A while ago, we did a quick overview of a few books that every PHP developer should keep a copy of somewhere in their library, but since buying books can get quite expensive after a while, we thought it would be best if we zoomed in a little bit closer and started looking more in-depth at some of the best PHP titles. This post, we're going to look at one of the more beginner level books that's a great help for those of you who are just starting out on the journey to become a proper PHP developer, The Joy of PHP: A Beginner's Guide to Programming Interactive Web Applications with PHP and MySQL by Alan Forbes.
First of all, it's important to realise from the beginning that this isn't just another PHP reference book intended to act as the be-all and end-all of PHP development. It's targeted directly at the PHP novice, although it helps a great deal if you've already got some basic web programming experience - he covers the basics of HTML, but that's not the focus of the book. If you're already comfortable coding the front-end side of websites, this is the perfect book to help you get a taste of the basics of back-end coding so you can expand your skillset.
It takes you from the very initial setup of PHP and xAMPP on your home development environment, through basic PHP syntax and then starts giving you basic tasks that help you work towards making these initially abstract examples more concrete and relevant. The example he uses throughout the book isn't particularly exciting (a used car sales website), but it definitely does the job, and Forbes' engaging writing style also helps to keep things moving along. The focus tends to be more on working with databases specifically, but as most beginner-to-intermediate PHP developers are going to be focused on database-driven projects, this shouldn't be much of a problem.
There is a little bit of criticism in the developer community about the way that he handles his code examples in the book - the ever-present threat of SQL injection attacks is something that no developer can afford to ignore in this day and age. That being said, the author isn't attempting to turn the reader into a PHP master, the goal is simply to get people comfortable with the basics. Anyone who takes this knowledge out in the world and creates websites for clients is going to be in for a nasty surprise, as this book should just be used as a jumping off point - but it does that job very well, and provides a great introduction to PHP and MySQL - just be sure to read up on security vulnerabilities, and then take on a few more advanced books!