Book Review -- CakePHP 1.3 Application Development Cookbook post

May 30th, 2011

(Note: Packt Publishing provided me with a copy of this book in PDF and MOBI formats for the purpose of me doing a review)

Once again, the fine folks at Packt Publishing have asked me to review a book. I must confess that I had mixed feelings reviewing CakePHP 1.3 Application Development Cookbook. First, the only CakePHP work I do these days is maintaining an old, old CakePHP web site (not even version 1.2) and it's being re-written in Python + Django. Second, I know the author personally and I like Mariano so I was worried about what would happen if I read the book and didn't like it. So I took the approach that most fit what my current status with CakePHP is: someone who has used it in the past, but hasn't used it for a while and is looking for practical examples of how to accomplish specific tasks with the framework.

I personally find the "cookbook" style of books to be the most helpful. They enable me to quickly find answers to the problem "show me how to do something realistic using your tool". Hello World doesn't cut it for the tools I need to use. A common workflow for me is finding an example of how to do something, and then start tweaking it to meet by particular needs. I certainly cannot be the only one who learns how to do things this way. So Mariano can rest easy since I found his book to be exactly the type of guide an experienced programmer who is not familiar with a specific tool can use.

Like any well-thought-out book, they cover the main components of CakePHP. One of the thing I liked was that you didn't have to necessarily read the book from front-to-back in order to get something from it. Within each chapter, you will find info on accomplishing common generic tasks using framework-specific code. A lot of it didn't look too foreign to me, so I'm comfortable that 1.3 is not a huge leap forward in terms of compatibility. Of course, your mileage may vary.

I was also extremely happy to see a chapter dedicated to showing people how to use the CLI shells available to you via CakePHP. Back in the day I wrote a really crappy attempt to create a read-eval-print loop for people choosing to use CakePHP. I called it "the testing shell" and I did a really crappy job of promoting it. It never got a lot of traction because of PHP's focus on the web and lack of testing culture. Which dovetails nicely into a chapter in this book on writing tests.

While it's not great that CakePHP ended up not using PHPUnit to begin with, but having SOME testing is better than NO testing. Congrats to Mariano for sticking his neck out and making sure people understand why testing is important and how easy it is to add in tests. Honestly, it's good that you can also see the tests written for the framework as well. If you tweak things and try to extend CakePHP, you have a pretty comprehensive test suite to find out if you've broken anything else.

So I will recommend "CakePHP 1.3 Application Development Cookbook" for the intermediate to advanced programmer who is looking to learn how to accomplish specific tasks using CakePHP 1.3. I think beginning developers are much better off actually learning some PHP before trying to use a book like this. YOu should not be just cut-and-pasting code without being able to understand what the code itself is doing.