This book is not particularly useful for those experienced already with PHP, nor for those wanting to upgrade their knowledge of PHP from versions 4 and earlier to the newest version. It's also probably not particularly useful for those power programmers who need and want a deep and comprehensive coverage of the topic. But it is a very well-written and designed introduction to PHP 5 for beginning programmers or those experienced PERL, ASP, or Cold Fusion programmers who want to learn a different language. There are many illustrations and code samples sprinkled throughout the book. Sklar, however, skims over some topics, concentrating instead on practical examples.
The publisher is O'Reilly Media, Inc. which seems to have an editor's policy of covering complex computer-related topics in a comprehensive manner by publishing a range of volumes covering different aspects of a topic or from different angles or for different audiences. O'Reilly also publishes volumes on moving to PHP 5 (Upgrading to PHP 5), detailed and technical PHP (Programming PHP), and a collection of solutions to common PHP programming problems (The PHP Cookbook).
Sklar is an experienced consultant in computer software development and technical training. He is the author of Essential PHP Tools and coauthor of the aforementioned The PHP Cookbook. He takes a deliberate and comprehensive approach to explaining PHP 5, not in great depth, but with the intent of providing enough information, concepts, detail, and scope to create a pleasant and useful read of a technical subject. The basic promise of PHP is in the relatively easy creation of more dynamic and interesting web sites which would include, for example, product catalogs, blogs, photo galleries, event calendars, forms, and more.
There are 13 chapters and 3 appendices. The early chapters provide an orientation to PHP, including its place in contemporary web development, its basic rules, and its syntax. They explain the basic background of PHP and how it interacts with the browser and web server. Later chapters introduce primary concepts like loops, arrays, and functions. The idea here is to facilitate learning the fundamentals of the grammar and vocabulary. Chapters 2 through 12 have short exercises at the end of each to allow the reader to practice writing PHP code and to test learning. (The answers are contained in Appendix C.) Experienced programmers and geeks may recoil at the inclusion of these exercises, but they are useful for beginners.
Chapter 6 provides a practical exercise - how to make and use a web form. The author shows how to access form variables, how to validate user-inputted data for security and efficiency reasons, and how to process forms using functions. Chapter 7 shows how PHP interacts with database programs, like SQL and Oracle, but focuses primarily on MySQL, and demonstrates how to organize data, connect to a server-based database, create tables, and enter and retrieve data.
The rest of the middle chapters cover the use and implementation of cookies and sessions, handling dates and time, and working with files. The practical exercise using dates and times is creating and displaying a monthly calendar. The final chapters provide brief but practical coverage of XML, debugging, and in Chapter 13, other PHP aspects. PHP is amazingly useful, flexible, and practical. One can deal with graphics, PDF documents, and other media like Flash and Shockwave. It also has mailing and file uploading functions, encryption capabilities, and (for more experienced coders) the ability to run shell commands. The upgraded PHP 5 has new capabilities, which now include object-oriented programming.
Appendix A covers installing and configuring PHP for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux; Appendix B is a short primer on regular expressions and how to use them with PHP.
I found the book to be the most accessible introduction to PHP I have read. It provides the basic fundamentals, engages the reader in practical examples, reinforces learning with exercises, and provides an overall perspective on the scope of PHP programming.
You can purchase Learning PHP 5 from bn.com. (Code examples used in the book can be downloaded at the O'Reilly site for the book, linked above.) Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.