DB2 Universal Database and the PHP Developer

In a previous series of articles, I covered the IBM DB2 Universal Database (DB2 UDB) plug-in for Microsoft Visual Studio .NET that lets Microsoft-trained application developers quickly develop .NET applications that run against DB2 UDB databases, whether they reside on the z/OS, i5/OS, AIX, Windows, Linux, HP-UX, or Solaris operating systems. “Universal” is truly an appropriate part of the DB2 UDB name because the approach used for application development in DB2 UDB is basically: you pick the programming language and we will give you the best integration into that environment that we can.

In this article, I explore the features that make programming PHP-based DB2 UDB applications as seamless as possible and ultimately shorten the development cycle for these types of applications.

A quick blurb about PHP

PHP (or its more formal name, PHP Hypertext Preprocessor) was originally created by Rasmus Lersdorf as a Web template language in Perl with early practical deployments taking the form of a dial-up server monitoring interface in the mid-90s; it was subsequently re-implemented in C by students who ultimately formed Zend Technologies, Inc. – the PHP Company (herein referred to as Zend) makers of PHP optimizers, obfuscators, integrated development environments (IDEs), and other PHP-related commercial products. Recent developer uptake in PHP has been very significant, with a strong foundation in relational databases because of the bundling of PHP with open source databases such as MySQL.

When processing HTML templates with PHP, a PHP interpreter parses files looking for <?php … ?> code blocks. Anything outside of a <?php … ?> block is passed directly to the output stream, and anything inside the block is parsed and interpreted as PHP code.

The first uses of PHP were for dynamic HTML pages, as in the following example:

<?php include ‘dynamic-news.php’; ?>
<head><title><?php getname(); ?>’s custom news</title></head>
<h1>Welcome, <?php getname(); ?></h1>
<p>In today’s news:</p>
<?php print getHeadlines(); ?>

The simplicity of PHP is deeply rooted in some of today’s most popular Web sites. The previous code fragment is how one of the world’s most recognizable search engine’s Web site is surfaced to end users.

Today, however, most new PHP applications are written entirely within <?php … ?> blocks, and increasingly model-view-controller (MVC) patterns are being adopted to allow for easier reuse and division of labor.

PHP has now become one of the most popular Web application development languages used today. This open source scripting language is easy to learn and comes with many powerful features that enable developers to easily interact with HTML. It is estimated that PHP is used for over 40% of Web scripting applications that power today’s Internet. In fact, the penetration of PHP for applications has been so significant that it has earned its stripes as a pillar of the so-called LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) stack.

You can learn more about PHP by visiting its community Web site at: http://www.php.net. This Web site is mirrored all over the world. It is the home of the official PHP documentation and a great example of the successfulness of open source reference documentation. This site is also home to the PEAR (PHP Extension and Application Repository), which provides foundation classes for interoperable and compatible reusable components. In addition, this site hosts the home of PECL (PHP Extension Community Library), which contains community-driven extensions.

DB2 UDB support for the PHP API – a tale of two (or three) APIs

There are three application programming interfaces you can use to write a PHP application that accesses DB2 UDB:

A special PHP driver for DB2 – we highly recommend it…

IBM developed and contributed under open source license the IBM DB2 extension for PHP (ibm_db2) to the PHP project by IBM. This DB2 UDB optimized driver has been supported since the DB2 UDB V8.2.2 release.

You can freely download this optimized DB2 UDB driver at: http://pecl.php.net/package/ibm_db2. This driver supports PHP 4.x, which accounts for about 90%+ of the production servers out there today that are programmed with the PHP API. When PHP 5.x comes out, any code you have written using this driver will be 100% portable.

The IBM DB2 extension for PHP was written from scratch by IBM. In fact, IBM employees maintain the code. For DB2 UDB-bound applications in PHP 4.x, this driver is your best choice because it avoids some of the issues with the unified ODBC driver. You can learn more about this API at: http://www-128.ibm.com/developerworks/db2/library/techarticle/dm-0502scott/.

A tutorial on how to use the new ibm_db2 driver (albeit with the Apache Derby database, but the steps are the same as DB2 UDB as both of these drivers share the same support SQL API) is available on DevX at: http://www.devx.com/IBMCloudscape/Article/29002?trk=DXRSS_LATEST.

For the richest development environment alongside the fastest performing PHP applications, we suggest using the ibm_db2 extensions with the free Zend Core for IBM add-ons (more on that in a bit).

PHP Data Objects ODBC – the future of PHP programming

PHP Data Objects (PDO) ODBC is another way to access DB2 UDB databases that will soon be fully supported with the release of PHP 5.x. PDO is the up and coming standard interface for accessing any database from a PHP application. It is available today in beta with PHP 5.0.4 and should be included as part of the PHP core in the upcoming PHP 5.1 release, which should become generally available in September 2005.

PDO ODBC provides unified access to all databases with the same function names, and so on. If you are looking for portability, this is the best choice. You can simply download the required files and compile PDO ODBC against the DB2 UDB CLI libraries, avoiding the ODBC driver manager all together. You can learn more about PDO ODBC and DB2 UDB at http://us3.php.net/manual/en/ref.pdo-odbc.php.

A good overview of PDO ODBC and DB2 UDB is available at www.ibm.com/developerworks/db2/library/techarticle/dm-0505furlong/.

The unified ODBC driver – going, going…gone…

You can access DB2 UDB databases using PHP 4.x and PHP 5.x (when it becomes available) and the unified ODBC driver, which is one of the oldest (and most clunky) database access extensions for PHP. This driver has been supported for DB2 UDB since the Version 7.2 release.

The unified ODBC driver delivers a single API that provides access for PHP applications to any ODBC-enabled database. The interface is as generic as possible (so it can be used for many databases), but this driver does not provide any DB2 UDB-specific optimizations.

Ironically, the unified ODBC driver does not use ODBC to talk to DB2 UDB; it derives its name from the fact that the functions you use to speak natively to the database just happen to share the same syntax as ODBC functions.

In addition to this, when using the unified ODBC driver to support DB2 UDB-bound PHP applications, you should be aware of the following limitations:

  • The default cursor level is DYNAMIC, which typically means slower performance
  • There is no support for INOUT or OUT stored procedure parameters
  • Support for large objects (LOBs) can be difficult to work with.

Generally, this is not the best option to use for coding your PHP applications to DB2 UDB and hence we do not recommend it. The benefits of this driver are its portability and ODBC skill reusability, but there are better alternatives available today, and even better ones in the near future that do not lack significant functionality like this one.

You can learn more about using the unified ODBC driver with DB2 UDB here: http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/db2/library/techarticle/dm-0502scott/.

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