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Will PHP Bring Simplicity to AJAX?

NEW YORK -- PHP is one of the most widely used languages on the Web today. Yet despite that fact there is no "P" in AJAX , Zend co-founder Andi Gutmans believes that PHP could be the glue that makes AJAX work better.

Gutmans began his session at AJAXWorld here this week by noting that there are many different AJAX libraries for PHP. The problem is that there is no standard for doing AJAX with PHP. That's about to change. A new effort led by Zend is looking to provide a standard way to build AJAX with PHP.

PHP, Gutmans argued, is a glue language for the Web that aggregates data sources and displays logic, as well as includes native support for databases. Additionally PHP supports a wide array of file formats, Web services, platform interoperability, and language integration.

"PHP and AJAX equal simplicity," Gutmans said. "With everything we do, our goal is simplicity."

Among the items that make AJAX simpler to deploy using PHP is native JSON support, as well as the inclusion of SimpleXML. SimpleXML is a PHP extension allowing for "simple" XML data manipulation, which abstracts a lot of the complexity of Web Services allowing a developer to manipulate XML as though it were native PHP.

Beyond just the core PHP language, Zend is working on a middleware platform for PHP, called Zend Framework, that will be the real key in making it simple to roll out Ajax.

Zend Framework will extend the JSON support available to PHP developers with a new Zend_Xml2Json effort that is being developed by IBM. Gutmans explained that it will be a server component that enables XML to JSON conversion at the middleware server layer.

The Zend component model, which will be part of Zend Framework, will go a step further and provide tooling for building AJAX applications. Gutmans explained that it will have server-side messaging and persistence, as well as an AJAX controller.

The real goal according to Gutmans is to make the Zend component model a full development environment complete with drag-and-drop components, cross-language debugging and advanced CSS support.

What the new PHP tool will deliver is something that Gutmans referred to as WYSI-A-WYG -- what you see is almost what you get.

"If you're disconnected from the Internet you won't see live data, but it has to visualize, so something would appear," Gutmans said.

The new AJAX tooling for the Zend framework won't likely be part of the upcoming 1.0 release, though Gutmans noted that Zend would be publishing the specifications. He expects that developers should start to see Zend components by early summer.