Practical Uses of PHP
It almost goes without saying that you will want your business website to be compelling, interactive, and secure. All of these characteristics will make your website more effective at bringing in and keeping customers. But how to go about it in a way that is stable, cost-effective, and easy to manage? One popular solution is to use the server-side scripting language PHP to help you solve those problems.
What is PHP?
Created in 1995, PHP originally stood for “Personal Home Page”, however it is now generally understood to mean “PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor”. It was originally designed to create dynamic or more interactive web pages. It is a widely-used, open-source, general-purpose scripting language. PHP is a “high-level” language, meaning that it’s generally more human-friendly (and easier to learn) than other programming languages such as C, ASP or ASP.net.
PHP was originally designed for use in Web site development, but rapidly grew to become a much more robust language. PHP’s primary use is as an “embedded” scripting language, which means that the actual PHP code is embedded in HTML code. When used in this way, PHP enables your web server to process web pages before they’re displayed in the user’s web browser.
Benefits of PHP
PHP is popular because it can be embedded directly into HTML coding.
PHP can be used on all major operating systems and is supported on most web servers.
PHP’s main focus is development for the web, so it has a quick development time and can solve scenarios much quicker than some of the other web design languages.
The latest version of PHP is a very stable and mature language used for web programming much like Java and Microsoft C#.
It is open source so it is free!
Database: It is very easy to write simple scripts which allow your Web site to interact with a database.
Cross-Platform: Both the PHP engine and the PHP code can be used on almost any platform, making it extremely versatile.
Development Tools: You only need a text editor to work on PHP; you do not need any development environment or compilers.
What can you do with PHP?
PHP generally runs on a web server, taking PHP code as its input and creating Web pages as output, however you can also use it for command-line scripting and client-side GUI applications. PHP is an extremely versatile language which enables you to create high-end, stable Web sites with plenty of bells and whistles. Here are just a few of the things you can do with PHP:
Make HTML Web Forms
Store Information in Databases
Remember Web site visitors (cookies and sessions)
Work with Arrays
Work with Files (File Management and downloads)
Parsing and Generating XML (also useful for large quantities of products on e-commerce)
Check which browser your visitor is using
How does PHP Work?
As its name (“PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor”) suggests, PHP derives its power by “preprocessing” hypertext on the server side. This generally means that when the PHP script (saved as a .php file) runs on your web server, it performs the programmed actions, and returns HTML code that will then be sent back to your customer’s web browser. The PHP script itself is not included in the HTML that is sent to the browser, so the PHP code is invisible and secure to the user.
For example, let’s consider the following simple PHP statement. (This example is merely to show the basic syntax of PHP in action. Any detailed discussion of PHP code is beyond the scope of this article.)
<?php echo ” <p>Hello World”; ?><br />
In this statement,
<?php is the PHP opening tag, ?> is the closing tag, and echo is a PHP instruction that tells PHP to output the text that follows it as plain HTML code. The PHP software processes the PHP statement and outputs the following:
<p>Hello World</p> <p>
This is a regular HTML statement that is delivered to the user’s browser. The PHP statement itself is not delivered to the browser, so the user never sees any PHP statements.
Using PHP to Improve Your Website.
PHP has many capabilities features designed specifically for use in Web sites, including the following:
1. Securing Your Website.
PHP can be used to secure your website (or certain areas of your website) so that your customer must enter a valid username and password. This can be used to reward preferred customers and to build an exclusive “membership” component of your business.
2. Working with Web Forms.
PHP can display an HTML form and process the information that the user types in. This can be an excellent way to learn more about your customers by asking them to provide profile information, and to collect information about their specific interests.
3. Communicate with Your Databases.
PHP is particularly adept at interacting with your databases, and storing information from the user or retrieving information that is displayed to the user. PHP handles connecting to the database and communicating with it, so it’s not necessary to know all of the technical details for connecting to or exchanging messages with the database. You tell PHP the name of the database and where it is, and PHP handles the details. All major databases are currently supported by PHP.
4. Customer Loyalty Functions.
You can also use PHP to create a number of different functionalities on your website that will further help you to build customer loyalty, including interactive polls, a guestbook, and a message board.
The popularity of PHP continues to grow rapidly because it has many advantages over other technical solutions. PHP is fast (because it’s embedded in the HTML code, the time to process and load a Web page is relatively short), PHP is free (it is open-source software), and PHP is versatile (is runs on a wide variety of operating systems, including Windows, Mac OS, Linux, and most Unix variants).
Perhaps most importantly, PHP is a very well-established language. There are many user-run Internet communities that make very large amounts of information (and scripts) available. With so much experience behind it, using PHP for certain dynamic features can be a cost-effective and low-hassle way of increasing the stability of your website.