Building a Web database application is an intricate task, definitely deserving at least one book on the topic. Recognizing that need, O’Reilly & Associates has delivered a reference in its usual high-quality standard. Web Database Applications with PHP & MySQL by Hugh E. Williams and David Lane uses the entertaining example of an online storefront for a wine shop to step the reader through the myriad concepts involved in delivering a successful online presence.

Web Database Applications with PHP & MySQL

By Hugh E. Williams and David Lane
O’Reilly & Associates
March 2002
563 pages
ISBN: 0-596-00041-3
List price: $44.95

Hugh and Dave’s Online Wines
The practical example of the wine shop used throughout this book offers a tangible and logical progression through the creation of a Web application. For an experienced user, the book could serve as a refresher course, full of best practices in security, optimization, and data architecture. If you’ve been away from Web development for a while, this quick read can get you back on track. The audience that will benefit most from the content, however, consists of novice developers and those new to the Web environment.

The book’s layout is logical and helps facilitate the learning process. The first three chapters give concise but sufficient information about HTTP, database concepts, PHP, and MySQL. Chapters 4 through 9 are the meat of the book—the concepts and best practices behind database queries and user-handling. The final chapters step through more specific coverage of the wine store as a case study, focusing on the application of the skills presented in earlier chapters.

The book’s appendix offers excellent supplemental information, far beyond your normal list of resources and syntax. You’ll find instructions for getting and installing everything you need to work through the examples, including the code to the wine store itself. Additional information about databases, sessions, and Web protocols extends the topical discussion presented in the chapters.

The wine shop example is consistent throughout the entire text. It is nice to have the continuity of a single sample application that builds with each new concept. This creates a familiarity with the material that makes it clear why the dozens of coding caveats are valuable and how each piece of information in the book affects the application as a whole. If you were ever wondering why user-handling or data structures were created in a certain way, the wine shop gives you a firm basis for understanding.

Practical and pertinent
Although the MySQL discussion in the book is fairly transferable to other database systems, the sample app makes no bones about using PHP. However, the authors do a good job of sticking to the primary focus, and the concepts surrounding best practices and why those conventions should be adopted are decidedly universal to the three-tiered Web platform.

Even if you’re an experienced programmer, this step-by-step guide serves as a great measure against practices you may take for granted. If you’re new to the topic, the book is not only a useful instructional manual, but it’s also a source for providing ideas of how to approach each of the concentrated subjects.

Perhaps the most immediate value this book provides is its walk-through of your first Web database application. The processing of orders to the online store isn’t covered, but setting up the infrastructure to support such a system is. Although the wine store isn’t a terribly robust application, for a first attempt, it serves its purpose: demonstrating why things work the way they do.

Great introduction for new developers
Experienced programmers don’t need to buy this book. But if a copy is available, they may find value in validating their strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, this book is a great guide for novice developers. PHP is an easy language to learn, and its familiar syntax doesn’t get in the way of the concepts being presented. The material is delivered in such a way that you can read the book cover to cover, and then continue to get use from it as a reference guide.

If you need a quick start into the world of Web applications, Web Database Applications with PHP & MySQL is worth every penny.