It might seem ridiculous to write about something as simple as how to use the online manual at PHP.net, but for two reasons I believe it's not really so absurd.
When I first wandered into PHP territory I tried to use 'the manual'. While being the most comprehensive resource available I was unable to deal with it. I could not find the help I needed nor was I able to understand much of what it was telling me. I asked a friend to provide me with a reading list and I'm still waiting for it to arrive in my email.
Secondly, a recent discussion in the PHPBuilder Echo Lounge revolved around research and development practices. From time to time everybody will come across something that looks useful but they aren't sure how to use it. Certainly, the manual is the first place to look for explanations, samples and snippets.
This is a non-technical article written for new ('newbie') PHP practitioners about close reading at PHP.net. This is a continuation of the previous article I wrote called Learning PHP Using the DIY Method. At the end of this article is a short collection of reading material at PHP.net that may be of value if you are having a difficult time getting started on the finer points of PHP.
One thing that I think many may agree upon, the search facilities at PHP.net are not all that great. They work best if you know exactly what you are looking for but if you are fishing for a solution, good luck. Afterall, it is just a manual. PHPBuilder and Google are much better for those occasions in my opinion. When you become more familiar with PHP function names and terminology you will fair much better.
What was the learning acronym they taught us in grade school? SQR3. Survey. Question. Read-Recite-Review. I can only assume that people take time to understand, as best as they can, the information they are reading.
It's important you study and even attempt to use the example code provided in the manual. Seeing a script in action, even one particular function, will greatly assist your understanding. Remember, a script is really built from a core set of building blocks. Understanding how these blocks work individually will allow your creative abilities to shine in the future.
However, aside from reading the technical specifications and/or testing out function which, user comments are an invaluable form of information. In some cases, they are more useful than the descriptions themselves.
Regarding User Comments
The comments following the practicum provide sample snippets with clues into usage, logical comparisons (to other functions) and limitations. Understanding the key requirements and concept of a function is one matter, but understanding how to use a function can be a much greater matter.
For instance, if you look up array_map() you will find a very short explanation regarding how the function works. It couldn't be more simple. However, user comments use about two-thirds of the page. If you read through them you will gain a much better idea of what is possible with array_map.
One of the more interesting comments, at least for me, concerns use of addslashes() and array_map(). Since I was working on some user-input validation issues I realized that I could use this function in conjunction with some other things I had written making the task that much easier to deal with. Later I realized that I could deal with server setup issues (dealing with magic_quotes) with the help of this function.
All in all, and while this may sound like an ultra-geek admission, oftentimes I really look forward to seeing what others will have to say about a particular function. Many times you get a feel for the creative juices that are out there working with PHP.
Getting Started Was The Hardest Part
Looking back a number of years now, I wish that my friend had sent me that email with a list of reading materials. I've assembled a small list of articles to read at PHP.net to get a newbie started. There certainly is much more important information in the manual than just these few pages. I'll ask readers to feel free to offer more suggestions in the comments section of this page.
Remember to SQR3 and read the user comments. Good luck!
Resources