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By David Powers | Saturday, July 19, 2014

Send Email from a Web Form with PHP

Use PHP to send the contents of a web form via email

Sending the contents of an online form to an email address is one of the most useful applications of PHP. It’s not difficult; but it’s easy to make a mistake. In this article, I’ll show you how to avoid common pitfalls that arise when sending the contents of a form with PHP.

By David Powers | Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How Do I Learn PHP?

How do I learn PHP?

One piece of advice sticks in my mind from the days when I started learning PHP: “Just read the PHP online documentation. You don’t need anything else.” PHP’s online manual is excellent, and contains lots of practical examples. But it was like throwing me a Chinese dictionary and telling me it contained all I needed to learn the language. I had no idea where to start.

By Mark Niemann-Ross | Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Code Clinic: 6 Problems in 6 Programming Languages

CodeClinic

“Learn to code!” It’s the latest buzzphrase. Everyone from Barack Obama to Will.i.am is talking up the importance of learning a programming language—which is good. But it’s only part of the story.

Successful programmers know more than just a computer language. They also know how to think about solving problems. They use “computational thinking”: breaking a problem down into segments that lend themselves to computer solutions.

Our Developer content at lynda.com already provides a wealth of programming courses geared towards all levels of experience. Starting this month, we’ll also delve into computational thinking—with a unique new set of courses called Code Clinic.

By David Gassner | Thursday, July 10, 2014

Installing PHP on Windows

installing_php

The Windows packaging of PHP has changed since my course Installing Apache, MySQL and PHP was last updated, and could affect your installation should you choose to install separate components. No fear—you should be able to correct the problem by creating a new version of your php.ini file. Here’s a solution for installing PHP on Windows that works on my system.

By Morten Rand-Hendriksen | Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Why WordPress?

Why WordPress?

What makes WordPress a good solution? Why is it so popular? Regardless of the question, the answer is the same, and it can be boiled down to three simple words:

Because WordPress works.

Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that. Let me put it into context from the perspective of the three main users of WordPress: the end user, the site owner, and the designer/developer.

Easy to find, easy to use, easy to share

A poorly kept secret about WordPress is its findability. If someone asked you how to get indexed on Google and you answered “Just set up a WordPress site,” you would not be far from the truth. The way WordPress is built makes it a magnet for search engines and other online indexes. So much so that if you don’t want your WordPress site indexed, you have to take steps to prevent it from happening.

Out of the box, WordPress has great search and share optimization. With the addition of plugins like WordPress SEO, AddThis, and Facebook for WordPress, these built-in capabilities are further enhanced, giving any site the opportunity to become the next big thing on the web. This is provided the content is great, of course. We’ll get to that later.

The purpose of many websites is to put out easily findable, accessible, and shareable information. And WordPress does this in spades. When you are searching for content on the web today, you will likely find it on a WordPress site. If you are reading or viewing content on a WordPress site, you are able to access and interact with that content through comments and RSS feeds. And once you have read the content, you will have an easy time sharing it with your friends on social sharing sites and social media.

Easy to publish, easy to configure, easy to maintain

WordPress is a prime example of the virtues of open source. It is built, evolved, and maintained by the people that use it and is therefore in a constant state of forward-moving flux. For site owners this means by simply running a WordPress site and keeping it up to date, they are at any time using the most current web technologies to communicate with the world.

Over the past three years, WordPress has undergone several fundamental design and development changes that have made an already easy-to-use application even easier to use. At the same time it has become more powerful and diverse. From how it is installed to how a site owner can publish content and interact with visitors, WordPress leads the way in removing the barriers that prevent anyone from publishing online. Between WordPress.com and self-hosted WordPress, most people with access to an Internet connection are now able to publish their thoughts, ideas, and creations online with minimal effort. With the challenges of web technologies all but removed, the site owner can focus on what matters: producing and publishing excellent content to share with the world.

Easy to build, easy to augment, easy to evolve

For me, the true power of WordPress lies in the back end. Whether you are a complete novice or a seasoned pro, building themes and plugins for WordPress will make your life easier and will enable you to do more in less time. I am walking proof.

With a design in place, building a custom WordPress site from scratch—one that looks and behaves nothing like what is expected of a WordPress site but is still just as easy to use and maintain—takes less time than with any other platform I have tried. When people ask me what WordPress can do I answer, “Whatever you want it to do.” And I stand by that statement. At its core, WordPress is a simple interface between the site owner, the database, and the end user. All the stuff in between (administration, themes, and functionalities) is available for the designer and developer to play with and add to in any way they want. And because WordPress is open source, people can step in and contribute to the WordPress community in whatever capacity they feel fit, from answering questions in the forums and building free themes or plugins to contributing to WordPress Core.

The bottom line

Though it may sound like I see WordPress as the be-all and end-all of web publishing, the reality is I am a pragmatic platform agnostic. The reason I laud WordPress and why I love teaching people about WordPress is because I see it as one of the best available solutions for most websites today. I have and continue to work with other solutions including Drupal and Joomla!, but for most of the websites I encounter, WordPress is one of the best options.

Whether you are just starting to play with the idea of publishing a blog, you want to become a web designer or developer, or if you already know all there is to know about the web and you just want to play with something new, WordPress is a great tool to use. It has both the ease of use and the advanced features to suit pretty much any need. And when that need isn’t met, a theme, a plugin, or an extension is there to fill the void.

Interested in more?

Suggested courses to watch next:

By Ray Villalobos | Saturday, May 19, 2012

Building your web development core skills, and adapting a cross-language approach

Mac Keyboard image.

One question I encounter a lot is whether it’s best for a developer to dabble in a lot of new technologies like SASS, Node, and Rails, or if it’s a better route to specialize in a smaller number of technologies to the point of perfection. Sometimes it feels like the vast number of front- and back-end technologies make it impossible to keep up. This feeling can be especially daunting when you’re looking for a job and it seems like potential employers only want to hire Web Sifus who, on top of having mastered both front-end and back-end technologies, also come with design, video editing, and page layout skills. (If you know that person, or if you’ve encountered a job description like this that only wants to hire Superman—comment below.)

Like all extremes, trying to learn too much, and focusing on too little, are both wrong approaches. Plain and simple, trying to keep up with every language and library is impossible. The goal is not to be miserable trying to learn everything, but to focus on your core and then cross train on skills rather than languages.

Building your Core

For a web developer, a good foundational group of skills to start with are: 1. Setting up and managing a server 2. Building a semantic page structure 3. Mastering page styles 4. Building interaction with the front end 5. Using databases to customize a visitor’s experience

It doesn’t matter whether you’re learning PHP, Python, Ruby, or any other  language you prefer. Learning that some problems are better solved by languages on the server and some on the client is essential. In the end, it’s more important to be proficient at solving problems than slightly more fluent in a specific development language.

After building on your core, it’s essential to make sure you approach projects with a cross-language attitude that stays focused on using the languages you’re comfortable with, and also learning to use different technologies when they make the most sense—not because you feel like you “have to.”

Cross-Language Cross-Training

Cross training in web development means that no one language is an island. You almost never use PHP by itself, or try to solve every problem on a page with JavaScript. Sometimes, the best solution is figuring out how you can combine languages together, and how to decide which language is right for the task at hand.

Recently while working on a Facebook application, I noticed that although there is an SDK (Software Development Kit) for PHP and JavaScript, trying to use just one SDK is silly. It’s better to use both since every language has strengths and weaknesses. For me, web development cross training means taking advantage of that balance and using the best tool for the job.

In the latest episode of View Source, I show you how to use HTML, PHP, and jQuery to upload images to a server and display them on a page as they are loaded. This is a good example of cross training, or, using a combination of skills to accomplish a task. In the video, I use HTML to allow people to upload files, then I use PHP to read the files uploaded to a directory, and jQuery to update the page as soon as a new photo is uploaded so the image uploader can see whether the upload was successful.

Remember, balance is critical to any job. Don’t spread yourself too thin, but also don’t limit your learning so you find yourself struggling with cross-language development. Build your core, then work on your cross-training. While this exercise routine won’t bring you any closer to having six-pack abs, it will make you a better problem solver, and a stronger developer, which will bring you two steps closer to landing your dream job.

Interested in more? • The full View Source weekly series on lynda.com • All web + interactive courses on lynda.com • All courses from Ray Villalobos on lynda.com

Suggested courses to watch next:• Create an HTML5 Video Gallery with jQueryPHP with MySQL Essential TrainingDreamweaver CS5 with PHP and MySQL

By Ray Villalobos | Saturday, May 12, 2012

Why you should learn PHP after HTML, CSS, and JavaScript

PHP in Action using my iPad

PHP in Action using my iPad

Earlier in my design career I read an insightful book by Roger Black called Websites that Work. One of his rules of design was that after black and white, red was the third color. White is the brightest color, and black has the most contrast to white, but red is the color that gives you the most bang for the buck if you’re looking to get your text noticed. That three-color premise makes me think back to development languages—specifically, which are important, why they are important, and in what order they should be approached.

I’m a big fan of PHP, and much like red, I think it’s the language that will give you the biggest bang for your learning buck. I propose that after you learn HTML/CSS, the next thing you should learn is JavaScript, and the third thing you should learn is PHP. You might argue that HTML and CSS are two different things, but I see them as the key semantic and layout combination of the web, so I consider them one item bundled together.

So what is PHP, and why should I learn it third?

PHP is a server-side language with files that are processed before they are sent to a client computer. It’s easily available in even the cheapest shared hosting servers and runs some of the biggest web sites on the Internet including Facebook. PHP also serves as the engine for most blogging platforms, including WordPress.

Some may argue that learning something like node.js is an easier transition from JavaScript, and I will admit, the superior object-oriented structure of Python and the MVC frameworks like Rails might be tempting, but to me, PHP is a the language for getting things done. If you already know JavaScript, the syntax is eerily similar so you can get going quickly.

If you’re into an MVC structure, there are plenty of frameworks available for the PHP language. To get started, I’d recommend checking out Drew Flakman‘s PHP frameworks course, MVC Frameworks for Building PHP Web Applications.

Using PHP hands-on

In this week’s episode of View Source, I wanted to show you a technique that I use often with PHP—creating a folder where people can drop photos, and then using PHP with jQuery to build a slideshow of the photos dropped into that folder. When it’s done, all you have to do is drop a new photo into a folder to update your slideshow, and your site will automatically update with the new content. It’s how I update the photos on the blog for View Source, and I’ve used the same technique to add elements like audio and PDF links to web sites before. With this technique, you can easily teach someone how to update a web site by simply dropping files into a folder.

Interested in more? • The full View Source weekly series on lynda.com • All web + interactive courses on lynda.com • All courses from Ray Villalobos on lynda.com

Suggested courses to watch next:PHP for Web Designers• Create an Interactive Video Gallery with jQueryPHP with MySQL Essential TrainingDreamweaver CS5 with PHP and MySQL

By Ray Villalobos | Saturday, April 07, 2012

Three tips to help you get started on a new web development project

View Source series table of contents as seen on lynda.com

Recently I received a message from a member inquiring about how I choose the topics I cover in my weekly View Source series. If you were to look at the index for View Source, it may look like unrelated topics, but all the tutorials do have a common thread—they were all made to focus on 10-minute tips that are useful to self-starters. For many years I designed websites, graphics, icons, and multimedia projects for a large newspaper and felt somewhat like a small cog in a really big engine. It was at that job that I learned how to code with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, but ultimately I knew there was a lot more to making a site successful than coding. It’s those ‘other’ skills you need to be a success that I try to touch on as often as possible in my View Source entries.

Today’s blog entry stems from a post-newspaper job I was offered making a network of radio station websites from scratch. Since I have a natural love for learning, the thought of putting something brand new together was irresistible, but with knowledge of only the core trifecta (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript), I really needed to focus on what real-world techniques and skills I needed to accomplish this job.

What comes next? What skills do I have to develop ? What techniques do I have to learn? These are some of the questions I regularly asked myself when I was facing the radio station build, and questions I often ask myself now when I am coming up with View Source topics, so I wanted to share three things I learned in my early transition that helped me to move on and start a new project.

1. Analytics

One of the first things that caught my eye even while working as a small cog in the newspaper industry was analytics, and in particular, traffic patterns on web sites. My first experience with analytics was learning how to use a program called Urchin, which was the precursor to Google Analytics. Working in Urchin I learned that web sites, like most things, obey certain patterns. For example, web sites tend to have more traffic on weekdays than weekends, and traffic goes down dramatically on holidays. I learned that it’s important to track your web apps as soon as you launch them, and then to make your future plans are based on how people are interacting with your product.

One of my tasks I preformed on the radio station web site was to build a small 1-10 rating system feature that I didn’t think much about. The rating system worked by letting you give Kudos and ratings to your friends directly on your friend’s pages. It didn’t take me that long to program, and I had no real plans for doing much else with it, but people went nuts over the feature. Soon rating wars and a reciprocal rating requests (‘I’ll give you a 10 if you give me a 10′) starting breaking out as people wanted to make sure to always have a lot of votes and a perfect 10 rating. I didn’t see it coming, but using analytics to study the usage of the network allowed me to adjust my programming accordingly.

Learning how people use your products is even more important than your road map. Your users are the most important thing, so it’s very important to make sure you know how they’re using your product, and using analytics allows you to really track what is working (and what isn’t).

In this video from chapter two of the Google Analytics Essential Training course, author Corey Koberg discusses the concept of web analytics as not only a tool, but also a process.

2. Jumping into back-end technologies

On the web, developers talk about front-end versus back-end technologies. Front-end refers to technologies that execute on a user’s browser—the aforementioned HTML, CSS, and JavaScript are all front-end technologies. To build web sites that serve up different information to different users, you have to learn back-end languages, which tend to be more complicated. When I left my first job I already knew that no site gets built with only front-end technologies, so I started right away with PHP, which is still a great way to learn back-end development. PHP is a great language for solving problems. Do you need to submit a form? Talk to a database? Upload a File? These are all things PHP can make easy.

In the coming weeks, there’s going to be more discussion of back-end technologies on View Source. In this week’s episode, seen below, I focus on showing you how to parse XML from a YouTube channel.

Why YouTube? Building a YouTube Channel lets you tap into YouTube’s huge audience which views about three billion videos per day, and sees about 800 million unique visitors per month. Creating a YouTube channel is easy, free, and allows you to incorporate video into your site without any bandwidth costs.

3. Using jQuery and AJAX

One of the other technologies I committed myself to learning after leaving my newspaper job was jQuery. I wasn’t particularly interested in jQuery, but I was interested in what jQuery could do for sites through AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML). You see, there is a problem with JavaScript, and it’s the same problem that many web languages encounter—the way the language works on different platforms is inconsistent. This is really evident when you start working with AJAX as a way to have sites update content without reloads. jQuery takes care of the cross-platform issues and allows you to build things that would be really hard to do using only JavaScript. jQuery also helps your site feel modern and, because it handles cross-platform issues, it will make your life easier.

If you’ve got seven minutes, take a look at this View Source tutorial that shows you how to build a photo rotator using jQuery:

Every week, I plan on expanding the list of technologies featured in the View Source series, including a focus on mobile, CSS, CMS, and others. I will also continue to focus on tricks I’ve learned along the way, and emerging technologies like jQuery mobile. As always, if you have an idea for something you’d like covered, please feel free to let me know in the comments section below!

Interested in more? • The entire View Source weekly series • All developer courses on lynda.com • All web + interactive courses on lynda.com • All courses from Ray Villalobos on lynda.com

Suggested courses to watch next:Mobile Web Design & Development FundamentalsGoogle Analytics Essential TrainingWeb Site Planning and Wireframing: Hands-On TrainingWeb Form Design Best Practices

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