Thursday, March 29, 2007

Further endeavours into baking Cake(PHP)

I have been playing around with CakePHP for the past several days. I've started work on two projects using Cake; a financial administration system (for my company) and a redesign of ITKA's iCMS Content Management System (link is in Dutch). I feel that I'm learning CakePHP quite quickly, which of course is a good thing. A word of warning though to other aspiring Bakers (see, I've already copied their slang!): CakePHP takes somes time to master, and I really wouldn't advice anyone using it without complete knowledge of how the system works.

The point is that CakePHP takes convention over configuration. Personally I love this concept, what's the point in being able to configure everything if you could also just play by the rules. You see, reading up on configuration in the manual is just as time consuming as reading up on Cake conventions. Furthermore Cake offers configuration exactly where you need it. Who cares that you need to access functionality via the controller (e.g. if that is only visible to the user. Routing is a powerful CakePHP function that is quite similar to mod_rewriting, except that it is more powerful. You can easily prefix /admin/... to administration functions and make pretty urls like using routing. Even if you use exceptional names and stuff the standard Cake conventions can be manually overwritten, it's all possible!

The one major question that currently still has my concern is performace. If you print_r() some objects used by Cake during runtime you can see that they are truly massive containing information on the database tables, related database tables (and models), etc. etc. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

For now I have got some tips for beginning Cake developers (like myself).

  1. Use scaffolding and only scaffolding when you are designing your database structure. At the start of a project, first build all the necessary models, controllers and db tables. Link them using Cake's $hasMany/$belongsTo/$hasOne/etc. functions and check to see if all relations work properly (i.e. when viewing one thing, you get 'related [other things]'. Scaffolding will really help you out here, as you can instantly check everything (no need to rewrite any HTML, etc).
  2. At the start of an application get your internal structure right. Like mentioned in #1, use scaffolding to get your database/model relation structure right. In the early stages it's a) easier and b) less time consuming to set everything right for final implementation. Consider Cake's MVC approach: you need to seperate data, business logic and presentation. First get your data and data structure right, then add business rules and logic and only at the end worry about presentation. The method is not the same as the MVC approach (which is only about code seperation). This is an engineering approach that takes on different parts of the project one-by-one, in a logical order.
  3. Learn by experience. This by the way goes for any programming language learning and is generally the way I advice people to learn programming. The point is that programming isn't something you know, it's something you feel. It's a creative process! Building a program can be done in many different ways and quite often there isn't even a best way. You need consider your alternatives, choose and finally go with that choice. You will always encounter new problems as a developer and so you will always need to come up with creative solutions for those problems. The best way to learn to do this is by gathering experience. Create a small but challenging project for you to take on, take it on and come up with solutions for the problems you encounter. Search the web, talk to other developers on forums, but get your problems solved. CakePHP, due to it's extremely intuitive conventions, is perfect for this learning method. Finding the answer you are looking for in Cake is easy as for some reason you just know where to look.
As you can see I am very enthusiastic on Cake. I'm looking forward to finishing up the applications I've started work on. Those projects should provide me with a sufficient knowledge base for implementing CakePHP in customer projects, which would be great considering the development time Cake saves you :)


sicapitan said...

I agree, programming is a creative process. But I only realized this after I forced myself to calm down and look creatively at a problem, rather than a mathematical one.

id like to hear more about this financial app your doing! Write an article!

Quaint said...

Hi sicapitan!

Thanks for the feedback! I think I will write something about the financial program, but only once we're a bit further down the development way...