Unless you've been living on Mars for the last six to eight months, you've heard of open source software (OSS). This movement has got so much momentum that even the big boys are taking notice. Companies like Oracle, Informix, and a host of others are releasing their flagship database products for that poster child of the OSS movement, Linux.
Having a massively complex RDBMS (relational database management system) is all well and good if you know what to do with it. But perhaps you are just getting into the world of databases. You've read Jay's article and you want to put up your own data-driven Web site. But you find you don't have the resources or desire for an ASP server or some pricey database. You want something free, and you want it to work with Unix.
Enter PHP and MySQL. These two make up what must be the best combination for data-driven Web sites on the planet. You needn't take my word for it. An unofficial Netcraft survey shows that PHP usage has jumped from 7,500 hosts in June 1998 to 410,000 in March 1999. That's not bad. The combination was also awarded Database of the Year at Webcon98, where it received a lovely tiara.
MySQL is a small, compact database server ideal for small - and not so small - applications. In ddition to supporting standard SQL (ANSI), it compiles on a number of platforms and has multithreading abilities on Unix servers, which make for great performance. For non-Unix people, MySQL can be run as a service on Windows NT and as a normal process in Windows 95/98 machines.
PHP is a server-side scripting language. If you've seen ASP, you'll be familiar with embedding code within an HTML page. Like ASP, PHP script is processed by the Web server. After the server plays with the PHP code, it returns plain old HTML back to the browser. This kind of interaction allows for some pretty complex operations.
In addition to being free (MySQL does have some licensing restrictions though), the PHP-MySQL combination is also cross-platform, which means you can develop in Windows and serve on a Unix latform. Also, PHP can be run as an external CGI process, a stand-alone script interpreter, or an embedded Apache module.
If you're interested, PHP also supports a massive number of databases, including Informix, Oracle, Sybase, Solid, and PostgreSQL - as well as the ubiquitous ODBC. PHP supports a host of other features right at the technological edge of Internet development. These include authentication, XML, dynamic image creation, WDDX, shared memory support, and dynamic PDF document creation to name but a few. If that's not enough, PHP is easy to extend, so you can roll your own solution if you're programming savvy.
Finally, since both efforts are collaborative in nature, there's always plenty of support from documentation and mailing lists. Bugs are fixed rapidly, and requests for features are always heard, evaluated, and if feasible, implemented. Enough talk! Let's go over what we're going to cover in this tutorial.
Lesson 1 is going to cover the installation of these products on both Unix and Windows systems. If you don't need to worry about that (you're working on your ISP's machine, perhaps), jump right to the first example scripts, where the magic starts. In Lesson 2 we'll look at some more complex scripting goodies, including looping, form input, and sending
data from and to the database.