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Adding PHP to Apache on Linux

Supercharging Your Web Pages

  • December 23, 1999
  • By Ken Coar

Editor's note: With this debut column, Ken Coar joins LinuxPlanet as a monthly columnist. Coar's background as a pioneer in the open-source community is impressive, as a member of the Apache Group and a director and vice president of the Apache Software Foundation. He is also a core member of the Jikes open-source Java compiler project, a contributor to the PHP project, the author of Apache Server for Dummies, and a contributing author to Apache Server Unleashed.

The technology that supports the Web continues to evolve, and one of the latest mutations involves capitalising on its very user-driven interactivity. The days of all-static content are past; the Web has evolved to a point at which many sites actually remember personal preferences for each of their (potentially millions) of visitors. News sites may display stories in only those categories you find interesting; online music stores can provide you with listings of new works sorted in order by your favourite artists; Web search engines can learn to implicitly restrict the types of content they'll list for you. The possibilities are endless, and the key is generating a unique presentation for each viewer.

There are a number of ways of accomplishing this, from the primitive fly-swatter capabilities provided by "server-side includes" to the tactical nuke Extra Strength features found in application servers. The PHP scripting language falls somewhere into the middle ground, supplying phenomenal capabilities for free.

What is PHP?

PHP is a scripting language, with a particular affinity for and emphasis on enhancing Web pages. It has a syntax very similar to C (with a smattering of Perl and shell), and includes lots and lots of functions for things like database access, dealing with CGI requests, and image creation and manipulation.

When PHP is used as an Apache module, and the language elements are embedded in the document pages themselves, the HTML file might look something like the following:

<head>

<?

//

// Preload all the functions and other definitions we need.

//

include("$DOCUMENT_ROOT/scripts/definitions.php3");

$pdetails = lookup_visitor();

echo " <title>WhizBang Products: Welcome back, "

. $pdetails["first_name"] . "!</title>\n";

?>

</head>

<body bgcolor="#ffffff">

<h1 align="center">Super-Duper Whizbang Products</h1>

<h2 align="center">Welcome back,

<? echo $pdetails["first_name"] . " "

. $pdetails["last_name"]; ?></h2>

When a Web client requests a PHP-enabled page, the mod_php module gets to interpret the document and make changes to it before the Web server itself sends the results back. The results of the above PHP fragments might cause the following to be what the Web client actually receives:

<head>

<title>WhizBang Products: Welcome back, Ken!<title>

</head>

<body bgcolor="#ffffff">

<h1 align="center">Super-Duper Whizbang Products</h1>

<h2 align="center">Welcome back, Ken Coar</h2>

Notice how all the stuff between "<?" and "?>" was replaced—interpreted by mod_php—before it reached the browser? That's part of the power of PHP.

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