Programming - - By Harry Fuecks

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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