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PHP Primer

This month we thought we'd take a quick look at PHP, the latest entry in the world of Web programming for the System i platform. We're excited about this new arrival as it helps to lower the "cost" of entering the world of the Web and moves the System i platform firmly into the mainstream. The introduction of PHP is a joint effort by IBM and Zend ("The php Company"). Full details of the announcement are online (

Normally when we use an acronym such as PHP in an article, the first time you see it, it's spelled out. For example: Java Server Pages (JSPs). This is a little difficult with PHP since it's a recursive, or self-referential, acronym (i.e., the first "P" in PHP stands for ... PHP!). The formal definition of PHP is PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor. Originally PHP supposedly stood for Personal Home Page; it's come a long way from its roots. To describe it in this way would be as meaningless and convey as little about its capabilities as saying that RPG stands for Report Program Generator!

So why is the availability of PHP so important to the System i platform? Because PHP is probably the single most widely used Web programming language today. Usage figures are hard to come by, but a NetCraft survey of French Web sites (as quoted by IBM in a recent presentation) indicated that PHP was being used on 58 percent of all French Web sites compared with a combined total of 41 percent for ASPs, JSPs and .Net.

In real estate, it's all about the three Ls - location, location, location. In today's programming world, it's all about the three Cs-community, community, community. When selecting a new programming language, the size of the programming community should be a major consideration. The larger the community, the more high-quality code samples, documentation and help you'll have available to you. Similarly, a large community makes it easier to recruit skilled help, and you'll discover a larger pool of affordable consulting services.

A quick search of the Web will convince you of the staggering amount of quality PHP resources available. Many are free, some are conventional commercial offerings, and others are available for the payment of a maintenance fee.

Suppose, for example, you wanted to implement an in-house bulletin board system. A quick search of the Web led us to ( where we quickly located no less than 217 such systems. Many of these, including the highly rated phpBB, are available free of charge. Incidentally, not only is phpBB free, but it also comes complete with installation and customization tools that would not look out of place in a commercial product. In fact, they're a great deal better than many commercial System i offerings we've reviewed in the past.

Still not convinced? Perhaps your CEO has been reading airline magazines and is now hot-to-trot on implementing a wiki*. HotScripts located 21 such applications for us. We also checked their current "Top Rated" list and came across Help Desk and Call Center applications that might be useful for those of you considering implementing such capabilities. So what is PHP? It's a general-purpose scripting language that's particularly well suited for Web development and can be embedded into HTML. In this regard, it's very similar to Java Server Pages (JSPs) (i.e., The scripting language is embedded within the HTML/XML to make up the Web page). The PHP interpreter then dynamically constructs the Web page by processing the embedded script and building the HTML.

Jon Paris is a technical editor with IBM Systems Magazine and co-owner of Partner400.

Susan Gantner is a technical editor with IBM Systems Magazine and co-owner of Partner400.



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