Book Review: AJAX and PHP

AJAX and PHP I recently advertised for readers wanting to review a number of books I was offered by Packt Publishing. The fourth review in the series is written by Arthus Erea, who has read AJAX and PHP: Building Responsive Web Applications.


Review of “AJAX and PHP: Building Responsive Web Applications”
Review by Arthus Erea

We’ve all heard about that powerful little engine running the latest and greatest websites: AJAX. As developers, many of us probably understand the basics of AJAX, since the technologies behind it (JavaScript and XML) aren’t exactly new. Yet, we’re hesitant to take that first step into using the technology. That’s where AJAX and PHP: Building Responsive Web Applications steps in with a thorough explanation of AJAX and a plethora of satisfying use cases. With a promise to teach us "how to create better PHP Web Applications by using AJAX technologies to their full potential," we are given a sherpa to help us up the pinnacle of AJAX.

Though the book assumes a basic familiarity with JavaScript and PHP, plenty of attention is paid to the basics. The first chapter delves into some history of the web and an explanation of the buzz around AJAX. It concludes with a quick AJAX application to get you started right away. With a wave of a wand, chapter 2 appears with a solid grounder in the magic of the DOM and smarter JavaScript. Chapter 2 also integrates a primer on XML and its power. With the client satisfied, chapter 3 delves into detail upon the server end of things with lessons upon PHP and MySQL. For the noobs among us,  an appendix is included which details setting up the environment with Apache, MySQL, and PHP. Whether you have never touched a line of PHP in your life or are simply looking to expand your skill set to the client side, "AJAX and PHP" has the basics you need.

With the nitty-gritty technical aspects out of the way, the rest of the book is devoted to various case studies. This is where the true value is found: the examples are both practical and exciting. With the mundane form validation and autosuggest out of the way, even more exciting case studies are introduced. In Chapter 5, we learn about building an AJAX-based web chat application. In Chapter 7, we are introduced to the power of SVG (scalable vector graphics) and how it can be combined with AJAX. For me, the most interesting chapter was chapter 8 which addresses a critical issue in our data-rich world: presenting long tables in an eye-catching and usable manner. Here, we are given a primer on XSLT and grid-based display. Throughout the book, you find sprinkles of useful examples which will certainly come in handy with the continual emphasis upon cloud computing in today’s marketplace.

Despite the strong case studies, "AJAX and PHP" falls short in some critical areas. Most importantly, there is no attention paid to the plethora of JavaScript libraries out there. This is unfortunate, since most of us will end up using a library to automate the simple, repetitive tasks. Additionally, the code samples often are far longer than needed, sometimes stretching over many pages. That being said, the book’s companion site offers downloads of all the case studies to get you started. Overall, AJAX and PHP: Building Responsive Web Applications is a strong primer on AJAX and a useful reference for the variety of practical AJAX applications.

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