Introducing LavaPHP – Yet Another PHP Framework

I’ve used quite a few PHP framework to varying degrees, and like many other PHP developers, I’ve decided to make my own. Of all the current frameworks available, I prefer CodeIgniter, because it is easy to use, has great documentation, and generally stays out of your way.

Everyone has their opinion of the best PHP framework, but I like the ones that let me write PHP and don’t throw a lot of features that I don’t need into the mix. I found that no matter what PHP framework I was using, I was always creating a table for users. I was always creating login functionality for users. I was always creating email confirmation functionality for users. I was always creating an admin interface for working with my configuration. I was always creating classes that helped me work with web services/REST APIs. I always need a small web service of my own for Ajax functionality. I always needed to add curl functionality just in case the hosting provider had fopen disabled (which most do). A Managed Cloud VPS would be great for such purposes

Those were the things I needed. ORMs are great and all, but I really didn’t want to learn proper YAML syntax just so I could setup automatic object models for my database tables. Creating models for my database isn’t that much of a chore. Creating a complete user system can be.

So, I set out to create a framework that I can use for my own projects and have all the functionality that I find I usually need right out of the box.

Another thing about frameworks is that they are designed to make enterprise level sites. They aren’t designed to create software system which can be distributed. By that, I mean I wanted to create a software package that could be installed by end users and used by them to create their own websites (custom CMS system with a specific purpose). A normal framework doesn’t work well in this area because of the way views are usually handled. Mainly, I wanted third parties to be able to create themes for my CMS systems without much effort. With something like CodeIgniter, I could use a templating engine via a plugin or Codeigniter’s own minimalist template engine, but I don’t like take one piece of software and adding on a bunch of plugins.

First you have to learn how to use the plugin. Then you have to hope that there isn’t a bug in the plugin that will spring up in your app. Then if there is some small customization that needs to be made to the plugin, you could spend days trying to figure out a way to make it work with your system, when it would have taken less time to just write your own. Using plugins also feels a bit like cheating to me, as well. I want to know every little part of my system, so that if a bug comes up, I’ll know right where to look or at least have a decent idea where to look.

With all that said, I’m announcing my PHP framework. I’ve written it completely from scratch and I’m hosting it on Github. I also have purchased the dot com for it. I’m calling it LavaPHP. The motto will be “LavaPHP – Add a little lava to your LAMP” and it will have a lava lamp as it’s mascot/logo. If you’d like to help with the initial development, hit me up and fork the project here:

The Best PHP Framework

I searched for the best PHP framework for a while. I tried CakePHP, Zend, Yii, Symfony, and Codeigniter. Some of them frustrated me to the point that I was ready to write my own mini-framework. I think the problem with some of them, at least from my perspective, is that they try to do too much. Some were just poorly documented. Sure, you can find all the information you need to find about all the features, but they don’t make it very easy. For this post, I want to compare two of the most recent frameworks I’ve worked with, Codeigniter and Symfony.

I use Codeigniter for all of my personal projects these days. Recently, I had to use Symfony for some other work I was doing. I can see positive and negative aspects of each system at this point, and this is an overview of their main differences.

First, I’ll talk about Symfony. It includes two ORMs, Doctrine and Propel. I was using Doctrine. It relies heavily on the ORM as it should, but I found utilizing an ORM to be overly complex. This may be due to my own ignorance, but when using an ORM, you have to get into a different mindset. Most people would view the ORM as a feature. For me, it was unwanted. Symfony is a great framework and is used by many people. My distaste for it should not be a deciding factor in choosing your own framework.

However, I would like to point out other things about Symfony that I didn’t like. First of all, the directory structure is overly complex, especially when your job is to maintain code that is already in place. You may find yourself looking at a page and going through 10 different files trying to find where the code is located. Symfony has a ton of plugins, many of which have auto-generated forms and templates. There are times that you won’t find the code that generates the form and from what I saw, your only option is to override the plugin’s actions and templates. If the code you’re maintaining doesn’t override the plugin, you will have to check cache files for the auto-generated PHP and then implement this in the override.

While we are talking about caching, I’ll point out that this is a good feature and it’s implemented by default in Symfony. During the development maintenance¬†of a site, however, it gets on my nerves. So, you’ll spend a lot of time clearing your cache from the command line. Symfony depends on command line usage. While I like using a command line in most cases, I don’t want to be jumping back and forth between my IDE, command line, and web browser so much. Since Symfony auto-generates a ton of code for you through the use of the command line, I can see the advantage, but I prefer the Codeigniter way.

So, let me talk about Codeigniter and why I prefer it to all other frameworks I’ve tried.

First of all, it stays out of your way. It arranges your site into three folders, as I think it should, models, views, and controllers. You can then arrange your files in sub-directories under these main folders as you wish. So if you have a user system on your site, you can put all your views for that section under views/user.

While I’m on the subject of views, let me touch on Symfony’s templates and layouts. It’s actually a good system and cuts back on the amount of code one has to write, but it depends on yaml config files in various locations. I liked the idea, but hated the implementation. I much prefer having the view source where I can easily find it. In Codeigniter, I get all my data ready to send to a view, then load that view. In this view, I can load other views as needed. So if my page has a top navigation menu, I can just load that menu from within my view. This templating system works best for me, and I don’t have to search through config files at various locations to find out where the HTML is located.

Finally, documentation is much better in Codeigniter. If you want to know how a library or helper works, their documentation makes it simple to understand. Symfony’s documentation is terrible in comparison. There’s a reference but it’s just not that good. Plus much of the documentation you’ll need is actually on the Doctrine site.

Symfony has many features that Codeigniter doesn’t. Codeigniter is much easier to use, has the best documentation, and is much easier to maintain. These three things are why I prefer Codeigniter. Maintainability and ease of use are the two main reasons to implement a Framework anyway. Without these two things, one would be much better off using straight OOP PHP.