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Modern PHP: 10 things you should be using

Published By: Scott Green

Published On: February 3, 2021

Published In: Coding

Modern PHP: 10 things you should be using

Software engineers usually choose one-two languages to keep focused. Surely, being a well-versed specialist in one tech is better than being a jack-of-all-trades and knowing a little of several technologies. For instance, we at ApexTech have chosen PHP as one of our core web development technologies. And here is why:

PHP is ranked among the best and most widely used programming tools for web development. 79% of all the sites use PHP, including major sites such as Facebook, Wikipedia, and Microsoft, as well as some of the world’s largest open-source projects like WordPress. On top of that, it’s the sixth most popular programming language.

Open-source technology

PHP is a freely available tech that presents considerable savings for the development budget. Yet, the critical point is the huge community of coders supporting it and bringing enhancements. It avails the use of a broad range of frameworks, plugins, and components that improve language and make the development process more convenient.

Flexibility

One can effectively combine PHP with any other language and pick the best technology for each particular feature of your software product. Furthermore, the cross-platform nature of PHP allows you to use any operating system for coding. Such flexibility greatly facilitates and speeds up web development. 

Databases made easy

PHP includes database support from its early days. It allows easy & secure connection with a large number of database management systems. PHP takes very little time to connect the database and fetch the data compared to other programming languages. Thanks to it, PHP-based apps can be loaded faster over the slow Internet and data speed. The list of relational databases compatible with PHP is long and includes MySQL, PostgreSQL, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, SQLite, etc. You can also use NoSQL database systems like ElasticSearch and MongoDB. Thus, there is no limitation to using a certain database and you are free to select the perfect one for your application.

Customization options

PHP provides numerous custom options. It makes this scripting language the best tool for building bespoke web platforms and software that perfectly meet the clients’ requirements.

The key and only argument of PHP enemies is its presumed low performance. Of course, we can’t expect PHP to reach the efficiency of C or C++. Nonetheless, this gap is hardly an issue unless you are working on a software project where efficiency is a top priority. 

Moreover, PHP (version 8) showcases quite great speed and performance when compared with similar languages. It’s significantly faster than Python and Ruby.

What’s new with PHP

In November 2020, the latest version PHP 8 has been officially released to the general public. You can download it here. This major update has brought some vital changes as well as robust features.

If you are staying up to date with the 7 versions, the upgrade shouldn’t be too hard since most significant modifications were deprecated before. This release brings a nice suit of amazing features with the JIT (Just in Time) compiler, union types, attributes, security benefits, and new syntax being among the most outstanding ones.

The language has significantly evolved and now it empowers software engineers to do incredible things and add top-notch functions within the web platforms. You can avail a lot of benefits with the help of this tech. Here are ten useful things you should practice to become a better PHP developer.

Top 10 things to do with PHP

1. Enable OPcache extension

This helpful extension was updated in PHP 8 version and aimed at boosting server & application performance. OPcache compiles human-readable code to a precompiled bytecode and saves it to a server’s memory. As a result, eliminating the need for loading and parsing scripts every time there’s a request.

By enabling the OPcache extension, which is recommended for almost all app and server production environments, the PHP interpreter goes through the entire execution process only once. Afterward, the compiled version can be executed upon request right away, bypassing Lexing, Parsing, and Compilation stages.

It also significantly lowers the memory usage and optimizes your code as it passes over the script.

PHP already includes several optimizations such as dead code optimization at the Opcode level, but it wasn’t possible to perform optimizations beyond the virtual machine level.

Benefit: OPcache allows you to gain a performance boost by reducing code compilation time. For your website project, this means an improved ranking on Google due to higher page speed, for visitors a better user experience due to faster page set-up.

2. Use PHP inbuilt functions

Ok, you want to count the number of keys in an array? You can loop through the array and increment a value for each iteration, right? Or you can simply use the built-in PHP function count(), which does just what it should. If you try to do something that seems fairly common, chances are, there is already a function or class. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Check out the manual to ensure you are doing it in the best possible way.

Benefit: Taking some time to learn how to use PHP’s native functions will not only help you write code faster but will also make it more efficient.

3. Learn to love the ternary operator

We always look for shortcuts everywhere. A ternary operator is a fantastic tool for shortening conditional statements in PHP. Every developer should have it in the arsenal. As a complement to an if-else statement, and when used appropriately, it can significantly assist in the development process. 

The ternary operator decreases the length of code while performing comparisons and conditionals. We always use it for prototypes, templates, and when the if-else statement fits one line. It’s very useful while assigning variables after form submission as well. Some other benefits of using a ternary operator that we can emphasize:

  • More readable code
  • The process of finding the bugs in software is easier 
  • Code maintenance becomes faster

Example of ternary operator usage:

But we believe that in all other cases, the ordinary conditional statement will be a better decision. PHP is descriptive, and the code should be, too.

Benefit: A ternary operator reduces the huge if-else block to a single line, improving the code readability and simplifying it.

4. Go with Object-Oriented Programming

If you haven’t yet entered the realm of Object-Oriented Programming (OOP), you lose great opportunities. More often than not, when people start learning PHP, they start writing procedural code. There is nothing wrong. However, as your development skills grow, you will discover that software development requires a better way of structuring your code. 

OOP is a method that allows breaking down the code into classes and objects, which tie like-things together. This method also removes the need for repetition of code and performs the essential tasks of production. Besides a clear structure, OOP makes the code easier to maintain, change, and debug. You will be able to create reusable functionality and procedures with less code faster. It will change your programming style forever.   

Benefit: OOP is a much bigger universe of design and implementation possibilities. Using it you will open yourself to vast resources, especially while extending your app.

5. Use frameworks

Utilizing a framework enables you to leverage better development patterns that you might not be using right now. Frameworks provide a fundamental structure for streamlining the process and usually come with prewritten pieces of code. They may include predefined classes and functions that simplify the input processing, hardware device management, and system software interaction. Frameworks help organize code, avoid bad practices, and reduce the amount of repetitive coding. More than that, the responsiveness of web applications developed with frameworks helps fulfill the required performance needs.

Some well-known PHP frameworks you have probably heard of are CodeIgniter, Laravel, Yii, Symfony, CakePHP, and others. We prefer to utilize Yii. It’s suitable for all kinds of modern web apps. We love Yii because it’s highly extensible, well-performing, and it eliminates the complexity of writing repetitive SQL statements.

Nevertheless, when deciding on the best framework to build your next project, consider various factors, including security & scalability requirements, documentation, and more. So, select the best-suited framework for a particular task wisely.

Benefit: The tools, features, and code snippets provided by PHP frameworks help you accelerate custom website development and deliver a richer user experience that meets modern, complex business requirements.

6. Write neat code comments

There is no consensus on the ideal code comment styling. On one hand, a large portion of developers believes that commenting should be an exceptional occasion. Otherwise, it will be an indication of a weak or bad code that isn’t transparent enough. We agree with this argument. However, there’s at least one good reason to make comments, irrespective of how excellent your code is. You won’t always be the only developer working on the project. 

On the other hand, many programmers are used to over commenting their code. As a result, they get hard to read code with absurdly long comments.

It’s a good habit to write comments, but not mandatory to comment on every line of code. We advise keeping your comments clean, well-arranged, and easy to understand. They should express what you want to achieve instead of describing what your code does. Keeping the following rules in mind will facilitate your job, and people that will work with your code in the future will appreciate it:

  • Comment on the complicated parts of your source code. But avoid commenting on some simple things such as MySQL connection, etc.
  • Keep everything readable as you’re writing comments for humans to read, not machines
  • Put clear names for variables and functions
  • Use the keywords TODO, FIXME, NOTE. It forces you to comment when something that needs to be completed or fixed is in your code.

Leaving neat, descriptive comments is good practice in the long run, and you will likely never regret it.

Benefit: In fact, you will be the primary user of your comments as often you will have to read the code again in order to modify its functionality. Meaningful and concise comments will help remind you of your goals when you wrote the code instead of spending twice the time to figure out what the code did. Needless to say, other developers will be thankful for clear comments while working with your code.

7. Composer should be your friend

Anyone who has been coding in PHP for some time may find it difficult to add dependencies, keep track of them, and manage your application in the long run. Probably, you also faced the issue of recreating the same type of functionality over and over again. Composer will help you to address all these issues.

An application-level package manager like Composer offers a more efficient way of managing all of your code and dependencies. It’s a popular tool that allows you to control packages, organize the classes throughout the application, handle PHP versions, and manage libraries. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to get started working with a composer.

Benefit: Composer gets all your dependencies sorted out, without ever needing to do anything manually, except running simple commands $ composer install or $ composer update. This leaves you free to focus on the coding instead of dependency management.

8. Write test cases using TDD

Test-Driven Development (TDD) approach is crucial if you want to build top-quality code and maintain your codebase for a long time. 

TDD is not actually about writing unit tests but testing first. So, your development cycle will look like this:

  1. Write a test, run and see it fail 
  2. Make this test succeed in any possible way
  3. Refactor the implementation until it’s great

We can notice that it’s a closed-loop process. You will be immersed in a flow of either writing a test or the feature implementation code.

So why use TDD? Writing tests first allows you to focus the coding process on passing well-described specifications instead of having it all in your head while coding. This technique helps to reduce the time on your code refactoring and drastically facilitates the process of adding new features. If something went wrong you can easily figure that out and fix it. TDD keeps you concentrated on your goal, and engages you into a constant feedback cycle: change, save, run a test. TDD coding practice is well suited for agile development as it essentially bridges the gap between development and testing.

Benefit: Although the development at the initial stage takes longer with TDD than without it, due to higher code quality, you will spend twice less time on bug fixing and code maintenance if compared with other development techniques. Thus, the TDD approach contributes to faster web app completion.

9. Always optimize your code

Writing optimized code is a must if you want to build sophisticated, superior quality PHP projects. If you start caring about code optimization from the start, you will soon get an edge over other developers as few know how to do it and care about it as much as they should.

Here are some tips on code optimization:

  • Use meaningful naming for variables, functions, and classes
  • Avoid code duplication at all costs
  • Make your code easy to debug 
  • Use the most appropriate paradigm for each situation. If in doubt, go OPP
  • Apply the Separation of Concern principle: each element of your program should address only one specific problem
  • Avoid too many nested loops, variable declaration inside conditional statements if-else. Loops can frequently cause bottlenecks. To prevent possible problems, detect the heaviest loops, and cache the operation inside the loop or refactor them. 

Benefit: Writing good code is the essential step to creating fast and stable web applications that your customers will admire. Sticking to the aforementioned practices from the beginning will save time on troubleshooting later. The best tool for improving PHP performance isn’t a program, it’s knowledge of which problems to look for and how to solve them.

10. Stay up to date and keep learning

The world of programming is evolving fast. New technologies, tools, and libraries appear every day, and web browsers keep changing. 

Staying up to date is vital to know what tools are available and which benefits they can bring. Make sure you don’t miss opportunities. But staying up to date is just half the work. The other half is to keep learning what you need.

Google’s software engineer has the right advice:
“First do it, then do it right, then do it better.” – Addy Osmani.

You have to invest time to master the fundamentals of any new topic. Start simple using your current knowledge and build on that base. We hope our article helped you review your knowledge gaps and learn some programming best practices. 

Ultimately, the one thing anyone has had to remember is: Programming is learning. Do you program it badly? It’s still learning.

Benefit: Staying informed on the latest technology trends is important to help you build credibility & value and to show that you know where the industry is heading. In our fast-paced times, you have no choice but to stay up-to-date while always looking for ways to improve and expand your skill set to remain competitive in your field.

The takeaway

The use of PHP is growing fast and it’s a preferred choice of website developers looking for improved security and affordability. This is a powerful tech that allows creating top-notch websites, integrating cloud technology & cybersecurity, and building interactive CMS systems. It has the potential to enrich the user experience by implementing various features and trends. Flexibility, integration opportunities with different databases, high speed are the key reasons why ApexTech chooses PHP for creating modern, complex web projects. 

Following these few tips will help you to become a well-versed programmer. You won’t become a great developer by reading or watching someone develop. The only tried and tested method is to practice writing code. Build something you like. Then, make it awesome, build upon it, and make it better. Developers who are pro in using PHP stand out from the crowd. Believe our experience, it’s true.

Finally, if you have any issues with building a custom web platform, contact us. Our specialists will help you create a superior software solution.

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About the author
Scott Green

Scott Green

author

Scott Green is a tech-savvy writer who is excited about describing complex topics in the web and mobile software development field in simple words. Having hands-on experience in JavaScript & PHP engineering, he shares tips and best practices.