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So, after you read my first blog post, you can see, that I'm a strong believer in the use of frameworks. But there are so many frameworks out there! So why did I choose Laravel out of all of the possibilities?

At the time that I was choosing a framework, there were several main players:

  • CodeIgniter
  • Symfony
  • CakePHP
  • Zend
  • Yii
  • And many more ...

Don't get me wrong, all of these frameworks are good and have their benefits but these were some of the leading factors that pushed me away from the other ones.

The fate of CodeIgniter was somewhat questionable. Around the time I started developing some of my projects, the main company that was supporting it was abandoning ship so I wasn't too sure about the status / livelihood of it at that point because of that, and it was built for an older version of PHP and from what I had read, the code wasn't updated to make use of the newer features which made it so that this framework was not the one for me.

I had tried both Symfony and Yii before, but I got confused in them. There was stuff that magically worked (which is awesome) and stuff that you had to do. I ended up scrapping those because I never really got into the flow of working with those.

I had a friend who was friends with the creator of CakePHP he got some decent say into what was going on. However, he also said that it felt and was very bloated which immediately deterred me from using it.

Which brings me to Laravel. I started playing with it back in the day of Laravel 3. After a little ramping up, it just clicked with me. At the time I was just starting up a freelance project and decided it was the best approach because it does follow the "Model View Controller" approach, and it was starting to gain a little bit of steam in the PHP development community. The thing that really struck me was how flexible it was. I could literally just "plug stuff in" and it works. Or, if I don't like how one thing is configured in the main framework, no problem, I can tweak it in my own area to better suit my needs!

The best part about it is that they supported closures! For those of you who do not know what closures are, they are essentially ways of scoping things into a function call. With Laravel, if there is a value at that point in time, it will just use the value otherwise it will call the function (even an anonymous function) in order to derive the required value(s). This was a huge plus for me! It means I can easily inject more logic as I need to.

After that Laravel 4 came out. I was hesitant! I started using it (and composer) for the first time and for me, it was a nightmare! Sure, part of it was me being new to using composer and how the library dependencies worked. But, after a few days of struggling, and several bug fixes later, I started working and enjoying Laravel 4 as much as I did Laravel 3.

After the initial ramp up on Laravel 4, I found myself excited to code! And, now that I knew how composer worked, I could make my own packages to help other developers using Laravel! I was on cloud nine! That was when I built 4 different packages for Laravel:

  • Asset Processor - easy cache-busting, pre-processor and minification script for all CSS and JavaScript objects
  • Layout View - easy way to set up different "layouts" and redirect to the correct one depending on the situation / settings
  • Feed Reader - a simple RSS feed reader to pull information into your application
  • Revisable - using the built-in soft-deletes that Laravel had, allowing you to maintain history of model's data that have changed

Then they came out with Laravel 4.1 which required lots of changes to your existing code but it did feel like it was working better. I took that as an opportunity to build up Virtual Pet Directory. And did it ever feel good to be coding.

Now here I stand mid-November and Laravel 5.1 is out and guess what? Long Term Support! Taylor Otwell from Laravel has now said "this is our best incarnation of the framework, we will now be supporting it for the future". For a developer, and an owner of a site, this is a huge win. It means I can now code with confidence that if there are bugs, they will be resolved and pushed forward in new releases.

Over the last 3 years, Laravel's core community has jumped in between a few sites. They started directly on the main Laravel domain, and now finally reside over on Laracasts. What is Laracasts you may ask? Well, Laracasts is an incredible resource made by Jeffery Way, who is a Laravel enthusiast and an amazing teacher. Through this site, he teaches things such as best practices, cool new features of both Laravel and PHP. He has several in depth breakdowns of what is actually going on in the Laravel framework and it is just an invaluable resource for anyone starting out. And, if you still have questions about how to do stuff in the framework, then all you need to do is write on the discussion forums and a lot of people are willing to help you out.

Laravel is still actively being developed and has a large number of contributors who all do their best to improve it with commits going in each day!

So, to conclude I have a few reasons why I chose Laravel for my primary framework and they are:

  • It follows all of the best practices that are currently out there
  • Active community who are all making their own plugins to make the framework better
  • Learning curve ramp up significantly reduced if you use Laracasts
  • It just feels right when coding

Thanks for reading :)

Posted in laravel

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Testing in general is a process that is normally left really in a partial state. The problem with this fact is it normally leaves things up to users or testers to find. And then, once found, the cost to fix the bug could be huge and hypothetically speaking, could touch various other parts of the application.

This is where unit tests and integration tests come in handy! Since this is a fairly broad topic, I am going to start by just talking about Unit Tests.

By definition, unit testing is a software testing method by which individual units of the source code are tested to determine whether they are fit to use.

So let's start from the beginning. What is a unit? It is the smallest testable part of an application. In procedural programming this could be an entire function, or as much as an entire page / section of code. In object oriented programming, these either an interface, or could even be a class.

But writing unit tests is still me writing code how will it help in the long run since it's taking away from the development of my site? It will help in the long run. I've had several occasions come up when I go to change "one small thing" which then ripples through and breaks other pages that touch this one unit. Essentially you are building your first layer of protection against future potential bugs.

The nice thing about writing test cases is it also allows you test things that may occur on the fringe cases. This will help to ensure that everything will should act as it's supposed to even in the strangest of situations. One of my favourite testing strategies (although admittedly I rarely do it), is actually test driven development. With Test Driven Development, you start coding by knowing what you want the end result to be (for your unit of work). You actually write tests for it and expect it to fail. If it doesn't fail right out of the gate, then your test may not actually be doing anything/finding anything useful. Then as you work your way through the development of this unit, you run your tests. Are all of your tests passing? If they aren't, then you know that you still have some work to do. However, if everything passes, then you know your application should work for at least all of your known cases. Which if you set up your tests correctly, should give you good confidence in the code.

The nice thing about writing these unit tests is that once you find a bug in any environment and resolve it, you are then able to actually write a unit test in order to actually test for that case so, if you change some more code, you don't re-introduce that bug.

With PHP, I, like most people, use PHPUnit as the primary unit testing software. Not only because it's built into Laravel and Laravel actually has helpers built on top to make the testing process even easier!

Although writing these test cases can sometimes be a big pain in the butt, if you do it correctly it can help you to spot issues earlier on in development before the time when it is "too late".

Hopefully this comes in handy for you!

Posted in php

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My anniversary for owning IcePets.com is coming up fairly soon (August 8th) and all I can say is wow has it ever been a ride so far.

I had been working as a freelancer with them for a little over a year, so I knew exactly what I was getting into.  Some very bad legacy code which was pieced together (and still holding fairly strong) with super glue and duct tape.  When going through the code, I noticed numerous back doors into the site that a previous programmer had built in for "security reasons".  AKA, in case they were banned, they would be able to make their way back into the site.  Those were patched, and the user was banned.  But here I was, owning a site and working with a bunch of people who I now call my friends with no idea the full vision.

So, my first order of duty was to bring the recode up into the foreground because the site wasn't really moving anywhere fast because I knew if this site was to be anything, the recode would bring a definite life to it.

Laravel was just breaking through the headlines on the PHP front when I had started working on the site.  But not only that, I was just working through the framework at the time and was entirely overwelmed!  There was so much going on, I knew it was all good and neat but just so much stuff!  But, I managed to power through it.  I started building the site up with Laravel 3.  A month later I heard that Laravel 4 was getting ready to be launched and it had some fairly substantial changes in it (aka - don't bother even trying to upgrade, just re-implement (copy and paste code) and build it up that way.

I was a little hesitant, but decided it had to be for the best.  That was when I was first introduced to "composer".  I had always dreamed of a way to easily incorporate other open source work into my projects, but never really knew a way.  This in itself was confusing!  Finally I managed my way through that hump and then came the next releases of Laravel (4.1 and 4.2).  These were fairly big.  By this point in time, I had already really started to focus on coding lots of the features. There were things I felt were clunky but it worked.  But something felt wrong.

When Laravel 5 came around, I decided to revisit the entire framework that I had thrown together to build IcePets version 2 (yes - a bit of a framework on top of the framework).  So, I started from scratch again.  This was ok because this time I knew it felt cleaner.

The last two years have been such a learning experience for me both technically and with leadership skills.  Looking back when I had originally thought about my very lofty goal of finishing the IcePets recode in a year, I realize how oblivious I was.  And, to be honest, I'm glad I didn't make that personal goal.  The technical learnings that I have picked up through the multiple iterations through the code, has slowed down progress on the site, but it has also opened my mind to way more options which I never even thought was possible.

I would like to say thank you to both the IcePets.com staff members as well as all of our loyal members who stick with us through this recode.  The best thing about the recode to me is the excitement it brings to me each and every time I think about it.  There are so many opportunities for us to morph the site into something substantially better than it currenlty is.  Once the recode is done, I think you will love the site and it will be a great place for all of us to bond as a community!

Thanks for reading!

Posted in icepets

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A few weeks ago, a friend of mine mentioned (just after I did a painful upgrade to Laravel 5.2 - I messed up a few times so it ended up taking longer than the estimated 1 hour), a service that will automatically upgrade Laravel (for a fee) from one version of Laravel to another and they were having a discount because they were in alpha!

So, knowing I had an old Laravel 4.2 application running up in production, I figured "what is the worst that could go wrong?".  So I decided to give it a shot because an upgrade like that would take me a while to manually do.

Their steps are fairly straight forward.

Select the "Shift" (the upgrade) you want

  • Login with your GitHub account (BitBucket and GitLab are also supported)
  • Specify your repository and branch that you want it applied to
  • Pay for the Shift
  • Wait for the job to complete

Once the job is completed, you will now have a new branch in your repository.  This branch contains all of the changes that they have made, and a slew of suggestions that they found as they went through it.

So, you may be thinking.  "I changed my 'config/app.php' file to include some more stuff.  Will I lose those changes?".  The answer is no!  They recognize the changes to the file and instead of automatically modify it, they add comments to the pull request that they generate saying "you will need to merge this manually.".

Once you are happy with the remaining changes, and have fully tested your application, it is time to merge the pull request in, and you are done!

The other migration that I completed with it was a migration from Laravel 5.1 to Laravel 5.2.  In this shift, we found a tiny bug (it suggested I remove "pluck" from a JavaScript file because it assumed I was using the eloquent model's "pluck" command).  I reported it through a comment on the pull request and they responded fairly quickly acknowledging and resolving the issue going forward!

I am loving the tool and can't wait to use it in the future!  I would strongly suggest trying it out whenever you have a chance!

Laravel Shift: https://laravelshift.com

Posted in laravel

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