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What is PHP-5?

PHP 5 is the current major version release of the PHP scripting language. With v5, PHP isn't just for a bit of HTML templating. It's a full-fledged programming language. PHP is an interpreted language, or scripting language, used to build dynamic web sites and web applications. It has a long and storied history as the most popular language for web development, but it started a something quite a bit simpler.

Where did PHP start?

PHP started as a simple tool to help bring a bit of dynamic content into HTML files. This was way back in 1994, and it was called "Personal Home Page Tools" (PHP Tools). It was essentially a program written in C that let you embed variable content into HTML files.

This let you do things like this:

<h2><?php echo $post_title; ?></h2>

<?php echo $post_content; ?>

This might seem pretty simple now, but back in 1994 is was a big deal. The internet was really still in its infancy, and most people were hand-coding every page of a website (by hand!). The idea took off, and the pretty soon a handful of "personal home page tools" became the PHP language. Eventually, the name was recursively-backronymed to "PHP Hypertext Preprocessor."

Since then it has had several major rewrites and releases, lots and lots of new features added, and has become one of the most popular languages for web development. It is estimated that around 40% of websites are running at least some PHP code.

What is PHP exactly?

It's a programming language. It's an interpreted language, which means that PHP code isn't compiled into a binary executable, but rather is interpreted at run-time. This sort of language is also called a "scripting language," and some people refer to programs written in these types of languages as "scripts" rather than "programs."

It is still focused on the web, but is capable of doing a lot more than passing content variables into an HTML template. It is a full-scale language and can accomplish just about anything that any other language can do.

Why is PHP so popular?

Many people consider PHP very easy to read and write. For example, Mark Zuckerberg has said that one of the reasons Facebook uses PHP is that it is easy to get stuff done in PHP -- it is "good for hacking on."

On the other hand, proponents of other languages say similar things. A more likely explanation of its widespread use is WordPress.

WordPress is a Blogging and Content Management System. It powers over 23% of the websites on the internet. A lot of PHP developers got their start using WordPress, and its easy to go from tweaking WordPress themes to writing plugins, to building entire web applications.

The barrier to entry for PHP is fairly low, so a lot of people learn it. A lot of people learn it, so then a lot of project get started using it.

PHP grows up

Early versions of PHP weren't a complete language, and didn't support all the types of things you might normally want to do if you were building a web application. And there were performance issues.

That's what happens when you try to solve a specific problem. It takes a while to turn a specific solution into a generalized tool set, and even longer to turn it into a complete tool set.

But eventually it happened.

PHP 5

In 2004, PHP 5 was released. With PHP 5, many people believe that the language was now really, truly, a programming language in the full sense of the term.

The biggest change in PHP 5 was support for Object Oriented Programming.

PHP 5 and Object Oriented Programming

Object Oriented Programming (OOP) is a way of conceptualizing and writing a program, in which data objects contain both attributes and methods for interacting with those attributes, as well as with other objects.

An example of this in web development is a blog post. The attributes of a blog post might be its title, its author, it content, and so forth. Methods might include saving it to the database, editing its content, and displaying it on the page.

Even though OOP was invented in the 1960s, it didn't become mainstream for most programmers and programming languages until the mid 1990s. When PHP was invented, OOP was still a pretty new idea.

Ten years later, after four major version releases of PHP, Object Oriented Programming had become "the right way" to write software, and the minimal support for OOP concepts in PHP 4 just wasn't enough.

PHP 5 provided complete support for Object Orientation, along with a number of other improvements that really changed the way people write PHP programs, and allowed it to compete with other languages that had started to dominate 'serious' web development.

PHP 5 Hosting

Any modern web host should provide support for the latest version of PHP 5. This is so standard at this point that there is probably something fishy about a web hosting company that doesn't make PHP 5 available.

Additionally, there a number of PHP extensions and libraries that a particular application might need. Be sure to check if these are available from your host if the software you want to use requires them.

PHP 5 Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is PHP 5 just for making websites?

    No. PHP 5 can be used to build websites, command line scripting, or desktop GUI applications. The command line scripting can be used for tasks such as auto-generating offline images or processing text files. Unlike web-based PHP 5 applications, this does not require a browser or server. You simply need access to the command line executable. PHP 5 can be used to build desktop GUI applications similar to any other modern programming language; however, to do so you must first install the PHP-GTK extension.

  • Since PHP 5 is a programming language, do I need any specific software to use it?

    Yes. Most web hosts include support for PHP 5, but you can also download the latest version from the PHP website. If you’re using PHP 5 to develop websites, you will need access to a modern browser and a website. If you are using PHP 5 to develop commend line applications or desktop applications, you won’t need a browser or a server, but you may need additional extensions.

  • Is PHP 5 compatible with PHP 4?

    Yes. PHP 5 added several new features, but remains compatible with earlier versions. However, it is recommended that you review the documentation on PHP 5 migration available on the PHP website, as some functions may be lost when migrating from earlier versions.

  • How can I report an issue with PHP 5?

    If you identify an issue, you should review the bug database on the PHP website, to make sure it is not already known. If the bug is not already on the database, you should use the reporting form available with the bug database.

  • What type of support is available for PHP 5?

    Like most open source programs, support for PHP 5 is provided through a vast community network. There are a number of frequently asked questions answered on their website, along with a large documentation library. Several mailing lists are available to discuss PHP-related projects. There is an official PHP newsgroup, several user groups, and a number of local events available for programmers looking to become more active in the PHP community.

  • Like most open source programs, support for PHP 5 is provided through a vast community network. There are a number of frequently asked questions answered on their website, along with a large documentation library. Several mailing lists are available to discuss PHP-related projects. There is an official PHP newsgroup, several user groups, and a number of local events available for programmers looking to become more active in the PHP community.

    PHP 5 can be used on all major operating systems, including Windows, Linux/Unix, and Mac OS. Precompiled binary versions of the installation software are available for Windows; however, for other operating systems, you will need to download the source code and compile it specifically for your system.

  • What databases does PHP 5 support?

    PHP 5 was built to support a wide variety of databases, including SQLite, MySQL, MS-SQL, PostgreSQL, FrontBase, Mongo, Paradox, filePro, and more many more. It includes support for dBA, dbx, Open Database Connection standard, and PHP Data Objects.

  • How can I contribute?

    The PHP development team welcomes community participation. They are particularly interested in anyone willing to run test suites, help find and diagnose failed tests, file bug reports, or contribute to documentation files or translations. They encourage anyone interested in developing for the PHP source code to first familiarize themselves with all of these areas to gain the necessary experience.

  • If I’m designing a website, do I need to choose either HTML or PHP?

    No. PHP is an embedded script, meaning you can add it into an HTML script, provided your server supports PHP. A web-based PHP script is essentially and HTML page with bits of PHP inserted wherever dynamic content is required. You can also embed HTML code into PHP script.

  • What functionality does PHP add to HTML?

    PHP provides dynamic functionality for your webpage. It can perform calculations such as determining the date or handling mathematical equations. It can collect user input, such as obtaining an imperial measurement to convert it to metric, adding information to an address book, or letting users post to a forum or social media site. PHP can interact with most common databases, and it can be used to create graphics.

  • Are there alternatives available that provide the same functionality as PHP?

    While you won’t get the exact same functionality from any one program, many of the features PHP adds to web development can be obtained through other sources. PHP was built on other programming languages, including C, so C can be used in place of PHP. Perl was one of the most popular languages for web development prior to PHP. While its syntax is considerably more complex than PHP, it continues to be popular with some developers due to its string manipulation capabilities. The Seaside framework provides the same dynamic functionality with object oriented web development.

  • Can I run multiple versions of PHP at the same time?

    Yes. You can easily run multiple versions, but it is suggested that you review the install documentation provided with the most recent PHP 5 source download, to avoid any conflicts.

  • Are all of the previous versions of PHP still supported?

    No. Only versions PHP 3 and above are still supported. Of course, for the best results you should upgrade any previous version to the latest PHP 5.

  • How does Phorum store user data?

    All Phorum data is stored in a database. While it may be possible to utilize other databases, the only database server officially supported by Phorum is MySQL, so it is recommended that you use this type of database whenever possible.

  • Can I set up my own mail server to send messages from the forum?

    By default, Phorum utilizes PHP’s internal mail function. However, the Send mail through SMTP module allows you set up a local SMTP server or an SMTP server that support SSL/TLS.

  • Is Phorum a flat or threaded forum?

    By default, Phorum is set to flat view. However, it can be adjusted to threaded view through the admin panel.

  • What languages are available?

    There are dozens of different translations available. Language files are community-created, and are required to be tested using the latest version of Phorum prior to being uploaded to the language forum. If the language you’re looking for is not available, developers are invited to add their own language files, following the guidelines available in the forum.

  • Can HTML be enabled for posts?

    Yes, but it is not recommended. The HTML in posts module allows users to include special HTML characters within posts, but by default Phorum uses BBCode, a lightweight markup language designed specifically for message boards. It is a safer language, and generally recommended for bulletin board use. Users can add markup using BBCode syntax, or you can add a toolbar to the editor, which allows users to select common markup such as bold, italics, and underlined.

  • Can I display important announcements to users?

    Yes. Phorum allows you to create a separate announcement-forum, where you can store all important announcements. You can then set rules for which pages announcements should appear on, whether just new or all announcements should be shown to users, the maximum number of announcements to display, how long announcements should be visible for, etc. You can also set rules for who has access to create and edit announcements.

  • Is there any way to auto-censor inappropriate content within the forum?

    Phorum features a text replacement module, which allows you to enter text strings you wish to edit and a replacement for that text. The module includes some default strings, which can be enabled or disabled, and you can add additional strings based on the needs of your community.

  • Does Phorum support emoticons?

    Yes. You can enable or disable emoticons through the Smiley module. You can also modify how they appear on the page, add or remove the types of smileys available, and more.

  • What is the process for upgrading from an old version of Phorum?

    That depends on the version you are upgrading from. To upgrade from a recent version, for minor updates and bug fixes, you should not need to make any changes to your database or template. For older software, but still the same major version, template and database changes may be required. If you are upgrading from an older major version, the database and site layout will need to be completely converted, and it will likely require extensive manual work. For full details, see the Phorum online documentation.

  • How can I try Phorum out?

    You can test out Phorum functionality and features using the online demo, available on their website. It contains examples of flat and threaded forum, as well as the new hybrid view. Along with viewing the different forum layouts, you can post new topics and replies, get a feel for the user interface, and test the editor tools module.

  • Will Phorum work on an older version of PHP?

    Phorum should run on PHP 4.3.0 and up; however, Phorum is not being actively tested against any PHP 4 versions, so there are no guarantees it will work properly. It is highly recommended that you upgrade to at least PHP 5, and the more recent the version the better.

  • What type of spam prevention is included?

    Phorum includes a number of features to prevent spam. All new users can be required to enter and verify a valid email address. You can ban IP addresses, names, and emails known for spam. You can also add a verification code to forum entries to prevent bots attempting to post automatically.

  • What type of support is available?

    Support is provided through a community network, including support forums, online chat, and the Phorum IRC network. Additionally, documentation, FAQs, and installation guides are available online.

  • How can I contribute to Phorum?

    Like many open source projects, Phorum welcomes contributions from its user community. Developers interested in becoming a Phorum Core Developer should post an introduction in their Development Forum. If they like what they read, they may invite you to contribute. Additionally, developers are welcome to contribute templates, language files, and modules (add-ons). Guidelines for submissions are available in the appropriate forum.

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