SymfonyCon, Berlin 2016, notes and thoughts



I wrote an article for the Italian PHP conference last year, so I decided to repeat that and write up some notes I took at the Symfony Conference in Berlin 2106. Talks and notes at this link.

Conference format

I personally prefer conferences around a wide subject, in order to list to more variety of talks, spreading across the whole area of the technology. This one was a 2 days conference around a single framework, so I was expecting to get a bit bored, and I was right. Lots of talks around minor functionalities on the framework that I can easily read online, or things I already know. Some talks were fortunately more general therefore more of my interest. And that’s because I want a talk to inspire me, giving me clues, tips, but not repeating what the online documentation says.


Some talks around the Symfony 3.3 new features, SensioCloud (a kind of heroku for Symfony that smells a bit commercial and coupled with Symfony at first glance), PHP 7 improvements I missed (static variables persisted in memory among requests), PHP types (things I’ve already heard many times, but good to hear them again, with updates on latest PHP updates).

One of the talk I like the most was about when to abstract, where lots of useful concepts were mentioned. Concepts that I knew already, but I always found it difficult to explain to other younger developers or the business.

  • Predicting patterns should be done very carefully, we can’t really know how the business logic is evolving, and a premature abstraction leads to difficulty to change the product. The risk is facing an over-engineered or over-architected product at the time you have to make changes. In this talk is suggested to develop first with duplication, abstract later. Completely agreed;
  • Refactor  is not only and improvement, but the best way to let the business patterns and logic emerge from your code, in case you don’t fully know it. I knew that, but I never though of explaining to the business that way. I understand “refactor” sounds scary to the business, like the builders in your house say “we need a paid (by you) day to refactor the wall we are building” when you clearly saw the were half way through after 2 days.
  • A code rewrite, instead, means losing some of the domain rules. In the talk it was mentioned 40%, but I think it depends, it was much less in my experience, also considering that some functionalities are not needed anymore, so it’s good to lose unknown and useless functionalities, and re-implemented the updated version if the users and business require those;
  • API should be optimised for stability, projects (what you build with a framework for example) for change, products (e.g. Symfony /Wordpress) for stable core. Agreed, again.

Other talks I followed worth linking:

Other tools

I spoke to guys in the sponsor stands. Interesting to see in action, that I’ll definitely try out next time I need to optimise an app. Interesting to see heroku to basically deploy and handle the “devops” part of an application (create server instances, install packages, manage servers, watch logs) entirely from the command line without a single SSH command inside the box. I wasn’t particularly lured by the whole SensioCloud idea, as I never felt the need for something like that, also not sure I want to use a platform created by the framework creator, that I’m not sure I can (easily) use with other frameworks.

Stand on the shoulders of giants, and export your code

stand shoulder giantAmong the many software principles to adopt, like KISS eYAGNI, another important one is DRY (Don’t repeat yourself), IMO connected to the Standing on the shoulder of giants principle. In other words: Great people already faced your problems, solved them elegantly and also published their solution. So why not using highly skilled people’s solutions instead of developing yours ?
Unless you do things for learning, it’s more efficient to re-use things and avoid reinventing the wheel. Is, therefore, important to learn how to contribute to export and distribute some code to the public. Below, a list of some libraries I’ve exported from some projects of mine because I thought I’d use them in the future, or somebody else would need them.

Currency converter

A few years ago I developed a component to convert GBP into EUR for a client who needed an auction website and price filtering in different currencies. No PHP library was available at the time (not sure there still is one), so I’ve developed this unit-tested parser able to read values from the European central bank feed. I’ve used it a couple of time since then, so it was a good idea exporting it. If I need to convert currencies, it’ll take minutes to add this to the project. Note: the library doesn’t download and cache the feed on purpose. I prefer to have repositories doing one thing only. Downloading and caching is a responsibility of the caller, and it could be doctrine caching and a simple PHP file_get_content or guzzle call, depending on what you already use in your project.

Mockery stub chain

Mockery (PHP stubs framework for testing) allows to mock chains of called methods, but no arguments can be specified. If your arguments are strings or integers, you can use this simple extension and write the same assumptions in a simpler way.

Twig text extension

I couldn’t find a simple twig extension to limit some text by the number of words (without truncating them), and – in case they are truncated – add a suffix like “continue …”. Also, there was nothing to remove accents (useful to Slugify), so I created this unit-tested one, where I’ll add more general purpose Twig filters in the future.

Array collection

A simple extension of doctrine array collections that already work great, but a.t.m. misses functionalities like sorting, create a new one from a merge of multiple arrays/collections, get not empty values.
Very simple and worth exporting. It’s unit tested, so I next time I need to work with a ArrayCollection, I’ll add this repo to the composer file and save time. Besides, any improvements will get saved into the repository itself, and not into a private project that might be abandoned, and therefore not lost.

WooCommerce layered nav sort

Simple WordPress Woocommerce plugin to order woocommerce layered navs filters by order descending. Took minutes to implement.

Better google tasks

Google Tasks web client, displaying all the lists on one page, functionalities to drag and drop tasks from one list to another. Written with AngularJs and Silex. I’ve abandoned this project due to some priorities, but some parts of it could be useful for similar projects. Sorry, no demo available

Text spinner

There are free language dictionaries on the web, but no open source library to parse them.
I’ve created one, that can be used for auto text spinning or suggesting synonyms.

The simplest Observer design pattern example

A few days ago I got involved in a chat about the usage of Object-oriented design patterns. I brought up the problematic of their usage when not needed, that ends up in adapting the code to the pattern and altering it, risking to increase its complexity. I mentioned an example of usage of the Observer design pattern, that I’ve seen used even where one object A (Subject) just needed to keep an array of reference of objects B (Observers), but B didn’t actually need to refer back to A.

From Wikipedia: The observer pattern is a software design pattern in which an object, called the subject, maintains a list of its dependents, called observers, and notifies them automatically of any state changes, usually by calling one of their methods.

In this post, I’ll expose a case where the usage of that pattern is very simple to understand: a Newsletter system, with senders (Subject) and subscribers (Observers).

In this example, we have two users, John and Mike who both subscribe to the NewsletterSender (Subject). When the email is sent, both are notified by NewsletterSender::notifySubscribers() that iterates the users and call their update() passing its reference. Via this reference, the users will then be able to call the getter to read the email. So, John and Mike will both receive the reference to the NewsletterSender, John will print out the email text, but Mike only decides to say that there is an email (different implementation).

See the comment near each method with the classes and method names of the corresponding PHP interfaces SplObserver and SplSubject

script to modify DB values filtering by column and rows

One of my clients recently needed to implement an application-level encryption for some existing applications.

Unfortunately, the design pattern used for the database layer obliged me to write an independent script to browse the database and encrypt the data for each user using a user-specific two-way encryption key.

So, I ended up writing a simple utility class that applies a user-defined function (modifies) to the defined columns and records (via a filter query) of each database table.

It can be used for any relational database server supported by PDO (MySQL, SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle). I’ve only used it with MySQL but it should work smoothly with all the others.

Db modifier

An example of usage is in the README, hope it’s clear enough.

You can basically use this to mass editing Db records with a function that is NOT easily implementable with a simple MySQL Query, e.g. encrypt the data with a custom PHP function.

File Upload from HTML form: client and server validation for maximum size

File uploading normally requires client validation (mainly as a UI improvement) and server validation (in case the client validation is bypassed/hacked).

The code

<input type="hidden" name="MAX_FILE_SIZE" 

only imposes a soft limit (in bytes) on the server side, therefore not a good practice since it can be altered by the user. The solution I adopted is composed by a server side validation AND a client validation (in JavaScript, mainly for a better user experience since it can be easily hacked as all the other JS solutions)

Client validation (JavaScript)

The idea is accessing the files JS property of the input field and read the file size on the ‘change’ event (when a file is selected by the user). If the selected files exceed the max size, I simply display a clear user warning and disable the submit button. I’ve created a generic script that automatically listens to the change event for any file upload element, and reads the max upload size in bytes from the MAX_FILE_SIZE HTML input hidden element in the same form.

Server side validation (PHP)

Just set the desired value for ‘upload_max_filesize’ and ‘post_max_size’ PHP settings (php.ini). Alternatively, if you need application specific settings and you use apache as web server, add the following lines into the .htaccess in your web root

php_value upload_max_filesize 25M
php_value post_max_size 25M

Doctrine 2 + zf2 working with both SQL server and MySQL

The web application I’m working on (PHP 5.3, zf2, Doctrine2, on MySQL/Apache) has recently raised interest from the clients and it now needs to be installed on their premises, often a Windows server( arghhh!). That meant we had to make the application compatible with both MySQL and SQL-Server.
Here I summarize the changes and the solutions we adopted.
Continue reading

Raw query on Zend framework

Zend_Db_Table_Abstract::getDefaultAdapter()->query($sql)->fetch(); //if you need to fetch results

if it does not work, use the db handler Pdo), and call – for example – exec()