One of my key concerns when reviewing a good book is the pull between information density and a light, easily read style. I believe that as we get further along the learning curve we can sacrifice some readability for density — we want more facts and less explanation.
The authors of Core PHP Programming have found a marvelous middle ground. Toward the beginning of the book they have a great deal of light, explanatory material as they cover the basics of PHP. As they move towards more advanced topics there is less explanation and a tighter packing of information. At the same time the book has a large number of small code examples throughout, making sure that you know how to use the functions under discussion.
This is the third edition and I must admit that I had not come across it in either the first or second editions, so I have no great way of comparing them in this review. It has certainly been revised to take into account the changes for PHP 5 and examining the table of contents for the second edition on Safari I can see the that the basic structure has remained the same while the book has grown about 300 pages. The addition of Zeev Suraski as co-author can only be to the benefit of the quality of the information, particularly regarding PHP 5.
The book starts with the absolute rock bottom of PHP, the basic data types and operators through to efficiency, debugging and design patterns. Along the way it covers almost all aspects of PHP 5 with a readable reference style. The `Core’ in the title of this book is a key to understanding it. If you’re looking for a book with all the code required to handle session management, or user logins and security (to mention two possibilities) then this isn’t the book for you. If, however, you are after a book that more than adequately explains the power and nuances of PHP and programming in the language then this is a marvelous volume.
It’s broken up into 5 sections: “Programming PHP,” which covers the basics of data, control flow and I/O; “Functional Reference,” which is 600 odd pages broken up into 12 chapters that seems to cover every PHP function (a check of three sub chapters showed every function mentioned on the topic at PHP.net was also in the book) and does it well with good explanation and code examples; “Algorithms,” which details a number of methods of performing routine tasks such as sorting, parsing and generating graphics; and “Software Engineering,” devoted to design, efficiency and design patterns; and finally, there are a seven excellent appendices.
Taken as a whole it does a good job of covering the whole language and the ways of using it.
I can imagine it would make a good companion volume to my other favourite PHP volume, PHP and MySQL Web Development, which tends more towards recipes and leaves out the encyclopedic coverage of this book.
Leon Atkinson has a good web page for the book that includes a link to download all the code and examples, a link to the Prentice Hall page for those wanting an example chapter or a look at the Table of Contents and some other reviews. His site also has a page for the inevitable errata, currently blank. While I did find only one typo (not in example code) I can’t claim to have read every page or run all the code examples.
I’d recommend this volume to anyone who wanted a comprehensive guide to PHP 5. It is probably useful at almost all levels.
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