PHP MySQL: The Missing Manual is A Great Tech Find

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PHP MySQL The Missing ManualIn a past review, I praised Dennis Mortensen’s Yahoo Web Analytics guide for its mentions of Javascript while explaining the functions of a web analytics solution.  The passages illustrate how technical a solution can be, and how essential the explanation are to wring value out of the applications that can make or break a business online.

I’ve done a few reviews on books covering marketing to finance, with a splash of analytics thrown in. But programming books have been left out because very few make a worthy attempt to bridge technical proficiency while appealing to people who still yet don’t know if Kirk or Picard was the better captain.

Well now, we are closer to an answer…not to epic Star Trek captain debates, but to the missing balance of tech and everyday-man’s language.

PHP MySQL The Missing Manual, by Brett McLaughlin, focuses on how PHP and MySQL fits in internet development.  It’s a perfect beginning programmers book that can serve double-duty as a skimming guide for curious small business owners.  I discovered the book as I had planned to sharpen some skills, and purchased a copy for this review.

PHP + MySQL = A Better Understanding of Internet Dynamics

Quick overview: PHP is a programming that sends sets of text to a web server as a command.  If you can’t imagine it immediately, think about every contact form where you’ve collected website information – the instruction for what to do with information is usually PHP code.   With that, envision you get the idea of where this programming language fits in.  It makes your website (or web application) an actionable asset, depending on how imaginative you are with code, and makes database concerns more clear.

If you hold that imagination, you will envision a great understanding from McLaughlin’s perspective.  He takes you through set up and first commands.  MySQL is added in a few chapters in, along with planning databases tables and regular expressions (if you use segmentation and goal filters in a web analytics solution, you’ll appreciate this treatment).  Security minded business owners will appreciate the chapters regarding authentication.

This is not the only book that pairs PHP and MySQL. Features from each operate hand in hand in many instances, and there are books that introduce other complimentary languages as well.  But The Missing Manual is one of a few at a reasonable size.  Reading its organization of chapters will not pull you too far from other business tasks.

Asides That Never Step Aside to Explain Code Clearly

McLaughin enhances the basics with his asides.  Inserting notes are typical for this kind of book – such as The Complete Idiots Guide to WordPress or Search Engine Optimization for Dummies  – but McLaughlin’s selection really does speak to programmer concerns and layman’s what-was-that-for questions.

A segment on planning an error page, for example, ends with useful tips on not overpromising delivery of a page correction:

“If you’re just getting started or have limited resources, you might do well to simply say that you get notified when errors occur and you usually fix problems within 24 or 36 hour…You can set up a rule in email to highlight mails with that subject. Whatever you do, make sure that your responsiveness matches what your error page promises, or you’re going to have a lot more than a programming problem to deal with.”

Programming and Database Talk that Makes Small Business Owners Wiser

As you can tell from the previous quote, McLaughlin’s approach is to explain what most programmers encounter.  Small business readers may feel the comments don’t speak to them, but the nuggets can help understand a bit about what a programmer undergoes, which can potentially aid a discussion with a developer to articulate website and application needs for the business.

It’s not the same structure as Ramon Ray’s book, Technology Resources for Growing Businesses, which is planned at the onset to explain a technology (cloud). But McLaughlin’s programming nuggets work.

Check out this comment about SQL and MySQL. McLaughlin emphasizes that SQL is a language, that MySQL is a database program, then delivers how those observations can aid your IT-related choices later:

“If you can keep the difference between SQL and mySQL in your head, you’re ahead of the game. That’s because when you work with PHP, you’re connected with a MySQL database, but you’re writing SQL commands and queries. As a result you can change to another database, and almost all your SQL work as long as the database accepts SQL.”

Making an effort to understand some programming nuances like this can be a plus. And McLaughlin works to make that plus as helpful as possible.

PHP MySQL The Missing Manual is no doubt a programmer’s book.  It’s a no-brainer result given that its publisher, O’Reilly, specializes in technical webinars, training, and books on programming language and web development.

But small business owners who have already exhausted HTML and are growing the complexity of their sites may want to check out this particular book for learning some of the right technical concerns.    The text is a beginning coder’s delight, first and foremost.  But I feel a few savvy small business owners will feel some delight, too, after a light read.

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Pierre DeBois Pierre Debois is Associate Book Editor for Small Business Trends. He is the Founder of Zimana, a consultancy providing strategic analysis to small and medium sized businesses that rely on web analytics data. A Gary, Indiana native, Pierre is currently based in Brooklyn. He blogs about marketing, finance, social media, and analytics at Zimana blog.

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