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PHP for RPG Programmers: Variables, Arrays, and Functions

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PHP makes use of variables, arrays, and functions. But can you tell them apart?

 

In my last column, we talked about some of the special operator symbols that PHP uses, which can be really confusing when you read PHP unless you're familiar with them. Remember what they were? Remember the -< operator? Really, you do? That's so sad then because there is no such operator (at least as far as I know, although I would hate to put any serious money on it; PHP operators seem to just come up out of the cracks).

No, there was the = (setting a value), == (equality of value), === (equality of value and type), && (and), and a whole lot of others. If you've forgotten, I recommend refreshing your memory quickly.

What I want to do next is to turn my attention to three entities that are crucial to PHPvariables, arrays, and functionsand help you be able to identify which is which when you see (or write) them. In this particular column, we're going to focus on variables. Arrays and functions will be covered in subsequent columns.

Variable Basics

All variables in PHP start with a dollar sign ($). The next character must be alpha or underscore, not numeric.

If you're familiar with RPG, you're used to defining the variable before you use it. You indicate the size and type of the variable right off the bat. But that's not the way it works with PHP.

In PHP, you don't formally define the variable. Instead, you define it when you move a value to it (initialize it). And the data type assigned to it will depend on the type of data that's assigned to it at that point.

Thus, $var = 1 will assign a numeric data type and a value of 1 to the variable. And $var = 'abc' will assign a string data type with a length of three and a value of 'abc'. You can even change the data type of a variable within a script simply by assigning it a new value that's a different type of data (although that's not necessarily something you want to do).

In other words, variables in PHP are loosely typed. This doesn't seem very cool to RPG people, but it is what it is. In the final analysis, it leaves proper data-type management up to the programmer. If you want to be wild and wooly, you can be. But hopefully you won't. So, to see what type of variable you're dealing with, look at what type of data it's actually carrying.

Advanced: Variable Use

Before we go on to more esoteric variable characteristics, there's something I should mention.

Those of us in the PHP world tend to think of variables as things that are used in calculations or to store values. They're simple things. X = 123. You set their value and away they go. And that's true in PHP too.

But most of the time in PHP the variable represents the result of a function. That is, in PHP we don't call functions the way we would EXSR or CALLP something in RPG. Instead, most PHP functions are "called" by being set as the value of a variable. That is, suppose in PHP we want to connect to a database. Instead of issuing a command, we use a variable like this to connect to a database:

$conn = new PDO('mysql:host=localhost; dbname=dbfile1');

Or suppose you want to open a file:

$fo = fopen('file1.txt', 'r');

You shouldn't be surprised by this; RPG has been moving in this direction for a number of years with the eval statement being used in lieu of a call, but forearmed is forewarned as they say.

Advanced: Casting and Settype

Naturally, there's a caveat here, specifically the casting and settype operators. Both of these allow you to specify the data type, but neither makes it ironclad so that it can't be overridden. PHP is just not that kind of language.

Casting is something that's done for output purposes, allowing you to change the data type of a variable so that it's more amenable for display. Say you have a variable that you have defined as text, but you want it to display on the page as floating point. (I don't know why you want to do that. I don't even know the guy. Just work with me here.) This is what casting is set up to do, and to do so you just issue this PHP command:

$var1 = '3.14'

echo (float)$var1;

What will display is 3.14 because it's now a floating point number. If you had said echo (int)$var1; then it would have shown up as 3. If you try to include this variable in a calculation after this, that won't work because it's just showing up as floating point. As far as PHP is concerned, it's still a string. Oh, and I know what you're going to ask next: What if the original value was 'abc'? What would happen when you floated it? The answer is it would show up as zero (0). It's not stupid, you know. The point is, casting doesn't change the data type of the variable, just the data type of how you display that variable.

Settype, on the other hand, actually changes the data type without having to move new data to the field. That is, you can always change the data type of a variable just by moving that sort of data to the variable, but Settype allows you to change it without doing that move. So, let's use the same example:

$var1 = '100'                       // so the variable is defined as string

$var1 = (int)$var1           // will change variable 1 so that it is integer

How important is this? Not very. What the heck are you switching data types around for? Yes, you might have to do it sometime, but most of the time you're going to define a variable's data type and then not need to screw around with it. But, if you do, this is how it's done.

Data Types Available

So what's good about PHP variables? PHP allows you to define more data types than you can in RPG, and this can be very useful in the more wide-open world of the web. Among the data types that PHP does support are:

  • StringAlphanumeric text
  • IntegerWhole numbers
  • Floating PointDecimal numbers (and extremely large integers)
  • BooleanA true or false value
  • Array A series of values, either text or numeric, where a specific entry can be referenced
  • ObjectAn object construct from OOP
  • NullAn indication that a data element is empty or non-existent. Indicates less of an existence than zero.
  • ResourceA special data type that represents a resource (generally providing a link to this resource). Yes, something like iron, or coal, something we can use to build a weapon or other sort of tool. It could be an image, a connection to a file, some sort of file handler, or another non-PHP entity. It's kind of open, you know. Resource variables aren't something you just create willy nilly; they're created by special PHP functions.

I guess I should say a word about the null data type. If you're all into SQL, then you can dig it, but the null doesn't exist in the IBM i because we deal only with the real world. Null isn't zero, and it isn't blank. Those are things that exist. A null is something that isn't really there. It's even less than low values if you know what I mean by that.

So what kind of pervert would use nulls? Turns out its very nonexistence is its strength. Sometimes, you need to decide if something exists or not. And that's where you get the null. Although we haven't talked about it yet, the predefined PHP variable $_issetor isset() functionis used to determine if something has been defined. It could be a variable or it could be an instance of something (like a database connection), but if the value of the $_isset variable is null, we know that the connection (or whatever) didn't occur (get created). Hence, when we use nulls, we're generally checking to see if a variable has been set to null. If it has, what we were trying to do has failed (because we generally issue the commands as setting a value to a variable, just the way we're starting to do when calling programs in RPG using CALLP).

Predefined Variables

So far, we've been talking just about variables that you create in your scripts. But PHP also has a whole series of predefined variables that you can use. Many of them have to do with accessing data files or dealing with the web server you're running on (remember, PHP is a server-side language, so it's not running on your PC). For a pretty complete list, look here.

Don't think you will never use these. When you get into using PHP with databases, they'll come in very handy. Just remember when you see a $_Get (for example) that it's a variable, albeit a predefined variable, not a function.

Variable Variables

This is one that you probably won't see very often, but when you do see it, it can surprise you if you're not prepared. Remember how a variable is some sort of character string preceded by a $? Well, a variable variable is a variable preceded by $. That is, if $var is a variable, then $$var is a variable variable. Consider the following code.

<?php

      $State1 = 'Alaska';

      $State2 = 'State1';

      echo($$State1);           //This will output the word 'Alaska'

?>

Of course, the question is, why would anyone want to do something like this? Hmmm, didn't really think anyone would ask me that. Give me a minute….

Actually, I may need more than a minute. Because one of the most common uses involves arrays and we haven't talked about them yet. But be patient; we'll get there. And when we do, we won't mention using variable variables. Truth is, even though you can do it, there are a lot of other things to talk about with arrays, and this one just won't make the cut. But if you see PHP code with a double dollar sign, you know you're dealing with variable variables. Check out the code, see how it's being used, and let me know. Or just keep it to yourself. Your call.

Next column, arrays. All I'll say is, in PHP, they're not your RPG's arrays.

David Shirey

David Shirey is president of Shirey Consulting Services, providing technical and business consulting services for the IBM i world. Among the services provided are IBM i technical support, including application design and programming services, ERP installation and support, and EDI setup and maintenance. With experience in a wide range of industries (food and beverage to electronics to hard manufacturing to drugs--the legal kind--to medical devices to fulfillment houses) and a wide range of business sizes served (from very large, like Fresh Express, to much smaller, like Labconco), SCS has the knowledge and experience to assist with your technical or business issues. You may contact Dave by email at dave@shireyllc.com or by phone at (616) 304-2466.


MC Press books written by David Shirey available now on the MC Press Bookstore.

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    SB PowerTech WC GenericCyber attacks often target mission-critical servers, and those attack strategies are constantly changing. To stay on top of these threats, your cybersecurity strategies must evolve, too. In this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

     

     

     

  • 10 Practical IBM i Security Tips for Surviving Covid-19 and Working From Home

    SB PowerTech WC GenericNow that many organizations have moved to a work from home model, security concerns have risen.

    During this session Carol Woodbury will discuss the issues that the world is currently seeing such as increased malware attacks and then provide practical actions you can take to both monitor and protect your IBM i during this challenging time.

     

  • How to Transfer IBM i Data to Microsoft Excel

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic3 easy ways to get IBM i data into Excel every time
    There’s an easy, more reliable way to import your IBM i data to Excel? It’s called Sequel. During this webinar, our data access experts demonstrate how you can simplify the process of getting data from multiple sources—including Db2 for i—into Excel. Watch to learn how to:

    • Download your IBM i data to Excel in a single step
    • Deliver data to business users in Excel via email or a scheduled job
    • Access IBM i data directly using the Excel add-in in Sequel

    Make 2020 the year you finally see your data clearly, quickly, and securely. Start by giving business users the ability to access crucial business data from IBM i the way they want it—in Microsoft Excel.

     

     

  • HA Alternatives: MIMIX Is Not Your Only Option on IBM i

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericIn this recorded webinar, our experts introduce you to the new HA transition technology available with our Robot HA software. You’ll learn how to:

    • Transition your rules from MIMIX (if you’re happy with them)
    • Simplify your day-to-day activities around high availability
    • Gain back time in your work week
    • Make your CEO happy about reducing IT costs

    Don’t stick with a legacy high availability solution that makes you uncomfortable when transitioning to something better can be simple, safe, and cost-effective.

     

     

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  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.