Archive for the ‘Programming’ Category

Combining arrays in PHP

Monday, June 6th, 2016 | Programming


If you need to combine two arrays in PHP, you first thought might be to use the + operator. However, this is unlikely to do what you want it to to. If we look at the following example, you might expect it to output an array with all three elements.


$listA = ['banana'];
$listB = ['apple', 'pear'];
$listC = $listA + $listB;


However, what you will actually get back is an array containing two elements: banana and pear. This is because when you use the + operator in PHP it combines it using array keys. Even though these are non-indexed arrays, PHP looks at them like this:

[0 => 'banana']
[0 => 'apple', 1 => 'pear']

Therefore when you add them together, it combines the keys, taking the earliest. In this case, to get the result you want, you want to use the array_merge function. For other scenarios, PHP has a range of different functions to combine arrays in different ways.

Word Search, a PHP library

Sunday, June 5th, 2016 | News, Programming

Have you ever been working on a PHP project and found yourself thinking “what I really need is a way to quickly and easily drop a word search in to this code”? The answer is almost certainly, no.

However, while working on Learn Finnish I found myself in exactly this situation. Being unable to find a good library, I wrote one and published it on GitHub. It is freely available under the MIT license and registered with Composer:

composer require xmeltrut/WordSearch "^1.0"

All you have to do is pass in some words and it will generate a puzzle. It supports horizontal and vertical words, intersecting words and comes with two alphabets by default: English and Finnish.

If you’re feeling generous, head over to GitHub and star it.



Saturday, June 4th, 2016 | Programming


Web browsers come in various shapes and sizes: different users will have different ones, and inevitably different versions of the same one. When CSS3 arrived browsers began adding support for it before the specification had been finalised and so used vendor prefixes.

The result, now we have a standardised CSS3, is that some users have proper CSS3 support and some have the support, but only behind a complicated series of vendor names. Therefore, if you want to use flexbox for example, you cannot just rely on display: fiex; as for some users it will only work with the appropriate vendor prefix.

This means you have to tediously insert all of these vendor prefix statements to get cross-browser compatibility. However, there is a tool called Autoprefixer that takes this hassle away. It is an NPM module that converts your regular CSS into CSS with vendor prefixes. You write:

display: flex;

And you get:

display: -webkit-flex;
display: -ms-flexbox;
display: flex;

This means you have to compile your CSS. However, if you are already compiling from LESS or SASS, it’s really easy to integrate it. On one of my current projects I already had Gulp compiling SASS, so it was one-liner to add the step in. SitePoint have a tutorial on how to set it up.

Travis CI

Monday, May 30th, 2016 | Programming, Tech


Travis CI is a cloud-based continuous integration tool. Notably, it is also free for open source projects. They do paid subscriptions as well if there is a private repo you want to test. If you just want to test a public GitHub project though, it’s free and really easy to set up.

You can log in with your GitHub account. Once you have done this, you are given a list of your projects and you can turn on Travis CI for each one individually. Using the GitHub hook, you can configure Travis CI to automatically run a build every time code is pushed to the repo.

It supports an array of different languages and platforms. To get up-and-running, you need to add a config file into your repo. This is pretty simple. Here one I am using for a PHP project:

language: php

– ‘5.5’
– ‘5.6’
– ‘7.0’

install: composer install

This configures it to run it on three different versions of PHP, and install the dependencies before starting the test. It comes with many of the common PHP extensions already enabled, and an additional list of ones you can enable if you need them.

Badge Poser

Sunday, May 29th, 2016 | Programming


Badge Poser is an online tool that generates badges your PHP projects’ readmes. There is zero setup: it integrates with Packagist, so once you have your package setup you simply go to the website, enter your package name, and it generates the badges for you.

It then generates a series of Markdown for you to insert into your readme. This will then display anywhere where your readme is rendered: GitHub and Packagist for example.

Currently, it can generate badges for:

  • Stable and dev branch names
  • Total downloads
  • Monthly and daily downloads
  • License

Myth CSS preprocessor

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016 | Programming, Tech


Myth is a CSS preprocessor that allows you to write easier-to-manage CSS, similar to LESS and SASS. The difference with Myth though is that you are writing “pure CSS” while still using features that will be available in the future (such as variables and maths). It then acts as a polyfill for browsers that do not support it.

You can see the full spec on the Myth website.

Should you use it instead of LESS and SASS? In my opinion, no. Not yet anyway. While it does offer some of the features, it does not offer the really useful ones yet. Nested roles and mixins are the big winners for me. Myth does not have these. Nor does it support includes.

It’s one advantage is that it does fill in prefixes. So if you are using flexbox, you can just have a flexbox entry, rather than the endless series of browser-targetted prefixed flexbox commands you currently have to use. You can do this using mixins in LESS and SASS, but it is messier than the way Myth implements it, where you just type the standardised CSS property.

While possibly not that useful right now, Myth is one to watch for the future.

Modernizing Legacy Applications In PHP

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015 | Books, Programming

Modernizing Legacy Applications In PHP is a book by Paul M. Jones on how to bring legacy codebases up to date. Jones is a relatively big-whig in the PHP community, being involved in most of the PSR standards and a contributor to the Zend Framework.

For me, the book was both excellent and uninformative. What I mean by that is that I do not think I learnt anything from reading it. However, I flatter myself that I am pretty good at PHP and have spent many years working with legacy codebases. It was always been an interest of mine, and I have previously submitted conference papers on the subject. I have been doing just what this book describes with my current client.

That in itself shows the quality of the book though. It describes every step I have been going through in a logical and clear order. It explains introducing autoloading, separating out the concerns, adding unit testing and injecting your dependencies. It says you from the tangled mess to a clean and modern application in an easy-to-follow manner. In short, it is pretty much everything I would recommend to someone starting to clean up a legacy application.

It has code examples and some tips and tricks in it, but for the most part it is quite high level. It also deals with PHP 5.0 and onwards. There is perhaps room to expand here. At Buzz I had to come up with techniques to support ancient problems like register globals, and at the NHS I ran into PHP 4.6 installed on their servers. Solving these kind of problems, and the little code tricks you can do, might have been a useful additional also.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who feels the least bit daunted by the idea of modernising a legacy PHP codebase. It is clear, easy-to-follow and takes you through exactly the steps you should follow.



Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 | Programming







Xenu’s Link Sleuth

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015 | Programming

It is super easy to miss broken links on your website. Even if you test it rigorously, it can be difficult to catch them all. That is where an automated crawler can come in useful. Xenu’s Link Sleuth is one such tool.

It only runs on Windows, so I had to run it in a VM. It is also rather a blunt instrument – it crawls everything even though you can be pretty certain that if you have checked one article ID page, they are all going to work. But those few points aside, it is very useful.

It rapidly spiders all of your pages and reports back on both broken links and redirects. It checks CSS, JavaScript and images resources too, and you have the option to check external URLs as well so you get full coverage. It then spits out a HTML report. It is amazing how many little links you find that need fixing when you run it. Well worth spending a bit of time on.


Monday, June 22nd, 2015 | Programming

PHP has a function called nl2br that converts line breaks into <br> tags. This is really useful if you have content in a database and want to ensure the line breaks are in encoded in HTML without actually having to specify them in the content.

It is a bit of a clumsy tool though. It does not take into account that you might want to use paragraphs, or that you do not want br tags adding inside block elements such as pre or hidden elements such as script and style.

The programmers over at WordPress have done a great job of coming up with their own version that resolves all of these issues and many of us already benefit from it on our sites. Matt Mullenweg has written about it.

However, it is buried in the WordPress codebase, so if you want to use it in a non-Wordpress project, you have to mess about pulling it out of the codebase and inserting it into your own. To save myself from having to do this, I’ve created a project on Github that moves it to a standalone library. You can then drop this into your project using Composer and use away.