I’ve been working on a project using PHP and Code Igniter recently. While I have used both PHP and CodeIgniter in the past, this is the first project of this scale that I’ve been involved with using said technologies.
When I first joined this project there was already an established codebase. PHP and CodeIgniter were the primary technologies with the addition of Ruckusing for database migrations, Capistrano for deployment and Mercurial hosted on BitBucket for source control. Not a bad sounding set-up.
This post is undoubtedly going to fall into the tl;dr category, but I want to spend some time digging into the Code Igniter framework and do some comparisons and hopefully air some of my grievances related to not only the Code Igniter framework, but also the PHP language in general. This is going to end up as a multi-part post (as indicated by the “Part 1” in the title).
The first thing that I want to point out about CodeIgniter is the installation process. It is extraordinarily simple to do, it essentially boils down to unzipping CodeIgniter to a directory. While this is extremely easy and entirely fool-proof, I cannot honestly imagine a worse way to install framework code. The implications of this installation method are that every CodeIgniter project is a fork of the CodeIgniter framework. Imagine upgrading from one version of CodeIgniter to another (or just take a look at the instructions). Compare this to a tool like pip for Python or gem for Ruby, it’s not even a comparison. Running a single command vs. following a set of instructions depending on your current version and target version. It’s ludicrous, and I don’t understand how any self respecting developer can be alright with this.
Alright, enough about my installation rant, let’s take a look at some functionality that CodeIgniter provides. Looking at the directory structure of a CodeIgniter project, it seems very similar to Rails. In fact, according to the CodeIgniter documentation it is very similar to Rails in that it offers an MVC architecture, provides clean urls, and utilized a “modified version” of the Active Record pattern. The major difference that I see when comparing CodeIgniter and PHP to Rails and Ruby is that with Rails I don’t have to write very much code to get a lot done and with CodeIgniter, unfortunately, I do. Let’s look at some code.
Here is a simple controller action for a Rails app:
Here is a similar controller action for a CodeIgniter app:
Obviously, there are some pretty significant differences here. Granted, the CodeIgniter source could be refactored to remove a majority of the noise, but right out of the box none of that is done for you, whereas in Rails, it has already been done. Also, there is a lot of extra noise added by PHP’s syntax vs Ruby’s in this example. PHP’s
compared to Ruby’s
compared to Rails’
Also, I’ve found that CodeIgniter’s so-called “modified Active Record pattern” is really not anything resembling the Active Record pattern at all. Essentially, CodeIgniter’s modified “Active Record” pattern is simply dependency injection of a database handle into a model object. In the Rails example:
This creates a new Tag and saves it, which is abundantly clear by looking at the code. In the CodeIgniter example:
we must load the model, map the data from the post data to a temporary location that we will eventually use to insert into the database, use the tag model’s db attribute and call the insert method, give it the name of the table that we are inserting into and an associative array of the column names and data we want inserted. Phew, that reeks of unnecessary ceremony and is absolutely not anything that resembles the Active Record pattern. But again, this could all be refactored to look better it’s just up to me to do it.
Interacting with CodeIgniter’s “ORM” is pretty painful at best. It really amounts to some sort of awkward PHP SQL wrapper code. To be honest, I’d much rather just write sql then use a PHP API that mimic’s SQL closely enough that I’m calling db->insert, db->update, db->join, db->from, db->select, db->where, etc.
I have two last things to mention regarding CodeIgniter’s database integration. One is DataMapper and the other is Ruckusing. These two projects extend CodeIgniter in different ways. DataMapper seems to fill some of the gap left by the out-of-the-box CodeIgniter ORM, however I’ve had a lot of issues getting it to just work the way it appears that it should. Ruckusing, on the other hand, does a very good job of handling database migrations. While Ruckusing could use a few helpers (similar to those provided by Rails and Django that are able to generate migrations) the api is fairly clean and easy enough to use and write migrations by hand.
This is where I will leave Part 1. There is much more to cover in future installments including but not limited too hooks, routing, controllers and alternative php syntax.