Programming is a wonderful mix of art and science; source code is both a poem and a math problem. It should be as simple and elegant as it is functional and fast. This blog is about that (along with whatever else I feel like writing about).

Sunday, February 24, 2008

POG + EpiCode + Smarty == The Freedom Framework

I generally have a problem with web frameworks, like Rails, CakePHP, Symfony, and the millions of others that have sprung up lately (moreso in PHP than in Ruby, as Ruby hadn't really been used for web development until Rails came along). As a rule, they force you to do things a certain way, and -- more importantly -- to think in a certain way. In most cases, this "way" is mimicry of Rails, but in all cases, this "correct way of thinking" is the way the framework developers think. That's the aspect of frameworks that I take issue with, while at the same time acknowledging the productivity gains that are possible with these frameworks.

Since everybody likes productivity gains ... I decided to go out and see if there was some way to get the same increase in productivity without using a framework. I want to use tools in such a way that makes sense to me, not to the tool.

The place I started was with the model; I needed to find a good ORM tool for PHP. I hadn't found one that I like yet, so this search took me a while. I still haven't found a real ORM library that I like, but I have come across an interesting tool. The PHP Object Generator allows you to define a database table (with an interface similar to phpMyAdmin, which I don't care for, but at least it's a familiar concept), and from that it generates not only the SQL to create the table, but also a PHP class with the standard CRUD methods. It handles relationships between tables with a parent/child concept (a parent can have multiple children, but a child may only have one parent). At first, it didn't support has_and_belongs_to_many relationships, but added that in with the concept of "siblings." I think that terminology is a bit of a stretch, and the documentation on it isn't the best, but it works well enough.

For the controller, I wanted something really light. I considered just making my own, and that probably would have worked. But by chance, I discovered EpiCode, which is just about exactly what I would have wanted to create on my own. It uses a .htaccess file to direct all HTTP access to the index.php file, which contains an array called $routes, which in turn wires paths to functions (or static methods, which works even better). It doesn't touch the query string parameters, so you get to process those however you like.

For the view, I stuck with the old Smarty standby, and it works like a charm for this. You have to define which variables to open up to the template, as well as which template file to use; despite having to type a couple of extra lines of code, I prefer this to being forced into a particular directory structure and naming convention that is common among the true frameworks.

In my first foray into the POG+EpiCode+Smarty "framework," I made an IMDB clone in about an hour and a half, and I didn't have to write a single line of SQL (table creation or queries). In fact, I didn't even have to log into the database (as the POG setup process creates the tables and verifies that everything's working). I'd say that's a fairly significant increase in productivity over my previous methods, and I still got to define my workflow for myself, rather than kneeling before some anonymous framework creator.

I know a lot of people like frameworks, and a lot of people use them. Because of this, my opinion on the matter probably isn't very popular. But I think this freedom is really valuable. And I find it difficult to believe that my opinion is unique.

1 comment:

M said...

Yep, your are right man. The same to me - POG, own router, smarty. Will checkout epicode, as I am thinking of simplifing/upgrading my router.

Cheers,
Matthew