Under The Hood – PHP and MySQL

(This introductory article was written in 2001 to help explain to clients why LAMP (Linux, Apache, PHP and MySQL) were chosen as the infrastructure for for certain kinds of web sites. We generally choose other tools now.)


Many of our dynamic web sites are built using PHP and MySQL. Although these products are frequently used together, they do not have to be, and each plays a separate role in the dynamic web content generation process. The two major components needed for that process are:

  1. A database system to hold the dynamic web site’s data. Although it is possible to build small sites on flat-file storage systems, a database server is a much more scalable, reliable foundation for a dynamic web site. The database server is not web-specific per se, although it does need to potentially support a heavy load of queries, slanted heavily towards “SELECT” (data reading) queries rather than data updating queries.
  2. A web-database integration tool (scripting language or equivalent) for dynamically generating HTML pages, email messages, etc. based on data stored in the database, and processing user interactions to update that database.

Often for the database, we choose MySQL for several reasons:

  • Reliability – based on reading comments from many users, MySQL appears to be a reliable product. We have experienced no MySQL failures of any kind ourselves.
  • Price – MySQL is free, keeping the budget to a minimum for smaller sites.
  • Speed – MySQL is designed to operate very quickly and efficiently for simple SELECT statements, at the expense of lacking some features that “heavier” databases have, such as transaction support, stored procedure, correlated subqueries, etc. Although these are very valuable features, most dynamic web sites do not need these features because of the nature of the features they provide.

We are also familiar with a number of other database choices for other projects:

  • Microsoft SQL Server – this product, in it’s 7.0 and higher versions, is a very nice database server with excellent integration (of course) in to the Windows NT environment. It would be an obvious choice to consider when working on a project which was required to be NT-based.
  • Oracle – Oracle is the market leading for large database servers, and runs behind the scenes and many of the internet’s busiest web sites. It has a mildly painful but extremely powerful stored procedure capability, and can be tuned for high performance under extreme load, if you can find a sufficiently skilled DBA. We are happy to bulid an Oracle-based solution where it is appropriate. Oracle is however quite expensive and require much more hardware to run well than MySQL, for example.
  • PostgreSQL – This is the “other” free database server out there. It has only recently begun to approach the stability and speed of MySQL, and it offer a much richer set of features, more similar to the top-tier commercial database servers.
  • Interbase – Released as one point as open source from Borland, Interbase is also very fully featured. It seems to not be as fast as MySQL for simple SELECTs (the most common case in web apps), but can handle complex tasks effectively and does not require much DBA attention.
  • Various others.

For our programming / web-database integration tool, we are using PHP, a web-specific scripting language. There are literally hundreds of web-database tools to choose from, so not surprisingly there are many excellent choices. Some of the reasons we use PHP are:

  • Tight integration with Apache, the most popular web server on the internet.
  • Good performance, because of that tight integration. PHP is an excellent compromise between power and efficiency; it provide a flexible, expressive language yet it is simple enough to teach to new team member quickly
  • A very rich array of built-in features. In particular, PHP has many capabilities “in the box” that have to be added on to other popular solutions like ASP.
  • Built in database access, with connection pooling.
  • It is Open Source, and under very active development; any bugs that appear get fixed quickly.
  • There are commercial performance enhancement mechanisms available if needed.

PHP is not without weaknesses, however. For example, its basic design encourages mixing the scripts in with the site’s HTML. This works well for small sites, but becomes very troublesome on large site where different people are responsible for the HTML and the programming. Another weakness is that the language relies mostly on programming technique to remain manageable and structured; it has almost no support for modularization. Some other web-database integration tools that address these issues and others are:

  • Java Servlets, which leverage the increasingly dominant Java language.
  • a Java-based application server, such as WebLogic, WebSphere, etc. These can be used to build systems which include servlets, JSPs,EJB, JMS, and other powerful Java technologies.
  • mod_perl integrates the remarkably expressive Perl language into Apache, and the wide array of accompanying Perl modules can implement isolation between the application code and HTML if desired.
  • Zope, an application server based on the Python language, has a strong following and provide the desired seperation between logic and HTML. It also offers total web-based management, scalability, and a vibrant developer community.

We are pleased and satisfied with the usability and performance of PHP and MySQL. They are an excellent combination for small to medium-scale read-intensive web application projects.

Java / EJB


Java on Linux

Want to run Java on Linux? I suggest the IBM JDK 1.3 for Linux; I’ve been working with it (on this server, in fact) with good results.

Java Web Applications

In the world of Java web application program, the "default" answer of to the question of how to connect the Java to the HTML is JSP. For a number of reasons, though, this is often not a very good answer. Jason Hunter at servlets.com wrote an article "The Problems with JSP" about this which caused quite a lot of discussion about this a while back.

Another article in the same is "JavaServer Pages: Panacea or Quagmire".

In my experience, JSPs tend to lead a project down the path of mixing enough Java syntax in to HTML that the HTML can no longer be edited by non-developer. It really does not take very much Java to make that happen, especially since the compilation errors that can erupt from malforms JSP files can be hard even for a Java developer to track down. For small projects this need (for a Java developer to edit HTML files) may be acceptable, but for large projects it can stomp on your attempts at division of labor and greatly increase costs, as each cosmetic change now involves coordinating the efforts of a web designed and Java developer. Ouch.

Speaking of web applications, not everything is cut out be to a web application – and not everything should be in Java. If you are interested in using native Windows clients with Java server code, take a look at LINKTITLE[103].

Misc. Links

Gopalan Suresh Raj’s web site has comparive code snippets covering COM DCOM JAVA/EJB CORBA .NET etc. There are a lot of developers who think of these technologies as very different; Gopalan’s site points out many similarities.

Jive looks to be high quality, Java servlet based discussion forum software. I’ll replace this comment with a report from the "real world" once I have it running.

EJB Related Links

A good starting point for EJB information is at http://patriot.net/~tvalesky/ejb.html

Also take a look at the EjbRoadmap.

theserverside.com and ejbinfo.com are SlashDot-like discussion sites; they don’t seem to get a great amount of discussion but often do have excellent articles.

A lot can go wrong in J2EE projects; this article has a "top ten" list of failulre modes, many of which really aren’t J2EE-specific at all.

JBoss is an open source, standards-focussed EJB container. Many team benefit from using JBoss for development even if they plan to use something else for deployment. Developing with JBoss in addition to another environment tends to "keep you honest" about following the EJB specs, reducing the likelihood of inadvertantly adding vendor-specific code.

Grid Components for Delphi

This list of Grid components available for Delphi. is originally from a Usenet post by Anthony Richardson (anthony_r at sageautomation.com). I’ve added more since then.

The following is a list of Third-Party Grid suppliers:

SpreadSheets:

TAdvSpreadGrid – http://www.tmssoftware.com/
TSpread – http://www.jt.w1.com/products.htm
TSpreadSheet – http://www.uniyar.ac.ru/~dimak/delphi/spread.shtml
THyperSpreadsheet – http://www.pablop.demon.co.uk/

Non-DataAware:

InfoPower – http://www.woll2woll.com/infopower/
Top Grid – http://www.objectsight.com/
TAdvStringGrid – http://www.tmssoftware.com/
TStringAlignGrid – http://www.hoerstemeier.com/
(Free)
TSMTableGrid – http://www.sunsoft.ru/
THyperGrid – http://www.pablop.demon.co.uk/
TCoolStringGrid – http://www.cooldev.com

Data Aware:

TDBAdvStringGrid – http://www.tmssoftware.com/
QuantumGrid – http://www.devexpress.com/
InfoPower – http://www.woll2woll.com/infopower/
TOPAZ – http://www.softsci.com/topazd.htm
Top Grid – http://www.objectsight.com/
DbAltGrid – http://www.dbaltgrid.com/
TIB_Grid – http://www.ibobjects.com/
TDBGridPro – http://vipper.downloadit.gr/
TSMDBTableGrid – http://www.sunsoft.ru/
X-DBGrid – http://republika.pl/kszyszka/x-files.html
TExDBGrid – http://www.gjl-software.co.uk/
TVizDbGrid – http://www.vizacc.com/i_prod_gexpert.php

Grid Print Engines:

PrintDAT – http://www.grebarsys.com/
ExpressPrinting System – http://www.devexpress.com/
My (Kyle’s) own grid print engine, developed just before these started coming out.

Header Footer Add-ons:

DbHdrCtrlGrid – http://www.dbaltgrid.com/
TSDBGridFooter – http://www.sedlan.com

Specialist Grids:

TIB_Ledger – http://www.ibobjects.com/

Delphi Resources

Pure Technologies offer open-source PureSOAP, which looks like a good way to use SOAP from Delphi, without require the Enterprise edition of Delphi 6. Another good approach for this is to use Microsoft’s SOAP support (ROPE, etc.) via COM.

DUnit is a Delphi version of the “xUnit” familt of unit test tools popularized by Extreme Programming adherents. I’ve found it quite useful even on projects that have nothing to do with XP. I tend to be skeptical of any significant body of code for which there is not a test suite.

Around the same time you automate your testing with DUnit, take a look at FinalBuilder for automating your build process in Delphi and other Windows IDE-based tools like help systems, installation systems, etc. I haven’t tried it myself yet it looks quite appealing.

Since the Kylix annoucement and arrival, there seems to be an abudance of people eager to use Delphi with non-Microsoft technolgoies, and I am pleased to see Delphi expand into the Linux world. We shouldn’t forget, though, that Delphi is superb for developing software using Microsoft technologies. For example, I have heard of companies doing all of their “heavy lifting” in COM objects written in Delphi, while using VB or ASP to put together overall applications. For more on Delphi with Microsoft technologies, see MSDelphi.com.

Windows Clients, Java Servers

Problem / Scenario:

You have server code in Java implementing business logic, or you want to have such code. Java is your strategic choice.

But… you have a need for a client application that will be a native Windows application, for whatever reason. Sample reasons: (1) they need to run quickly and smoothly on a factory floor full of Pentium 150 or slower machines with limited RAM. (2) they need to work in disconnected mode, or talk to local hardware, so a web application won’t work.

How do you write server code in Java (in EJBs, for example) but access it easily from a native Windows clients, for example a Delphi application?

Possible Solutions:

Solution #1: Talk JRMP from Delphi

Implement the Java RMI JRMP protocol in Delphi. This will be nearly impossible, since it is built on Java object serialization. So there are various approaches you could take.

Solution #2: Java on the Client, use JNI

Run Java on the client as well, and use JNI to communicate between Delphi and Java, then Java to do the client side RMI. This defeated the goal of keeping the client lean, though… a Delphi thin client can run well on an old, slow machine with 32 meg of RAM, Java can’t.

Solution #3: RMI-IIOP / CORBA

Some Java application servers can seamlessly (?) expose Java services (like EJBs) as CORBA objects. Borland has CORBA support available for Delphi. This will avoid the overhead of Java on the client, but is too vendor-specific for my tastes.

Solution #4: Your own Proxy on the server

Use a non-RMI way to communicate between the Delphi client and an extra "tier" at the server; this piece of middleware would communicate with Delphi using any of a number of methods, including DCOM. Then use JNI or other means to access the Java services on the same (server) machine.

Solution #5: ASTA-Java

ASTA has a product (though I don’t know if it’s in development, or ready to go) that provide an generic mechanism for invoking EJB operations, from a Delphi client. The challenge here is how to send and receive complex types, which are defined by Java classes.

Solution #6: Web Services with SOAP

Expose the server-side services as web services via SOAP. Choose an application server which will automatically expose your EJBs this way, if possible. Then use any available way to make a Delphi client talk SOAP. PureSOAP and Microsoft’s SOAP support are two possible ways. (This is really the most appealing choice to me, as of 2001.)

Solution #7: Homegrown web services

It’s really not all that hard to write wrapper code that exposes your server services via HTTP requests with parameters, via XML strings, etc. Such a thing would not be language specific, so the server could be on one language, the client in another. This solution has some appeal in cases where you want the pieces to be tightly "wrapped up" and not exposes in anything as standard as SOAP for some reason.

 

There many, many paths to use to get from point A to point B… if you have a different scenariou in mind, tell me about it and I will try to expand this page to cover it.

Need to do this for your own project? Consulting services are available.

KCSM – Kyle Cordes’s Session Manager

Back in the dark ages of PHP3, session support was not built in.

KCSM implements and ASP style session[] array in PHP3. There are two version of KCSM – one works with files stored on the web server (this requires no database, and should work with any web hosting account), and one that works with MySQL.

Download as a gzip’ed tar file: kcsm0.2.tgz

Download as a ZIP file: kcsm0.2.zip

An updated kcsm.php3 file, modified by a user (Garritt Grandberg) is available here.