PHP Certification for Hosts?

From time to time the subject of certification gets raised in PHP circles (and usually vanishes again later), as means to prove your mettle as a PHP programmer to potential clients / employees. Whether programmer certifications “work” in general, is a subject for long debate. Right now, I don’t think there’s any organisation with both the credibility and resources to put together an effective program for PHP developers. There probably isn’t a enough demand anyway, to make it sustainable.

That said, been wondering recently whether certification would work for web hosting companies – the sort that offer $5 / month accounts with “PHP enabled”? Having had bad experiences with shared hosting myself in the past and having heard of others with similar problems, what seems to be common is those running servers have little or no knowledge of PHP itself – it’s simply something to add to that list;

- PHP Installed
- 1 x MySQL Database
- 10 x Email accounts

How many web hosts provide any more detail than just “PHP Installed” to potential customers? It’s rare you find detail like whether it’s installed as an Apache module or a CGI executable, which extensions are available, which version (exactly) of PHP are they using, can php.ini settings be modified with .htaccess files, what PHP functionality is enabled / disabled, what are the upgrade policies / procedures etc. etc. Things that are essential to know if you’re doing anything more serious than form mailing with PHP.

What’s more, when you consider security, ignorance on the part of hosts is risky for everyone. How many hosts know the significance of –disable-url-fopen-wrapper, for example?

Think a certification program for hosting companies could do a lot of improve many peoples lives, both to raise the quality of PHP hosting for customers, prevent nasty security surprises for hosts and generally give PHP a better name.

In terms of implementation, think for a host to get certified, there should be two main activities;

- make the exact nature of the PHP installation transparent to customers (i.e. on a web page) as well as publishing clear upgrade policies / procedures (e.g. you get 3 months warning before we make an upgrade on a minor version such as 4.2.x to 4.3.x) and commitments to extensions and so on. Basically providing all the information that’s essential to a PHP developer to know exactly what they’re working with.

- have at least one engineer pass an examination that focuses on the detail of installing and configuring PHP as well as providing a basic understanding of how PHP is used so that the host actually understands the consequences of switching register_globals off and can advise customers on how to proceed. It doesn’t need to cover object oriented programming but subjects like security, for example, should be a requirement.

The changing nature of the hosting business (small companies often) probably means re-certification would be necessary, perhaps on a yearly basis.

Whilst it might not initially be popular amongst hosting companies, if it’s something they can advertise it becomes a mark of quality, separating those trying to run a real business from the cowboys, it’s going to draw business.

As to who should run this, I’d have to say Zend or one of those offering commercial PHP support such as Tap Internet or ThinkPHP. My guess is it could be more or less self financing – $500 / year for certification would probably cover the costs of running the program.

Anyway – just my flight of fancy. Right now, I’m thankful for not being in the position of having to find shared hosting for PHP. Have been meaning to fork out for a User Mode Linux account for a while now, which seems like a much saner way to run PHP. If I ever do, will share the experience.

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  • http://www.norics.com Hero Doug

    It’s sad that you have had bad experience with hosts, but from my experience with hosting I’ve found that all the hosts I’ve dealt with have had extensive knowledge about their servers, including php. Which brings me to my next point, there is a LOT more to know about running hosting business then just your PHP settings and what modules are installed. If you are to suggest a certification program for hosting (Which is a Linux server admin certification actually) it should encompass the whole of hosting, and not just one aspect.

    I really do agree with you on one point though, there are a lot of new host’s on the market that have no business hosting.

  • http://www.phppatterns.com HarryF

    Which brings me to my next point, there is a LOT more to know about running hosting business then just your PHP settings and what modules are installed.

    Very true and general sysadmin training should cover this. Think there is value in something that focuses on PHP only though. To take a well known example, when register_globals was switched off by default with PHP 4.2.0, many hosts followed suit because it was the recommended approach – sysadmin good practice in other words. The result was mayhem for many.

  • http://www.pswebmin.org p4schroeder

    A couple month ago I installed eZpublish CMS on a shared hosting (Ace-host.net) and as so happy because it was working. Since eZpublish runs only if PHP runs as a module I was happy it worked. Two weeks late after setting up the site I suddenly starred at an a screen telling me no file specified. After bugging Ace-host for a while I realized they had changed PHP from Apache module to CGI without even telling the customers. That was a horrible experience for me.

  • http://www.phppatterns.com HarryF

    …I realized they had changed PHP from Apache module to CGI without even telling the customers. That was a horrible experience for me.

    That’s exactly what I’m talking about (have had similar experiences and I believe it’s probably a common story). The problem, for me, is not that they switched to using CGI but that there was no warning. To me that says they fail to understand the potential impact of what they’re doing on PHP applications. With a warning, you would have had a chance to test / fix the problem in your development environment (or at least discuss it on SPF and work out how to solve it).

  • Peter

    You just have to checkout your hosts before getting in bed with them. you get what you pay for and for just $25 per month you can get hosts whose whole buiness of being online is to do PHP/MySQL hosting. they have a passion, they write PHP programs and they know about the need to use PEAR etc.

    You should always talk to a potential host personally. If they don’t respond to your questions, then you ought to go elsewhere anyway. Ask them ‘can i install pear packages…will you run php5, do you support SQLite? Of course you shold also ask: what are your peering arrangements?, what backup do you have? and often ‘who are you a reseller for? (i.e. who REALLY is the host).

  • http://www.norics.com Hero Doug

    [QUOTE=p4schroeder]After bugging Ace-host for a while I realized they had changed PHP from Apache module to CGI without even telling the customers.[/q] I have to agree with what Harry said about this, the host should have realised the potential impact it had on their customers sites.

    [QUOTE=HarryF]Think there is value in something that focuses on PHP only though.[/QUOTE] There could be value for a certification if prepared properly. If anyone were to do it I’d like to see the PHP.net developers do it.

  • http://www.phppatterns.com HarryF

    If anyone were to do it I’d like to see the PHP.net developers do it.

    Likewise. Certainly something that has to be “done right”. Might also turn into enough predictable revenue to employ a full time PHP developer somewhere (which is valuable in Open Source development).

  • Filip de Waard

    Good idea. Where can I enlist ;)

  • http://www.phppatterns.com HarryF

    Good idea. Where can I enlist ;)

    Exactly ;) Needs someone to take the bait and set it up…