Tag Archives: Cross-platform software

PHP Strings Don’t Need Quotes

I bet you didn’t know that PHP strings don’t need quotes! Indeed PHP developers work with strings with either single or double quotes, but actually in some cases you don’t need them.

PHP by Book

Here’s how PHP developer declare a string, which is something very common in any programming language.

$my_var = 'hello world';
// or
$my_var = "hello world";

PHP Tricks

What if you do the following:

echo hello;

That appears to be correct … Well, it’s not absolutely correct. You’ll be “noticed”.

// Notice: Use of undefined constant hello
echo hello;

However if you disable error reporting, the code will be completely fine.

// no problem now
echo hello;


What follows from the thing above is that you can use strings without quotes:

// hello
echo hello;
// hello world (concatenated)
echo hello . ' world';
// helloworld
echo hello . world;

However you can’t have spaces and most of the “special” symbols.

// syntax error
echo hello world;
// syntax error
echo hello!;

Final Words

Although you can do this in PHP, that is completely wrong. The code becomes more difficult to read and understand. In the second place you can miss a $ sign in front of a variable declaration and thus the PHP interpreter will assume this is a string. So disable error reporting isn’t so great sometimes.

How to Dump the Generated Zend_Db SQL Query

The Typical PHP Approach

Typically a PHP programmer will write his SQL query as a string and will execute it via mysql_query.

$sql = "SELECT * FROM my_table";
$resource = mysql_query($sql);

So eventually when you want to dump this “complex” query, or whatever query there is, you can simply “echo” it and see what’s its syntax.

// this query is WRONG because of the where clause
$sql = "SELECT * FROM my_table WHERE id = ";
// dump and debug the wrong query
// this line won't be executed
$resource = mysql_query($sql);

So far so good, but things appear to be a bit different when you start to work with Zend Framework. Higher levels of abstraction come with slightly more difficult ways to dump (debug) your SQL queries.

OK you’ve two options. Using Zend_Db_Select or … not.
Continue reading How to Dump the Generated Zend_Db SQL Query

A Memcached Zend_Cache


Usually Zend_Cache is used to store cache files on the file system, which can be really fast and useful in most of the cases. However there’s a faster cache mechanism and hopefully it’s supported by Zend_Cache as well. This is the Memcached backend.

A Faster Cache

Memcached is a really powerful tool to cache directly into the RAM. First, this tool has nothing to do primary with Zend Framework. It’s a server, usually started on some port, that can be called to store and get things from the memory. This of course is very fast, way faster than the cache in the hard drives.

Zend_Cache and Memcached

Zend_Cache has an interface to work with Memcached which is great as usual. The PHP example of Memcache (note that there are two things Memcache and Memcached, which are slight different) can be found here and as it says:

$memcache = new Memcache;
$memcache->connect('localhost', 11211) or die ("Could not connect");
$version = $memcache->getVersion();
echo "Server's version: ".$version."<br/>\n";
$tmp_object = new stdClass;
$tmp_object->str_attr = 'test';
$tmp_object->int_attr = 123;
$memcache->set('key', $tmp_object, false, 10) or die ("Failed to save data at the server");
echo "Store data in the cache (data will expire in 10 seconds)<br/>\n";
$get_result = $memcache->get('key');
echo "Data from the cache:<br/>\n";

However this can be coded into a Zend Framework style like that:

$frontend = array('caching' => true, 'lifetime' => 1800, 'automatic_serialization' => true);
$backend = array(
    'servers' =>array(
        array('host' => '', 'port' => 11211)
    'compression' => false
$cache = Zend_Cache::factory('Core', 'Memcached', $frontend, $backend);

Note that you don’t have the typical “cache_dir”, just because everything’s cached into the memory.

Now you can call the cache as it’s called with the “File” backend interface:

$key = 'mykey';
if (($result = $cache->load($key)) === false) {
	// call the slow database query here ...
	// save in $result
	$cache->save($result, $key);	
echo $result

How to Make MP4 Progressive with qt-faststart

A big part of the developers worldwide, who have dealt with video converting, sooner or later have been used FFMPEG. In fact I’d say that two of the main software on the video converting scene are FFMPEG and Mencoder. I began to use Mencoder back in 2005 and I used it as a DVD ripping tool, but my experience with it ends there, while now I use FFMPEG.

However FFMPEG is a converting program and many things depend on what kind of video files come as an input and what do you want to achieve as an output. Here comes the codec question, where various libraries can help. In my case, as I wrote few posts ago, I use MP4 as output encoded with h.264, both encoded with ffmpeg/libx264. So far so good, but there is one main problem that anyone used this pair knows.

Flash Player and MP4

As far as I know Flash Player 9 and beyond plays video files encoded with MP4/h.264 except the typical FLV (flash video files). This can help video sites not only to share their video content via web – within browser based flash players, but also to show them via some mobile device interface where MP4/h.264 is perhaps the only one reasonable solution. In this case the file is accessible in both medias.

By default Flash Player can play such FFMPEG encoded .mp4 files, but fist the whole file must be downloaded by the browser and only than the playback can begin. That’s because the FFMPEG puts meta info at the end of the video file, while the flash player needs it at the beginning and only than to begin playing while the file is still downloading.


As the name of this software says this program helps you move the important meta info from the end to the beginning of the file. This helps the video to playback as early as possible. In an ideal circumstances everything works just fine, but there is a serious problem in fact.

qt-faststart and Server Crash

qt-faststart is responsible to move the meta info where it must be – at the beginning of the video file, but cannot finish execution when the video file is broken or the meta info doesn’t exists. Actually this is not a problem of qt-faststart, but to the video file. However this was a critical problem in my case, because the video files remains stuck for hours of execution and 99% of CPU usage.

Thankfully there is a solution and it can be found in the qt-faststart wrapper – qtfaststart.py


written on Python this script overcomes the disadvantages of qt-faststart. As described by his author Daniel G. Taylor:

  1. Works everywhere Python can be installed
  2. Handles both 32-bit (stco) and 64-bit (co64) atoms
  3. Handles any file where the mdat atom is before the moov atom
  4. Preserves the order of other atoms
  5. Can replace the original file (if given no output file)

With its help not only qt-faststart doesn’t crash, but also the video files remain progressive as desired. The installation process is as difficult as copy/paste on the server where Python must be installed.

How to Overcome Zend_Cache_Frontend_Page’s Problem with Cookies


First of all there are several things to know about Zend Framework and caching. Whenever you work on a big web application caching is one of the mostly used mechanisms of speeding up the app and improve user performance. In general the task and the solution are pretty simple and natural.

As the application grows up the visitors become more and more impatient about what they receive. A single page is becoming slower and slower and the result is painful. First of all every time a user hits a page the application server uses the web server, a script interpreter, a database server and potentially the file system. But that’s not all. After all this output is generated on the server, as HTML in the most cases, it is sent to the client where again CSS and JavaScript engines parse and execute them.

In this scenario it’s easy to imagine how many time is spent. While there are several techniques to optimize the client side by optimizing JavaScript, CSS and the static images used for the design of the site, here I’m going to talk more about the backend.

Beside the Optimization

Let’s assume we’ve one of the very used combination between Apache (as a webserver), PHP (as server scripting language) and MySQL (as database server). Here you can choose to optimize all three of them. However beside the optimization of them one of the most simple steps you can do is to cache the output generated by these three branches of your web app.

Caching the Content

In fact you can cache only single parts of the whole process. For instance you can cache only the result returned by some slow database query. Let’s imagine a query takes about 2 seconds to execute. Now you can cache the result into a file and during the cache is active, i.e. it has not expired, the application takes it from a file stored somewhere in the file system.

In a typical Zend Framework scenario you can first setup the frontend and backend options of the cache.

$frontendOptions = array(
	'lifetime'                => 600, // in seconds - this is 10 seconds
	'automatic_serialization' => true,
$backendOptions = array('cache_dir' => 'cache/');
$cache = Zend_Cache::factory('Core', 'File', $frontendOptions, $backendOptions);
$cacheKey = md5('mykey');
if (!$cache->load($cacheKey)) {
	$slowQueryResult = $article->fetchAll();
	$cache->save($slowQueryResult, $cacheKey);
} else {
	$slowQueryResult = $cache->load($cacheKey);

You can setup different options here by setting up the cache directory, lifetime, etc.

Note that the cache directory must exists and with write permissions and Zend Framework doesn’t create it for you and will throw error.

The problem here is that now you cache only part of the generated content and in many cases this is still too slow for most of the users. However all the work (in most of the cases) of the web server, the script interpreter and the database server result in a simple HTML output. What if you have this output generated or cached for you and when the user hit the page the server will return this pre-generated code?

This is indeed very fast, because it’s similar to return a text file, as the HTML is simply formatted text.

Caching the Entire Page

Before I proceed, I’d like to say that I work with Zend Framework 1.9.x. Now in the latest versions of ZF there are new mechanisms of caching the output even Zend_Cache_Frontend_Page works fine on them.

You can simply setup the page cache within few simple lines of code:

$fo = array(
    'lifetime' => 600,
    'regexps' => array(
        '^/' => array(
	'cache' => true,
         'cache_with_cookie_variables' => true,
$bo = array(
    'cache_dir' => 'cache/'
$cache = Zend_Cache::factory('Page', 'File', $fo, $bo);

However my advise is to place this code as high as possible, because this will cache everything generated as output. It’s a good practice if you place this even in the bootstrap before you make the connection with the database. Actually you don’t need a database connection when you’ve to return a simple text(html) file.

This will improve your app’s performance a lot!

However there are few things to know. When you setup the cache to work even with cookie variables, you can see that hitting the page with different browsers Zend Framework will generated different cache pages. This is quite useless because than you don’t have any benefit of caching the content.

First of all let me say that THIS IS NOT A BUG! of ZF. Simply the framework will use the cookie variables to generate the cache key. It’s obvious that different browsers, even more different users, will have different cookie set and the framework will generate different cache keys for them.

Thus you’ve to change the setting to generate the cache key from cookie variable by explicitly set this option to false:

$fo = array(
    'lifetime' => 600,
    'regexps' => array(
        '^/' => array(
		 'cache' => true,
         'cache_with_cookie_variables' => true,
         'make_id_with_cookie_variables' => false,
$bo = array(
    'cache_dir' => 'cache/'
$cache = Zend_Cache::factory('Page', 'File', $fo, $bo);

Note that in this example we cache every single page generated by the framework explained in the regexps. This is not so good especially when the users have the possibility to login and to see customized content for them, so you can be careful what you cache.

A typical problem that this solution solves is when your application uses Google Analytics. As you may know Google Analytics sets up a cookie every time when an user hits the page, so every time the framework will generate a different cache for him and in result he won’t see any benefit and performance improvement from your site.