage is cheating.

I admit i looked at Doug's code with sheer incomprehension, so I turned off the computer and went to the shower. If you want to solve this problem yourself, read no further.

While showering, I thought of various tricks using eval() and output buffering. They don't seem to work. After mulling over the alternatives while towelling myself dry, I realized that the solution involves dividing the code into replication and payload modules. The payload is the replication code, stored as a string. The replication code will output the payload twice, once as PHP code (the replication code replicated), and once as a PHP string (the payload replicated).

Does the above algorithm sound familiar? It's one that every virus writer knows by heart!

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The Google Hacker’s Guide (pdf)
An education in googledorks, googleturds, and more...

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The Business of Software
Eric Sink writes a column on the business side of software for MSDN. Excellent advice. My favorite quote:

When I was interviewed after SourceGear won the Inc. 500 award in 2002, they asked me to share the biggest surprise of my experience as an entrepreneur. I told them my biggest surprise was that someone could make as many mistakes as I have and still end up on the Inc. 500 list. :-)

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The Delphi Team: Why We Blog
Secrecy was the norm, to prevent an agile competitor from "scooping" an idea and bringing it to market first. But today, development tools and operating systems are so unimaginably complex that nobody can turn on a dime to scoop anything. There are so many major platform milestones on the horizon that it's pretty obvious where the bulk of the tools work must go. I mean, seriously, does anyone really believe that a Delphi toolset for the "Whidbey" .NET 2.0 platform could not support generic types? Generics are a given, or die. So are many other platform artifacts.

A great insight into today's IT industry. Of course for niche players, secrecy will often still be the norm, because it's at the fringes that the really interesting stuff is done.

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Migrating from PHP 4 to PHP 5
Derick Rethans discusses the new object model and other changes. Has an interesting discussion on E_STRICT, which i don't know much about. Presentation from the recent PHP conference.

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Does Microsoft care about web standards?
As one developer on Microsoft’s Channel 9 blog recently noted about Visual Studio, "creating xHTML compliant websites is a pain in the ASP.net".

Though I do not want to support Microsoft here in their disregard of web standards, I have to point out that striving for xHTML compliance is meaningless. The idea of xHTML was to make parsing the contents of a web-site easier, but no one does this - it's too difficult. Why do you think simpler formats such as RSS or (god-forbid) Atom are becoming so popular?

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AMD beats Intel in desktop processor sales
The only thing constant is change. I'm surprised too.

On another note, the recommended hardware for Longhorn is amazing: Microsoft is expected to recommend that the "average" Longhorn PC feature a dual-core CPU running at 4 to 6GHz; a minimum of 2 gigs of RAM; up to a terabyte of storage; a 1 Gbit, built-in, Ethernet-wired port and an 802.11g wireless link; and a graphics processor that runs three times faster than those on the market today.

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Martin Fowler: Can average developers use agile methods?
I've often heard the claim that agile methods can only be used by the better developers and that average or below average developers should avoid agile methods. When I get asked this, I have to answer that I don't know the answer - and that this ignorance is natural with any new technique.

Two points.

First Martin points out that the bazaar (open source methodologies) is an agile method. Secondly, although PHP in itself is not an agile metholodogy (err, its a language), it has a pragmatic flavour that makes it suitable for people of all levels.

Two opinions.

I believe the wide growth of open source and even more explosive popularity of PHP is proof that agile methods work with people without expensive computer science degrees. However if Martin is trying to say that you cannot create great projects with only mediocre contributors, than i agree. Good leadership is always important. Ask Linus.

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SimpleXML Tutorial by Sterling Hughes
Straight from the horse's mouth. Sterling is one of lead developers of SimpleXML.

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Alan Kay wins Turing Award
One of my heroes wins computer science's top award.

tri: The music is not in the piano.

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Overblown, overrated, overhyped
Too many open source advocates complain about Microsoft writing terrible buggy software and think that open source developers do it better. The truth is Microsoft is innovative, has vision, and executes well. If open source developers can do as well as Microsoft, it's a big compliment. Smart people like Miguel de Icaza and Brendan Eich have known this for a long time. Miguel has a reality check for these innocent virgins, giving his assessment of the potential of XAML and Avalon.

Brendan (one of the Mozilla leads) has a frank assessment of Mozilla too. Not too positive. I talked about this last year.

However i think that Miguel and Brendan are just hyping things up. XAML and Avalon may be great technology but no one is waiting for Longhorn to implement web based apps - everyone is implementing them NOW!

New: Secondly, Longhorn is supposed to be out in 2005. Given typical rates of penetration of operating systems, i would expect Longhorn to achieve perhaps 30-35% market share in 2008, less if Linux on the desktop is successful. Would that be considered critical mass? I don't think so. Instead it means that the browser market will fragment (DHTML vs Longhorn vs XUL vs Flash), and developers will have even more confusing choices.

tri: An introduction to Avalon by Charles Petzold.

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In Praise of Psyco
It may be madness to praise Python on a PHP blog, but I just have to add a pointer to one of the most amazing pieces of software I have every seen. Pysco is an JIT compiler for Python that is (nearly) totally transparent. We are using Python for some data mining apps, and the following 2 lines speeded up our code by 250%:
import psyco
psyco.full()
There is an even more amazing post where the author of Psyco discusses Python is faster than C because a JIT compiler can better handle polymorphic data types.

Apparently Pysco will be rolled into the official Python release when it becomes more mature and cross-platform (it runs well only on x86 at the moment). It would be wonderful if PHP moves in this direction in the long run, whether by running on top of Parrot or another JIT.

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Why MySQL grew so fast
This must be MySQL week - no coincidence, given the recent MySQL conference. Andy Oram, editor at O'Reilly talks about MySQL:

MySQL represents the most impressive market success, exceeded only perhaps by Apache, in free and open source software. In terms of installed base, MySQL has left the technically impressive rival PostgreSQL in the dust. It has marginalized mSQL, SQLite, and SAP DB (the last of which I'll return to later). It has started to challenge the proprietary database companies on their own turf, as already mentioned. Nobody can say why licensing costs for proprietary databases have plummeted in recent years, but one suspects that it's due to MySQL's competition, as are the large discounts Microsoft has offered certain customers.

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Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury MySQL, not to praise him.
Yesterday we cheered MySQL. Here's the flip side. Ken Jacobs, Oracle's VP of product strategy is interviewed by eWeek:

Q: What kind of a threat does Oracle see open-source databases being, say, five years down the road?

MySQL production releases have typically been two years apart, and the time from alpha [first release] to production is about 1.5 years. They released Version 5.0 in alpha status in December 2003, so a reasonable expectation for production release of Version 5.0 is mid-2005.

It should be noted that MySQL Version 5.0 introduced stored procedures but not triggers or views, both of which are essential for significant enterprise applications. It appears unlikely that MySQL could introduce these critical features much before mid-2007. A whole wide range of additional capabilities including but not limited to XML and analytic—i.e. business-intelligence—features do not appear to be on the MySQL radar.

Furthermore, the low level of resources available to MySQL to fund development and the very small size of their development team raise questions about the viability of the MySQL business model and technology development path going forward.

It is unlikely that MySQL can rapidly accelerate development of their core product while acquiring and integrating disparate database technologies like the SAP DB (now called MaxDB) or MySQL Cluster. Indeed, this sort of 'engineering by acquisition' is a distraction and fragments their development efforts.

Apparently some PostgreSQL developers concur.

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MySQL Conference Roundup
Russell Beattie has an excellent MySQL conference roundup.

My notes of their notes:

From Jeremy's post, it looks as if MySQL Cluster uses a new in-memory table format, NDB. The benchmarks are impressive on a 72 CPU Sun Fire server. Has limitations: 8K rows, no online reindexing, etc. Based on internal R&D from 1996.

Yahoo is using MySQL for some mission-critical apps. There is an internal battle between Oracle and MySQL advocates for such apps.

LiveJournal discusses memcached, a distributed caching system. There is a PHP api for memcached.

Sabre is extremely impressive.

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Refreshing them jaded eyes: Dan Sugaski writes a parrot compiler
Yesterday i talked about being jaded. Here's what I find fascinating:

Neither rewriting [DecisionPlus] nor ditching it for someone else's software was an appealing option, especially given that the reason to do so was essentially an internal issue and mostly invisible to the users. We decided instead to do the sensible thing—we rewrote DecisionPlus. Or, rather, we wrote a compiler that understood DecisionPlus and, rather than targeting the DecisionPlus virtual machine and runtime that was causing us problems, we targeted a newer and less restrictive system.

That may sound mad, but it really was the simplest thing to do, by far.

However what i found interesting was not the nuts-and-bolts of implementing a compiler (jaded look again). It's the project management side of it: why the decision was made, how long it took, etc. The details on writing a compiler can be found in any text book (or learn it by reading Zend Engine source if you want to go mad!) What's hard to estimate is how long it will take, and when you can justify the project.

PS: People are also writing compilers that emit PHP code.

tri: Followup by Dan (20 Apr)

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The inimitable Philip Greenspun and Software Engineering for Internet Applications
Nowadays I admit i hardly have time to read a chapter, let alone a whole book. Squeezing fresh knowledge from technical books continues to grow harder and harder. After a while my eyes just blur as i read about HTTP for the thousandth time. It takes an excellent writer like Philip to keep these jaded eyes open.

This is the textbook for the MIT course "Software Engineering for Internet Applications". The course is intended for juniors and seniors in computer science. We assume that they know how to write a computer program and debug it. We do not assume knowledge of any particular programming languages, standards, or protocols. The most concise statement of the course goal is that "The student finishes knowing how to build amazon.com by him or herself." Other people who might find this book useful include the following:

  • professional software developers building online communities or other multi-user Internet applications
  • managers who are evaluating packaged software aimed at supporting online communities--the various chapters contain criteria for judging the features of products such as Microsoft Sharepoint or Microsoft Content Management Server
  • university students and faculty looking to add some structure to a "capstone" project at the end of a computer science degree

If you're confused by the "student knows how to build amazon.com" statement, we can break it down in terms of principles and skills. The fundamental difference between server-based Internet applications and the desktop applications that students have already learned to build is that server-based applications have multiple simultaneous users. Coupled with the unreliability of networks this gives rise to the problems of concurrency and transactions. Stateless communications protocols such as HTTP mean that the student must learn how to build a stateful user experience on top of stateless protocols. For persistence between clicks and management of concurrency and transactions, the student needs to learn how to use the relational database management system. Finally, though, this goes beyond the simple standalone amazon.com-style service, students ought to learn about object-oriented distributed computing where each object is a Web service.

PS: This is a free online book.

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Storms on the Horizon
It appears that both PEAR and Java continue to swim in stormy waters. In two separate stories:

- Harry Fuecks discusses the pickle over PEAR. IMHO, a small group of people have control over the direction of PEAR. If you like what they are doing, then great. If you don't, you get into these discussions to let off steam.

- James Gosling responds to Java sellout rumors by Sun. However the question as to whether Sun can transform themselves into a more diversified company without imploding remains to be seen.

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How to Fail with the Rational Unified Process (PDF)
This article has a good summary of a lot of mistakes in the software development life-cycle, including a comprehensive critique of the waterfall model (waterfalls are pretty but they just don't work).

More info on RUP. At our company we don't use RUP (you have to pay to use RUP), but we do adhere to the ideas of the spiral model.

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Xen
Interesting ideas in Xen in the XML arena. I do admit however that I'm more interested in Xena than XML or Xen.

tri: Another article on Xen.

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Ronco Spray-On Usability
By focusing on Aunt Tillie (the archetypal nontechnical user), Raymond is ignoring the actual depth of the problem. It’s easy to say, The open source community needs to do better, we need to create software Aunt Tillie can use. But they’re so far away from this right now that even an expert like Eric Raymond can’t figure out how to use their software.

The strange thing is that there are many successful open source PHP projects with rich UIs such as phpBB or any of the Nuke variations that are used by non-programmers every day. To ask C hackers - especially those who have no respect for users - to write usable software is perhaps a bit too much. I think PHP coders do this better.

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IronPython: A fast Python implementation for .NET and Mono
Here's proof that the CLR and .NET are fast.

The key point in my previous posting is that the author of the article i criticized doesn't understand that .NET is designed for JIT compilation. And as the Parrot and IronPython experiences show, this produces very high performance code.

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Miss Otis Regrets
When you are young and stupid, you can be excused for a lot of things. One of the most popular articles on this site is 7 Reasons Why PHP is Better than ASP. The truth is that I cringe everytime i see someone linking to this in my referer logs.

I wrote this several years ago in my early enthusiasm for PHP. I now believe that neither PHP nor ASP are better. They are just choices. Some say to-may-to, others say to-mah-to.

Here's another weird article comparing PHP and ASP.NET. This time I didn't write it (luckily!) In the review, ASP.NET gets a "weak" for speed and efficiency. Huh? Where are the benchmarks? A careful reading also reveals that the author doesn't even understand how .NET works. And if IIS is a liability, so is Apache 2.0. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

tri: As i write this at home, American Idol is playing on TV on Star World. I'm definitely writing under the influence of Simon Crowell.

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Don't Wait
Michael Harrison, an English poet, was once asked how to become a good writer. He replied, "If you want to be a good writer, write. You don't wait for inspiration."

Don Box, co-author of SOAP, gives similar advice in the above link:

  • Read fewer specifications,
  • write more applications,
  • write less code by using tools that generate code automatically,
  • and remember that humans matter, so if you must write a specification, make it legible.

And John's advice is: "You can be hasty, but keep a backup!"

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Rampaging Computer Science
Russell Beattie (and Jamie Turner) talks about the trouble with Java, and contrasts it with PHP:

The problem is that much of the Java stuff out there is just written by really smart morons who seem to love complexity for complexity's sake... When programmers respect patterns more than solutions, you know something is broken.

I loaded up my first PHP application the other day (dotProject) on a test server and dived into the code, you know what? There's no secret! The code was ugly and embedded and duplicated and horrible. But it was done, and being maintained and being documented and basic enough so that everyone could understand it.

:-) The most backhand compliment to PHP i have ever read. It's so ugly and horrible that everyone can understand it.

Is there a name for this type of development? Solution-Oriented Programming? Functional Development? Useful Coding?

I would call it Rapid Application Development (RAD). The key point of RAD was to use a 4GL or visual tools for speed, have milestones, and to timebox (this means finishing on time with reasonable quality assurance is more important than anything else).

Many people have dropped the milestones and timebox requirement, thanks to expensive marketing such Delphi's or VB's that claim they are support RAD. So nowadays, any software tool that allows you to create apps quickly is called RAD.

tri: Jamie Turner's original article.

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Chernobyl Rider
She's utterly amazing. From Joi Ito.

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Review: Advanced PHP Programming
Reading Advanced PHP Programming by George Schlossnagle feels like looking into the mind of a true PHP guru. I know George has an intimate knowledge of the PHP internals and Zend engine, and is an expert on PHP performance tuning. The book also covers PHP5, and most of the examples are in PHP5.

Like most of the best gurus, George has a clear style and direct approach. For example, in the chapter on templates, he says of Smarty:

Smarty is one of the most popular and widely deployed template systems for PHP... Smarty has a good bit of bloat that I think is best left alone. Like many template systems, it has grown in a number of ill-advised ways that allow complex logic to appear in the templates. Of course, features can be ignored or banned on the basis of policy.

And he writes about PEAR:

Throughout the book, I use a number of PEAR classes. In both this book and my own programming practice, I prefer to build my own components. Especially in performance-critical applications, it is often easier to design a solution that fits your exact needs and is not overburdened by extra fluff. However, it can sometimes be much easier to use an existing solution than to reinvent the wheel.

The range of technologies covered is very wide, including Templates, Caching, Databases, Sessions, RPC, Server Farms, Proxies, Benchmarking, Profiling, and Zend Internals. All the parts I read show George has spent a lot of time thinking and designing technologies in these areas. His discussion on performance tuning PHP is particular good. In many places, I can remember going through the same blind alleys he went through. At the end of each chapter, there is a further reading list - nowadays one book is never enough to cover everything. I also have a feeling that George is careful to write about areas in which he has the appropriate expertise. For example, I did not see any reference to PDF or GD usage in the index or in the text.

Another thing I like about Advanced PHP Programming is that it is not merely a discussion on advanced PHP technologies. There are several chapters on design; these include chapters on PHP coding styles, design patterns, unit-testing, CVS and packaging, designing APIs.

In conclusion, this book is a one of the two best books on PHP i have ever read. The other book is PHP and MySQL Web Development by Luke Welling and Sarah Thompson, which is an excellent introduction to PHP and MySQL. Both books complement each other. Highly recommended.

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PHP 4.3.5 just released
I'm still at PHP 4.3.3 and have no intention of upgrading as I'm not affected by these bugs. But you might be interested in the new release if you need the bug-fixes.

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Benchmarking PHP with no BS
After I posted my XML benchmarks in February 2004, I was approached by Indu Britto to convert a discussion of the full benchmarks into an article for PHP Magazine. I kept on postponing him (correction, 2 Apr 2004: Indu is a her, apologies for the goof), but in a way, Prophet Mohammed helped me write the article. I'm not muslim, but the prophet's birthday is a public holiday in Malaysia. That gave me the breathing room to write the article.

I tried to make the article interesting by not focusing on the mechanics of the benchmark (yawn), but on useful results that everyone can use to improve their code. I was very pleased (and surprised - no one told me beforehand) to hear that the editors decided to feature it as the main article of the March 2004 issue.

Now that it has been published, i can announce that the source code of the benchmarking suite and results are available at http://ormestech.com/benchmark_suite/ . The results are static html pages to prevent enthusiatic testers from bringing our server to its knees. You should download the source code to try out all its functionality. The benchmarks are easily extensible also. You just need to add new benchmarking files and the benchmarking suite will auto-detect the files.

The nice thing about the benchmarks is that it measures relative performance between algorithms, so you can make meaningful conclusions across disparate hardware platforms. And if you need more clarification, you can read it (shameless plug) in PHP-Mag.

tri: Latest: the full article is now available online.

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Zend's New PHP5 Info Center
PHP 5 brings along a host of new features and major improvements like you've grown to expect from past major versions. Answering the need for scalable development architectures in the Enterprise, PHP 5 boasts the new Zend Engine 2, which includes a brand new object model, allowing for the development of large-scale, maintainable object oriented applications. PHP 5 also introduces new revolutionary ways of dealing with XML that make it the ideal platform for XML processing—no other solution comes even close! Complementary to the new XML features is the new SOAP module, allowing interoperability with Web Services via a fast and easy-to-use API.

The list of goodies in PHP 5 goes on and on: built-in server-independent SQL support using SQLite, new high-performance and more secure MySQL support, all-new COM/.NET support, and lots more.

Given this long list of new features, we're confident that you're just as excited about the next generation of PHP as we are! To make things even snappier, we came up with this new PHP 5 section of Zend.com's DeveloperZone. The section will allow you to get PHP 5 information right from the source, discover PHP 5's various new features, as well as learn how to migrate from earlier versions of PHP. -- Zeev and Andi.

This appears to be an excellent resource. Pity I'm too busy at work to look at it. I have received a copy of George's Advanced PHP book too. I will try to review it when my schedule permits. Time is tight. Now where was that cloning device i got for Christmas...

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Programming as a joke. Smoking PHP makes me laugh!
There were some people who actually believed i was deadly serious about the PHP5 revolution i recently posted. So in honour of those people who need to develop a sense of humor, here's my small collection of PHP funnies:

tri: Evolutionary PHP5 lies.

tri: Interview with John Coggeshall by php|architect and PHPCon.

tri: Java addicts start smoking PHP and The Grand Loco.

tri: PHP Look Back 2002, by Derick Rethans. Derick also did one for 2003.

tri: Have you read the PHP manual? by B.A.T. Svensson (rude).

tri: 10 Reasons to like PHP by manit.

tri: Student Suspended Over Suspected Use of PHP, by Brian Biggs.

PHP developers love mod_perl (rude).

Non-PHP Stuff

tri: How to Write Unmaintainable Code

tri: Resign Patterns

tri: A typical IT project in pictures.

tri: Hilarious Programming Quotes.

PS: Suggestions for funny articles to link to are welcome!

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The world's two worst variable names
Bad variables are all over the place. Usually it will be something like a short variable used for too long, like $n being used for the duration of an entire subroutine. The programmer might as well have been working in TRS-80 BASIC, where only the first two characters of variable names were significant, and we had to keep a handwritten lookup chart of names in a spiral notebook next to the keyboard. -- Andy Lester

In my opinion, here are the world's worst variable names. A $data variable can be very meaningful if there is a single data input stream. I'm sure Andy was blind-sided, given his evangelism.

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This is Intriguing
Roadsend Compiler for PHP produces optimized stand alone applications, libraries, and web applications from standard PHP source code. The compiler produces native machine code, not PHP byte code, so no interpreter is required.

They say they currently are in beta. Has anyone tested it out?

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.NET bondage
Harry Fuecks posted a very interesting critique of browser-based event models. Apparently ASP.NET Server Control Event Model uses a lot of clever javascript in the browser to dynamically communicate with the web server. However this is not REST-ful, which basically means that it does not follow web conventions and is therefore not linkable.

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PHP5 evolutionary lies
Comrades, I'm sick of hearing that PHP5 is evolutionary. If you believe that PHP5 is evolutionary because it stresses backward compatibility, then try bending over backwards - you'll find that it feels very stressful. PHP5 is not going to go down easily. PHP5 is going to be painful and it is going to be revolutionary. Here's why:

  • Revolutions are bloody. Lots of people lost their heads during the French Revolution. PHP5 is a revolution that will give developers more room for fisticuffs and swinging debates. OOP or procedural? Should we port all the Java class libraries to PHP, or only the useless ones? Stick with Zend Engine or shed some Parrot blood?

  • PHP5 will have OOP for dummies - you don't need to be a superguru who understands & anymore to correctly implement classes. Finally the Java princes in the first estate and the .NET nobles in the second estate will rue the day they learnt how to compile.

  • PHP5 even has XML for dummies - SimpleXML is the best XML API in the world for people who have no time for XML. That means that XML will finally achieve total world domination with PHP5. XML ueber alles.

  • PHP5 exceptions are certainly revolutionary - error-handling was the last bastion of the goto. With exceptions, we can now tell Mr Goto where to go to. O, i forgot that PHP doesn't have goto. Never mind, exceptions are revolutionary - trust me...

  • PHP5 will have type-hints - which will encourage the worse forms of racism. How can we live in a democratic open source utopia and still discriminate by type. And worse, this racism is not type-checking done properly before a law abiding compiler, but sneaky type-hints given by informers and spies in the shadows of function parameters.

  • PHP's name was changed from Personal Home Page to PHP Hypertext Processor, but there are still many traitors who continue to call it their Personal Hygiene Problem. These unwashed souls will have to be liquidated when the revolution comes.

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News.com: MySQL addresses PHP license problem
On Thursday night, MySQL published a license exception that, the company said, permits PHP to resume its previous practice of bundling MySQL components called libraries, said Zack Urlocker, MySQL's vice president of marketing.

MySQL's exception is "a step in the right direction," said Andi Gutmans, a PHP creator and vice president of technology for Zend, a company that sells PHP programming tools. Gutmans also expressed confidence that other remaining issues will be resolved -- Stephen Shankland

MySQL Open Source License: As a special exception, MySQL AB gives permission to distribute derivative works that are formed with GPL-licensed MySQL software and with software licensed under version 3.0 of the PHP license. You must obey the GNU General Public License in all respects for all of the code used other than code licensed under version 3.0 of the PHP license.

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ADOdb driver for ODBTP
Stefan Bogdan contributed this ODBTP driver for ADOdb. ODBTP allows you to connect to Windows ODBC drivers from other operating systems. So if you want to query MS Access or MS SQL Server from Linux/BSD/Unix, you can consider this option.

The ODBTP package consists of three components. The first is a service that resides on a Windows NT, 2000 or XP Pro machine where the ODBC drivers are installed. The second is a C library of routines that can be used to create ODBTP client applications. The third component is a PHP extension that can be used to create web-based ODBTP client applications with the PHP scripting language.

I don't have ODBTP installed, but i think some of you will be very interested in this.

Update: Connection code revised (_connect and _pconnect).

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SitePoint: Cost-Effective Website Acceleration
An excellent summary of website tuning techniques by Thomas Powell and Joe Lima. One weird thing is that the article title implies that it is Part 3 of a series, but the article is complete, containing all 3 parts already.

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NewsFactor: Will PHP 5 Live Up to Its Billing?
In a recent survey conducted by Zend Technologies, about 20 percent of respondents said they planned to upgrade as soon as PHP 5 is released. About 75 percent said they would upgrade within one year. The rest responded by saying they did not plan to upgrade.

I remember Andi Gutmans that once said in a PHP newsgroup that both PHP3 and PHP4 became really stable around the x.0.6 release. I found that to be true for PHP 4.0.6 anyway. It was rock-solid. Will the same hold true for PHP5?

PS: I did a search on Google but couldn't find the post. Anyone remember it?

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Beyond MVC
Although the Model-View-Controller design has proven itself throughout the years to be an appropriate and beneficial pattern for modeling user-interface components, its use in designing distributed servlet infrastructures has led to very unfortunate results. Among these are the advancement of unwieldy, inflexible architectures that are incapable of being quickly altered to support the ever-changing demands of the technological and economic environment.

The only time I've ever felt comfortable with MVC was when i was learning Smalltalk, because that was the natural way to code user interfaces for that environment. I have never been impressed with the way MVC has been retrofit for web user interfaces, as it appears unnatural in the web context. There are many simpler web metaphors that are viable (For example, see Rasmus' Adding Structure example or Smarty). MVC is very much in the over-designed style of J2EE.

The DataSource, Action, Workflow objects the author suggests looks pretty similar to what my company (we've been doing workflow since 1997) does internally for our more complicated user interface scenarios, though i would need a closer look to be sure. Interesting, provocative, and definitely worth further study.

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Do You PHP?
A great overview of PHP by Rasmus Lerdorf published by Oracle Technology Network.

Some quick notes:

- Is this the first time that MySQL and PostgreSQL's been mentioned without disdain on an Oracle web-site?

- "There is nothing wrong with direct database calls' making use of all the tricks and cheats your chosen database has to offer, to tweak as much performance as possible out of it." This may surprise some people, but I agree with this. I do make direct database calls when i need the speed. But i don't think that Rasmus has to use 5 different and quirky databases at work.

- Perhaps why I like PHP so much is because I find so little that I disagree with in the opinions of the original designer of PHP:

Despite what the future may hold for PHP, one thing will remain constant. We will continue to fight the complexity to which so many people seem to be addicted. The most complex solution is rarely the right one. Our single-minded direct approach to solving the Web problem is what has set PHP apart from the start, and while other solutions around us seem to get bigger and more complex, we are striving to simplify and streamline PHP and its approach to solving the Web problem.

This gives me a warm fuzzy feeling in my belly!

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Contract-Driven Development meets XP
I think there are two kinds of people interested in test-driven development. First, there are people who are very happy not to have to write a specification. If that's what you hope to get from Extreme Programming (XP), I don't think you'll get much improvement. But then there are people who are more seriously applying the idea of test-driven development, the way at least I would consider applying it, where the tests are really systematic. -- Bertrand Meyer

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The trouble with sessions
Harry Fuecks has some excellent notes on PHP security when using sessions.

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Tim O'Reilly's FOSDEM slides (PDF)
I remember reading the transcript few months back. Quite a remarkable presentation. Now here are the slides in shining 2-D glory!

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I wish i could spell George Schlossnagle without copy-and-paste
George Schlossnagle has contributed a lot to PHP. And he's got a new book out, Advanced PHP, that i look forward to reading. I only know George through email, but there's another side to him that's reflected in his blog that's probably more interesting than his contributions to PHP.

George worked in Nepal for the Peace Corps, and developed some close friendships there. He writes about some tragic discoveries he just made. It's sad to see that this young girl is no more. And he worries about this young lady. It seems almost beyond belief that she could have grown up to become a bomb-throwing terrorist...

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ADOdb and SourceForge
Recently I had a couple of requests to place ADOdb, the PHP database abstraction library I maintain, in a public CVS. I agreed, and tried to register adodb at SourceForge, since it provides a free CVS service.

To my surprise, someone had already registered ADOdb at SourceForge, in 2001! There was even an old version of ADOdb in CVS. I just don't get no respect! I quickly emailed him, and I must have sounded quite violent in my email, because he quickly agreed to relinquish control of the project (actually he sounded very nice in the short emails we exchanged).

Now I started looking into setting up CVS at sourceforge. It seems that all CVS check-ins are done via SSH, an encryption protocol. I use WinCVS, a windows-based CVS client and it looks tricky to set it up to use SSH.

The beauty of Unix has always been that it provides an extensive bundle of tools to do anything. You can hook SSH functionality to CVS by some obscure commands. However as the tools are not pre-packaged on Windows, setting up each tool becomes a real pain. And even if you have SSH and CVS installed on Windows, it won't work unless you have an assurance they can interoperate. For example, I use PuTTY for SSH; can WinCVS use it?

Another problem is that i have several modified versions of ADOdb lying around, which i manage using my internal CVS. But if I move the main branch of ADOdb to public CVS, what do i do to keep the customized versions of ADOdb synchronized and keep them private?

So I'm afraid i have to put the idea of having a public CVS of ADOdb on hold for the moment, unless anyone out there has a better suggestion?

PS: ADOdb 4.20 is out. AXMLS 1.01 included. Oracle, Ifx, MSSQL and Postgres improvements. Perf Monitor fixes. Property $conn->dateHasTime changed to $conn->datetime.

PPS: Apparently there is a guide to using PuTTY with WinCVS.

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Official Migrating from PHP4 to PHP5 Docs
PHP 5 and the integrated Zend Engine 2 have greatly improved PHP's performance and capabilities, but great care has been taken to break as little existing code as possible. So migrating your code from PHP 4 to 5 should be very easy. Most existing PHP 4 code should be ready to run without changes, but you should still know about the few differences and take care to test your code before switching versions in production environments. -- Nuno Lopes

Andi Gutman points this out:

>Paragraph: Classes must be declared before used >is no longer true. For most cases this is allowed now.

To be accurate, we solved the BC issue but for people who want to use the PHP 5 features (such as implementing interfaces), they will have to declare the class before using it.

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A stroll in the park with PHP5 beta 4
Over the past few days, I have had an opportunity to do more testing with PHP5b4.

I'm glad that most of my testing was on Windows because I don't have to compile anything on Windows to get PHP5 working. But I had to try things out on Linux too because I'm writing an article for PHP-Magazine.

Testing on Linux was really painful. One gotcha is PHP4. After compiling PHP5 on our Linux box it kept on crashing when I restarted apache. Finally I remembered that you can run the command line interface version of PHP (in php5/sapi/cli/), which gives somewhat more helpful error messages, and discovered that PHP5 was trying to load PHP4's php.ini.

Apart from the PHP4 gotcha, I had to download a newer version of libxml2 for PHP5 to compile. I downloaded the latest libxml2, only to find that out 2.6.6 was not supported by PHP5 (it wouldn't link). I had to rollback a few versions and retrieve libxml2.5.11 instead. - I must have screwed up something else, PHP5b4 works fine with libxml2 2.6.6.

Now i don't dare recompile PHP4, because it probably requires libxml2 2.4. Ugh, the joys of Unix development.

More highlights of PHP5b4:

I'm not a big fan of XML, but I have been trying out simplexml, and it really is as simple as promised.

I also did some benchmarks. I'm pleasantly surprised that in some operations, such as looping, PHP5b4 is already faster than PHP4.

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Intel takes on AMD, adding 64-bit extensions to its Xeon line
Not unexpected, but still a pleasant surprise (except for those working at AMD).

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The second coming of PHP
It seems that many members of our congregation are under the impression that PHP5, the second coming of the son of our lord, will save their souls. Well, I'm here to tell you otherwise. - Rev Jim

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Testing PHP5
Now that PHP5 beta 4 has been released, it might be useful to share how we do our testing of different PHP versions.

We find it quite bothersome to reconfigure our web server(s) everytime we want to switch between different versions of PHP4 and PHP5. So we have automated all our testing on Windows using the command-line interface to PHP5.

PHP5 beta 4 allows us to define a php.ini configuration file in the same directory as the php.exe executable. We will first modify php.ini, setting extension_dir and include_dir, and enable the appropriate extension=* settings. Then we have a standard DOS batch file that will run php.exe and unit-test ADOdb (the database abstraction library for PHP that I maintain). The output is generated to rez.html.

The last line of the batch file opens the resultant html file in IE. The "start" command will attempt to open any file if the extension mapping exists, e.g. "start rez.html".

The only disadvantage of this approach is that you are not testing PHP5's long-term interaction with the web server, and you need to have an existing set of unit tests that can be automated. This might not be possible if you testing mostly user interface code.

And what do i think of PHP5 beta 4? Two thumbs up. Didn't have to change anything in ADOdb to make it work with beta 4.

Sample DOS Batch File

Note: Each release of php5 is kept in its own sub-directory (c:\php5\php5b1, c:\php5\php5b2, etc). Tests are in d:\php\adodb\tests.

c:
cd \php5\phpb4
del *.html

d: cd \php\adodb\tests\

c:php test.php testmysql > c:rez.html c:php test.php testoracle > c:rez2.html

c: start c:rez.html start c:rez2.html

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John's PHP Benchmarking Suite (ZIP)
My benchmarking suite. Apart from XML, it also benchmarks string handling, looping (foreach vs for), output buffering, etc. And it's easily extensible too.

I wrote it when i was thinking about writing a book on optimizing PHP, and realized i would need a benchmarking suite to test various performance hypotheses. Its not OOP, but i think it demonstrates how far you can make procedural programming extensible in PHP.

The benchmarking engine scans sub-directories, and each sub-directory is treated as a test suite. A .php file in a sub-directory is one test. Every .php file in a sub-directory can be run stand-alone, and when running stand-alone debugging output is generated so you can verify the correctness of the code you are measuring.

To install, just unpack in a web server directory, and open up index.php from your web browser.

Requires PHP 4.3 or later.

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High Speed XML Parsing is Not Intuitive
For a PHP weblog, there haven't been many PHP articles or links recently. This is because I feel most recent PHP articles I read have nothing fresh to say, repeating material I linked to 2 or 3 years ago. Perhaps I'm getting jaded. So to keep things fresh, here's a new article, mostly original, and hopefully of some interest to everyone!

Last year, Tim Bray, one of the co-authors of the XML spec, mentioned that he used Perl regular expressions to parse XML.

Now here's the dirty secret; most of it is machine-generated XML, and in most cases, I use the perl regexp engine to read and process it.

I was struck by this because I would have thought XPath or SAX would provide better performance as they are APIs tuned specifically for XML.

I decided to do some benchmarks to determine which techniques were better. I also wanted a realistic test, so I benchmarked parsing the RSS feed of this web-site, searching for the contents of all title tags, and returning the contents as an array. The RSS file is from Nov 2003 (yes i did this benchmark that long ago), and is about 20K and has 12 title tags, so the returned array will have 12 title strings.

The techniques used were:

1. Regular expression: preg_match_all('/<title>([^<]*)/',$rss,$titles_arr))

2. Explode('<title>', $rss) then strip the matching </title> tag using strpos() and substr().

3. XPath, using $title_nodes = $ctx->xpath_eval("//title");

4. SAX, wrote an element handler function that matched and processed the title tag.

5. DOM, using $titles = $dom->get_elements_by_tagname('title'). Intuitively, this should have been the slowest, as the whole tree is generated.

Results

Here are the timings for processing the RSS file 1000 times. Faster is better.

            seconds       Relative 
                          to REGEX
REGEX       0.1080          1.00
EXPLODE     0.1696          1.57
DOM         6.3212         58.53
XPATH       8.3417         77.24
SAX        10.0851         93.38

Conclusion

Intutively, I would have thought that XPath would be the fastest as XPath expressions can be compiled and tuned for XML. But the best performance was achieved using regular expressions, which is what Tim is using.

It appears that the DOM, SAX and XPath libraries remain immature (compared to the Perl-compatible regex library) and are not highly optimized. Strangely enough, DOM performance is better than XPath and SAX! Perhaps someone else can explain why.

If anyone is interested, i have posted the source.

Test platform: Windows 2000, PHP 4.3.3. I also tested on Linux, PHP 4.3.2, with similar results.

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Why C Is Not My Favourite Programming Language
Brian Kernighan, the documenter of the C programming language, wrote a rant entitled Why Pascal is Not My Favourite Programming Language. I can picture him thinking to himself smugly as he repeatedly strikes facetiously at Pascal by describing a few of its small flaws over and over again.

Unfortunately, time has not been kind to Kernighan's tract. Pascal has matured and grown in leaps and bounds, becoming a premier commercial language. Meanwhile, C has continued to stagnate over the last 35 years with few fundamental improvements made. It's time to redress the balance; here's why C is now owned by Pascal. - James Joyce.

James appears to be more fond of PHP than C. No objections there!

And if you don't take it all too seriously, the responses are quite amusing.

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Conference Presentation Judo
The biggest mistake you can make...

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Another look at PHP and Python
Postscript: Some people have got the impression from this article that I am moving away from PHP. That is far from the truth. I will continue to use PHP extensively today, tomorrow and for the forseeable future.

I find Python harder than PHP.

It could be because we are programming multi-threaded networked servers in Python, and that could be inherently harder than coding dynamic web-sites. Another reason could be lack of familiarity with Python. For example, I couldn't find the equivalent of htmlspecialchars and other functions, so i had to roll my own.

Despite all these issues, we are continuing to develop this in Python because (AFAIK) PHP does not have stable networking frameworks.

So what do I like about Python?

- Neat Syntax

The use of indentation for compound statements discourages deep nesting, and thus more modular code.

- More Safety Checks

In PHP, when you search using a regular expression, an associative array is returned. In Python, a typed object, "match" is returned when a regular expression search is performed, and not a generic dictionary. You cannot perform arithmetic on strings, an explicit cast is required; neither can you concatenate numbers with strings, explicit typecasts are needed.

- Supports Multi-Threaded Apps

There exists a global lock in Python that prevents multi-threading from working effectively on multiple processors - nevertheless Python has reasonable thread support and allows me to develop reasonably responsive servers.

- Python's Compiler is Standard

Python has a standard compiler and byte-code format. There is no such standard in the PHP world, and most ISP's don't support Zend or Turck MMCache encoded PHP. Better still, a debugger is included in the package too.

- Python Fully Supports Unicode

Python 2.0 and later has full support for unicode. For example to convert big5 to unicode is the simple:

    unicode_str = unicode(tw_chinese_string, 'big5')

In contrast, see how complicated it is to perform double-byte to unicode conversions in PHP (see User Notes).

The only issue i had with the unicode support is that it doesn't come with a complete set of double-byte decoders (eg. big5, gb). After a 20 minute google search, i found this set of python cjk decoders.

And what I dislike about Python

- Python Is Not Rapid Enough?

I think that PHP is a better tool for rapid application development, especially for web-sites. Minor type issues are handled for you transparently in PHP. In Python, once a variable is set, stricter type-checking is performed on most operations.

So you can argue that Python is safer. But PHP coding is definitely more rapid.

Another thing i dislike is that Python's import/load facility does not check .py file modification dates. If i modify a .py file, Python's run-time environment will not recompile it until i restart Python, or perform a reload manually from the command-line interpreter.

- Database Access

Python does not have official database drivers, and you have to select and download these drivers yourself. It's easy to get it wrong. For example, only after coding the adodb_odbc module using PythonWin odbc extension did i realize how awful PythonWin odbc was. I then found the mxODBC extension - unfortunately the mxODBC requires commercial licensing ($75 per CPU).

- Python is Not That Popular

Popularity is relative. There are lots of Python programmers - but there are perhaps 3 times more PHP programmers than Python ones. In Malaysia, the ratio of PHP to Python programmers is probably much worse (10:1?). And there are many training centers offering PHP courses. AFAIK, there are no centers in Malaysia offering Python training. A quick search in monster.com reveals the following (numbers might change over time):

PHP: 131 jobs
http://jobsearch.monster.com/jobsearch.asp?q=php&re=0&sort=rv&tm=&fn=660&vw=b&cy=US&brd=1%2C1862%2C1863

Python: 41 jobs
http://jobsearch.monster.com/jobsearch.asp?q=python&re=0&sort=rv&tm=&fn=660&vw=b&cy=US&brd=1%2C1862%2C1863

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The software that .NET forgot...
For some reason, Microsoft's brilliant and cutting-edge .NET development environment left out one crucial tool... a tool that has been common in software development environments since, oh, about 1950, and taken so much for granted that it's incredibly strange that nobody noticed that .NET doesn't really have one. -- Joel Spolsky

And what is the software that PHP forgot? The compiler-cache of course...

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ODBTP, connect to Windows databases from any platform
ODBTP version 1.1 has been released is available at http://odbtp.sourceforge.net/

Many new functions and enhancements have been added to the odbtp extension. The changes make it the best PHP solutiion for connecting to MSSQL, Access, FoxPro and other Win32 ODBC accessible databases from any platform.

Its native connection pool eliminates the need for persistent connections.

All of the functions from the mssql extension are optionally supported. This means that existing PHP scripts that use the mssql extension would not have to modified to use ODBTP. The odbtp/mssql hybrid extension's performance and capabilities exceed both the FreeTDS (UNIX / Linux) and DB-Library (Win32) versions of the mssql extension. ODBTP uses Microsoft's ODBC driver for SQL Server, which is superior to FreeTDS and DB-Library when connecting to SQL Server 2000 databases. And, unlike the mssql extension, the odbtp/mssql extensinn's behaviour is exactly the same on all platforms.

While the functions from the odbc extension are not supported, the odbtp extension provides better support for ODBC. Most of the odbc extension's limitations are caused by its use of ODBC 2 instead of ODBC 3, which is used by ODBTP. The odbtp extension is also considerably faster.

-- bob

Another interesting solution to connecting to Windows databases. I'd be interested in your feedback as to how it performs.

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PHP Community
This looks promising...

tri: And coWiki shows what can be done with php5, now.

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.NET reality check
Here's my point, enough with the "this Whidbey, Longhorn, XAML is so cool you should stop whatever it is you are doing and use it". Small problem, we can't. Please help us by remembering that we're still using the release bits, not the latest technology. -- Michael Earls

Microsoft teaches us about "over-promise, under-deliver"?

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Just Hack It Again
First learn computer science and all the theory. Next develop a programming style. Then forget all that and just hack. -- George Carrette

I posted this comment a few weeks ago, but i never clarified what i thought of this quotation - until now...

Let's say you learnt a subject really well, and were asked to teach others. You enjoy teaching and others admire your teaching style. Then one day, you throw away all your notes, and teach off-the-cuff, entirely from memory.

We'll that's what I think George Carrette meant by "Just Hack". If you don't know your stuff inside-out, upside-down and every-which-way, "Just Hack" is probably not for you.

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ADOdb for Python Released
In my work with Python, I found that there's no good database abstraction library, so I wrote my own. Looks familiar, doesn't it?

PHP Python
include "adodb.inc.php";
$conn = NewADOConnection('mysql');
$conn->Connect('server','user','pwd','db');
$rs = $conn->Execute('select * from tab);

while (!$rs->EOF) { print_r($rs->fields); $rs->MoveNext(); } $rs->Close(); $conn->Close();

import adodb_mysql;
conn = adodb_mysql.adodb_mysql()
conn.Connect('server','user','pwd','db')
cursor = conn.Execute('select * from tab)

while not cursor.EOF: print cursor.fields cursor.MoveNext()

cursor.Close() conn.Close()

It also supports the iterator protocol:

  cursor = conn.Execute('select * from table')
  for row in cursor:
       print row

Python does have the DB API, but it's similar to ODBC in that it provides a very minimal layer, without abstracting SELECT ... LIMIT, LOBs, string quoting, etc. Download zip.

I will try to post a comparison between developing in Python and PHP when I have more time.

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The Simplest Thing That Could Possibly Work
Coding up the simplest thing that could possibly work is really about this: If you can't keep five things in your head at one time and make a decision, try keeping three things in your head. Try keeping just one thing in your head, and see if you can make a decision. Then you can think of the next thing. And amazingly, when you write some of this dumb, straight-ahead code, it often turns out that it was all that was required. It works great.

When a second programmer comes back later and reads the code she might say, "The people who wrote this are morons. They just wrote a simple linear search here. This thing's ordered, so they could have done a binary search. They could have used a hash table here. Why are they doing a linear search?" Well, because a linear search worked.

And when the other programmer looked at the linear search, she understood it in a minute. -- Ward Cunningham

I couldn't resist this quote. Perhaps the best example of Just Hack I have ever read.

Opponents of extreme programming will point out that this example is exactly the problem with extreme programming - no proper planning, opportunistic design.

To itch his own.

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Chinese New Year Holidays
In Malaysia, the big holidays are the Muslim Raya holidays and Chinese New Year. Well Chinese New Year is coming up on the 22nd, so there's not much more to say but wish everyone the same. Among the chinese, 'tis the season for ang pow, and drinking, eating and gambling.

I'll be going home to Penang, so I won't be posting much.

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The State of Perl Development
Perl 6 and Parrot do not represent our future, but rather our long-term insurance policy. When Perl 6 was announced, the Perl 5 implementation was already about seven years old. Core developers were leaving perl5-porters and not being replaced. (We didn't know it at the time, but this turned out to be a temporary lull. Thankfully.) The source code is quite complex, and very daunting to new developers. It was and remains unclear whether Perl can sustain itself as an open source project for another ten or twenty years if virtually no one can hack on the core interpreter.

Today, over three years later, the Perl development community is quite active writing innovative software that solves the problems real people and businesses face today. However, the innovation and inspiration is not entirely where we thought it would be. Instead of seeing the new language and implementation driving a new wave of creativity, we are seeing innovation in the libraries and modules available on CPAN -- code you can use right now with Perl 5, a language we all know and love. -- Adam Turoff

An interesting and reflective survey of Perl, CPAN and its possible future directions. Some well known PHP developers pour scorn on CPAN because the quality of contributors is uneven, but as Adam points out, its diversity is a core strength of Perl.

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Just Hack
First learn computer science and all the theory. Next develop a programming style. Then forget all that and just hack. -- George Carrette

Reminds me of the time the Malaysian government sent a software team to Canada to do technology transfer for a flight simulator system. After spending 2 years in Canada, they returned, and i asked one of the team members how the Canadian coders designed this powerful and complex system. I was expecting some detailed software methodology involving multiple phases. He told me, "they just hire a bunch of talented programmers, teach them the physics, and tell them to hack!"

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Reading MS Access Databases on Linux
I thought this was impossible. Obviously I was wrong. Thanks to Fernando Ortiz for the link.

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Is my language really better than yours?
If you group the languages out there by intended market (e.g.: web development, low-level programming, and so on) and by type (e.g.: procedural vs. O-O), you'll notice that there is perhaps a 5% variance in the functionality offered by each language compared to the others. In fact, one could comfortably convert code between one language and pretty much any other with minimal effort. Procedural PHP to Perl? No problem. VBScript to PHP? So easy there is even an automated tool to do it.

In the end, all procedural web languages share the same traits. They all have functions, or subroutines, or however you want to call them. Most of them share the same (or very similar) data types, including variants. Conditional constructs are virtually identical, even though the syntax changes slightly.

The real differences, and perhaps the only area, together with stability and performance, where a "this is better than that" decision can be made is in the library of functions offered by the platform to which the language belongs. For example, PHP disposes of an excellent out-of-the-box library with more than 6,000 functions. Perl has an excellent repository of classes. .Net disposes of a vast class hierarchy. -- Marco Tabini

Marco Tabini is a great guy and brings out some good points. But it's like saying a Ferrari and a Honda Civic are basically the same because they have an engine, brakes, seats, 4 wheels and get you from A to B. Technically correct, but not quite right.

Along with the library of functions mentioned above, other key differentiators that i see for web languages include:

a. Style - do you like embedding in tags as in cold fusion or prefer a more conventional programming language? Do you believe in TMTOW? Do you want procedural or pure OOP?

b. Portability - Some languages/platforms are more portable than others. For example, .NET has subtle Win32 assumptions. Other languages work better on Unix. And PHP has been ported to biological computers - it runs in real-time in my brain.

c. Acceptance - How many vendors are there? Is it open sourced or you don't care? Can you find programmers easily? Are these programmers expensive? Will the opposite sex like me? See the next point...

d. Sex appeal - Coding in PHP makes me look cool. But I'm sharper with C#. Aww, JSP gets me the chicks. Ahem, VB boosts my testosterone level.

PS: I admit I don't understand his last statement that it's the platform that matters, not the language. This is because languages are strongly tied to specific platforms. Java is strongly tied to JSP. C# and VB are strongly tied to ASP and .NET. PHP is strongly tied to LAMP. Python to Zope. And Cold Fusion is linked to, err, Cold Fusion.

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Hinges and integration
At the end of the XIX century, a screw company called Stanley started selling hinges, and quickly became the largest hinge maker in the market.

Their hinges were almost the same as any other, the hinges were a mature technology, they had no price advantage, no hinge-making experience, and no manufacturing difference with the competition.

How did they do it? They packaged the screws along with the hinges. Since anyone who bought a hinge needed the screws anyway, they sold more product, and the buyer was happy because he didn´t need to find matching screws.

There´s an obvious lesson there: If the consumer always needs two products at the same time, they are not two products, they are one, and selling them together should make sense.

How can we apply that (now) obvious lesson to software development, and open development in particular?

-- Roberto Alsina

Interesting analogy, but I cannot help but suspect that the screws and hinges that Stanley made probably worked better together because they came from one source. Just like software from Microsoft is tightly integrated with the operating system and Microsoft Office. Or Apple's software is tied to their hardware.

However, Roberto has a good point. Given a base library of sufficient power and flexibility, people will not reinvent the wheel, but promote interoperatibility by sharing a common code base. This is something that PHP still needs to work on. There aren't any accepted standards for so many issues. For example, PEAR is so fruitful that it provides us with multiple templating engines and database abstraction libraries. Too fruitful perhaps?

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Challenge to Open Source: Innovate, Don't Copy
Why would anyone with excellent computer skills want to work long hours (for free) to create code so that millionaire executives at IBM can use it to sell expensive mainframe computers and middleware with six-figure licenses? - Jim Fawcette

Well I have an oblique answer. Recently on a plane to Australia, I was asked by an Indian expat why I preferred to work in Malaysia, when I could easily migrate and work in more advanced countries such as Australia, USA or Europe.

Allow me to ask you the same question; why would anyone with excellent computer and social skills prefer to work in places that are poorer paying, more primitive, wasteful and corrupt than USA or Europe? I think the answer to that will illuminate Jim Fawcette's question.

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Looking back at PHP in 2003
By popular demand here is the PHP Look Back 2003. Just like last year I look back at the most interesting (and sometimes funny) happenings on the PHP mailinglist... As a small disclaimer: This might not always be a totally objective look back, as this is not an official thing. For now, have fun; we start in January. -- Derick Rethans

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Python Revisited
Happy New Year! Let's talk shop as usual.

Recently, we've been looking at developing some server software in Python. This is my first serious look at Python since 1999, and I'm impressed with the improvements. It's a couple of years older than PHP, and certainly more mature. Python has a reputation for being more rationally designed than PHP or Perl, and in general that's true; but you can still see Python's age in the fact that there are many APIs that do the same thing (eg. the string functions).

PHP is still a better language for web development because it is a simpler language, easy to teach to Java or Javascript programmers, has more flexible string processing, and designed to work well with templates.

But as a general programming language, Python has its advantages. You can easily embed the Python interpreter into a C program. There are versions of Python that emit Java and IL bytecode. You can build sophisticated networking software with Python that supports threads and asynchronous connections with reasonable efficiency (though Python doesn't really take advantage of multiple CPU's due to an internal global lock).

Python is also a good source of design ideas. I have noticed that others have realized that many good Java ideas do not translate well to PHP. There is an impedance mismatch; many things that are hard in Java are easy in PHP. It makes sense to create an elaborate framework in Java to do something that's hard in Java, but to apply the same to PHP suggests more energy than sense. In contrast, I suspect that Python and PHP are more complementary than we all suspect...

PS: We also had a look at developing the same server software using .NET. However .NET doesn't have builtin support for open protocols such as POP3 and IMAP. I continue to be amused at the (intentional?) omissions in the .NET framework.

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