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PHP and Design Patterns

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Popular among fans of Java and C++, design patterns are not a topic often discussed among PHP programmers. Yet, they can be an important part of PHP programming. The authors of Core PHP Programming discuss patterns and give examples of some popular patterns you can use in PHP programming.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Topics in This Chapter

  • Patterns Defined

  • Singleton

  • Factory

  • Observer

  • Strategy

Popular among fans of Java and C++, design patterns are not a topic often discussed among PHP programmers. Yet, they are an important part of computer science. Furthermore, they apply to all programming languages.

Design patterns have their root in the work of Christopher Alexander in the context of designing buildings and cities. However, his work applies to any design activity, and it soon inspired computer scientists. The first popular book about software design patterns was Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software by Erich Gamma, Richard Helm, Ralph Johnson, and John Vlissides. People commonly refer to them as the Gang of Four, or GoF.

29.1 Patterns Defined

Intuitively, we recognize patterns in our programming with almost every line of code. Given an array, you have a favorite idiom for looping over it. Since the foreach statement appeared in PHP, it's been my favorite.

From a larger perspective, we encounter the familiar problem of where to place functionality in PHP scripts. Most projects require dividing functionality into several modules. A flat, informational site benefits well from a simple scheme using headers and footers applied with include or require. Both examples have problems to be solved and memorized solutions. The conditions define a problem that has a known solution. Furthermore, after solving the problem a number of times, you gain an appreciation for the side effects, good and bad, of the solution.

The formal definition of design patterns includes four parts: a name, a description of the problem, a solution, and a set of consequences. The name gives us a convenient way to refer to the pattern. The problem description defines a particular set of conditions to which the pattern applies. The solution describes a best general strategy for resolving the problem. Finally, the pattern explains any consequences of applying the pattern.

Pattern solutions are not particularly fancy. They don't require the use of obscure features. They represent careful refinement over time, based on experience. They tend to optimize for reusability rather than efficiency. Naturally, a solution optimized for speed takes advantage of a particular situation and therefore is not well suited to the general case. For example, if you need the sum of three numbers, you can easily write them in a line of code. You would not use a general solution for the sum of 10,000 numbers, such as looping over an array.

Although patterns have their roots in building architecture, in the context of computer science they are closely linked to object-oriented design. Object-oriented programming aims to produce generalized software modules called objects. Design patterns seek to produce generalized solutions to common problems. This avoids the reinvention of the proverbial wheel.

Prior to PHP 5, PHP programmers found it difficult to implement design patterns efficiently in PHP. Thanks to PHP 5's revamped object model, design patterns are now easy to implement and are becoming a key ingredient in development of object-oriented PHP applications.

There are several advantages to using design patterns in your code. You don't need to think through the solution as long as you recognize that the problem matches the one solved by the pattern. You don't need to analyze the consequences of applying the pattern. You don't need to spend time optimizing the implementation.

Instead of having to come up with a solution, you only have to recognize what kind of problem you are facing. If the problem has an applicable design pattern, then you may be able to skip much of the design overhead and go directly to the implementation phase.

The consequences of using a certain design pattern are written in the pattern description. Instead of having to analyze the possible implications of using a certain algorithm—or worse, figure out why the algorithm you chose is not right for you after you implement it—you can refer to the pattern description. Implementing a solution from a design pattern gives you a fairly good idea about the complexity, limitations, and overhead of the solution.

The solutions supplied in design patterns tend to be efficient, especially in terms of reducing development and maintenance times. Simply put, you put other people's brains to work on your problem for free, which is a bargain.

If you've written large applications, it's quite possible that you would recognize similarities between some of the algorithms you used and the algorithms described in certain design patterns. That is no coincidence—design patterns are there to solve real-world problems that you are likely to encounter regularly. It's quite possible that after performing a thorough investigation of a certain problem, the solution you came up with is similar to that in the design pattern. If you were aware of design patterns back then, it would have saved you at least some of the design time.

While this chapter is not meant to provide thorough coverage of design patterns, it acquaints you with some of the most popular ones and includes PHP implementation examples. If you're interested in further enhancing your knowledge of design patterns, definitely find a copy of the GoF book mentioned earlier. Craig Larman's Applying UML and Patterns: An Introduction to Object-Oriented Analysis and Design and the Unified Process is another well-recommended resource.

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