Learning PHP after years of Java

April 17, 2010

Its been nearly 6 months since my new gig as a lead engineer at Transpond and I havent posted anything about software or much of anything else for that matter. I’ve been busy with many other projects as well as learning and writing PHP. Well, mostly writing as the learning curve isnt bad at all. The more I was able to block Java and what I know of it out of my mind the faster I was able to learn PHP.

Anyway, there are tons of books and blog posts about how to write PHP so Im not going to go into that. What I have compiled though is a list of things that helped me get over the hump. Although Java and PHP have a lot of similarities, their life cycles are different. Here are the things the differences that stood out the most in my mind.


Now that PHP is fully object oriented we can use classes as well as objects. Lots of new open source projects out there seem to take advantage of them; however, a lot do not, especially older ones. What I find to be very common throughout PHP are the untyped array objects with lots of nested arrays. This appears to be very standard. The sooner you get over this fact the sooner you will be able to code. The point of a dynamic language is to be able to build quickly and not deal with POJO’s.


Just like Java, classes in PHP have constructors and even destructors; however, they are not declared as you may think. You will need to use the special notation for these functions, __construct and __destruct respectively. Also, be careful when building more complicated stacks or frameworks. Objects get destructed at unusual points in a requests lifecycle so getting your debugger running can come in handy.

What is also interesting is that classes cannot be static in the way we would normally think about them. You can make a class that has all static methods which effectively makes a class static but you cannot use the static keyword for a class declaration.

Imports (require or include in PHP terms)

Unlike Java, PHP is file based not package based. This makes for some interesting issues at first. Trying to grok this idea and deal with file paths can be daunting. What we found to be helpful was name spacing which is somewhat recent to PHP. We use that in conjunction with __autoload() which makes class loading very simple. Essentially we can dynamically load classes easily based on their namespaces and not their file location as much (our autoloader handles that).

Methods, functions, and void (or lack thereof)

As you probably already noticed, methods are called functions. These function do not need to declare what type of object they will return, as this is a dynamic language. In fact, the same method could return nothing (void), and object, or a string. This puts the burden of good engineering on the caller.

Functions in PHP (methods in Java) are however similar in the way they are declared. They can have public, private, and protected declarations, as well as static, abstract, and final keywords. This makes the transition from Java pretty simple, however; there is something strange I noticed. Member variables cannot have the final declaration which I find to be frustrating but there are obvious ways around it. The main reason for this being, most objects are passed by value so modifying a member variable is harder than in Java. I will go into this more later.


So far I am really enjoying PHP. The environment is very simple and straightforward, there is a ton of support for it, and there is a plethora of open source projects to choose from. All of this makes for a quick development time and a quick ramp up time. As I mentioned before, the sooner I stopped thinking about how Java worked, the sooner I was about to pickup PHP.

Categories: Computers, Software

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