5 Ways to be a Better PHP Developer

Often, an inexperienced PHP developer will hop onto IRC and ask a question in ##php on Freenode. And if the question is trivial, the answer seems obvious or they simply seem like a newbie, they may soon find themselves bombarded with such comments as “RTFM”, “Go learn PHP”, “We are not your personal tutors” or simply “You need to become a better PHP developer”. So, how is it that one becomes a better PHP developer? In this post, I’ll outline five ways to be a better developer, improve your productivity, write less code and achieve more with your web applications.There’s always more to learn when it comes to PHP development. New core functions, new frameworks, new design patterns, new code documentation styles. Here are some of the best ways you can become a better PHP developer.

1. Read the manual
I really can’t emphasize this enough – there’s a lot to be learned just reading the PHP manual. Especially check out the string and array functions. There’s a lot of functionality available right there, and often by reading through the manual you’ll find you’ve been reinventing the wheel in past projects when you could have just used a core function. The manual is your friend.

2. Browse through some code
PHP has a lot of open source code out there. So why not learn from it? Download an open source PHP application and have a read through the code. The bigger projects are probably better, as they’ll have more complex structures and systems in place but also more thorough documentation explaining it all. Check out SourceForge.net if you can’t find a good place to start.

3. Learn a new framework
There are more PHP frameworks out there than you’ve had hot dinners; a lot of them are open source and available online if you know where to look. Try the major ones first – phpframeworks.com has a good list. Your framework can never be entirely complete, your next job may require a different framework and you might just find the functionality of another comes in handy in one of your projects.

4. Research
You’ve probably heard a lot of terminology and discussed in the context of PHP web development. From OOP to MVC, KISS to DRY, YAML to INI, even REST to XML-RPC, there are hundreds of technical concepts out there that could directly relate to your work. You may have formed a basic understanding of them, but do you really know what they are or what they mean for you? Spend some time doing real research; Wikipedia is a good place to start. You’re bound to learn something new.

5. Learn OOP
Maybe this follows on a little from the previous point, but OOP is more important than you think. Do you really know about PHP5’s implementation OOP? For example, are you familiar with abstract classes, interfaces, the implements keyword, static methods and properties, the ‘protected’ access modifier? Even many experienced PHP developers fall down in this area. If you make use of the features of OOP, you could save yourself a lot of development time.

So there you have it. Five, straightforward yet significant ways to be a better PHP developer.

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