Category Archives: php

Setting up PHP for development on Windows Services for Linux in Windows 10

I have been working a little with PHP, for the first time for a while, and soon found it annoying not to have the convenience of instant application testing and line by line debugging. I have set up a PHP development environment before using XAMPP for Windows and Eclipse, but it was fiddly. I also prefer PHP on Linux, which is where my scripts will be running.

Since Windows 10 now has a Linux environment built-in, called Windows Services for Linux (WSL), I decided to set this up to run Apache, PHP and MySQL and to try debugging my scripts there.

My PC is a recent installation and I had not yet installed WSL. To do so, you have to both download a Linux distribution from the Store (I chose Ubuntu), and enable WSL in Windows features. Then restart, launch Ubuntu, set a username and password, and you are up and running.

Note the Linux commands that follow should be run as root using sudo.

Before doing anything else, I got Ubuntu up to date:

apt-get update

apt-get upgrade

Then I installed the LAMP suite:

apt-get install lamp-server^

(the final ^ is intentional; see the guide here).

To check that everything is working, I created the file phpinfo.php in /var/www/html with the following contents:

<?php phpinfo(); ?>

and restarted Apache:

/etc/init.d/apache2 restart

Note: if you have IIS running in Windows, or another web server, Apache will not be able to listen on port 80. Change the port in /etc/apache2/ports.conf and in /etc/apache2/sites-enabled/000-default.conf

Then I opened a web browser on the Windows side and browsed to localhost:

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and

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We are up and running, but not debugging PHP yet. Remember the basic rules of WSL:

  • you cannot change Linux files from Windows.
  • you can access Windows files from Linux.

We want to edit PHP from Windows, so we’ll define a site that uses Windows files. Windows files are under /mnt/c (or whatever drive letter you are using).

So if you example you have your PHP website in a folder called c:\websites\mysite, you can have Apache serve files from that folder.

The quickest way to get up and running is to create a symbolic link in the Apache home directory, in my case /var/www/html. Change to that directory and type:

ln -s /mnt/c/websites/mysite mysite

Now you can view the site at http://localhost/mysite/

This worked first time for me, complete with PHP running. You could also set up multiple virtual hosts in Apache, and use the hosts file in Windows to map other host names to localhost.

Next, you probably want PHP to show error messages. To do this, replace the default php.ini with the development version (or tweak it according to your own preferences. At the time of writing, on Ubuntu, the default PHP version is 7.0 and php.ini-development is located in /usr/lib/php/7.0/php.ini-development. So I backed up the ini file at /etc/php/7.0/apache2, replaced it with the development version, and restarted Apache. My PHP form immediately showed me a non-fatal undefined index error, so it worked.

There is one small inconvenience. Apache in WSL will only run during the session. So before starting work, you have to open Ubuntu and type:

sudo apache2ctl start

Well, background task support is coming to WSL but I do not regard this as a big problem.

OK, this is cool, we can make changes in the PHP code in our favourite Windows editor, save, and view the results directly in the browser. But what about line-by-line debugging? For this, we are going to use Visual Studio Code with the PHP Debug extension:

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Then on the Ubuntu side:

apt-get install php-xdebug

Restart Apache:

apache2ctl restart

Check that phpinfo.php now shows an Xdebug section. Then edit php.ini and add the following:

[XDebug]
xdebug.remote_enable = 1
xdebug.remote_autostart = 1

Restart Apache again and XDebug is ready to go.

Over in Visual Studio code there is a little more work to do. The problem is that although everything is running on localhost, the location of the files looks different to Linux than to Windows. We can fix this with a pathMappings setting. In Visual Studio code, open the PHP file you want to debug. Click the Debug icon and then the little gearwheel near top left; this will open launch.json. By default there are a couple of settings for XDebug. These are OK for a default setup, but we need to add path mapping so that the debugger knows where to find the files. For example:

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Now you can set a breakpoint, start debugging, and open the page in your browser:

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More guidance on the PHP Debug extension by Felix Becker is here.

Final thoughts

This is cool; but is it better or worse than an old-style VM running Linux and PHP? The WSL solution is lightweight and convenient, but unlike a VM it is not isolated and you may hit issues that are unique to WSL, because not everything runs. I did happen to suffer crashes in Visual Studio and in Outlook while WSL was running; it may well be coincidence, but I cannot help wondering if WSL might be to blame.

Still, a great feature of WSL is that when you exit your session, it goes away, so it is not too intrusive. I plan to use it for PHP debugging and will see how it goes.

Microsoft improves Windows Subsystem for Linux: launch Windows apps from Linux and vice versa

The Windows 10 anniversary update introduced a major new feature: a subsystem for Linux. Microsoft marketing execs call this Bash on Windows; Ubuntu calls it Ubuntu on Windows; but Windows Subsystem for Linux is the most accurate description. You run a Linux binary and the subsystem redirects system calls so that it behaves like Linux.

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The first implementation (which is designated Beta) has an obvious limitation. Linux works great, and Windows works great, but they do not interoperate, other than via the file system or networking. This means you cannot do what I used to do in the days of Services for Unix: type ls at the command prompt to get a directory listing.

That is now changing. Version 14951 introduces interop so that you can launch Windows executables from the Bash shell and vice versa. This is particularly helpful since the subsystem does not support GUI applications. One of the obvious use cases is launching a GUI editor from Bash, such as Visual Studio Code or Notepad++.

The nitty-gritty on how it works is here.

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Limitations? A few. Environment variables are not shared so an executable that is on the Windows PATH may not be on the Linux PATH. The executable also needs to be on a filesystem compatible with DrvFs, which means NTFS or ReFS, not FAT32 or exFAT.

This is good stuff though. If you work on Windows, but love Linux utilities like grep, now you can use them seamlessly from Windows. And if you are developing Linux applications with say PHP or Node.js, now you can develop in the Linux environment but use Windows editors.

Note that this is all still in preview and I am not aware of an announced date for the first non-beta release.

Running WordPress on Windows Azure

I am investigating hosting this site on Windows Azure, partly as a learning exercise, and possibly to enable easier scaling.

I discovered that any web site short of Standard is worthless other than for experimentation and prototyping. I set up a Small Standard Web Site (£48 per month). But what database? I recalled that you can run WordPress with SQL Server and tried using a 1GB SQL Server Web Edition hosted on Azure (£6.35 per month).

In order to use this, I used the Brandoo WordPress configuration which is set up for SQL Server. I later discovered that it uses the WP Db Abstraction plug-in which according to its home page has not been updated for two years. The installation worked, but some plug-ins reported database errors. I imported some posts and found that search was not working; all searches failed with nothing found.

My conclusion is that running WordPress with SQL Server is unwise unless you have no choice. I looked for another solution.

Azure has a Web Site template which uses WordPress and a MySQL database hosted by ClearDB. I would rather not involve another hosting company, so considered other options. One is to run a VM on Azure and to install MySQL on it. If you are doing that, you might as well put WordPress on the same VM at least until the traffic justifies scaling out. So I have created a new Medium Linux VM – two virtual cores, 3.5GB RAM – at £57 per month, with Ubuntu, and installed the LAMP stack and WordPress on that. The cost is similar to the Windows/SQL Server setup, but the VM is a higher specification, since a Small Web Site is 1 virtual core and 1.75GB RAM. You also get full access to the VM, as opposed to the limited access that a Web Site offers. The installation is a bit more effort but performance is better and it looks like this might work.

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PHP Developer survey shows dominance of mobile, social media and cloud

Zend, a company which specialises in PHP frameworks and tools, has released the results of a developer survey from November 2011.

The survey attracted 3,335 respondents drawn, it says, from “enterprise, SMB and independent developers worldwide.” I have a quibble with this, since I believe the survey should state that these were PHP developers. Why? Because I have an email from November which asked me to participate and said:

Zend is taking the pulse of PHP developers. What’s hot and what matters most in your view of PHP?

There is a difference between “developers” and “PHP developers”, and much though I love PHP the survey should make this clear. Nevertheless, If you participated, but mainly use Java or some other language, your input is still included. Later the survey states that “more than 50% of enterprise developers and more than 65% of SMB developers surveyed report spending more than half of their time working in PHP.” But if they are already identified as PHP developers, that is not a valuable statistic.

Caveat aside, the results make good reading. Some highlights:

  • 66% of those surveyed are working on mobile development.
  • 45% are integrating with social media
  • 41% are doing cloud-based development

Those are huge figures, and demonstrate how far in the past was the era when mobile was some little niche compared to mainstream development. It is the mainstream now – though you would get a less mobile-oriented picture if you surveyed enterprise developers alone. Similar thoughts apply to social media and cloud deployment.

The next figures that caught my eye relate to cloud deployment specifically.

  • 30% plan to use Amazon
  • 28% will use cloud but are undecided which to use
  • 10% plan to use Rackspace
  • 6% plan to use Microsoft Azure
  • 5% have another public cloud in mind (Google? Heroku?)
  • 3% plan to use IBM Smart Cloud

The main message here is: look how much business Amazon is getting, and how little is going to giants like Microsoft, IBM and Google. Then again, these are PHP developers, in which light 6% for Microsoft Azure is not bad – or are these PHP developer who also work in .NET?

I was also interested in the “other languages used” section. 82% use JavaScript, which is no surprise given that PHP is a web technology, but more striking is that 24% also use Java, well ahead of C/C++ at 17%, C# at 15% and Python at 11%.

Finally, the really important stuff. 86% of developers listen to music while coding, and the most popular artists are:

  1. Metallica
  2. = Pink Floyd and Linkin Park

Wow.

Top languages on Github: JavaScript reigns, Ruby and Python next

I cloned a github repository today, and while browsing the site noticed the language stats:

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Git was originally developed for the Linux kernel and is mainly for the open source community. I was interested to see JavaScript, the language of HTML 5, riding so high. PHP, C and C++ are lower than I would have guessed, Ruby and Python higher.

Here are some figures for the venerable Sourceforge:

Java (7,163) 19%
C++ (6,449) 17%
C (4,752) 13%
PHP (3,521) 10%
Python (2,694) 7%
C# (2,481) 7%
JavaScript (2,011) 5%
Perl (1,138) 3%
Shell (757) 2%
Visual Basic NET (688) 2%
Delphi/Kylix (581) 2%

This comes with a health warning. I have taken the figures from the what you get if you browse the directory and drop down Programming Languages; but the total is only about 37,000, whereas Sourceforge hosts around 324,000 projects. I am not sure what accounts for the discrepancy; it could be that language is not specified for the other projects, or they are dormant, or some other reason. But I hope the proportions indicate something of value.

Github is madly trendy, and Sourceforge ancient, so this tells us something about how open source activity has shifted towards JavaScript, Ruby and Python, and away from Java, C/C++ and C#.

Of course the overall picture of programming language usage is quite different. For example, you can get some kind of clue about commercial activity from a job board like indeed.com, which currently has 77,457 US vacancies for Java, 22,413 for JavaScript, and only 5030 for Ruby.

Nevertheless, interesting to see what languages developers on Github are choosing to work with, and perhaps an indicator of what may be most in demand on the job boards a few years from now.

Finally, looking at these figures I cannot help thinking how short-sighted Microsoft was in abandoning IronPython and IronRuby back in 2010.

Zend’s PHP cloud: develop in the cloud, deploy anywhere

Zend has announced Zend Studio 9 beta, the latest version of its IDE for PHP. The feature that caught my eye is integrated support for the Zend Developer Cloud, currently in technical preview. Setting up a PHP development environment is not too difficult, but can be a hassle to maintain, and the idea of being able to fire up an IDE anywhere and start coding is attractive.

You do not need Zend Studio to use the Developer Cloud; they are independent projects, and you can use the free Eclipse PHP Development Tools (PDT) or another IDE or editor.

The PHP Developer Cloud is not just a shared hosting environment for PHP applications:

All applications are housed within a container on the Zend Application Fabric. This container is separate from all other containers and has its own database instance and is easily connected to your IDE.

The Zend Application Fabric is for deployment as well as development. It is a server framework that includes the Zend Framework and also the capability of scaling on demand.

Once you have developed your app, you can deploy to any cloud provider that supports the Zend Application Fabric, including Amazon Web Services, IBM SmartCloud,  a private “custom cloud”, or a resilient multiple cloud option which Zend calls RightScale. You can deploy to RightScale using both Amazon and Rackspace together, which I presume means your app will keep on going even if one of these providers were to fail.

Details on the site are sketchy, but if Zend has got this right it ticks a lot of boxes for enterprise PHP developers.

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Would you consider running PHP on Azure? Microsoft faces uphill battle to convince customers.

Yesterday Microsoft announced Windows Azure SDK for PHP version 3.0, an update to its open source SDK for PHP on Windows Azure. The SDK wraps Azure storage, diagnostics and management services with a PHP API.

Microsoft has been working for years on making IIS a good platform for PHP. FastCGI for IIS was introduced partly, I guess, with PHP in mind; and Microsoft runs a dedicated site for PHP on IIS. The Web Platform Installer installs a number of PHP applications including WordPress, Joomla and Drupal.

It is good to see Microsoft making an effort to support this important open source platform, and I am sure it has been welcomed by Microsoft-platform organisations who want to run WordPress, say, on their existing infrastructure.

Attracting PHP developers to Azure may be harder though. I asked Nick Hines, CTO for Innovation at Thoughtworks, a global IT consultancy and developer, what he thought of the idea.

I’d struggle to see any reason. Even if you had it in your datacentre, I certainly wouldn’t advise a client, unless there was some corporate mandate to the contrary, and especially if they wanted scale, to be running a Java or a PHP application on Windows.

Microsoft’s scaling and availability story around windows hasn’t had the penetration of the datacentre that Java and Linux has. If you look at some of the heavy users of all kinds of technology that we come across , such as some of the investment banks, what they’re tending to do is to build front and middle tier applications using C# and taking advantage of things like Silverlight to get the fancy front ends that they want, but the back end services and heavy lifting and number crunching predominantly is Java or some sort of Java variant running on Linux.

Hine also said that he had not realised running PHP on Azure was something Microsoft was promoting, and voiced his suspicion that PHP would be at a disadvantage to C# and .NET when it came to calling Azure APIs.

His remarks do not surprise me, and Microsoft will have to work hard to persuade a broad range of customers that Azure is as good a platform for PHP as Linux and Apache – even leaving aside the question of whether that is the case.

The new PHP SDK is on Codeplex and developed partly by a third-party, ReadDolmen, sponsored by Microsoft. While I understand why Microsoft is using a third-party, this kind of approach troubles me in that you have to ask, what will happen to the project if Microsoft stops sponsoring it? It is not an organic open source project driven by its users, and there are examples of similar exercises that have turned out to be more to do with PR than with real commitment.

I was trying to think of important open source projects from Microsoft and the best I could come up with is ASP.NET MVC. This is also made available on CodePlex, and is clearly a critical and popular project.

However the two are not really comparable. The SDK for PHP is licensed under the New BSD License; whereas ASP.NET MVC has the restrictive Microsoft Source License for ASP.NET Pre-Release Components (even though it is now RTM – Released to manufacturing). ASP.NET MVC 1.0 was licensed under the Microsoft Public License, but I do not know if this will eventually also be the case for ASP.NET MVC 3.0.

Further, ASP.NET MVC is developed by Microsoft itself, and has its own web site as part of the official ASP.NET site. Many users may not realise that the source is published.

My reasoning, then, is that if Microsoft really want to make PHP a first-class citizen on Azure, it should hire a crack PHP team and develop its own supporting libraries; as well as coming up with some solid evidence for its merits versus, say, Linux on Amazon EC2, that might persuade someone like Nick Hine that it is worth a look.

Adobe announces Flash Builder for PHP, PhoneGap integration in Dreamweaver

Adobe has stepped up its support for mobile and Flash development with a couple of announcements today.
The first is that Dreamweaver 5.5, part of the new Creative Suite 5.5, has integrated support for PhoneGap. PhoneGap lets you build apps for Apple iOS and Google Android using HTML and JavaScript, taking advantage of the WebKit runtime that is present in these devices. The apps are packaged as native apps and also have access to some device-specific features. This does not mean Adobe is abandoning Flash, but is part of a both/and strategy, which makes sense to me.
Adobe has also announced Flash Builder 4.5 for PHP, in partnership with Zend. A great feature is that you can debug seamlessly from PHP code on the server to Flex code running in a Flash client, provided you are using Zend server.
Flex 4.5 compiles to AIR apps on Android, Blackberry and iOS, as well as desktop Mac, Windows and Linux.
The new Flash Builder products will ship within 30 days. The premium edition is part of the Creative Suite bundle or available separately, while Flash Builder for PHP is a separate purchase at $399 or €319 for Standard, and $799 or €629 for Premium.
More news on this and screenshots soon.

JetBrains WebStorm 2.0 and PHPStorm 2.0 First Look

I respect JetBrains, an IDE company which survives despite intense competition from free tools such as Eclipse and NetBeans. It does so because developers like the products, especially the IntelliJ IDEA Java IDE. The tools are focused on coding; there are few visual designers but lots of coding help, such as code completion, refactoring, find usages, and fast navigation. The tools are also relatively lightweight, so start up quickly, and generally run on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

The latest from JetBrains is two related web development IDEs. WebStorm 2.0 is for general HTML/CSS/JavaScript work, and PHPStorm 2.0 is a superset of WebStorm which adds PHP editing and debugging. There is also some support for Adobe’s Flex and ActionScript code.

New in PHPStorm is PHP 5.3 support, Zend Debugger support, improved SQL editing, support for the Mercurial source code management system, and updates for HTML 5 and EcmaScript 5.

I am interested in these tools since HTML development is increasingly important. Browsers are getting increasingly powerful, with HTML 5 and fast JavaScript engines challenging plugins as rich application runtimes, and PHP is less well served by IDEs than you would expect considering its popularity.

My first impressions though are mixed. I noticed a lot to like, in particular the work JetBrains has done on supporting mixed languages: HTML, JavaScript, CSS, SQL,XML and so on. One of its features is that code completion works even within quotes. For example, if your PHP is outputting HTML to the browser, code completion still works. Most editors treat anything within quotes as plain text rather than as code.

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The IDE is highly configurable and also supports plugins. Live templates let you expand abbreviations to code fragments. There is support for generating documentation with JSDoc, ASDoc and PHPDoc. Testing with PHPUnit is integrated. These are products that will appeal to developers who are code-oriented – are there any others? – and who like the ability to fine-tune their tools to improve productivity.

That said, I did not find it easy to get started with PHPStorm. The main challenge is configuring your PHP environment to support debugging. I have not yet succeeded, though I have not spent all that long on it. Difficulty getting PHP debugging working seems to be the biggest single topic on the support forums currently.

I know this is tricky and it took me a while to get it working with Eclipse. It is important though, and anything the tools vendors can do to make this easier to setup would be welcome. There is a case for simply installing a dedicated LAMP or WAMP server with the product so that developers get immediate and reliable support for PHP debugging, with the option to configure for their own PHP server later.

Another thing I found annoying was the over-zealous spell checker, which seems inclined to check variable names as well as being unaware of PHP extensions like mysqli:

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I expect there is a way to fix both issues by configuring the product.

In general JetBrains does not seem to suffer from the “not invented here” syndrome and uses open source libraries and tools; in fact it depends on Firefox for JavaScript debugging, and automatically installs its own plugin to improve integration.

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However I picked up a note of disapproval in the description on the Zen Coding site about the way JetBrains has chosen to implement Zen Coding abbreviations:

These plugins are developed by third-party and has their own ZC engine implementation, which leads to different feature set and abbreviation syntax. Zen Coding team has no relation to this projects

WebStorm is modestly priced at £54.00 for individual developers or £115 per concurrent user for organisations.  PHPStorm is £77 or £154 on the same basis. Free licenses are available for education or for open source projects, on application.

Competing products include the free Eclipse PDT and NetBeans, the commercial Zend Studio, and for a more designer-friendly approach to PHP, Adobe Dreamweaver CS5.

No more Ruby support in NetBeans – the feature was little used, says Oracle

Oracle has announced the discontinuation of Ruby support in the NetBeans IDE. The reason? First, to free resources for JDK 7 support; but second (and more significant) – hardly anyone was using it.

There is hardly a shortage of Ruby IDEs. Ones that come to mind are the Eclipse-based Aptana, JetBrains RubyMine, the Visual Studio based Ruby in Steel, and Embarcardero’s 3rd Rail. Further, some Ruby developers prefer to work without an IDE.

I also suspect that Ruby has not quite hit the mainstream in the way it seemed that it might a few years back. Its influence has been huge, but in practice many developers still fall back to PHP, Java and C#.