Flexible PHP

OK, well, if I want to get this off the ground I’ve got to start posting things. Even if I haven’t developed too much lately. So let’s focus on what little I have been doing; that is, working on BlogAgain.

BlogAgain is the name of the software that runs this (blog) site, originally born from a desire for a multi-user blog that actually installed. (At the time, WordPress refused to properly install on the server we were using). Now it just gives me a chance to customize things and offer one more set of PHP-and-MySQL-based blog software to the mix.

Ideally, this would be a very customizable program. But PHP has a lot of quirks that can keep you from being standards-compliant or even flexible…and everything has to be done right in the end. Let’s watch the evolution of a bit of example code that connects to an SQL database, prints the article titles and authors in a given topic, and allows you to choose how to sort them.

@mysql_pconnect('localhost', $user, $password, MYSQL_CLIENT_SSL);

$topicID = $_GET['topic'];
$order = $_GET['sort'];
$entries = mysql_query("SELECT title, author FROM entries " .
  "WHERE entries.parent = $topicID ORDER BY $order");

echo '<table>';
    
while ($entry = mysql_fetch_array($entries, MYSQL_ASSOC))
{
  echo '<tr>';
  echo '<td class="postTitle"><a href="blog.php?topic=' . $entry['id'] . '">' .
    $entry['title'] . '</a></td>';
  echo '<td class="postInfo">Started by ' . $entry["author"] . '</td>';
  echo '</tr>';
}

echo '</table>';

echo '<p class="blogNavigation">Sort by: ';
if ($order == 'author')
  echo 'Author / <a href="blog.php?topic=$topicID&sort=title">Title</a>';
else
  echo '<a href="blog.php?topic=$topicID&sort=author">Author</a> / Title';
echo '</p>';

Looks OK, right? Unfortunately, just about every other line can get better.

@mysql_pconnect('localhost', $user, $password, MYSQL_CLIENT_SSL);

I’m not going to fix this one right now, but it would be nice to support at least a few different SQLs, without PHP’s ugly (and not-always-available) PDO interface. A blogagain_sql_connect($host, $user, $password) function will do the trick eventually.

$topicID = $_GET['topic'];
$order = $_GET['sort'];

Do we really care where this came from, or should we be using $_REQUEST? I think so, but I may be wrong. Other opinions?

$entries = mysql_query("SELECT title, author FROM entries " .
  "WHERE entries.parent = $topicID ORDER BY $order");

DANGER DANGER! We just pasted two variables into an SQL query without escaping them! Add mysql_real_escape_string to the previous lines, or even better use a blogagain_sql_escape function.

while ($entry = mysql_fetch_array($entries, MYSQL_ASSOC))

This line’s probably OK; the docs say we don’t need to worry about the performance of mysql_fetch_array. But we should probably generalize the SQL call again. And yes, we want to loop until all entries are done.

The body of the loop is probably OK. Oh wait! We need to deal with all possibilities of author names, including no name (in which case we want to grab the author’s normal username, rather than the alias saved here) and anonymous users. This code is pretty simple; the real code to print an author is a three-check if statement.

echo 'Author / <a href="blog.php?topic=$topicID&sort=title">Title</a>';

Uh oh, now we come to the reason I wrote this post! This looks like a perfectly fine link, right? Nope! We’ve got an ampersand (&) in the middle, there. If we want to be XHTML-compliant (and even if we don’t want to confuse a bad HTML parser) we need to change that.

echo 'Author / <a href="blog.php?topic=$topicID&amp;sort=title">Title</a>';

Better. Oh wait. What if this configuration doesn’t use ampersands to separate query units? That would be…bad…

echo 'Author / <a href="blog.php?topic=$topicID' .
  ini_get('arg_separator.output') . 'sort=title">Title</a>';

Looking better! But wait, what if, for some strange reason, arg_separator.output isn’t set? We need to do a bit better…

echo 'Author / <a href="blog.php?topic=$topicID' .
  blogagain_null_check(ini_get('arg_separator.output'), '&') . 'sort=title">Title</a>';

function blogagain_null_check ($data, $alt)
{
    return ($data ? $data : $alt);
}

I actually use this function several times, so let’s stick it in an include file. We forgot one thing, though: once again, the & needs to be escaped, or perhaps they decided (for some stupid reason) to use < as the argument separator. In any case, we need one more addition.

echo 'Author / <a href="blog.php?topic=$topicID' .
  htmlspecialchars(blogagain_null_check(ini_get('arg_separator.output'), '&')) .
  'sort=title">Title</a>';

There we go. That should provide a bit more flexibility and integrity.

You can see how fast PHP needs to be overhauled, and I didn’t even store any data in the database. Just how far do I have to go to write a whole blog?

blog comments powered by Disqus