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Using the Manual at PHP.net

By Jeffery Vaska
on June 10, 2005

It might seem ridiculous to write about something as simple as how to
use the online manual at PHP.net, but
for two reasons I believe it’s not really so absurd.
When I first wandered into PHP territory I tried to use ‘the
. While being the most comprehensive resource
available I was unable to deal with it. I could not find the help I
needed nor was I able to understand much of what it was telling me. I
asked a friend to provide me with a reading list and I’m still waiting
for it to arrive in my email.
Secondly, a recent discussion in the PHPBuilder Echo Lounge revolved around research and
development practices. From time to time everybody will come across
something that looks useful but they aren’t sure how to use it.
Certainly, the manual is the first place to look for explanations,
samples and snippets.
This is a non-technical article written for new (‘newbie’) PHP
practitioners about close reading at PHP.net. This is a continuation
of the previous article I wrote called Learning
PHP Using the DIY Method
. At the end of this article is a short
collection of reading material at PHP.net that may be of value if you
are having a difficult time getting started on the finer points of PHP.
One thing that I think many may agree upon, the search facilities at
PHP.net are not all that great. They work best if you know exactly
what you are looking for but if you are fishing for a solution, good
luck. Afterall, it is just a manual. PHPBuilder and Google are much better
for those occasions in my opinion. When you become more familiar with
PHP function names and terminology you will fair much better.
What was the learning acronym they taught us in grade school? SQR3.
Survey. Question. Read-Recite-Review. I can only assume that people
take time to understand, as best as they can, the information they are
It’s important you study and even attempt to use the example code
provided in the manual. Seeing a script in action, even one particular
function, will greatly assist your understanding. Remember, a script
is really built from a core set of building blocks. Understanding how
these blocks work individually will allow your creative abilities to
shine in the future.
However, aside from reading the technical specifications and/or testing
out function which, user comments are an invaluable form of
information. In some cases, they are more useful than the descriptions
Regarding User Comments
The comments following the practicum provide sample snippets with clues
into usage, logical comparisons (to other functions) and limitations.
Understanding the key requirements and concept of a function is one
matter, but understanding how to use a function can be a much greater
For instance, if you look up array_map() you will find a
very short explanation regarding how the function works. It couldn’t
be more simple. However, user comments use about two-thirds of the
page. If you read through them you will gain a much better idea of
what is possible with array_map.
One of the more interesting comments, at least for me, concerns use of
addslashes() and array_map(). Since I was working on some user-input
validation issues I realized that I could use this function in
conjunction with some other things I had written making the task that
much easier to deal with. Later I realized that I could deal with
server setup issues (dealing with magic_quotes) with the help of this
All in all, and while this may sound like an ultra-geek admission,
oftentimes I really look forward to seeing what others will have to say
about a particular function. Many times you get a feel for the
creative juices that are out there working with PHP.
Getting Started Was The Hardest Part
Looking back a number of years now, I wish that my friend had sent me
that email with a list of reading materials. I’ve assembled a small
list of articles to read at PHP.net to get a newbie started. There
certainly is much more important information in the manual than just
these few pages. I’ll ask readers to feel free to offer more
suggestions in the comments section of this page.
Remember to SQR3 and read the user comments. Good luck!
  • PHP Language
    – explains pretty much everything you’ll need to know
    about writing PHP. This will also give you a rundown on how create
    loops as well. With the new features in PHP5 it’s recommended that
    once you get comfortable with the syntax you read and understand how
    classes work.
  • Security
    – these are a series of short entries regarding security and
    good coding practices. You should have an understanding of how to avoid
    allowing injection into your scripts.
  • Function Reference – more
    PHP functions than you could possibly know what to do with.
  • Array
    – they aren’t nearly as difficult to understand as it may
    seem. It only takes a few minutes to understand what most of these
    will do for you.
  • The Simple
    – if you really don’t know where to begin you can start
    with this one.