PHP London 2008

A belated writeup on last week’s PHP London Conference. Andy’s already written a post so I don’t feel too bad!

As it turned out we split the sessions so I’ll just cover those Andy’s not mentioned. First up was Stefan Esser‘s PHP Binary Analysis. It was looking at using complied PHP bytecode to debug and audit your code. Probably of more use to people doing detailed security audits but some interesting ideas that I’d like to look into when I get a bit more time.

After lunch Marcus Bointon presented Mail(); & Life after Mail(). He started early on by quoting a blog post from Hacked:

I Knew How To Validate An Email Address Until I Read The RFC

Anyone’s who’s ever tried to send email using PHP’s mail() function will know the lengths you go to to get things working. Even then you’re probably doing it wrong. The solution is to use a library to handle all the standards compliance for you, something that symfony provides through the PHPMailer library.

Marcus went through a bunch more libraries and compared some of the features they provide so it will be interesting to look into what’s best for our needs.

More interesting for me was finding out about return paths. This is what happens when an email bounces and with a bit of server side magic it is possible to handle errors better. It’s quite a complex task to do properly so I’m interested in a good hosted service which can be used for both one shot emails like user registrations for batch mailshots. Apparently there’s a few services out there but I’ve not seen any with a really good API.

Final session I went to alone was My Framework Is Better Than Yours? presented by Rob Allen, Toby Beresford and Ian P. Christian. Each gave a short presentation on their framework of choice – Zend, Code Igniter and symfony – followed by a panel discussion. It was clear that each has its advantages and disadvantages:

  • Zend is good for components to pick and choose which aspects of a framework you need. It can often be used with other frameworks too. This can also be a downside is they’re maybe not quite as integrated as other systems.
  • Code Igniter is lightweight and some might like that it runs under PHP4. Personally I think this is a disadvantage. Someone in the audience suggested there was a way of turning on HP5 mode but I can’t believe this does more than activates a few extra features. Coding for PHP5 is an attitude shift and I don’t see how they’ve done this while retaining compatibility.
  • symfony, well I knew a bit about that already 😉 Pookey did a pretty good job of presenting it.

During the panel discussion there was a comment about the criminal use of the term MVC to describe the frameworks. It got the attention of the room and there’s quite a lot of talk about this on the interweb. My view is that it doesn’t really matter whether a framework sticks rigidly to some design pattern if it provides the features that you need. I’m interested in getting things done, not in the theory of system design.

That’s all from me – check out Andy’s summary of the other sessions.

University e-mail from Google

I’ve just read a story on the BBC website announcing that Trinity College Dublin have switched to Google’s e-mail.

This is both an encouraging and surprising development but it sounds like the partnership approach Google offer isn’t dissimilar to the Microsoft offering launched a couple of years ago. On the one hand I think this is a step forward and removes the headache of maintaining an email service from the Universities but on the other I was surprised to read:

“The addresses and domain name still remain the same – but underneath the bonnet, it’s a service provided by Google.

These e-mail addresses, which can be accessed from any online computer, can be kept by students when they leave universities.”

This is where I have some reservations. I’m not convinced that we’ll be providing University email in the future. What will be the benefits of giving students life-long Google powered email addresses as opposed to life-long University managed ones? Either way would a student use that email address forever or are they more likely to use and maintain a separate account before, during and after their time at University?!

I’m pleased Google are looking to offer services to the sector but I would like to see us looking at creating systems which allow students to come to us with their own personal email, ID, preferred tools and for us to communicate with them via these. As far as I can see this development is a step in the right direction but it is replacing one Institutionally supported system for another and whilst I am a huge fan of Google’s services I’d like to see us giving students the freedom to use their tools of choice.

With regard to staff though I think this would be great. For staff it’s much more important to have an account. It gives us credibility, it demonstrates we are part of the academic community and it is an important part of our identity so I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on Trinity College and seeing what lessons we can learn from their move.