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1.2 What's So Great About PHP?
You may be attracted to PHP because it's free, because it's easy to learn, or because your boss told you that you need to start working on a PHP project next week. Since you're going to use PHP, you need to know a little bit about what makes it special. The next time someone asks you "What's so great about PHP?", use this section as the basis for your answer.
1.2.1 PHP Is Free (as in Money)
You don't have to pay anyone to use PHP. Whether you run the PHP interpreter on a beat-up 10-year-old PC in your basement or in a room full of million-dollar "enterprise-class" servers, there are no licensing fees, support fees, maintenance fees, upgrade fees, or any other kind of charge.
Most Linux distributions come with PHP already installed. If yours doesn't, or you are using another operating system such as Windows, you can download PHP from http://www.php.net/. Appendix A has detailed instructions on how to install PHP.
1.2.2 PHP Is Free (as in Speech)
As an open source project, PHP makes its innards available for anyone to inspect. If it doesn't do what you want, or you're just curious about why a feature works the way it does, you can poke around in the guts of the PHP interpreter (written in the C programming language) to see what's what. Even if you don't have the technical expertise to do that, you can get someone who does to do the investigating for you. Most people can't fix their own cars, but it's nice to be able to take your car to a mechanic who can pop open the hood and fix it.
1.2.3 PHP Is Cross-Platform
You can use PHP with a web server computer that runs Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Solaris, and many other versions of Unix. Plus, if you switch web server operating systems, you generally don't have to change any of your PHP programs. Just copy them from your Windows server to your Unix server, and they will still work.
While Apache is the most popular web server program used with PHP, you can also use Microsoft Internet Information Server and any other web server that supports the CGI standard. PHP also works with a large number of databases including MySQL, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, Sybase, and PostgreSQL. In addition, it supports the ODBC standard for database interaction.
If all the acronyms in the last paragraph freak you out, don't worry. It boils down to this: whatever system you're using, PHP probably runs on it just fine and works with whatever database you are already using.
1.2.4 PHP Is Widely Used
As of March 2004, PHP is installed on more than 15 million different web sites, from countless tiny personal home pages to giants like Yahoo!. There are many books, magazines, and web sites devoted to teaching PHP and exploring what you can do with it. There are companies that provide support and training for PHP. In short, if you are a PHP user, you are not alone.
1.2.5 PHP Hides Its Complexity
You can build powerful e-commerce engines in PHP that handle millions of customers. You can also build a small site that automatically maintains links to a changing list of articles or press releases. When you're using PHP for a simpler project, it doesn't get in your way with concerns that are only relevant in a massive system. When you need advanced features such as caching, custom libraries, or dynamic image generation, they are available. If you don't need them, you don't have to worry about them. You can just focus on the basics of handling user input and displaying output.
1.2.6 PHP Is Built for Web Programming
Unlike most other programming languages, PHP was created from the ground up for generating web pages. This means that common web programming tasks, such as accessing form submissions and talking to a database, are often easier in PHP. PHP comes with the capability to format HTML, manipulate dates and times, and manage web cookies ?tasks that are often available only as add-on libraries in other programming languages.
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