Why do you need a website?

If you have a business it is likely that you need a website. Things change fast in this business and the behaviour of consumers has changed to take advantage of technology. People are less likely to find your business through the ‘phone directory and much more likely to cruise around on the internet. If they find a reference to your business – say in one of the online directories – the next thing they will want to do is look at your website. If it doesn’t exist they will move on to a business that has one.

It doesn’t matter how large or small your business is, even if you’re a one or two person outfit and even if you are not selling anything online you probably still need a website.

It’s more than just needing a website – you need a good one. Think of a website as a different sort of shop window – it needs to reflect the character of your business and invite potential customers to step into your shop. Finding your website may be the first interaction that a potential customer has with your company – a poor site may mean it’s the last one.

Websites aren’t just for customers either – they provide a way for potential employees, business partners and investors to gain an impression of your business.

Over the next few months I’ll write a few short posts on your options for establishing a website – I’ll try and avoid jargon but do feel free to mail me if you have any questions.

SketchUp projects

SketchUp is a funny sort of thing; it used to belong to Google but never really seem to fit with Google-anything-else. Someone once told me that it looked like a product that was conceived when the Google executives got rich and wanted something to help design their new homes. In April 2012 SketchUp was acquired by Trimble, I really hope it’s going to have a great future, I’m using the free version at the moment but it’s so useful that I probably will end up paying for it.

Over the Christmas holiday this year I built a table – using a piece of slate that we bought about 30 years ago intending to ‘do something with it’, some oak and a bit of custom made stainless steel. I used SketchUp to help me plan out the project.

This is a screen shot of the initial design:

Coffee table design

Coffee table design

The angles between the stainless steel rods and thus the placement of the legs were dictated by the dimensions of the  slate. The table looks like this upside down

Upside down view

In this view I have pulled one of the legs away slightly to show the construction of the top of the legs – this is also shown in more detail in the inset. The most useful part of SketchUp was that it helped me to work out the exact saw cuts that I needed to make – then move pieces around to that I could see what the result looked like.

Other useful things were being able to send images to Alan at Designs in Stainless who made up the stainless steel part and being able to deconstruct the wooden part of the design into a cutting layout so that I knew how much oak to order. By the way, the oak came from Alresford Interiors who make the kind of fitted kitchens that I’m going to have in my dream home.

I’ll continue using SketchUp for this kind of project – I’m sure that it probably wasn’t what it was intended for but I don’t think I could plan this sort of construction without it. Here is a shot of the finished table:

Finished table

Just this once, I have to say something about diversity.

I was very sad to find this post yesterday.

Speaking in a purely personal capacity, I hope that I never will be (indeed, never have been) accepted as a conference speaker because I am female. I also hope never to attend a conference where speakers have been selected for any other reason that they are the best qualified individuals to talk on their subject material.

As a director of PHP London and one of the organisers  of the  PHP UK Conference I would wish to reassure our speakers, particularly our female speakers,  and attendees that  talks were selected primarily on the merit of their submission. In fact, when I graded the talks I looked only at the title, abstract and their reasons for wanting to speak – I had no idea if I was selecting women or men.

Anyone who wishes to address the lack of diversity in our industry would be better to lend their support  groups already working in this area, for example WAAA. Or, failing that, supporting initiatives that are directed at changing the way that computing is taught in schools.

Read  what Trisha Gee has to say on diversity. In her last paragraph she speaks of role models and I can’t improve on her words. Although I’m female my role models are mostly male and as it happens, Andrew Betts is one of them.

Update – parallel run-tests.php

A few more people sent me performance figures for parallel run-tests.php last night, thanks to Olivier Doucet, Stefan Marr and Sean Coates and Chris Jones we have a few good points on the graph.

A few things to note:

  1. We are mainly running different sets of tests. The biggest runs are mine and Sean’s which have 6636 tests and run as 47 groups. This set of tests can be found in ~/phpruntests/AQ/QATimedBucket.tgz
  2. I’ve removed any variation in CPU and processor type by just plotting times as a fraction of the sequential time
  3. Sean ran the 47 groups over 47 processes, the time for this was 0.28 of the single process time. It looks from these results as though distributing between 4 processors is optimal

Thanks very much for running these!

Parallel run-tests performance

The development of parallel run-tests.php is moving along. Unfortunately paid work is going to get in the way a bit for the next few weeks so things will move a little slowly.

I’m still thinking about the REDIRECTTEST implementation. I don’t think it’s that hard, the other thing that needs to be thought through is exactly how to avoid clashes between, for example, msql and mysqli tests. I think that the latter is best addressed by having a configuration file of test directories that have to be run in sequence. In a parallel run, one processor would be set to work through these while other tests were scheduled randomly to the remaining processors. Anyway – it needs some thought and the parallel execution code is the part I’m least familiar with.

The other thing that really needs to be done is some more extensive performance work. I have done a couple of runs on a dual core Mac, just to get some data points.

The tests in the timing benchmark (phpruntests/QA/QATimedBucket.tgz) are taken from the PHP development stream and are all tests under:

ctype date dom ereg fileinfo filter iconv json libxml pcre phar 
posix reflection session spl sqlite3 standard tokenizer xml 
xmlreader xmlwriter zlib


I executed these tests three times. Run 1 uses the current PHP development stream version of run-tests.php. Run 2 uses the parallel version of run-tests.php run in sequential mode and Run 3 uses the parallel version run over two processors.

Here are the times:

Run 1 298 seconds
Run 2 293 seconds
Run 3 207 seconds

There are some minor differences in the test results between running the standard and new versions of run-tests, in summary these are:

             Run 1        Runs 2&3
PASS         6151          6129
SKIP          446           447
XFAIL          28            27
WARN            0             2
FAIL           11            12
BORK            0            19

These differences are mainly accounted for by the new version of run-tests.php being much stricter in what it allows in a test case. For example, any empty section will cause a ‘BORK’, and section it doesn’t recognise will also cause a ‘BORK’. The next job on my list is to go through the tests and either fix tests (or my code) so that the old and new versions give exactly the same results.

After that I’d like to find an 8 way machine and get some better data points. Any offers?

What REDIRECT does

It’s really simple and very useful for PDO where there is a requirement to run the same set of tests against a range of different databases.

Here is a picture:

Running ‘redirected’ PHP tests

The first step in implementing the REDIRECTTEST section in parallel runtests code is to get some redirected tests running on my Mac. I’ve used PDO and MySQL, principally because I already had MySQL installed so it seemed the easiest place to start.

This is what I had to do to get them to run:

$cd php/source/code
$./configure --with-zlib --with-pdo-mysql 

Missing the location of mysql.sock results in tests being skipped and errors like this: “SQLSTATE[HY000] [2002] No such file or directory”, it took me a while to work out what it meant.

The PDO tests assume the following if you do not specify properties using environmental variables:

  1. The MySQL database has a user called ‘root’
  2. The ‘root’ user has no password
  3. There is a database called ‘test’

The alternative to using the defaults is to assign some environment variables as follows:

$export PDO_MYSQL_TEST_DSN="mysql:host=localhost;dbname=test"
$export PDO_MYSQL_TEST_USER=your_mysql_uid
$export PDO_MYSQL_TEST_PASS=your_mysql_pwd

After setting those things up I was able to run:

$export TEST_PHP_EXECUTABLE=/php/to/test/php
$php runtests.php  ext/pdo_mysql/tests/common.phpt

The second command assumes that I’m in the top level directory of the PHP source code. The summary output is as follows:

Number of tests : 62 60
Tests skipped : 2 ( 3.2%) ——–
Tests warned : 0 ( 0.0%) ( 0.0%)
Tests failed : 0 ( 0.0%) ( 0.0%)
Expected fail : 0 ( 0.0%) ( 0.0%)
Tests passed : 60 ( 96.8%) (100.0%)

Which is good enough to start work with. I guess the next thing is to work out what the REDIRECTTEST part actually does.


Running PHP tests – the basics

Before diving into how the parallel code works it is worth just covering how run-tests.php works – at a very simple level.

The easiest way to run a PHP test case is from the command line, like this:

The run-tests.php code parses the file “mytest.phpt”, finds the php code in the FILE section and runs it like this:

The run-tests.php code goes on to compare the output from the above with some expected test output. If they are the same the test passes, if not it fails.

As I said, this is a very simple example. The run-tests.php code can be thought of in three parts:

  1. The code required to set up the test environment and “php_options
  2. Code that handles running tests.
  3. Retrieving, comparing and displaying output.

Over the next few posts I’ll work through each of these stages, explaining how they are handled by the new parallel run-tests code.

Parallel run-tests.php – development environment

In 2009 Stefan Priebsch, a GSOC student and I wrote a version of run-tests.php that runs PHPTs in parallel. This helped reduce run times on multi-core machine by a decent amount. In September 2009, IBM wanted me to work on OSGi – a fun job but completely impossible to combine with PHP development – Stefan was busy with thePHP.cc and the GSOC student took the money and ran. So development stopped – which was a pity because all we really had left to do was implement –REDIRECTTEST–


A couple of weeks ago I decided that I’d look to see if the code still ran. It does, but there are a few fixes needed which I am working on now, after that I’ll implement the missing sections.


Having not worked on PHP for a while I found that the most painful thing was recreating the development environment that I had in 2009. Here is a brief list of what I had to do in terms of set up on a Mac, it assumes that everything necessary to compile C (eq gcc, make, autoconf…) and an svn client is already installed.

  1. Get PHP from here http://www.php.net/downloads.php. ( I used the PHP 5.4.0 tar file)
  2. Extract it.
  3. Run ./configure –with-zlib –exec-prefix=/usr/local/php540
  4. make
  5. sudo make install

This gets PHP installed as /usr/local/php540/bin/.

After that I installed:

    1. PHPUnit (using pear)
    2. Phing (pear again)
    3. XDebug 2.2.0 (downloaded, built and installed).
    4. Doxygen (download tar, configure; make;  sudo make install;)

The next step was to checkout the parallel run-tests.php code,

svn co https://svn.php.net/repository/
              php/phpruntests/trunk phpruntests

cd phpruntests

Before trying to run anything there is a configuration file that needs to be set up, ‘phpdefinitions.txt’, which can be found in the phpruntests directory. Open it up and modify it as indicated to add the paths to various PHP executables.

You may wonder why we don’t just set the environmental variables, TEST_PHP_EXECUTABLE, TEST_PHP_CGI_EXECUTABLE. The answer is that because the unit tests test parts of the code that check which PHP executable to use we will ignore any pre-existing settings. When running unit tests, we specify which version of PHP to use using the -p flag.

The php versions are read from phpdefinitions.txt in tests/rtTestBootstrap.php and stored in global variable called RT_PHP_PATH and RT_PHP_CGI_PATH.

The phpdefinitions.txt file is also used as a phing properties file. The PHP executables in this case are used in the QA target.

Unit tests can be run using

phing test 

A more extensive set of tests can be run by using this command:

phing qa 

Running this will run the unit tests, generate test coverage, doxygen documentation and compare the output from a set of tests run using the new code with the same set run using the old code. It all takes a while to run – 15 minutes on my Mac.

To make life slightly easier for myself I downloaded Eclipse PDT, added Subclipse to it and added PHPUnit as an external tool. This last bit means that I can highlight unit tests and run them from Eclipse.

Next steps – work through my code and see if I can remember how it works.




PHP UK Conference

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a PHP conference. I stopped actively contributing to PHP in mid 2009 when my IBM job changed. Of course, I had hoped to continue in my spare time but I found learning about OSGi took up all my IBM time and all my spare time. In November last year I finally had time to get re-engaged with PHP and volunteered to do what I could to help organise the PHP UK conference. I will doing a much longer write up of the conference for the Web and PHP magazine, so this is just a short post on a couple of personal highlights.

The first thing I want to say is that it’s been a huge pleasure to be part of the conference team. PHP was the first developer community I got involved in and it was a delight to see how much had changed in two years and how much, the warmth and friendliness, was still the same.

That leads on to my second point. Rasmus Lerdorf gave the first conference keynote and the message I took away from that is that PHP still needs more contributors – in particular we need people to fix bugs. If you are bored – and especially if you work on Windows – please try this:


and see if you can help us fix a bug?

The best talks always teach me something and leave me with a picture. June Henrikson (Redpill Linpro) gave a talk about creativity in which she explained something I knew already but was reluctant to believe because I didn’t have have a good mental picture for it. I can’t even begin to count the number of times that I’ve sat in front of a screen trying to solve a problem, knowing that it was taking too long and that I was tired, but just fixated on staying at the keyboard until I cracked the problem. Deep down I always knew that the best answer with that sort of problem is to take a break – here is  why:

Dual CPU model of the brain

Imagine your brain as having two CPUs, one side (CPU1) does the analytical problem solving part and it’s operating while you are concentrating on trying to fix a bug, solve a technical problem etc. While that side is using the memory bus the other side of your brain (CPU2) has no access to memory. When you stop using CPU1, for example – go for a walk, get a cup of tea, you give CPU2 a chance to start working on your problem – which it does as a background process. Eventually – given enough time, CPU2 will deliver a solution, it will feel as though it has just popped into your head. In summary – if you have a difficult problem to solve -  force yourself to take regular breaks.

It’s probably slightly bad form to list my own talk was a highlight – but it was for me. I was a little nervous about doing it the way I did – I owe a huge apology to the people who thought I was serious to start with. In fact I meant almost precisely the opposite of almost everything that I said. I was calling out bad development management practices which I have seen, and even been part of, in large organisations. There was one final twist that (if you don’t know IBM that well) most people probably missed. IBM’s newly appointed president and CEO is a “Lady Cat”. I am ridiculously proud of this fact – also that she holds a degree in Computer Science so is an example of someone that started as an engineer and is a hugely successful manager.

I would love to extend the “Misguided manager” talk – but I need a few more examples. Mail me if you have one and I’ll try to work it in.

There were many outstanding talks at the conference, Hugh Williams gave some fascinating insights into Ebay, Stefan Marek talked about the journey towards CI at Plusnet, Ian Barber talked about why fraud detection is so complex, Patrick Allaert gave a great talk on how to implement complex data types efficiently. All of the talks were recorded and will be made available within the next couple of weeks. I am looking forward to watching the ones I missed – in particular Davey Shafik’s “PHP 5.4: The new bits” which I somehow managed to miss on both days.