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View Poll Results: How far have you got with PHP and Web Services?

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  • I've built an XML-RPC client for a web service

    15 16.30%
  • I've built my own XML-RPC server

    17 18.48%
  • I've built an SOAP client for a web service

    15 16.30%
  • I've built my own SOAP server

    9 9.78%
  • I can't see a reason to use web services

    15 16.30%
  • I don't understand the technology and concepts involved

    36 39.13%
  • What's a web service?

    21 22.83%
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  1. #1
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    Building Web Services in PHP

    OK - if you'll forgive me the cheesey way I'm link to my own article, this thread is about:

    Building your own Web Service

    The main reason why this article was written was to stimulate all us PHP coders into getting busy with web services. When I look at the general state of development, particularily where SOAP is concerned, of web services in PHP, it's all too quiet. In many ways, web services are the defining moment for PHP. If we miss the boat, PHP be sidelined by .NET and J2EE, used only for building cheap user interfaces on websites.

    So the objective of this thread is a general Q&A on web services - there are no stupid questions.

    Then also any questions about the article and the PHP found there. I've been talking to Keith Devens, writer of the code used in the example script, who by chance made a bug fix on the very day the article was posted. He's now also extended the library to provide debugging functionality which is great - no more building your web server "in the dark". Keith has also agreed to join the discussion here, if anyone has any questions for him.

    Fire away

  2. #2
    SitePoint Addict richard_h's Avatar
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    My opinion on the general slow uptake is that it can be hard to find a reason to use XML for general development purposes.

    I'm no XML guru, I've just purchased PHP4 XML (Wrox) after reading a very drab teach yourself XML in 21 days. I have to say after reading the Sams publication I didn't feel the urge to start writing XML apps, mainly because I couldn't think of a reason to. The entire focus seamed to be on big businesses and this wasn't really applicable for the work I do. There was also a lot of focus on Java and ASP, thankfully there seams to be a few more resources available using PHP as the accompanying technology.

    I haven’t read your article yet, but I will, I do believe there needs to be more focus on what XML can do for the average 'Joe' developer and not just how web services will benefit big business. There is still a lot of confusion to what XML is supposed to do, I had read a tutorial on how PHP could change my XML documents into HTML, but I was left wondering, why have my documents written in XML in the first place?

    I'm probably just a little tarnished after reading a poor book, I'm hoping the Wrox publication and more online tutorials (yours included) will change that.

  3. #3
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    Can completely see your point. And if I can let you in on a secret (sssh don't tell anyone ) - I'm no "expert" on XML either.

    In fact I take a view that would probably upset many XML gurus - that really it's nothing exciting at all. You know some HTML right? You know it's just simple text files and you've grasped the concept of marking up with tags. In my opinion XML is nothing more than "DIY" HTML. Where HTML is used only for laying out documents for people to read, XML is more general in that's it's used for laying out data. That's about it.

    Web services have been hyped beyond all proportion by Microsoft and portrayed as something extremely complex when in fact for someone with a little PHP knowhow, they're very easy.

    And if you want to build a "web service", you really don't need know much (if anything) about the XML formats involved. Hopefully this is what the article demonstrates.

    But web services do have something to offer everyone. It's easiest to explain in some more ideas for what you could do with them;

    - You run a few websites each of which has MySQL. Backing up the databases individually (with the mysqldump utility) is taking too much time (so you're not doing it). So you write a simple web service which allows you to backup up all the sites at once to your "central" website.

    - After softing out the backups, you think it would be nice to be able to see some stats on each one on a single web page. So you update each of the the scripts on the remote websites to provide some stats like disk space used, number of visitors today etc. Now you get all the information on one page.

    - You run a small forum and another webmaster contacts you and asks if they can help out. You build a web service which allows them to display the latest 10 threads from your forum on their site.

    - You have a shopping cart on your site. Another webmaster contacts you and says they'd like to add your product list to their site. You write a web service that allows their visitors browse your shopping cart (this is basically what Amazon have just done - see this thread

    The possibilities are endless but the general idea is your website no longer needs to be just "stand alone" - with web services it can expand to multiple web sites.

  4. #4
    SitePoint Addict richard_h's Avatar
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    - You run a few websites each of which has MySQL. Backing up the databases individually (with the mysqldump utility) is taking too much time (so you're not doing it). So you write a simple web service which allows you to backup up all the sites at once to your "central" website.

    - After softing out the backups, you think it would be nice to be able to see some stats on each one on a single web page. So you update each of the the scripts on the remote websites to provide some stats like disk space used, number of visitors today etc. Now you get all the information on one page.

    - You run a small forum and another webmaster contacts you and asks if they can help out. You build a web service which allows them to display the latest 10 threads from your forum on their site.

    - You have a shopping cart on your site. Another webmaster contacts you and says they'd like to add your product list to their site. You write a web service that allows their visitors browse your shopping cart (this is basically what Amazon have just done
    They’re exactly the kind of examples needed to expand the 'XML, PHP Community'.

    I've been very impressed with the use of SVG and PHP, SVG being heralded as the replacement for flash. I had no idea that SVG files were XML (text) documents. I've had a 'play' with the two and the capabilities are obviously endless.
    A good PHP class that translates SVG to PNG/JPEG (for the none adobe SVG viewer users) can be found here for anyone interested: http://bitflux.ch/developer/misc/70/

    Going back to your web services examples, that's what people want to see, the reason they need to learn this new technology and what it can do for them. There needs to be an incentive when learning and 99% of the time this means being able to accomplish something new. The hype which you rightfully pointed out surrounding XML is all directed at businesses and there needs to be more guidance and direction for the developers.

  5. #5
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    Interesting. Looking at the Poll results, most votes for "Not understanding the concepts" right now. Will see about simpler descriptions.

    Came across an XML-RPC implementation missed out in the article;

    http://www.webkreator.com/php/xcs/

    This actually looks really good. It turns PHP classes straight into XML-RPC servers, with next to no work involved.

  6. #6
    Shiver me timbers!! anthony_irl's Avatar
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    Hi HarryF,

    I've read your article and was actually quite excited to get stuck into it as I enjoy PHP and am curious about web services. At first looking at the code, I was quite confused but after reading the meat of the article I now understand more about the concepts and technologies involved. It is a fascinating area and I hope to do more in the future. At the moment I'm busy with a new site and am collaborating with TheOriginalH on a bit of it. I believe you helped in some of it aswell.
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  7. #7
    SitePoint Wizard gold trophysilver trophy
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    Antony - glad that article has been useful. Although some of the idea behind web services are quite complicated, if you take the "suck it and see" approach, as I was trying in the article, you find out that it's actually really easy.

    Guess the rule of thumb is: "Don't think. Do".

    Got what might be a good example that could help alot with understanding web services. Let's forget about XML completely for a moment...

    It came about from this thread in the normal PHP forum.

    The Javascript Feed
    Back in the "old days", the way webmasters made money was with advertising. We'll we all know that no longer works, since the .com crash.

    But back then, a webmaster with some valuable "content" - e.g. some articles on being a webmaster, thought: "How do I get more people to my site, to read these articles". So they figured out a way to encourage other sites to link directly to articles on their site dynamically, so that when they added a new article, all the other sites would also display the link to the latest. Once visitors follow the link, they get spammed by adverts and hopefuly click on one or two to give the webmaster of the origional site some money. Everybody wins.

    This was usually done using Javascript, as discussed in Diary of A Webmaster Part 2 - Create a Content Feed
    .

    The way is works is this;

    1. Webmaster A with the articles builds a feed.
    2. Webmaster B on another site puts up a Javascript which is primed to read the feed from Webmaster A.
    3. A visitor drops by Webmaster Bs site and their browser loads the Javascript.
    4. Their browser then displays a list of links to Webmaster A's site and hopefully the vistor clicks on them.

    There draw back with this approach is you're depending on the visitors browser to support the Javascript, which can be very dodgy. If Webmaster A's site goes down, for example, it becomes alot harder with JS to handle error reporting.

    The RSS Feed
    Back on the drawing board, Webmaster A figures out a better way to make a feed to give to Webmaster B. The RSS feed, as discussed in PHP and XML: Parsing RSS 1.0.

    Webmaster A and B agree on a common format for sending the feed data (this is where XML comes in, but who cares?) and using a language like PHP, they now exchange the data directly between their websites - no dodgy client Javascript involved. Here's what happens;

    1. Webmaster A builds an RSS feed and tells webmaster B the format.
    2. Webmaster B writes a PHP script which accesses the feed from webmaster A then turns it into a web page.
    3. Along comes a visitor to Webmaster B and gets a plain HTML webpage with links to to Webmaster A's site.

    Now everyone is happy. The visitor knows nothing about what's happening behind the scenes. Both Webmasters know the feed will work properly for everyone and if there's ever a problem with Webmasters As site, PHP can handle the errors and display something else (which still looks pretty) on Webmaster As site. And finally if Webmaster B is clever, he can choose which links he wants to display from Webmaster A - he know has moer control over what appears on his site.

    Web Services (XML-RPC)
    Now Webmaster A has just been reading Bill Gate's autobiography and has concocted a scheme for global domination The RSS feed was nice but all it did was display some links on Webmaster Bs site pointing to his own site. Webmaster A is also not very talented when it comes to visual design and thinks "Wouldn't it be great if I could sell my articles to other webmasters and give them the work of making it look nice".

    So Webmaster A makes use of XML-RPC as in Build your own Web Service with PHP and XML-RPC and discovers a way to make the articles appear in complete on Webmaster A's site.

    Here's how it works;

    1. Webmaster A build an XML-RPC web service and tells Webmaster B how to use it.

    2. Webmaster B writes a PHP script to talk to Webmaster A's web service.

    3. A visitor drops by Webmaster Bs site an sees a list of articles.

    4. The visitor clicks on the link for an article and... the article appears on Webmaster Bs site! Behind the scenes, Webmaster Bs PHP script accessed Webmaster As web service and said "give me article number 12". Webmaster As site gives the article to Webmaster Bs script and Webmaster B then displays it directly on his own site. Our visitor has no idea that this has happened.

    Now everyone is truly happy. Webmaster A no longer has to worry about design. Webmaster B gets to display the articles directly on his own site, without sending the visitor away to another site or irritating them with pop ups. That is until Webmaster A starts charging Webmaster B for the service, but that's another story...


    The bottom line is with web services, the data you build your PHP applications on no longer needs to live on your own web server. Put another way, Kevin Yanks famous tutorial could be renamed from

    [size=large]"Build your own Database Driven Website using PHP & MySQL"[/size]

    to

    [size=large]"Build your own Database Driven Website using PHP & XML-RPC"![/size]

    Making any sense yet?
    Last edited by HarryF; Jul 25, 2002 at 06:29.

  8. #8
    SitePoint Addict five40's Avatar
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    The bottom line is with web services, the data you build your PHP applications on no longer needs to live on your own web server. Put another way, Kevin Yanks famous tutorial could be renamed from

    [size=large]"Build your own Database Driven Website using PHP & MySQL"[/size]

    to

    [size=large]"Build your own Database Driven Website using PHP & XML-RPC"![/size]

    Making any sense yet? [/B]
    You should write a book with Kevin Yank about this

    The beauty of web services is that we are closer to the platform/language independence so that you can write stuff with PHP (or whatever) and then call it from your Java/ASP/Perl/whateveryourpreferredlanguageis application ? Correct if I'm wrong. Maybe you answered to this question in your article. I only took a quick look at it, but plan to read it later.
    "-Surely you can't be serious ?
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  9. #9
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    The beauty of web services is that we are closer to the platform/language independence so that you can write stuff with PHP (or whatever) and then call it from your Java/ASP/Perl/whateveryourpreferredlanguageis application ?
    Exactly Nicely put! With XML-RPC for example, you just need to step over to the implementations list to find more or less any language you could desire. So if I've got this old Perl/CGI site that's become too hard to maintain, but still has loads of great articles on it that I don't want to manually copy to my new PHP site, I can knock up a quick XML-RPC web service and display them directly within the PHP generated pages!

    And when you think about that we're talking any language and any platform, the mind starts to boggle with the possibilities. MSN messenger for example I believe now uses SOAP to exchange data...

    That's in many ways the big problem with understanding web services. The technology itself isn't the problem. It's that there are so many things you can do with them that the list quickly grows longer than your arm. But I'll stop there before I start pumping out hype like Microsoft is right now.

    On the cautious side, the SOAP standard (equivalent to XML-RPC but more advanced) still has some serious issues such as security to be answered clearly, for example.

  10. #10
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    PHP-GTK to XML-RPC!
    Alright. Now it's getting interesting. A windows application written in PHP that talks to a web service written in PHP;

    Have slapped up a short article demonstrating how it works:
    http://www.pinkgoblin.com/gtk2xmlrpc.php

  11. #11
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    Another technology that would work extremely well when backed with a PHP XML-RPC web service is XWT. It works sort of like PHP-GTK, but in my (limited) experiences with the both of them, XWT works much better. XWT will launch from nearly any browser or as a standalone script on someone's computer (without using the Internet to launch it), which is a major plus.

    There's some examples of XWT on it's homepage. Most of them use XML-RPC to talk to a server (although I don't think the server is using PHP, it easily could).

    Edit: Fixed the link.
    Last edited by dcsonic2k; Jul 28, 2002 at 14:46.
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    Whoa! Now that's interesting. It beat me at chess so I'm interested

    Gonna check that out tomorrow.

  13. #13
    Wibblesticks Gryff's Avatar
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    I was thinking of using PHP GTK to making a program to handle searching and purchasing from Amazon, dont have time atm though, although if anyone wants to help i'm open to suggestions
    In a world where the human mind
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    It should work fine. Playing around with GTK a little as well so will let you know.

    Notice alot of people voting for "Don't understand web services".

    Any questions - please feel free e.g. "What can you do with web services?", "How do web services work?" etc etc.

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    Over the past month or so I've been keenly watching XML-RPC and PHP-GTK. I'm very interested in their capabilites and have been reading as many articles on them as I could find, and I might add that your article on creating a newsfeed and then the PHP-GTK one were probably two of the better ones.

    Anyway, in my newbieish ways, I'm still confused about one thing.

    Why XML-RPC? What makes XML-RPC a better choice than SOAP?

    Up untill now I"ve only ever worked with XML-RPC, and in fact know only the concept of SOAP, which for me is completely fine. But the fact is, I want to know if by not learning how to use SOAP if I'm missing out on something and taking the wrong path through the Web Service world.

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    Why XML-RPC? What makes XML-RPC a better choice than SOAP?
    OK - well the simple answer to that question is simplicity. XML-RPC is alot easier to get started with than SOAP (the XML-RPC spec is 1500 words. The SOAP spec is 40 pages+).

    Now the long answer...

    Basically XML-RPC was a product of more or less the same dev team as SOAP. It was released as a standard in 1998 (while SOAP is still under discussion at W3).

    In general, the two standards are very similar. They both use HTTP to send data and the XML format of the data sent is similar enough that you can use XSLT (a "trick" for transforming XML documents from one format to another) to make an XML-RPC server accessible to a SOAP client, so you won't be wasting effort with XML-RPC.

    What SOAP does have that XML-RPC doesn't is two higher level standards, WSDL and UDDI, which allow you to "publish" your server on a SOAP registry (like X Methods). Other people can "find" you using UDDI at this level, then talk to your server using WSDL to find out what it actually does (meaning they could do all that automatically with a script rather than manually).

    To turn all that into a rule of thumb: use XML-RPC for "personal" use (e.g. for things that only you or a small group you know will use) and use SOAP for web services which will be "major services" - things you want anyone on the Net to be able to use.

    That useful?

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    Thumbs up

    Excellent, thankyou.

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    article for a good overview of what xml (with xslt) is all about here at alistapart

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    SitePoint Addict five40's Avatar
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    Originally posted by HarryF


    In general, the two standards are very similar. They both use HTTP to send data and the XML format of the data sent is similar enough that you can use XSLT (a "trick" for transforming XML documents from one format to another) to make an XML-RPC server accessible to a SOAP client, so you won't be wasting effort with XML-RPC.

    So how does XML-RPC handle other protocols than HTTP ? In my understanding you can use for eg. SMTP with SOAP. Also, is it possible to use binary data by using XML-RPC ?
    "-Surely you can't be serious ?
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    So how does XML-RPC handle other protocols than HTTP ? In my understanding you can use for eg. SMTP with SOAP.
    OK - first thing to remember is there are two parts to XML-RPC. In a generalised form something like this;

    Code:
    2. XML Layer: The XML "Payload" (a text file containing XML tags)
    1. RPC Layer: The underlying network protocol used to send the text
    One will work without the other, for the first layer - the RPC - could be anything - a piece of paper even that you give to something. http is nice because it goes more or less everywhere. The same goes for SMTP - haven't played with that myself but you can send the XML "payload" via email and have something read it automatically and send back the answer.

    For us working on websites with PHP, http is probably going to be what we're most interested in, but a Perl coder could probably make good use of XML-RPC over SMTP.

    Also, is it possible to use binary data by using XML-RPC ?
    Absolutely. The XML-RPC spec defines a tag <base64>. Base 64 encoding allows you to turn binary into an ascii form. And PHP naturally is way ahead of us with base64encode() and base64decode()

    That make sense? (I ask because I've been reading too much about this stuff recently )

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    SitePoint Addict five40's Avatar
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    Originally posted by HarryF

    That make sense? (I ask because I've been reading too much about this stuff recently )
    Yes it does. Thank you !
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    Shiver me timbers!! anthony_irl's Avatar
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    Harry,

    Im having a problem with the code from your article. I'm running WinXP with Apache 1.3.something, PHP 4.2.1 and mySQL 3.2.something. Basic problem is that it won't show the articles on the client.php page. It always displays "Error: ". I've found that it's the last error checking part so $success must be equal to 0. I'm using your code downloaded from the web and customized the variables as follows:

    $site = 'localhost';
    $location = '/kd_xmlrpc/server.php';

    The database parameters must be right or it would throw an error and also I ran the other two scripts: server.php and web_service_api.php without a hitch. Any ideas? Thanks.
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    Hmmm - tricky - this is where web services get fun - trying to debug them when you can't use a browser.

    Can't think of an obvious reason but here's some stuff to do to find the problem;

    1. Point your browser at http://localhost/kd_xmlrpc/server.php - you should get a "method not found" message - and if you're using IE 5+ will even display as XML.

    2. Get Keith's latest code from http://www.keithdevens.com/software/xmlrpc/

    In your client script put;

    PHP Code:
    define("XMLRPC_DEBUG"1); 
    at the top and

    PHP Code:
    XMLRPC_debug_print(); 
    at the bottom - this will display the request from the client and response from the server. If you like copy and paste them here and I can tell you more hopefully. Keith added the debugging after I wrote that article but it's a great feature to know about.

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    Non-Member Siltrince's Avatar
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    Pfff I'm confused like hell.

    My question , is all this for hardcore programmers or can everybody learn it ?
    Last edited by Siltrince; Aug 13, 2002 at 05:34.

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    My question , is all this for hardcore programmers or can everybody learn it ?
    Fair question. I'd say you do need to be a programmer but not a hard core programmer.

    If your skills are only HTML, web services are probably not useful to you. The first level above that would be learning some XML relevant to web services then theoretically you could build a static web service using XML files. You wont be able to access someone elses web service as a client though, with just XML.

    With Javascript, you could also could build a client for a web service but Javascript is in my opinion not a reliable language for developing with, as it relies on web browsers being able to support it correctly.

    So in general, knowledge of a server side language such as PHP is recommended. If you've been through Kevin Yanks introduction to PHP and MySQL, you should be able to get into web services fairly quickly. Conceptually, instead of the "end result" being a web page, the end result is now XML and with the libraries available for PHP, you shouldn't even have to worry too much about that.

    Some learning will be required, yes. But web services are worth the effort. My opinion is web services are in fact a "big thing". Back in the 90's you could put up an HTML site and have it become a massive success. Those days are no more but with web services, the same potential exists.

    Simply put, click on "Full List" at XMethod, one of the primary free web service registries. Not that long, is it?

    PS: Javscript XML-RPC clients: found here and here
    Last edited by HarryF; Aug 13, 2002 at 06:58.


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