"PHP for the World Wide Web: A Visual QuickStart Guide," Larry Ullman

Pros: I actually felt like I could do something useful after I read this book; uses actual useful scripts as examples
Cons: As is standard for the VQSGs, it doesn’t get into huge amounts of depth
Rating: 5 out of 5


First published 12/19/2001

Obligatory experience note: I am not an experienced web designer; I can only evaluate these books from a fresh perspective and hopefully give you information to help you make your own decision.

PHP is a scripting language, and in some ways it reminded me of Perl when I was reading about it. What PHP has all over those other languages, though, is the fact that it was designed to work with the web. Things that take a bunch of extra steps in those other languages are a snap in PHP; things that are tough to do in secure ways with those other languages are easy with PHP!

The Usual VQSG Introduction

I love Peachpit Press’ Visual QuickStart Guides. Absolutely adore them. They’re the perfect resource for people like me:

  • beginners
  • who are self-starting
  • and want to learn from a book
  • but need to be eased into a technical subject

You’ll never get everything you need out of a VQSG, but then they aren’t designed to be a one-book language resource. Besides, you probably won’t be able to get everything you need out of any one book when it comes to learning a programming language. VQSGs are designed to be clear, easy-to-understand basic books, and they generally succeed at this very well.

I Feel Almost Competent…

One of the things I look for when I put down a technical book is that feeling of, “hey, I can do something useful with this!” With some books that can be tough. You can start using HTML almost right away. A single book on Perl, however, might be more likely to leave you going, “well, I guess I’ll at least be able to understand a more advanced book now.”

With this PHP book I felt by the end as though I could actually do something useful with what I’d learned. Not something almost useful. Not something useful with a little more help. But actually, genuinely, honest-to-goodness useful.

The book covers the usual basics: variables, syntax, using numbers, strings, conditionals, loops, arrays, regular expressions, functions, files and directories, and so on. It also covers creating a simple HTML form, since much of what you might use PHP for is handling forms and doing neat things with the results. Then it gets into some of the simpler ways of interfacing with a database (for the actual commands it uses the MySQL commands, but PHP can interface with many other databases), cookie-use, debugging, security, and so on.

More than that, it handles actual, useful scripts. There are forms for taking URL submissions and adding them to files for you. There’s a simple web-based control panel you can build to work with the files in a directory. I felt like I could actually sit down and do something after reading this book, without having to first read another two or three books! This isn’t to say that you won’t have to read those books, mind you. The VQSG, as usual, doesn’t get into advanced topics and only shows you really simple scripts. But for once, those simple scripts are useful, and the examples the author chose are ones that anyone building a web site will probably need.

It’s probably pretty obvious now that I’m going to tell you to buy this book if you want to get started with PHP. Not all subjects lend themselves entirely well to the VQSG approach, but PHP suits it perfectly. It’s the best of the VQS guides I’ve read, and I expect to get quite a lot of use out of it!


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