Remember Figlets? They’re Back With Zend

The basic idea behind all development frameworks is to make it easier for developers to integrate common tasks and functions.

Such is the case with the new open source Zend Framework, version 1.6 for PHP developers. Zend Framework 1.6 aims to make it easier for developers to integrate the CAPTCHA feature that lets a site know you’re human, as well as the SOAP messaging protocol and Ajax programming features into their applications.

Captcha images (“Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”) are commonplace on applications and forms to validate that the user is human and not a bot.

The Zend Framework is the PHP competitor to .Net and JavaEE and is now also feeling heat from the success of Ruby on Rails (RoR), the open source framework for rapid application development. With Zend Framework 1.6, Zend (the lead commercial sponsor behind PHP) is aiming to provide the PHP community with a little heat of its own.

“Essentially Zend Framework now has the premier Captcha support in the field of frameworks,” Zend Framework Development Manager Wil Sinclair told “Captcha is only a small part of Web apps but they have also become very important and it’s a critical use case that developers will be using more and more.”

Captcha images are commonplace on Web site applications and forms. With its latest framework, Zend is introducing a new Captcha Form Element that can provide multiple types of Captcha mechanisms. Among them is Captcha integration for something called FIGlets, group of large characters built out of ASCII characters that outline a letter or word. An outline of cartoon character Snoopy on his doghouse is one popular example of a FIGlet.

Around since 1991, as well as used by many COBOL programmers looking for some fun on the mainframe before the PC era, FIGlets have become commonplace among computers users for use in e-mail signatures. Now Zend is putting them to work for Internet application security.

“We’ve finally found a use for them other than just drawing pictures,” Sinclair explained. “You can use them for Captcha now and it’s hard for machines to figure out the characters.”

In addition to FIGlets, Zend Framework also integrates with the ReCAPTCHA effort. ReCAPTCHA is a distributed computing effort that takes words that have been scanned from old books and newspapers to use for users’ validation on a site. The idea is to help provide digital versions of the book by using the input validation as a tool for content verification and data entry.

Ajax, which was been a key goal for integration into the Zend Framework in the last release, also gets a boost. The Dojo Framework which is a popular Ajax library, will now be directly integrated into Zend Framework 1.6.

“What we’re really trying to go after here is to build the best framework for Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) and the Dojo integration is a huge part of that,” Sinclair said.

Dojo co-founder Dylan Schiemann, who is also CEO of Dojo Foundation member SitePen, is also optimistic about the integration of Dojo into PHP.

“It makes it easier for PHP and Zend Framework users to build better web applications using Dojo,” Schiemann told “We strive to make Dojo work with as many different servers and development environments as possible, and integration with Zend is a huge move forward towards that goal.”

Schiemann added that Zend has also offered some great ideas to ease development and integration back to Dojo which we will part of the upcoming Dojo 1.2 release.

“PHP is used across a large number of enterprises, and is increasingly becoming a viable alternative for enterprise-critical applications,” Schiemann noted. “It offers a number of great advantages over other platforms, due to its ease of use for developers, and its solid performance and scalability.”

Zend began building the Zend Framework as a challenger to .net and JavaEE back in 2005 with the Zend Framework 1.0 released in July of 2007. The Framework has since been downloaded over 7 million times and includes IBM, Microsoft, Google and Adobe among its contributors.

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