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Recommended for Beginners
on November 30, 2008
In 1978, I built two Heath Kit computers so that I could better understand what a computer was and how it worked because I had been unexpectedly assigned as the project manager for automating a very large manual process. Until then, I had only a vague notion that they existed, and I knew I was in trouble. I also taught myself to program proficiently in 4 languages: FORTRAN, Basic, PASCAL, and NATURAL as well as JPL.
Since then, I have kept up with the technology on the business side and I still build all of my new computers. But I let my programming and system admin skills atrophy over the years.
A couple of weeks ago, and now 62 years old, I decided to pick up where I left off many years ago but developing a dynamic web site using Apache Server, MySQL and Access, Info Path, and PHP. I also plan to explore CGI, and evaluate the pros and cons of APS and APS.NET, but that's a different project for a couple of months from now.
I found the opening chapters of the book to be easy to follow. The open source software for Apache, MySQL, and PHP on the CD that came with the book can certainly be used effectively, but I found that newer version of all three applications were available for downloading from the Web--all free, of course--and the instructions in the book work just fine for the newer versions of the software.
I was able to install the Apache server, MySQL, and PHP on a development computer (i.e., localhost or 127.0.0.1)and had everything working and a basic HTML only web page developed on Dreamweaver CS4 in about an hour.
This is fine for me because I intend to use a web site hosting service and so I only need to develop and test on my local computer and then upload everything to my ISP site.
If you intend to run your own dedicated web server and you are a beginner, you will need to pick up another reference book to learn how to obtain a static IP address and set up a web server. It's not hard, but this book won't be of much help. Try one of the "Building a Web Site for Dummies" books on setting up a web server at home or work. Be careful, though, because there are several still being sold and you want to be sure you purchase the newest version. I accidentally purchased an old version and ended up having to take it back to exchange it for a newer book.
Once you are up and running, the book takes you through descriptions and projects for writing basic PHP scripts, then it shows you how to use PHP to integrate MySQL (the chapters that were of the most benefit for me), and finally it ends with how to administer the Apache server.
If you have never done any programming before, then you might find the PHP a bit daunting at first. It was easy for me because even though I haven't done any serious programming since 1982, the basics for functions, procedures, calls, declaring variables, strings, data types,et al hasn't changed much in 26 years.
The same was true for MySQL. I have had experience on the business side creating relational databases and the NATURAL language that I taught myself in 1978 was either the precursor to SQL or it was an early competitor because the MySQL query language was virtually the same as that used in NATURAL. Therefore, while I'm very rusty in my programming skills, understanding the basics in the book probably came easier for me that it would for someone who had no previous programming or query writing experience.
Not to worry thought. I was an infantry officer in the US Marine Corps in 1978 and had spent the first 10 years of my career leading Marines in combat and in infantry units. My first actual staff officer assignment at a major headquarters was the Project Officer responsible for automating the Marine Corps' officer assignment system. At that time, I had no idea what a computer was and I had no idea why the Marine Corps would assign someone like me to a technical position that obviously required expert knowledge in developing advanced custom computer software and custom outputs to optimize the assignment of all officers in the Marine Corps. Frankly, I would have preferred serving another couple of years in combat armed with only a Swiss Army Knife over working with computers.
What's my point? If you are new to programming and databases, don't let it intimidate you. If an old war horse like me can do it, you can probably do it faster and better. If you don't know a variable from a data type or the difference between functions, arrays, and objects; just stick with it and just when you think you'll never understand it, a light will come on and you'll make a big leap forward and the pieces will begin to fall into place more quickly as you make progress.
The examples in the book are easy (harder for a complete novice), but as one previous reviewer pointed out, there are a few errors in the sample code that will cause you to think that you are doing something wrong.
The key is to work through all of the examples. If you have followed the instructions precisely and you example project still doesn't work, then you have hit one of the unreported errors. I suggest you go on to the next project in the book, or take the previous review up on his offer to email you the corrections.
If you are a complete novice and don't know a web site from a construction site, then I suggest reading the "for Dummies" books for building web sites and developing web pages. There are a number of good free and inexpensive web page editors that you can use. I suggest trying out the free version to get a feel for what's involved and then deciding where you want to go from there. If you are just interested in a web site with a few personal pages on it, then high end web page editors and this book are definitely overkill. If you find that you are interested in developing more complex dynamic web sites, then this book will help you get started on the web server side and I would recommend that you consider purchasing the Adobe Dreamweaver CS4 web page editor. But be forewarned--Dreamweaver is expensive and the learning curve can be steep, so make sure that you really want to put the money and effort into web page development before you go the high end route.
I have one final comment. If you are already using Microsoft's Access database, then you may want to skip the MySQL part of the book. Integrating Access is not hard, but you'll have to download the ODBC connector for PHP (it's free) and you may have to search the Internet for a little help on how to do the integration, but it's basically the same as integrating MySQL. Since I want to use Microsoft's Info Path to cut some of my development time, I intend to use both MySQL and Access.
Enjoy the journey.