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Web applications are systems that run in browsers that perform functions normally associated with other client-based programs. One of the most commonly used web applications is email; instead of downloading individual emails to a local machine, the data is shown through a website. Other examples of web applications are collaborative systems like a wiki or an online game.
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Without even knowing it, most of us are using web applications on a daily basis. In fact, Gmail and Yahoo email, Twitter, Facebook, and eBay are used by most of us daily—and they are web applications. We generally confuse these web applications tools for websites. So, what is a web application and how is it different from a website? What are some different types of web applications? We will help you decipher which is best for the business functions you want to achieve- a website or a web application.
Website vs. Web Application
The best way to elucidate the difference between websites and web applications is to think in terms of purpose. Do you want to provide information or do you want to get it?
Websites are simple, static, single page sites or marketing websites for distributing information. Websites generally feature and promote products, services, and organizations through articles, images, video, and files. A site informs the world about who you are and what you offer. For instance, you can check your local Italian restaurant website as a customer to check out the ‘Day’s Special,’ or hours of operation without giving away any information about yourself.
Web applications on the other hand are less focused on marketing and more on functionality to fulfill specific business purpose (submitting, storing, searching, and retrieving data). Web applications are software that runs on the web to provide some kind of service or to improve efficiency. Web applications generally always use databases, and are therefore called dynamic. It requires user interaction, as in the user has to provide information in order for the application to work. The big advantage of a web application is that it does not need the developer to build a client for a specific type of computer or a specific operating system because it runs in a web browser. Users can even be using Internet Explorer, Chrome or Firefox, though some web applications may require a specific Web browser.
Think of the website of your bank, which promotes the brand and provides customers vital information about their services, and security features. Any member of the public can view the bank’s website but for account holders, the bank also offers web application tools focused on providing specific functionalities. For instance, to help check the balance on their account, submit an online loan application form, or pay bills online.
Types Of Web Applications
There are three different types of web-based applications depending on the roles performed and logic placed and distributed by the server and the client browser.
Server-side HTML Web Application- In this type of web development architecture, the server generates HTML content and sends it to the client as a full-fledged HTML-page.
JS Generation Widgets (AJAX)- The page displayed in the browser shows widgets, where data is uploaded through AJAX query from the server into the content of the page. Any updates from the server show up only for the part of the page requested by the client.
It’s also possible to implement hybrid architecture to meet specific business requirements. The architecture of this collection of logically related interactive functions can consist of a number of components, including-
Web Applications Are The Future
Web apps can be customized and tailored for business purposes, like accounting software, reminder systems, order forms, and sales tracking for time saving efficiencies. Web applications can also be designed to strengthen both internal and external communication and improve data delivery and distribution. Advanced web applications are now available as online portals and eCommerce, which delivers content and the functionality of searching, adding to cart, and online financial transaction.
Most business owners understand the value of websites in their marketing plan but not many know the benefits of web applications and how they can offer stronger products and services, improve SEO, reduce cost significantly and help expand their business. Ultimately, whether you choose a website or a web application depends on your assessment of what you want to achieve.
Read the original post on Monitis Blog.
Believe it or not, the most important thing about the website of your business is not what’s on it but how fast it loads. Yes, that’s right!
As you can see on this infographic (an oldie but goodie!), there is a clear relationship between web load speed and customer conversions. And unless you have money to burn, the assumption is that you’re in business to earn revenue (rather than just having a fancy looking website!).
Let’s say this another way. The faster a page loads the more likely customers will be to visit and do business on your site. The inverse is also true. The slower a page the less likely customers will be willing to wait around and engage with your brand.
While this seems fairly straightforward, it’s surprising how few business owners really get the importance of website performance and the role it plays in their overall strategy. It might be nice to have a trendy looking website, but if it takes 10 seconds to load visitors won’t hang around long enough to appreciate all the bells and whistles anyway.
It’s important that small businesses leverage the latest web performance insights to ensure that things are running as optimally as possible and that your customers are happy. At the end of the day, this is really all that matters!
In order to help keep your business in check, we list out below the top 10 things you should know about website performance today.
There’s a direct connection between web load speed and sales conversions. Consider this metric: 1 in 4 visitors would abandon the website if it takes more than 4 seconds to load. And this one: A 2-second delay during a transaction results in shopping cart abandonment rates of up to 87%.
A few years ago e-commerce giant Amazon calculated that a webpage load slowdown of just one second could cost it $1.6 billion in sales each year. Any questions?
Start Render Time has emerged as a key metric in web performance and is the first visual cue that something is happening on a website. The following statement gives some words of wisdom on this topic:
The median for Time to Start Render across the web is 2.5 seconds. Shoot for better. The top 10% of sites on the web start render in less than 900 milliseconds — fast enough that the visitor doesn’t have time to think about the fact that he or she is waiting to see content. That should be the goal.
Increasing the size of your website’s size, images, third-party scripts, and style sheets come with a heavy price and can adversely affect performance. This is especially true in the world of mobile. Over 50% of all time consumers spend on retails site is on mobile devices, and more than 50% of consumers multiscreen during the purchasing.
Some of the worst design practices are evident when web pages are initially blank and then populate, the CTA is the last thing to render, popups block the rest of the page, or when you fail to adopt user experience into your design strategy.
We get the importance of website speed on customer conversions and sales. But this impact is more systemic than you might think. Kissmetrics shows that 44% of online shoppers will tell their friends about a bad experience online. And 79% of shoppers dissatisfied with a website performance are less likely to buy from that site again.
M-commerce is huge, which is why having a “mobile first” website is critical to success. Mobile commerce transactions in the United States are expected to total $123 billion in 2016. $76 billion will be from tablets, while the remainder will be from smartphones. These same numbers are replicating themselves globally.
A study from Google several years ago showed that mobile-friendliness was a key factor in purchase decisions, with 67% indicating that a mobile-friendly website made them more likely to buy a product or use a service. In addition, 61% indicated that a bad mobile experience made them more likely to leave.
Web analytics can make all the difference in how you relate to your customers. The ability to track a single customer across your site and across multiple devices will ensure that you can tailor your brand to their needs.
For instance, you want to learn more about when and where they’re visiting from, what devices they’re using, what are their online activities, and other key demographics such as age. Gaining these insights will help your organization better understand what’s important to your visitors and how to personalize their experience.
In April 2010 Google started using page speed as a ranking factor, meaning that faster pages would earn higher SEO rankings than slow ones. More recently, Google also announced that it’s moving in this same direction for mobile web pages. The point here is that you get rewarded for offering your customers a better overall experience; faster load time means higher SEO rankings.
When reviewing web performance, it’s important not to forget your web hosting service. Even though your provider may offer you unlimited bandwidth, does that mean shared service with other sites that ends up affecting your own web performance?
Are you experiencing downtime or bandwidth issues? If so, it’s worthwhile to review your hosting options to ensure you’re getting the most efficient service. Don’t be afraid to insist on 99.99% uptime.
Becoming an affiliate reseller and pushing ads to bring folks in is great, but too much of a good thing can also become bad . . . especially for performance. When you go overboard on ads and affiliate code, this can lead to high bounce rates and, in turn, can adversely impact your overall website performance.
There are significant advantages to adopting website monitoring – cost, scalability, efficiency, to name a few. Not to mention, this frees you up to focus on growing your business, which matters the most anyway.
When it comes to monitoring your website, you don’t want to shortchange yourself. Get the peace of mind you deserve by entrusting your business to a proven industry leader.
Original post on Monitis Blog.
Web performance monitoring is broken into two camps: passive and active. Passive monitoring is defined as looking at real-world historical performance by monitoring actual log-ins, site hits, clicks, requests for data, and other server transactions.
This is the kind of monitoring that you need for the day to day, which ensures your business website keeps running optimally, and that there is no downtime to impact your customer experience.
Active monitoring is a more experimental approach. It uses algorithms to take current log data and predict future network states. A good example of active monitoring is synthetic transaction monitoring. This involves deploying behavioral scripts in a web browser to simulate the path a real customer (or end-user) takes through a website.
Synthetic transaction monitoring is especially important for eCommerce and other high traffic sites as it allows webmasters to test new applications prior to launch. Synthetic transactions are scripted in advance and then uploaded to the cloud as a transaction tests.
There are different scenarios where your business would need transaction monitoring in order to stay competitive today.
Before introducing a new application to market you want to have line-of-sight on how real users will interact with that app. Synthetic transaction monitoring provides behavioral scripts that have the ability to simulate an action or set of actions to ensure your application can handle the projected load.
Another benefit of synthetic monitoring is that it helps you simulate what happens when you introduce your application to a new geography. It allows you to test and fix potential issues related to deployments in new regions such as connection speeds (DSL, cable broadband, fiber optics) before real end users arrive.
Synthetic monitoring helps you to set up baseline tests in order to measure the way your customers will interact with your websites, APIs, or mobile apps. This type of testing can provide direct feedback on performance degradation or availability issues. It also will help your team locate the root cause, engage the right experts, and fix issues before they impact the end users.
Today’s websites increasingly rely on third-party features such as carts, ads, customer reviews, web analytics, social networking, SEO add-ons, video and much more to provide outstanding customer experiences. If there’s a weak-link in the chain, or one or more of these elements are not working correctly, it can adversely impact your site.
Synthetic transaction monitoring can greatly assist in helping to monitor your third-party applications while also alerting you to potential or real performance degradations and downtime impacts. This helps tremendously in providing line of sight on your service level agreements (SLAs) in order to hold the third-party vendors accountable.
Synthetic monitoring is important at any stage of development, but is especially useful for testing your web, mobile, or cloud-based applications before deploying new features into production. During this stage synthetic monitoring can provide a set of baselines and thresholds that reveal any potential obstacles customers may encounter in the real world.
With synthetic transaction monitoring you can set up benchmark scenarios to see how your applications are performing over time. You can also benchmark your company’s performance against top competitors within a certain historical time frame or within a specific geographical region. This approach can be especially important for establishing your organization’s strategic outlook for the year as well as for preserving competitive advantage in the marketplace.
If you’re in the eCommerce business, then synthetic transaction monitoring is especially useful for ensuring that your eCommerce strategy is firing on all cylinders. By setting up tests with synthetic monitoring you can get apprised, for instance, about when one of the steps in your website’s online transaction process is no longer working properly. By tracking and analyzing every click and swipe, synthetic transaction monitoring solution can help you to identify problems and prioritize fixes in your website to ensure that customers continue to have the kind of experience they’ve come to expect.
Another important use of synthetic transaction monitoring is to assist in the choosing, testing, and optimization of new technologies within your production environment. For example, being able to test if a new CDN (content delivery network) is performing as optimally as possible compared to other known benchmarks will help your organization to decide which product or service will provide the most value to your infrastructure.
This article was originally published on Monitis Blog, you can check ithere.
If you have responsibility for software in production, I bet you’d like to know more about it. I don’t mean that you’d like an extra peek into the bowels of the source code or to understand its philosophical place in the universe. Rather, I bet you’d like to know more about how it behaves in the wild.
After all, from this opaque vantage point comes the overwhelming majority of maddening defects. “But it doesn’t do that in our environment,” you cry. “How can we even begin to track down a user report of, ‘sometimes that button doesn’t work right?'”
To combat this situation we have, since programmer time immemorial, turned to the log file. In that file, we find answers. Except, we find them the way an archaeologist finds answers about ancient civilizations. We assemble cryptic, incomplete fragments and try to use them to deduce what happened long after the fact. Better than nothing, but not great.
Because of the incompleteness and the lag, we seek other solutions. With the rise in sophistication of tooling and the growth of the DevOps movement, we close the timing gap via monitoring. Rather than wait for a user to report an error and asking for a log file, we get out in front of the matter. When something flies off the rails, our monitoring tools quickly alert us, and we begin triage immediately.
Later in this post, I will get imaginative. In writing this, I intend to expose you to some less common monitoring ideas that you might at least contemplate, if not outright implement. But for now, let’s consider some relative blue chip monitoring scenarios. These will transcend even the basic nature of the application and apply equally well to web, mobile, or desktop apps.
Monitis offers a huge variety of monitoring services, as the name implies. You can get your bearings about the full offering here. This means that if you want to do it, you can probably find an offering of to do it unless you’re really out there. Then you might want to supplement these offering with some customized functionality for your own situation.
But let’s say you’d just signed up for the service and wanted to test drive it. I can think of nothing simpler than “is this thing on?” Wherever it runs, you’d love some information about whether it runs when it should. On top of that, you’d probably also like to know whether it dies unexpectedly and ignobly. When your app crashes embarrassingly, you want to know about it.
Once you’ve buttoned up the real basics, you might start to monitor for somewhat more nuanced situations. Does your code gobble up too many hardware resources, causing poor experience or added expense? Does it interact with services or databases that fail or go offline? In short, does your application wobble into sub-optimal states?
But what if we look beyond those basics? Let’s explore some things you may never have contemplated monitoring about your software.
Facebook has developed some reputation around having deployment nirvana. They constantly roll to production and use a sophisticated series of checks, balances, tests, and monitoring to alert them to problems needing correction. If the number of baby pictures in my feed is any indication, I’d say they’re doing pretty well.
But what happens if Facebook pushes something to production with a mistake not easily caught by automated unit tests? For instance, what if they accidentally deployed some CSS that turned the “post” button and its text the same color as the background. The flow of baby pictures would cease, even as all tests passed with flying colors.
Monitis offers “real user monitoring,” which generalizes a specific case can address this situation. You may want to monitor user behavior in terms of how they engage with the site. If Facebook monitors how many times per second its users click “post,” and they see that drop to 0 after a production roll, they’ll know they have an issue almost immediately. Even if they don’t know what causes it, they can triage and mitigate almost immediately.
If you have responsibility for any sort of e-commerce operation, I strongly encourage you to monitor your revenue. In a sense, you might consider this a specific instance of user engagement. You’ll have some sort of normal drip of people making purchases. Anything affecting that presents you with an obvious red flag.
You might be tempted to think of this as an accounting problem more than a technical one. Let techies monitor the nuts and bolts and accounting can worry about P&L? I don’t advise it. Purchases count as arguably the most important metric. They form the lifeblood of your business.
You mainly think of a “bounce” when you think of web applications. Google defines bounce as “a single-page session on your site.” I believe this plays on the opposite of “sticking.” People land, and “bounce off” of your site.
I’m going to re-appropriate the term a bit for our purposes here and generalize it to all application platforms. You might want to monitor the rate at which users exit your application from a particular page/screen.
When they leave from, say, an “exit” screen, then fine. You’d want a high percentage of departures from expected places. But if people being to leave from a place you’d expect them to remain engaged, that might give you insight into a problem of some kind. This holds doubly true if it suddenly spikes in one particular place.
This particular concern would require some fairly sophisticated monitoring capabilities, most likely instrumented from within. If you do implement such a thing, take care not to impact performance. But, if you’re up for it, you might learn some interesting things.
Consider monitoring user behavior for user experience concerns. For instance, do users consistently dismiss a dialog far too quickly to have read it? Or perhaps do they all tend to execute the same key sequences to navigate through several screens? If so, you might have located opportunities to improve your user experience. Get rid of superfluous dialog messages and see about adding shortcuts for things they do frequently.
And you certainly aren’t limited by my suggestions here. If you have the capability to monitor interactions like this, study your own users with their particular happens and look to improve their experience.
This is another item that you hear about most frequently in websites. But, as with my looser interpretation of the “bounce” concept, you could really measure this anywhere. After all, sluggishness is sluggishness.
If you find yourself in a position to monitor the visual performance of your software, you stand to benefit from doing so. Few things torpedo the user experience as quickly as maddeningly slow loads. If this is happening, you want to know about it.
This holds doubly true for visual elements superfluous or non-essential to the experience itself. In the world of websites, think of ads or random widgets. And, while you can test a lot of this for yourself, concerns may arise in the wild that you can’t mimic in your own shop.
I’ve enjoyed the exercise in exploring what you might want to monitor. As both an entrepreneur and software developer, I like thinking about possible implementations, offerings, and features.
In fact, that captures what I find so appealing about the DevOps movement. As we marry software creation and software delivery, we open up an entirely new category of innovation, that requires new and powerful tools. We can then combine those tools with the inventive spirit to deliver ever-higher quality software.
Read the original post on Monitis Blog.
Hi. My name is Erik Dietrich, and this is the first time I’ve posted on the Monitis blog. By way of introduction, I thought it would make sense to talk about my initial experience with Monitis.
Before I do that, though, I need to explain a bit about myself. Don’t worry. It’s relevant, I promise.
I’m a techie by trade. Specifically, I have historically made a living as a software developer, architect, dev manager, CIO, and, these days, IT management and strategy consultant. On top of that, I write and present frequently, including routine publishing to my own, tech-centric blog.
Because of this, I know a certain tension to which you can, no doubt, relate. I’m talking about the tension between not having time to build and look after your own website and thinking, “what kind of developer am I if I don’t build and look after my own site?” I feel awkward about it, but over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s better to leave my site’s development to WordPress and the folks that make themes for it. I just don’t have time to take care of it myself.
But this delegation can lead to embarrassing lapses. I write about software professionalism, IT strategy and the delivery of high quality solutions. So when someone that follows me on Twitter sends a tweet informing me that my website has gone down, I can’t help but feel silly. Anyone looking at the situation obviously knows that it’s my hosting company or, perhaps, something with WordPress. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling the ironic sting of being the last to know about my own outage.
When I ran an IT department as the CIO, I had responsibility for some public facing web applications. I understood acutely the embarrassment of an outage, and I understood how it could be mitigated. If you become aware of it first and inform your users, you lose far less credibility in their eyes than if they find out and inform you instead. The outage is still unfortunate for everyone, but you being on top of it makes it seem almost planned to the users that hear of it.
To make sure my group had this advantage, I oversaw the instrumentation of monitoring tools within our network. This was some years ago now, so I don’t recall the particulars, but I do remember having a dashboard to peruse and getting emails and text notifications to alert me immediately of any problems. This was powerful stuff.
When it comes to my own blog and site, however, this sort of instrumentation never occurred to me. I had sound reasoning. An outage on my site is not critical to anyone. Nobody logs in and interacts with the site in a high-touch way – it’s just content that I publish for people to read. I don’t lose money when my site was down.
Because of all of these considerations, it made no sense to me to invest in monitoring. I had a preconceived notion of the cost of such things, since I had, in the past, allocated budget for them. Had I really gotten serious about it, I would have reasoned that I could probably do better in price a few years later and with different needs, but it never really bubbled up near the top of my own personal priority list.
This changed, however, when I encountered the Monitis product offering. I’ll fast forward a bit and say that today, I have effective monitoring for my site that gives me exactly the data I want and costs me almost nothing.
I would offer a “how to” at this point, but you’ll have such an easy time it’s honestly not worth the bother. Go to the main site, click “start monitoring now” and fill out the requested information. That’s it. Really.
I did this, and true to what they say, I had monitoring of my site set up within 3 minutes. At the time I performed the setup, I recall being in something of a hurry, so I just kind of did a fire and forget. I setup monitoring HTTP for my site, and didn’t think anything more of it for the rest of the day.
The next day, I got the email shown below. I saw that they had hit my site with HTTP requests from 3 different locations. Cumulative uptime of 100%, too. I won’t lie — I was a bit relieved to see that “all good” seemed to be the default state of affairs.
For a few more days, I continued to receive this daily summary. I had an even larger sample size of things being alright, and, about a week in, I found myself with a bit more time to dig into the monitoring itself. I logged into my newly-created Monitis account and poked around in my dashboard.
The default monitoring that I had setup involved 3 locations making HTTP requests all day to my site. If any 2 locations failed simultaneously, I would receive an email alert that my site was down. At the time, I had signed up for a trial account, so my next bit of curiosity was “what will this cost me.” When I went to the pricing page and punched up what this would cost on an ongoing basis, I found the result quite reasonable: $1.20 per month.
I could kick myself for not doing research earlier. I keep my finger on the pulse of many different trends and technologies. And, if you would have asked me whether or not some kind of affordable site monitoring technology existed, I imagine I would have said, “gosh, probably.”
And yet, I never went out and did the research.
The obvious lesson here is that affordable and effective monitoring for your site exists. Even if your site is simply you posting a food recipe or two per month, and a couple of your relatives reading it every now and then, it’s probably worth about a dollar per month to make sure it runs smoothly. Call it peace of mind or call it professional pride. Either way, if you have a site, you might as well keep an automated eye on it.
But the deeper lesson here is one of cost and specialization. Cloud technology and its ramifications extend beyond, “it’s easy to provision a server.” All facets of traditional IT are becoming commoditized and offered affordably and with good quality to people with budgets of all sizes. If it’s been achievable for the enterprise for years, keep your eyes open, because, quite probably, a version is achievable for you as well.
Originally, this post was published on Monitis Blog, you can check it here.
Websites are getting bigger and more complicated by the day. Video, images and custom fonts are all great for showcasing your product or service. But the price to pay in terms of reduced page load times and ultimately, decreased sales, could lead to some difficult decisions about what to cut.
Web loads speeds are integral factors in determining your SEO and how long customers will stay at your site. But web design, as important as it is for driving traffic, can also get in the way of your ultimate goal of bringing customers and revenue. In other words, you must avoid page bloat at all costs!
This is why businesses today, more than ever, must develop a clearly defined web performance optimization strategy. In fact, web monitoring should be an integral part of your web design best practices. To be clear, web performance optimization (or WPO) is the science of making your website perform better so it increases visitor retention, improves SEO, and drives more sales.
To give a great case study of how WPO works, consider what 37signals (now Basecamp) did with their Highrise marketing website. Using A/B testing, the company did multiple tests to determine the best plan for their landing page. In one case, the original background was white and cluttered with information. A dramatic change was made by replacing this white background with a picture of a person smiling.
The new landing page led to an increase in signups at the Highrise site by 102.5%!
This list provides another 99 great case studies of how WPO made a huge difference in website conversions.
In what follows, we take things further by providing you a brief checklist of the key steps to ensuring your website performance optimization strategy is on track.
Website conversions are integrally tied to the speed of the site. One second saved in download time can make all the difference between a sale or a bounce.
Your web hosting may offer “unlimited bandwidth” but if it involves shared services with other websites that impacts overall performance, then is it really worth it? It’s always a good idea to periodically review your hosting plan to ensure you’re getting the best value for your dollar.
Having a “mobile first” website is critical to success in today’s digital marketplace. If you don’t believe it, just consider that mobile commerce transactions in the United States alone are expected to total $123 billion in 2016
“Page bloat” – or the practice of cramming websites with high density images – has gotten out of hand and is the number one culprit for long page loading times. Don’t bloat your website! One of the best ways to ensure proper image optimization is to adopt correct sizing and formatting for all your images.
Ads and affiliate code are good . . . up to a point! But when you go overboard, this can lead to high bounce rates and can adversely impact your overall website performance. Constantly check how third-party applications impact your load speed!
Caching is a mechanism for the temporary storage of web pages in order to reduce bandwidth and improve performance. This saves server time and makes your website faster overall.
Don’t make your landing page a game of “guess where to check-out the merchandise.” Visitors don’t want to spend extra time trying to figure out where to complete their transactions. Your Call to Action should be front and center on the landing page.
Imagine having all of the vital statistics for your website in a nice convenient dashboard, and getting alerts about trouble spots long before they reach impact your customers. Cloud hosted web monitoring is the crucial component in today’s digital marketplace. IT system monitoring is first of all a real time data that can help you respond to problems. You cannot do without monitoring tools, if you hope to optimize and maximize your application’s performance.
The subnet calculator helps you design networks by taking an IP address and network mask and returning information such as network, broadcast address, and host range.
One of a set of tools we're offering as a way of saying thank you for being a part of the community.
A Alphabet Soup @@@
$x = 'Alphabet Soup'; $y = "Alphabet Soup";
Foreword (May 2015)
This web page has appeared at Google. It's definitely worth considering!
How to Know You are Making a Difference at EE
In August, 2013, one of my colleagues posted this, and it made my heart glad.
Thanks so much Ray! I actually haven't posted in a while because at your suggestion I got a few books and spent the last couple of months reading and learning and it's made a world of difference, so thanks a ton for that suggestion as well!
"And by the way,... I am New to PHP"
So many PHP questions at Experts-Exchange include (or should include) that statement that it got me thinking about how to advise new programmers on ways to begin learning PHP. The popularity of PHP is undeniable; it powers an overwhelming number of web sites, from the very smallest to the giants like Facebook, hundreds of thousands of WordPress blogs, and everything in between. So it makes sense that any web developer would need to have some foundation in the PHP language. And for many novice programmers, PHP is the first language they try to learn.
PHP came from humble beginnings; it was originally captioned "Personal Home Page" and was intended to be a language so easy to use, that "even Grandma could learn to use PHP." And that was fine in the 1990's before the advent of object-oriented programming, hackers, spam, and web services. But the online environment has grown up and PHP has been forced to grow up, too. Today, while PHP can still perform simple tasks, PHP can also power enormous database-driven applications that build online communities and analyze mountains of information.
My favorite description of PHP, disarming in its elegance and simplicity, is "What PHP can do is convert a static website that has content that has to be changed by hand into a dynamic one that can display content based on any criteria you can think of."
Getting started with PHP can be daunting, especially if you do not have a background in computer science. This article will give you some learning resources to get the background you need and will introduce several popular and effective ways to learn PHP. But there is something you might want to read before you finish this article. Every professional programmer I know thinks that this is an article of wisdom. You can take it in if you have seven minutes. Then come back and finish this article.
Getting the Right Foundation
If you really want to be a professional programmer, you probably want to go to college to major in computer science or electrical engineering. Almost every major college and university teaches these subject, and the principles are not very hard to learn, but it takes time and practice to turn the learned principles into praxis. Even if you're not sure about making a career in programming, if you're read this far you probably want to consider taking an Introduction to Computer Science class. Fortunately, these classes are now available online, for free, using the same syllabus, curriculum and learning materials that the colleges use.
As but one example, here is what M.I.T. offers:
If you're serious about learning programming, you will need a little math (but not very much). This series of video lectures will give you a good foundation.
Learning to Think Like a Programmer
Do Not Waste Time on Non-Working Code
A programming language is a tool that builds a sequence of instructions. The instructions tell the computer what we want it to do. For almost everything you might do with PHP, the thing we want the computer to do is manipulate data. Each programming problem can be defined and understood in terms of an input and an output, with the computer programming being the intermediary that transforms the input into the output. If you think about that for a little while, you will come to the same conclusion that almost every experienced programmer comes to: it does nobody any good to post code that does not work. Instead define and post the data and you will be amazed how quickly you can find clear, easy-to-understand answers.
Expect to Spend a Lot of Time Debugging
You will find that you're human and the computer is not. Problems expressed in human languages are turned into solutions expressed in computer languages. This process is full of ambiguity, double-meanings, and confusion. Humans share culture, but computers require precision at a sub-microscopic level. Even a single character out of place can render a computer program useless (or worse, destructive). It's very rare that a programmer can write more than a few lines of code without introducing an unwanted element. The process of correcting and removing these unwanted elements is called "debugging" and until you have several years of programming experience, it will consume most of the time you spend programming. More about programming and human factors, as well as many interesting observations from the trenches is available in Jeff Atwood's writings.
Deconstruct Problems Until They Are Small Enough to Solve at a Glance
Complex programs are made up of simpler programs, and simpler programs are made up of even simpler programs. A mental process of deconstructing problems underlies all programming activities. As you learn PHP, you will find that you deconstruct complex problems into several smaller problems that are readily solved using PHP programming solutions.
You may have heard of the phrase, "Hello World." It is the name given to the simplest example of the solution to any programming problem, and it demonstrates success in some small aspect of building a more complex program. In PHP, the "Hello World" exercise looks something like this.
<?php echo "Hello World.";
This simple PHP script proves that PHP is installed correctly and that it can produce output that is visible on a web browser. More importantly, it removes many elements of confusion and ambiguity. What if this script did not work? Where would you look for a solution? What symptoms of failure could you find? Who can help? All of these uncertainties and doubts impinge on the process of debugging. And thus we come to the first and most important part of thinking like a programmer: Make the larger problems smaller by reducing each of the larger problems to a collection of smaller problems.
Do this iteratively until the smaller problems are so small that the solution is obvious. The small solutions then become the building blocks of the larger solutions. As you construct larger solutions from smaller building blocks, you will hide the details so that the result works like a vending machine - providing useful services to many clients (either programs or people). Programmers often refer to such self-contained units as a "black box."
Learning the Language of Programmers
A shared culture has a shared language and many terms of art. You can learn something of PHP without knowing much about general purpose programming, but your learning will be faster and easier if you understand the language that programmers use. Many familiar words assume new meanings. For example, the word class takes on a unique meaning when it's applied in the context of computer programming.
I am not suggesting that you need to read or memorize every term of art (a professional will) but you need some good references that you can use to look up words that are unfamiliar or are used in unfamiliar ways. You might want to take an afternoon to browse these glossaries.
Learning the Techniques of Programmers
All good programmers have been forced at one time or another to research a subject that they know nothing about. They have to find out numerous details (too many to remember) and develop code that handles these details. It's a huge exercise in short-term memory, and it's a huge investment of time. You wouldn't want to have to do it over again.
Unfortunately, some programmers are condemned to do it over and over again because they didn't write the code clearly, or they used thoughtless variable names, or they left out the comments. And when they need to reuse that piece of code, they find themselves looking at it and wondering things like, "Did I test this enough?" or worse, "What was I thinking?" You can avoid this problem by following a few simple rules.
Before you begin writing code, learn the "PSR" basics. These are valuable standards. They will make your programming easy to read and understand, and they will make your code look professional (highly valuable if you want to get a job as a programmer). Here are the two links you should study.
1. Whenever you're required to solve a problem that you have never solved before, make a teaching example from the solution. Collect a library of these.
2. Whenever possible use meaningful variable names, eg, if the value is "Today's date" name the variable $today instead of something useless like $x.
3. Use comments to say what your programming is intended to do. Often you will find that simply writing the commentsfirst, before you write a single line of code, will help you consolidate your thinking.
4. Test iteratively as you build the code. Don't write more than a few lines without testing. Use the principles of Test-Driven Development.
5. Programming is all about the data. Learn about var_dump() and make regular use of it!
6. Avoid copying code you find on the internet, especially code that has a lot of compound statements. Instead of copying, deconstruct the code, taking a moment to ask, "why?" and rewriting the code in your own words, with your own explanatory comments.
7. Adopt a coding standard and adhere to it rigidly. With discipline comes great power.
Learning How to Get Help: the SSCCE
Anyone who says he is a self-taught programmer is missing something. You cannot make this stuff up - you have to learn it from a variety of sources, and one of the most important sources is the community of programmers who surround you. Perhaps you're in a university class where you can learn from your colleagues and classmates. Or perhaps you're a regular at Experts-Exchange and Stack Overflow. In any learning community you need to know how to share ideas with others. That's where the SSCCE comes in. If the only thing you take away from this article is the SSCCE, it will have been worth my time to write it and worth your time to read it. Follow the link, read the page (there is only one page) and embrace the principles! The SSCCE is not alone in the universe, other authors have given voice to the same concept: a problem well stated is a problem half solved.
Think about the data - what do you have for input and what do you want for output. Try to assemble that information before you ask the question. Then you can say, "Here's what I've got and here's what I want." That makes for a clear problem definition. Clear problem definitions will save you an amazing amount of time. As Charles Kettering said, "A problem well stated is a problem half solved."
Try to avoid complicating the situation with an unnecessary explanation, when an input/output example could be used instead. This is an actual quote from a question posted here at EE: "take that number, split it into an array. so 25 would become [2,5], or 12 would become [1,2] then use those to determine which image to show in the basket count, then loop the array to determine which images to show" What's the author trying to say? Your guess is as good as mine.
Learning PHP from PHP.net
Now that we have introduced the deep background stuff, and shown you how to frame a problem and ask for help, it's time to get into the part of this article that is about learning -- and using -- PHP.
A good place to start is with php.net, where you will find the best online technical documentation in the world.
If you do not read the online documentation, you're robbing yourself, stealing valuable time from learning. Instead of learning from the experience and writings of others, you'll be learning by trial and error, maybe from reading other people's programs. That takes longer. A lot longer. And it's full of risk. Trying to learn programming by trial and error is like trying to learn to bake by looking at an apple pie. Sure you can appreciate the finished product, but looking at a pie will tell you nothing of the other ingredients, the processes and the tools used to make the pie. Likewise, a finished program tells you nothing of the thought processes of the developers, nor of the assumptions they made or the test data they used. So don't try to learn that way. Instead, exploit the php.net web site for all its worth. Here is how.
PHP has a "getting started" page.
PHP has an introductory tutorial. No excuses -- Just Do It!
PHP has an omnibus FAQ page.
PHP has its entire manual online!
PHP has its own Security page and it is required reading, no excuses!
PHP has the language reference online. No excuses here either. You must read these sections and every one of the associated links:
If you want to move beyond basic PHP programming and begin collaboration with others, you want to read these sections, too.
If you want to interact with software or data on other servers you need to read these sections.
If you want to learn from the collective wisdom of others, these FAQ pages are very helpful:
Part of what makes php.net so valuable is the function reference. PHP has, at this writing, over 1,500 built-in functions. You can't memorize all of them, so you need a quick way to refer to them. When I am programming I have a window open to php.net at all times. If you know the name of the function you want to use, just type a URL like this: http://php.net/date and PHP will find the date() function. Couldn't be easier! And the magic doesn't end with the official PHP documentation. Every function page has a section for user-contributed notes. Often, seeing the way others have used a function (or learned from an unpleasant surprise) will give you great insights into the richness and power of the PHP language. For example, see this:
If you don't know the name of the function you want to use, you can find the function reference table of contents. Don't plan on reading all of this. You might want to bookmark it.
The parts of the function reference that you want to read first are probably these:
Learning PHP from Books
One of the really great things about tech people is that they like tech features, for example, the ability to write book reviews on Amazon.com. If you find a popular and well-reviewed book (and it's not too old) it will probably make a valuable addition to your technical/professional library. You can't have too many PHP books! Here are some of the books that I own and recommend. If you decide to get any of these, be sure to look for the latest editions, because PHP is a living language.
Beginner: Yank Ignore the hokey title -- it's a good book.
Beginner to intermediate: Welling/Thompson
Intermediate to Advanced: Powers
Intermediate to Advanced: Ullman
Learning PHP from Online Resources
Most of these resources are 100% free: Almost anything about PHP from SitePoint is worthwhile. There are good introductory references at Tizag and W3Schools, however the Tizag PHP web site appears to have gone out of date. Many of my students swear by CodeAcademy. And of course there is a Wiki: http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/PHP_Programming
New in 2017: Stefan Priebsch curates this site on Software Craftsmanship (advanced)
New in 2016: Jeffrey Way brings his considerable teaching skills to a set of PHP courses here:
While you are mastering the basics of PHP you will have many questions that others have had before you. This is a worthwhile resource for many of those questions.
Once you have mastered the basics of PHP, there is an excellent online resource from the authors of the Slim Framework.
A set of paid courses on PHP is available from lynda.com. It is not clear to me whether these are up-to-date.
A set of paid courses on PHP, from active PHP experts, is available from PHP Architect. The company also publishes books and newsletters, and runs conferences covering PHP topics from the most introductory "bootcamp" to advanced object-oriented design. If you want to learn from the best in the business, this is the place to come.
Learning PHP from "That Guy" -- NOT!
You've heard the expression, "Don't be that guy." I'm going to add a recommendation here: "Don't learn PHP from 'That Guy'." The internet is littered with examples of terrible PHP code. Mostly it's code from half-taught programmers who don't understand the principles of computer science, don't understand the principles of programming security and don't take the time to clean up after themselves. It turns up in forums all the time. It may be untested. It's almost always undocumented. And it's something you would use at your own peril. It's usually worth exactly what you paid for it! So just say "no" to that stuff and stick to the links published here. It will save you a lot of grief.
Don't feel awkward or embarrassed if you're new to PHP. Ignorance is no sin and we were all new to the language once. Instead, embrace the learning resources documented here, build your own personal library of code examples, post plenty of PHP questions at Experts-Exchange and most importantly give yourself time to work with the language, so that you become familiar with the commonly used parts. The gift of time and study is one that only you can give yourself, and it may be the most valuable gift of all. And if you're doing it right, learning PHP is fun.
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Web applications are systems that run in browsers that perform functions normally associated with other client-based programs. One of the most commonly used web applications is email; instead of downloading individual emails to a local machine, the data is shown through a website. Other examples of web applications are collaborative systems like a wiki or an online game.