Posts Tagged ‘web development’

Tech Tip: Websites on Github with Jekyll

We have been facing a challenge on how to manage the Styx Technology Group corporate website without having dedicated resources to host, deal with security, updates and maintenance. Having been in the website business for over a decade at the turn of Y2K,  having an easily maintainable solution was key for the long haul.

Enter GitHub pages (, of course any decent software developer and team are using some form of version control, but the beauty is that it allows projects, users and organisations to have self hosted sites that are managed through a repository.  That in combination with Jekyll ( supports content management without a database.

To further speed up our development process, we leveraged existing themes for the website look and feel that were close to our need, while keeping the site design very simple so that we focused on solving the problem at hand.

It was suddenly music to our ears as the team did not have to leave their IDEs (random plug for Jetbrains IDE tool suite that we have standardized upon)  in order to make updates to the website. Just create a new markdown document, verify and push … And bam!! the updates are done, version controlled and all, no more hassles with database configurations …

Need help getting your website up and running in such a fashion do shoot us an email at consulting at styxtechgroup dot com and we shall be happy to help and engage…. Have a great weekend

Uganda Web Developer Workshops: Rotary Style – Idea looking for Partners and Direction

This is an idea that has been growing in my mind, and I seem to finally have a handle on it. I have been a professional PHP web developer for the last 12 years, and have gone through the learning and transition cycles from learning a new language from Visual Basic 6 and MS Access to Java/JSP/Servlets to PHP, and developing in the language from direct database access using mysql_query through a custom developed database class into Zend Framework for 2 years with Doctrine 1 and 2 ORMs.

My biggest challenge has to do with the fact that there are no places to go and talk code, PHP/Javascript/Database in Uganda, along with the experiences and challenges facing web development with “need-to-have” practices like:

  1. Refactoring
  2. MVC design for web applications
  3. Version control – branching, merging, version tagging and management
  4. Testing – unit and functional testing, load testing
  5. API development (okay this is pushing the enveloper)
  6. Continuous integration, code quality metrics – complexity, modular development, cyclomatic complexity
  7. Team Style development – PSR 0 and PSR 1 compatibility
  8. Frameworks – Symfony, Zend Framework, Kohana, JQuery, Twitter Bootstrap
  9. Advanced CSS and HTML 5 – style guides, browser targetting, mobile development

I am also looking at doing this Rotary style, 1 hour developer meetings once in 2 weeks, then later once a week, same night, same location.

The bottom line is that we develop the quality of the available pool of web developers by growing a community, having role models, to also put a brighter face on the industry, improve perceptions and make it clear that this is an area that has professional practices. It is a win-win for all involved

Any ideas who has done this before, what were your challenges and trials, who would like to partner on this?

The Poor Man’s Job Queue

Not all software development projects are treated the same, some have access to modern tech Virtual Private Servers (VPS), Zend Server (, Memcached, Gearman and all the other goodies I can only dream of. You have a box with LAMP, and you cannot install anything else.

This is an example of how we got around a limitation, using available tools. Problem: I have a list of tasks to execute within my application, however I need to ensure that the tasks are executed and completed, but some are more important than others, and the execution may slow down the performance of the box we are running on. Well in this case we were loading 6 different types of XML files which were FTPed into a location on the box regularly, every 35 minutes and had to be loaded in a specific order. This was further complicated by the fact that we had to reload historical data in case of issues (1 weeks worth of uploads ~ 2100 files) without interrupting the current loading processes.

The approach used the following components:

a) Job Queue – based on the Zend Server Job Queue but simplified for our needs (see data model of tables below)

Job Queue Data Model

Job Queue Data Model

b) Queue Loader Script – loads the jobs into the job queue by scanning the location containing the files to be loaded and adds the files to the queue (since the queue is a database table, duplicates are discarded without errors) This keeps this file simple and honest

c) Job Executor Script – reads a message from a queue, reads the message body which contains the file name to be processed, could be made more complex

d) Queue Loader Cron Job – calls the Queue Loader Script to add new files to the queue

e) Job Executor Cron Job – calls the job executor script. This job has no effect if a lock file exists, and is not expired which means the script is valid and running. However if the lock file is expired, it means that the process crashed, so the lock file is deleted, a new process is started with a lock file. Basically this keeps the job executor script running indefinitely as long as there are messages to process. 

Please feel free to leave a comment on what your experiences are with similar problems. 

HTML Web Toolkits – Twitter Bootstrap

Well it seems like I have been doing a rip and replace of most of the “homegrown” components that we are using in our environments as we gear up for the new year. The latest to fall to the axe is our HTML + CSS + widget collection that has been growing over the years which was a collection of code from different places:

  1. reset.css by Tantek Celik ( – to provide a base for initial browser compatibility
  2. Multiple column layouts from the Dynamic Drive (
  3. JQuery and JQuery UI widgets – here and there 
  4. Input Button and Link styles inspired by Particle Tree (

Well like all web development shops, you pick your poison and stick with it, but with the troubles we have been having with different IE versions, I set out to find out whether we had to go through all the pain of tweaking each project, or whether we could re-use existing solutions. Well my search led me to Twitter Bootrap ( which was at version 1.4 at the time, and 2.x was in beta and HTML5 Boilerplate ( both of which seemed to be great starting points.

However Bootstrap won out, in the end, because it provided a responsive UI for different screen sizes, pre-built basic elements which we use a lot, buttons, forms, tables, dialogs, message alerts which were easily setup. Okay JQuery UI has great widgets but they are a pain to setup configure and use, the code for a dialog is ~20 lines with CSS, etc, very powerful but no everybody needs a V-8 engine.

First on the agenda was to understand the grid layouts, okay I have heard about 960 and Blueprint grids, but I never understood how they worked, but wow!!! This is amazing, all I need to do is add a few pre-defined grid classes and you can get 2 column, 3 column layouts, our home grown frameworks would never do this … I liked it, coming from an engineering background and lots of database work I think rows, columns and relationships, and the grid well, had me at Hello World 🙂 

The built with bootstrap site ( provides a great starting point to see what is possible and available. We decided to use a free theme for a project we are starting and its working for us. 

As we walk this journey, the next challenge is how to handle the tables vs table-less designs for forms. Please drop me a line and let me know what your take either here or on my Stack Overflow question at 

Doctrine2 Day 3 – Proxies, Associations, Relationships

Well if you are following this series, then by know you are aware that we have the validators setup, and we are almost ready to go. Well not quite so. I ran into an issue with proxies and class loaders which took a while to resolve, but what I did was:

a) Changed the Zend Framework-Doctrine2 integration to the Bisna integration ( – note the additional configurations before

b) Learnt that DO NOT SAVE ANY MODELS IN SESSION OR CACHES due to Proxy auto loading issues

c) Develop unit tests for the model validations and saving as you go along because they will save you as you shift things around . I am currently trying to save an association to the database but due to the tests that I have running I can test out the different association mappings without issues because I track the changes using my unit tests.

Now onto relationships, well what I found was a follows:

  1. I have been having a tough time dealing with relationships from Doctrine 1 which autoloaded relationships, however with with the Doctrine2 data mapper, you have to auto load the associations your self
  2. In Doctrine 2, you cannot define the foreign key column and relationship as this creates problems for the ORM mapper, so since I need to access the foreign key value for example personid, and the related object person, my approach has been as follows:
    • Added a person instance and relationship mapping to the person as per the Doctrine
    • Add a setter setPersonID() which loads the Person from the database using the provided ID and sets it to the person relationship provided
    • Added a getter getPersonID() which obtains the id of the person for use on the screen
  3. As recommended avoid bi-directional relationships where possible, try to keep them as uni-directional as possible.

Next I will be implementing a nested hierarchical structure using the tree nested set implementation at

Doctrine 2 – Day 2 – Model Validation using Symfony Validator Service in Zend Framework

It is just Day 2 of my experiences in the trenches, regular work, had kept me from this but I managed to get some time to keep digging. As a followup to my Doctrine 2 – Day 1 – Commentary from the Trenches. The models are up and configured, and the unit testing is setup following steps from Michelangelo van Dam’s presentation (

One of the major process that we are implementing with this migration is detailed unit testing which was tougher with the Doctrine1. With the unit test infrastructure setup, the next item on the agenda is model validation. From previous experience (before Doctrine 1) and with Doctrine1 it is critical to be able to specify validation rules using annotations without having to write PHP if statements. Being a ZF person, the first step to look was the ZF validator classes. While they seem to be well integrated with the forms, they would prove to be too verbose to use for validation of models, since I also need to be able to specify multiple validators per column, and this would not cut it for me.

Next stop was Symfony2 validator service ( provides validators with annotations support. So that was the easy part, the hard part was yet to come integration. The integration followed the steps below:

a) Add Symfony Validator service to library folder, easy, just download a package from

b) Register the Symfony Validator annotations – this is where I had problems (more later)

c) Add the Symfony Validators to the model properties

d) Add validation code which needed a validate() method in the base class from which all entities are derived, which requires @ORM\HasLifecycleCallbacks (so that the model can hook into the lifecyle call back models) @ORMPrePersist and @ORM\PreUpdate for the validate method to ensure its called before the models are saved (first time) or updated. More details on the Doctrine annotations can be found at

So what problems did I face.

1. From the Doctrine documentation, you use the annotations directly, for example @Id, however experience has shown that you need to namespace and alias them see note from Symfony integration . So I had to change all the Doctrine annotations to use @ORM namespace

2. The default annotation driver only supports a single namespace so you will need to update as per the pastebin below

Now I am a happy camper, got my models working using Symfony validations, we only have to write code for custom validations which happens only about 20 – 30% of the time.

As a parting shot, the Symfony team and community have done a great job for PHP, why because they provide standalone components (similar to Zend Framework), but each of their components can be used without the rest of the framework. As I was investigating the validator usage and issues, I found a thread where Fabien Potencier and team were discussing annotation support in Symfony. However they also noted that Doctrine Commons had better support, so they stopped the work on Symfony annotation support and just used the services of the Doctrine team. This is how all software development should be done, and is a torch to the rest of us. I am a convert, and happy to be a proud member of the PHP community.

Update May 8, 2012

I had promised to provide some sample snippets of what I am using for the integration with Bisna integration and Symfony validation that I ended up using so here we go The files are as follows:

a) application.ini – there is nothing special here from Bisna. Includes the cache configuration, prod/staging/dev/test environments all of which inherit from production

b) index.php – from the public folder or htdocs – this may not be perfect but it works and am looking for ways to simplify it

c) Bootstrap – this is the file we use, highlight:

– Storing the entity manager instance in the Zend_Registry, we have a utility method which loads it from the registry and another which also provides a connection from the entity manager so its fully encapsulated

– intialization of the Zend_DB adapter, we need this since we are using the Zend_Session to save the sessions in the database

– the last config is for other resources we use. We have a dependency on the Zend_Registry class as it hides a lot of complexity

d) Document.php – a sample model class

– it extends BaseEntity which provides automatic getters and setters through the __call method, some required fields like id, datecreated, last  update date and last updated by (not all models extend this class only those which need those auditing fields)

– Why do we have getCategoryID(), setCategoryID() for the category property instead of mapping the categoryid field from the database see the next post in the series

– Unlike the Doctrine2 defaults we do not use tablename_id but rather tablenameid for the foreign keys so we have define them in each relationship.

Please let me know what I can do to make this any clearer, thanks for reading

State of PHP Feb 2012 – Symfony 2, Zend Framework 2, IDE Support, MySQL

There is just too much going on so I thought I should put these thoughts down so that I do not lose my mind from the excitement and anticipation that comes from things moving very fast and innovation being spured at a pace which is mind boggling.


In my opinion the stabilization of PHP 5.3 which introduced namespaces (similar to Java Packages) was the first shot across the bow, and I expect 5.4 with traits to bring even more reusability. However our hosting providers are slow to upgrade most are still running PHP 5.2, without general availability for 5.3 just starting to appear


There are two main frameworks in the bull pen Symfony 2 ( and Zend Framework 2 ( currently in beta. However they are as different as can be. While Symfony 2 has been refactored from a full blown framework to a bunch of core reusable components, its moving towards ZF2, in that its not trying to be all MVC, forms etc, but is rather a set of building blocks to provide web application framework. So good is it that Fabien Potencier the lead developer has a series on how to build your own framework on top of Symfony at

ZF2 on the other hand is a bunch of reusable components which you can mix and match with other frameworks which also provides an MVC, ORM etc.

If you have been in the Java world, Symfony is more like Spring Source () while Zend Framework is Apache Jakarta (

Interesting tweet that sums it all up:
Every time a developer complains about php, the #Symfony2 community creates another great, namespaced, decoupled and reusable component

IDE Support

Zend Studio 9 was let loose at ZendCon, Oracle released Netbeans 7 (which supports ZF1, and Symfony), Eclipse PDT is chugging along, PHP Storm from Jetbrains creating  a storm with others  Vim, Notepad++, Sublime Text basically all you need to do is pick your poison.


Github ( is the new Facebook and LinkedIn for developers, where all the action is happening for all the major PHP communities, you had better be there. Forking and making changes is as easy as a button press. I am yet to push my first commit to a project but I am getting there.


The best know web database is getting losta love from Oracle, and also the community led by Percona, SkySQL, Monty DB, and many others. Where it seemed lost with lost of FUD during the $1bn Sun takeover by Oracle, it seems to just be gaining steam (at least from my viewpoint as a consumer, developer and user). Now at 5.5, with 5.6 starting to appear over the horizon …

While there is a barrage of NoSQL solutions, Hadoop leading the charge, MySQL provides a NoSQL interface via HandlerSocket ( and MySQL Cluster (

Supporting Infrastructure

This is where all the fun happens, who is using the language and what are the trends. Here is a snapshot:

  1. Content Management Systems – WordPress is getting lots of love, while Joomla now at 2.5 supports databases other than MySQL. Drupal is adopting Symfony 2 as its core framework while Magento runs off a modified ZF1 kernel, while XOOPS ( is being rewritten to use ZF1 or two
  2. Template Engines – an area where battles are found won, and lost. Smarty now at 3.0 (, has to battle Twig (  which is surging due to its usage in Symfony 2
  3. Web services – JSON, XML, AjaX, Rest Interfaces are no longer buzz words they are the norm with native support being baked into PHP
  4. Object Relational Mappers (ORMS) are one of the core developer architectural choices, in PHP we have ZF Table (Table Gateway), Doctrine 1 (Active Record), Doctrine 2 (Data Mapper), Propel (not used) in addition to plain old PDO all of which provide rich choices. Interesting is that Doctrine 2 provides an mapping for MongoDB which shows its versatility similar to Hibernate for Java
  5. Continuous Integration – with Hudson and Jenkins, and now Travis which is also hooked into Github provides a great way to continuously monitor the quality of your development
  6. Quality Control – PHP Unit has always been there but now we have mess detectors, and other metrics (do not make sense of them yet), but whatever you want to measure there is probably a tool for it.
  7. UI Toolkits – JQuery took the world by storm with JQuery UI providing a set of theme-able components, but we have HTML5 boiler plate and Twitter Bootstrap which are simplifying the cross browser issues we developers face.
  8. Performance – always a PHP problem but it has improved through 5.3 to 5.4, and other techniques like OP Caches are becoming more maintream, Memcache is pre-built into Apache …

Exciting times to be a PHP web developer oopsss we are not web developers we are Software Mechanics (

%d bloggers like this: