Well my loyal readers (and you must be loyal if you've made it this far). Here we are at the final installment of the 'ABC's of PHP' where we are going to put some of what we've learned over the past couple of months into practice.
We're going to go step by step through a small script to read the latest headlines from, for those of you who may be a little young or have never heard of Slashdot, it's basically a news aggregation site, but with a difference. All the news available there is aimed squarely at geeks and nerds the world over. There are articles on the latest tech, and what's going on in the heady world of corporate I.T or just downright bizarre things that people do.
All where going to do is read the XML feed file from slashdot.xml and then parse the XML data using regular expressions. If you are going to use this feed then please take a few minutes to read http://slashdot .org/faq/code.shtml and learn the rules and regulations of using the feed, Slashdot is very open about what you can do with the data, but they do ask that you respect their wishes to keep server loads to a minimum. Please note also, that there are better ways to work with XML in PHP and there are a number of built in functions detailed in the PHP manual that make this process much easier.
As the feed is very simple however, I decided to simply just use 'preg_xxx' calls to elaborate on the material from part 9 on using reg-ex calls, if you where reading anything more complex then you would almost certainly want to use the proper XML functions.
On with the script
The first thing where going to want to do is to actually load the XML, this can be achieved by using the PHP 'file' command. The file command will load any file from any supported file or stream type that PHP can handle, and will then store each line of the file into a single array containing one entry for each line in the file. NOTE: I've deliberately NOT included any error handling here, so if for some reason the script is not able to retrieve the feed, you will get an error displayed at this point.

$file_contents = file("");

We then set a couple of default values, for variables we'll be using soon:

 $in_story = 0;
$storys = array();

The 'in_story' variable is used as a flag to let the main reading loop know when it is inside a pair of <story>…</story> tags in the XML file, the 'storys array' on the other hand will hold an array of smaller arrays each containing one story described in the XML.
Next we loop over each line in the loaded text array using 'foreach', if you remember our discussion on arrays, this takes each element in the array one at a time and in sequence and presents it to the inside of the loop as a single variable, which in this case will be a single string.

foreach($file_contents as $line)

Inside this loop is where we perform the necessary actions to extract the information from each story in the XML and load it into an in memory array.
The first thing we need to do in this loop is to decide when we are, and when we are not inside a story (I'm not going to retype the XML here, but if you load the URL mentioned above into your browser, you'll clearly see the structure), this is handled by the "if then" decisions that look like this:

  $in_story = true;
  $current_story = array();


    $in_story = false;
    $storys[] = $current_story;

All they simply do is, when a line with "" appears, we know that we are now in a story block, so we set up a new empty array to hold the details, and we set 'in_story' to true, the second one resets 'in_story' to false, and adds the single story array to the bigger full list of story's array.
The rest of the loop is a sequence of 'preg_matches' wrapped up in an if-then statement that only executes if the 'in_story' variable is true.

if($in_story) {
        $current_story['title'] = $matches[1];

      .. More preg matches follow here for each tag ..

When a 'preg_match' matches on a line containing a tag, we then save the contents of that tag into the 'current_story' array, once we come back out of that story the now filled array is added to the main 'storys' array to form a list of stories found in the XML feed.
They're pretty much all the same, but the one that grabs the date deserves a little extra attention:


Rather than just assign the found text to a single variable, we use two functions that are part of the series of functions for handling text (These are detailed in the strings part of the PHP manual). The 'explode' function takes a sequence of characters and a string, and returns an array of single strings, created by splitting the larger string on the boundaries formed by the character sequence, EG:
If $name = "Peter-#-Shaw", was used with '$result = explode("-#-",$name)' then you would end up with an array called 'result' that would contain 'peter' in element [0] and 'shaw' in element [1].
The trim function just removes excess white space from the ends of the input, so '$result = trim(" Peter Shaw ")' would make 'result' equal to just 'Peter Shaw', we often use trim and explode together, especially in cases such as above where the boundary is a single space, this prevents empty slots in the array by removing any space from the edges that does not constitute a separator between words.
In our script here, the time and the date of publication are separated by a space, so we use 'trim' & 'explode' to separate them into two individual items in the array.
Once we reach the end of this 'foreach' loop that's the hard part of the script behind us, the rest is just to display the results.
The next part down creates another array, this time from single strings:

$styles = array();
$styles['post'] = "{padding: 0px; margin: 0 0 20px 0; clear: <clipped>……

This array holds the styles for the script to allow us to use CSS inline to style the results. Now normally, you would use a separate style sheet, and share it across the whole site. Then use the HTML link tag, however in this case I was reading the PHP manual chapter on the 'foreach' function and I discovered something interesting…
PHP 4 introduced a foreach construct, much like Perl and some other languages. This gives an easy way to iterate over arrays. Foreach works only on arrays, and will issue an error when you try to use it on a variable with a different data type or an uninitialized variable. There are two syntaxes; the second is a minor but useful extension of the first:

foreach (array_expression as $value)
foreach (array_expression as $key => $value)

Basically, from PHP5 onward, you can use the second version with '$key => $value' so instead of your loop variable getting the value of the variable, it gets the name of the array key, or the bit that sits inside the [ & ] brackets when you create an array.
This got me thinking, and since I discovered that you can also use spaces in array identifiers, I realized I could store style rules in a normal array, then insert them into the code using a loop like the following:

  foreach($styles as $key => $style)
    print " ." . $key . $styles[$key] . "\n";

Which you can see round about line 111 in the script attached to this article.
This opens up some interesting possibilities to generate style sheets on the fly using database information and PHP includes, which I'm going to explore at a later date, and maybe even write an article on PHP builder about it.
The rest of the script are just a mass of print statements that output the required HTML tags to create the page, and a main loop that goes over the story's array printing each story one at a time, all pretty easy to understand.
I hope you all enjoyed this series, I would have loved to keep going with it and moved onto more advanced things, such as databases, and classes and a whole host of other things. Unfortunately time constraints and other work won't afford me the time to do so.
I am a member on the PHPBuilder forums under the name 'shawty' so feel free to send me a PM or look out for my posts in there. I do actively participate in the forum when I have a few minutes here and there, I can also be found on linked in at:http://www I also have an MSN live spaces blog at: http://cid- Where I jot down little snippets of technical goodness and other geeky type stuff, feel free to drop me a visit and leave your mark in my guest book.
Please remember, programming is not about just creating code, or about doing as other have done before, it's a whole art-form in itself. I made my first leap into this voyage of discovery way back when I was just 7 or 8 years old, and even now I still learn new things every day, the proof in this is above where I discovered an extension to the 'foreach' command.
Always try to think outside the box, don't be tied in to the constrains of what something can do, because that's what it's supposed to do, I've used PHP for some pretty bizarre stuff over the years and developed tricks that you'll never find listed in any text books, and if you try something, and it fails…… So what…… so you failed…… big deal, re-think what you where attempting and learn from your mistakes, because next time it'll help you make more creative screw ups, believe me ;-).
The biggest thing though… is "Have fun doing what you do" because when it's fun, it makes the process all the more enjoyable, and programming should always be fun.
Happy PHPing…
The ABC's of PHP
Introduction to PHP
What do I need to make it work?
Basic Script Building in PHP
How Variable Am I?
Strings & Text
Math & Number Handling in PHP
Introduction to Arrays and Hashes in PHP
Loops and Decisions in PHP
Advanced String Processing - How Regular Are Your Expressions