Random PHP project progress

Initially when we founded Pale Purple all our new PHP development used a combination of Propel, Smarty and some inhouse glue. Over time we seem to have drifted towards the Zend Framework, but I’ve never been particularly happy with Zend_Db or Zend_View. Why the Zend Framework? Well, it has loads of useful components (Cache, Form, Routing, Mail etc) and it’s near enough an industry standard from what we see – and obviously I’d rather build on the shoulders of others than spend time developing an in-house framework no one else will ever use.

For one customer, we’re currently working on the next iteration of their code base – which incorporates a number of significant changes. When we inherited the code base from the previous developers we spent a long time patching various SQL Injection holes (casting to ints), moving over to use PDO’s prepared statements and trying to keep on top of the customer’s new functionality requests and support issues. There’s still a lot of horrible code to refactor, plenty of security holes (although none public facing) and we know we’re moving in the right direction – hopefully patching and duct tape will soon be a thing of the past as it will develop some form of architecture and look like someone has thought about design and long term maintenance.

I’ve started to properly do Test First Development – at least from a support perspective – as too often we’d find we would patch a bug, only for it to reappear again in a few weeks/months time. This has been especially useful with the SOAP interface the application exposes. The tests run every 5 minutes, and we all get emailed when stuff breaks – it took all of 30 minutes to setup and put in place – then it was just a case of actually writing the unit tests themselves (the tests take minutes to write; finding/fixing any bugs they pin point takes somewhat longer :-/ ). I’ve also abused Simpletest’s web testing ‘stuff’ to also act as an availability checker of the live site (i.e. hit a few remote URLs, and check that we don’t get error messages back and do see expected strings).

The original code base had no ‘model’ like layer (or MVC ‘compliance’) – files containing HTML, CSS, SQL, Javascript and PHP were the norm – we’ve added Propel to the project as the ‘model’ layer – which took a few hours; and then when reverse engineering the database we found a few oddities (tables without primary keys and so on) – anyway, moving the functionality from a handful of legacy objects across into the Propel ones seems to be well underway, and I for one will be glad to see the end of :

$x = new Foo(5);

Accompanied with code that does the equivalent of :

class Foo {
    public function __construct($id = false) {
        if($id != false) {
            // select * from foo where id = 5
            // populate $this; don't bother checking for the edge case where $id isn't valid
       else {
           // insert into foo values ('');
          // populate $this->id; leaving all other fields as empty strings...
     public function setBaz($nv) { // repeat for all table fields
         $this->baz = $nv;
         global $db;
         $db->query('update foo set baz = "' . $nv . '" where id = ' . $this->id);

Finally, we have a meaningful directory structure – where some things aren’t exposed in the document root. Hopefully soon a front controller and some decent routing. At the moment a huge amount of code is just sat in the ‘public’ directory due to it’s nature. We hope to fix this in time, and move to using Zend Controller – once we get Smarty integrated with it.

Propel has added some nice new features since we last used it (effectively v1.2); it was a toss up between it and Doctrine (as obviously the ZF is moving in that direction) – but we already had knowledge/experience with Propel and it seemed the easier option.

I’m hoping that with time we’ll be able to get up to at least 60% test coverage of the code base – at that point we should be able to refactor the code far easier and with less fear. At the moment I doubt the unit tests cover more than 5-10% – although maybe it’s time I pointed xdebug or whatever at it to generate some meaningful stats.

My final task is to get some decent performance measurements out of the code base – so we can track any performance regressions. I’m fairly confident that moving to Propel will result in an speedup as duplicate object hydrations will be eliminated thanks to it’s instance pool, however having hard figures and nice graphs to point at would be ideal. So far I’ve knocked up my own script around ‘ab’ which stores some figures to a .csv file and uses ezComponents to generate a graph file. This seems to be a crap solution, but I can’t think or find anything better. Any suggestions dear Internet? Perhaps I should integrate changeset/revision id’s in my benchmarking too. Suggestions here would be exceedingly appreciated.

There, I should have ticked all necessary boxes wrt development practices now. Now to work on finding a contract PHP developer….

2 Replies to “Random PHP project progress”

  1. A lot of internal stuff at $day_job is done using Symfony with, from what I can tell, rather a lot of custom “hot sauce” for database stuff, etc.

    I know some folks are clearly fans of Zend but does it support ‘magic’ like splitting out SQL queries into stuff which modifies data, and stuff which is just reading data?

    ie: It is nice to be able to send R/W queries to the database master, and R/O queries to a pool of database slaves. Keeps things fast.

  2. Alex – ZF doesn’t afaik split reads to one place and writes to another; I suspect it would be possible (it’s a relatively easy thing to do); ZF’s DB stuff is a bit poor anyway, hence they’re effectively adopting Doctrine (which is also what Symfony are sort of moving to).

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