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PHP | HyperText Preprocessor Examined

PHP is a server-side scripting language for creating dynamic Web pages. You create pages with PHP and HTML. When a visitor opens the page, the server processes the PHP commands and then sends the results to the visitor's browser, just as with ASP or ColdFusion. Unlike ASP or ColdFusion, however, PHP is Open Source and cross-platform.HTML Icon PHP runs on Windows NT and many UNIX versions, and it can be built as an Apache module and as a binary that can run as a CGI. When built as an Apache module, PHP is especially lightweight and speedy. Without any process creation overhead, it can return results quickly, but it doesn't require the tuning of mod_perl to keep your server's memory image small.

Here is an example of a Weather Widget done completely in PhP Code:

In addition to manipulating the content of your pages, PHP can also send HTTP headers. You can set cookies, manage authentication, and redirect users. It offers excellent connectivity to many databases (and ODBC), and integration with various external libraries that let you do everything from generating PDF documents to parsing XML.

PHP goes right into your Web pages, so there's no need for a special development environment or IDE. You start a block of PHP code with <?php and end it with ?>. (You can also configure PHP to use ASP-style <% %> tags or even <SCRIPT LANGUAGE="php"></SCRIPT>.) The PHP engine processes everything between those tags.

PHP's language syntax is similar to C's and Perl's. You don't have to declare variables before you use them, and it's easy to create arrays and hashes (associative arrays). PHP even has some rudimentary object-oriented features, providing a helpful way to organize and encapsulate your code.

Although PHP runs fastest embedded in Apache, there are instructions on the PHP Web site for seamless setup with Microsoft IIS and Netscape Enterprise Server.

Below is a "Weather Widget" (PhP Example) Created Completely with PhP Code

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History

PHP originally stood for personal home page. Its development began in 1994 when the Danish/Greenlandic programmer Rasmus Lerdorf initially created a set of Perl scripts he called 'Personal Home Page Tools' to maintain his personal homepage, including tasks such as displaying his résumé and recording how much traffic his page was receiving.

He rewrote these scripts as C programming language Common Gateway Interface (CGI) binaries, extending them to add the ability to work with web forms and to communicate with databases and called this implementation 'Personal Home Page/Forms Interpreter' or PHP/FI. PHP/FI could be used to build simple, dynamic web applications. Lerdorf released PHP/FI as 'Personal Home Page Tools (PHP Tools) version 1.0' publicly on June 8, 1995, to accelerate bug location and improve the code. This release already had the basic functionality that PHP has today. This included Perl-like variables, form handling, and the ability to embed HTML. The syntax was similar to Perl but was more limited and simpler, although less consistent. A development team began to form and, after months of work and beta testing,officially released PHP/FI 2 in November 1997.

Zeev Suraski and Andi Gutmans, two Israeli developers at the Technion IIT, rewrote the parser in 1997 and formed the base of PHP 3, changing the language's name to the recursive initialism PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor. Afterwards, public testing of PHP 3 began, and the official launch came in June 1998. Suraski and Gutmans then started a new rewrite of PHP's core, producing the Zend Engine in 1999. They also founded Zend Technologies in Ramat Gan, Israel.

On May 22, 2000, PHP 4, powered by the Zend Engine 1.0, was released. As of August 2008 this branch is up to version 4.4.9. PHP 4 is no longer under development nor will any security updates be released.

On July 13, 2004, PHP 5 was released, powered by the new Zend Engine II. PHP 5 included new features such as improved support for object-oriented programming, the PHP Data Objects (PDO) extension (which defines a lightweight and consistent interface for accessing databases), and numerous performance enhancements. In 2008 PHP 5 became the only stable version under development. Late static binding had been missing from PHP and was added in version 5.3.

A new major version has been under development alongside PHP 5 for several years. This version was originally planned to be released as PHP 6 as a result of its significant changes, which included plans for full Unicode support. However, Unicode support took developers much longer to implement than originally thought, and the decision was made in March 2010 to move the project to a branch, with features still under development moved to a trunk.

Changes in the new code include the removal of register_globals, magic quotes, and safe mode. The reason for the removals was that register_globals had given way to security holes, and the use of magic quotes had an unpredictable nature, and was best avoided. Instead, to escape characters, magic quotes may be replaced with the addslashes() function, or more appropriately an escape mechanism specific to the database vendor itself like mysql_real_escape_string() for MySQL. Functions that will be removed in future versions and have been deprecated in PHP 5.3 will produce a warning if used.

Many high-profile open-source projects ceased to support PHP 4 in new code as of February 5, 2008, because of the GoPHP5 initiative, provided by a consortium of PHP developers promoting the transition from PHP 4 to PHP 5.

PHP currently does not have native support for Unicode or multibyte strings; Unicode support is under development for a future version of PHP and will allow strings as well as class, method, and function names to contain non-ASCII characters.

PHP interpreters are available on both 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems, but on Microsoft Windows the only official distribution is a 32-bit implementation, requiring Windows 32-bit compatibility mode while using Internet Information Services (IIS) on a 64-bit Windows platform. As of PHP 5.3.0, experimental 64-bit versions are available for MS Windows.

Licensing

PHP is free software released under the PHP License, which insists that:

Products derived from this software may not be called "PHP", nor may "PHP" appear in their name, without prior written permission from [email protected] You may indicate that your software works in conjunction with PHP by saying "Foo for PHP" instead of calling it "PHP Foo" or "phpfoo"

This restriction on use of the name PHP makes it incompatible with the GNU General Public License (GPL).

Usage

PHP is a general-purpose scripting language that is especially suited to server-side web development where PHP generally runs on a web server. Any PHP code in a requested file is executed by the PHP runtime, usually to create dynamic web page content. It can also be used for command-line scripting and client-side GUI applications. PHP can be deployed on most web servers, many operating systems and platforms, and can be used with many relational database management systems (RDBMS). It is available free of charge, and the PHP Group provides the complete source code for users to build, customize and extend for their own use.

PHP primarily acts as a filter, taking input from a file or stream containing text and/or PHP instructions and outputs another stream of data; most commonly the output will be HTML. Since PHP 4, the PHP parser compiles input to produce bytecode for processing by the Zend Engine, giving improved performance over its interpreter predecessor.

Originally designed to create dynamic web pages, PHP now focuses mainly on server-side scripting, and it is similar to other server-side scripting languages that provide dynamic content from a web server to a client, such as Microsoft's Active Server Pages, Sun Microsystems' JavaServer Pages, and mod_perl. PHP has also attracted the development of many frameworks that provide building blocks and a design structure to promote rapid application development (RAD). Some of these include CakePHP, Symfony, CodeIgniter, and Zend Framework, offering features similar to other web application frameworks.

The LAMP architecture has become popular in the web industry as a way of deploying web applications. PHP is commonly used as the P in this bundle alongside Linux, Apache and MySQL, although the P may also refer to Python or Perl or some combination of the three. WAMP packages (Windows/ Apache/ MySQL / PHP) and MAMP packages (Macintosh / Apache / MySQL / PHP) are also available.

As of April 2007, over 20 million Internet domains had web services hosted on servers with PHP installed and mod_php was recorded as the most popular Apache HTTP Server module. Significant websites are written in PHP including the user-facing portion of Facebook, Wikipedia (MediaWiki), Digg, Joomla, eZ Publish, WordPress, Drupal and Moodle.

Security

The National Vulnerability Database maintains a list of vulnerabilities found in computer software. The overall proportion of PHP-related vulnerabilities on the database amounted to: 20% in 2004, 28% in 2005, 43% in 2006, 36% in 2007, 35% in 2008, and 30% in 2009. Most of these PHP-related vulnerabilities can be exploited remotely: they allow attackers to steal or destroy data from data sources linked to the webserver (such as an SQL database), send spam or contribute to DoS attacks using malware, which itself can be installed on the vulnerable servers.

These vulnerabilities are caused mostly by not following best practice programming rules: technical security flaws of the language itself or of its core libraries are not frequent (23 in 2008, about 1% of the total). Recognizing that programmers cannot be trusted, some languages include taint checking to detect automatically the lack of input validation which induces many issues. Such a feature is being developed for PHP, but its inclusion in a release has been rejected several times in the past.

Hosting PHP applications on a server requires a careful and constant attention to deal with these security risks. There are advanced protection patches such as Suhosin and Hardening-Patch, especially designed for web hosting environments.

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