Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Helpers are the way forward

Read and weep at the sheer awesomeness that is helpers in the Zend framework. Helpers are going to be how
  • individual stylesheets are applied to a page
  • Client-side script can be added
  • Metadata such a description and keywords

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Using XSLTs as a template engine in Zend

I've been working my way through a book that is using the Zend framework to do—buzzword approaching—"Web 2.0" stuff, and it started to mention the Smarty template engine. It seems the author, as well as many other PHP developers love this silly template engine stuff made up placemarker tags. Whereas I'm sure Smarty has lots of really cool features which would make my life a lot easier, I really couldn't be bother to learn how it works, and figure out what it needs from me so that it does just that. I seem to prefer the idea of my application models spitting out well-formed XML and using XSLT to style this to whatever template style I want to use later on.

I don't know why I like the idea so much. I think it's the extent to which the model doesn't care how the data is rendered, it's job is just to deliver it and it does that through XML. There is of course a parsing delay involved in doing transforms and I'm going to try to get some data or results of my own to try and analyse that, but for the time being I'm happy. There's even the possibility of processing the document client-side by either delivering pure XML with a stylesheet declaration, or using a javascript library like Sarissa and falling back to server-side transforms onlyZend to do XSLT transform instead of rendering templates and it's just about working. But it's led me to thinking about the bigger picture. XSLT allows us to include multiple stylesheets in one document by using expressions such as import and include. So why can't we make a master XSLT template file which doesn't transform any XML itself, but simply matches the document root to apply its template only once, but then crucially providing a placeholder for an imported stylesheet in the right place. This would allow me to use it as a 'master view' which is combined with the view my controller action renders.

There is however, a few problems. Whereas now my view renders whatever XML its passed using a single stylesheet, it now has to use the master stylesheet, but the master itself has to be aware of which view-specific stylesheet to include. This is getting a bit too much like a template language – replacing strings in the master template file with a path to the view specific stylesheet, and that's what I'm trying to avoid. The other problem is with CSS. Putting persistant navigation in the master stylesheet is fine, but what happens when you want to change the CSS class of one of the link elements? You have no hook to the master from the view specific stylesheet. I thought about having the navigation as its own XML file – easily editable and adaptable. Then view scripts can be used to change that nav XML, marking which link should have a CSS class of "current" and combining it with any data XML the view has received assuming there and some mechanisms are in place for the master stylesheet to find those flags, and produce the right XHTML output. Perhaps xml namespaces are the right way to go here, in order to differentiate between nav and content XML. Ideally, minimising the number of transforms is a good idea, so I don't want to have to transform the nav XML data, then use another template to transform that result to the final output including the actual content. The content XML and nav XML could be combined just before XSLT processing. It would be simple to wrap content XML from the model with persistent data. But the problem still remains to tell the master stylesheet which view specific stylesheet to include in order to render it correctly.

Javascript may be an alternative. Client-side transforms has the nice quirk of sorting through XSLT which is really neat, but Javascript is so horrible to code with. I have to think about it more.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

MySQL and "serial"

In MySQL and PostgreSQL serial can be used when setting up a column in a table. It's the same as writing bigint unsigned not null auto_increment just a lot shorter to write.

Zend and XSLT as a template engine

If you have XML data that you need displayed, turn off automatic view rendering within you bootstrap file with

$controller->setParam('noViewRenderer', true);

This gives you more control over how Zend renders views. Then, in your controller action , create a new view and assign some variable from you application logic. You need to tell the view where the script is to execute. You do this using $view->setScriptPath('...');. Once this points to the right directory, you can add a script in there you want the view to run. You do this by calling the render method of the view instance you create, passing it a single string parameter as the script you want it to run. As the contents of the script is returned, the whole thing needs to either be echoed or printed from the controller action.

Within the view script, print anything you want to be rendered on the page. So here you can pair up the xml data passed from the controller action using $this and an XSLT stylesheets you want to transform.

Brilliant hey? I sort of get this stuff.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Zend and MySQL

Zend currently uses the Pear library to do stuff with DBs. Whereas installing this library may be fine, you might not have access to the server to install more stuff. Instead, follow this article about Adding adapters to Zend which allow it to use PHP. Alternatively, get the latest source files here and put the Php directory within Zend/Db/Adapter/. It works a treat, just remember to set the connection type to php_mysql as opposed to pdo_mysql

None of this is my own work. It all belongs to David Coallier (davidc@agoraproduction.com) and his blog http://blog.agoraproduction.com. Awesome job, thanks.

Apache mod_rewrite refusing to work

Apparently, some servers require FollowSymLinks to be turned on. If mod_rewrite is refusing to work and just denying all access (particularly important when trying to implement MVC with a bootstrap file) try including this in the .htaccess file:
Options +FollowSymLinks

More cool stuff with http.conf

Ok, I'm getting there. I know know a bit more about Apache's VirtualHost directive:

DocumentRoot /var/www/phpweb20/htdocs

This gives an absolute path to the directory where your web files will be served from. It can be anything you want.

<Directory /var/www/phpweb20/htdocs>
AllowOverride All
Options All

This says, for a given directory (and it says which in particular with the path) AllowOverride which allows me to use .htacess files in that folder. Not too sure what Options does yet.

The other cool bit is this line:

php_value include_path .:/var/www/phpweb20/include:/usr/local/lib/pear

This tells the PHP module in Apache where to look for include files. Pretty handy.

Thursday, 1 May 2008


Use PHPDoc rules for formatting:

* functionName
* Brief description of the function. What it DOES,
* not how it does it
* @param string $name The name of the user
* @param int $age The age of the user
* @return string The generated welcome message
function functionName($name, $age)

Pretty simple really.

Debugging Google Maps Apps

Check out GLog.

Back ticks

you can call UNIX commands in PHP by putting commands in back ticks (`). Similarly, shell_exec('...'); will run scripts too.

popen() is also apparently useful, it allows you to open processes and talk to them.

Differences between echo and print

It's all in the single, or double quoting. echo "$variable" will get echo to replace the variable name with it's value. If echo is used with single quotes it won't work.

Also, echo is slightly quicker than print apparently.