When anyone starts learning something new these days, they tend to get overloaded with more information that they can handle. The same goes for trying to pick up PHP, the shear number of books available on this one topic is staggering. Luckily, there are some great books specially catered to beginners, and this book is one of them.

“PHP5: Your visual blueprint for creating open source, server-side content”, written by Toby Joe Boudreaus, and published by Wiley Publishing Inc. as part of their Visual series is a great way to bring anyone new to PHP up to speed.

Having something visual is always a plus in my book, and this one is crammed full of step by step screen captures where everything is clearly highlighted and explained. It’s a wonder this book is not thicker than the 1 inch it is today.

This 12 chapter book starts off with how to get started with PHP, covering steps in installing PHP in Windows and MacOS X platforms. This is quickly followed up with some PHP Basics that helps to introduce the reader to the syntax, and the use of things like variables, operators, and procedural functions.

From chapter 3 onwards, it quickly covers other PHP features like using arrays, working with text, filesystems, web forms and sessions and cookies. There’s a chapter on objects and object-oriented programming, databases and debugging for errors. The last chapter introduces XML support within PHP.

One thing you will notice about this book is that various concepts are explained within a 2-page layout, with a short description followed by example codes shown in an actual editor window. Somehow, by laying out the code this way, it seems more easily digestible than codes formated in plain text on a page.

This 2-page layout per concept also makes this a great reference book, as you can easily flip to the topic you want and quickly refresh your memory on the example codes.

There are a few things I didn’t like about this book.

The chapter on installing PHP covered both installation on IIS and on Apache, which I thought was just a bit much. The author could just concentrated on one type of web server since they both do the same thing. What would be even better is to introduce something like XAMPP or WAMP installers which helps to get the whole environment setup with minimum fuss.

Overall, the book really doesn’t delve into anything at great depths, and that hurts topics like Objects, XML, Databases. These are advance topics, and to try to explain it so briefly just doesn’t do the reader justice. It will probably confuse the casual beginners more.

All in all, I would still recommend the book to any beginners looking for a good material. Just don’t focus too much on the advance topics, until you have a good grasp of the basics.