Do all frameworks really suck?

Ahem.  So anybody that’s known me for a while has likely heard me say something similar to what is quoted in Cal’s article about OSCON.  I should clarify because I hear jokes about "Tell us what you really think".

Choosing a framework to implement your web app is a trade off like any other design decision.  Let’s focus in on specifics and talk about what the trade off is that you make when you choose a framework.  Specifically, I’m talking about MVC frameworks in PHP.

Good things

  • Frameworks provide a common method of code organization, so developers can both a) get up to speed fast, and b) don’t have to think hard about how to architect an app.  They are effectively a standard for application architecture.  This is particularly useful when working with large dev teams or junior devs.
  • Frameworks encourage the separation of the presentation layer from the business logic, avoiding a frequent PHP worst practice where stuff is all mixed in together.
  • A framework can encourage secure coding through the use of dispatch architectures.
  • In general, frameworks avoid spaghetti coding.

Bad things

  • MVC is a design pattern.  As frequently mentioned by the good ol’ Gang of Four, every implementation of a design pattern is different, depending on the specific viewpoint of the implementor, and the specific application we are trying to produce.  This causes two problems.  One is that the implementor’s viewpoint is not necessarily the same as mine.  The second is that trying to shoehorn every app into the MVC structure isn’t always appropriate.
  • Most MVC frameworks have an intentionally flat design – models, views, controllers – and when codebases grow, you need to modularize for maintainability.  There are different ways to do this, but many frameworks don’t lend themselves well to this.
  • In the world of PHP, as with Perl, there is More Than One Way To Do It.  Specifically with frameworks, I believe Luke has been known to say there are 2.3 frameworks per PHP developer.  They are like content management systems or blogging systems.  We’ve all done it, sad to say.  The downside of this is that you lose a lot of the programmer speedup if programmers have to learn a new framework on every project.
  • Bloat is a problem in a lot of frameworks.  That’s what "makes the magic happen", but typically using a framework means lots of files getting opened (required/included) behind the scenes.  This slows down your app.  See for example Paul M. Jones’ (updated) benchmarks.  (That, by the way, is an excellent, excellent article that displays a good methodology for researching design decisions.)  I’ll also refer here to what I sometimes jokingly call Thomson’s first rule of software design: First, do the simplest thing that could possibly work.
  • It’s virtually impossible to retrofit an MVC framework on to existing code.  A lot of us spend most of our careers dealing with existing applications.

In summary:
Let’s be clear here: I am not recommending people write spaghetti code, or that they embed HTML willy- nilly in their PHP.  My recommendation in making any kind of architectural decision is to know what tradeoffs you are making and make an educated decision.  It’s important to remember that you can follow some of the basic rules of MVC and get a good number of the benefits without the bloat.  It’s equally important to remember that there is more than one way to architect a web app.

I’ll try and blog in future about a couple of other related topics: MVC in Rails compared to MVC frameworks in PHP, and templating systems.  (Unlike frameworks, all templating systems really do suck 😉 )

OSCON Days 1 and 2

Tutorial days.  I had planned on blogging yesterday but Typepad, my blog overlords, had kind of a bad day along with a bunch of other companies hosted by 365Main.  The root cause of this failure was of course issuing a press release earlier in the day talking about how they had 100% uptime for the previous two years.  Murphy was listening.  I believe Terry Pratchett has something to say about standing in a shallow copper basin of water on a hilltop during a thunderstorm, cursing the gods.  Anyway.  It’s up now.

I attended a couple of tutorials: on Monday Wez and Marcus on Extending and Embedding PHP, and on Tuesday Michael Schwern on Simple Ways to be a Better Programmer.  They were at absolute opposite ends of the spectrum in a lot of ways: Extending was digging into C, and Better Programmer was largely about people hacks, but both were excellent tutorials.

In the morning Luke and I gave our tutorial on PHP and MySQL Best Practices (and I uploaded the slides).  I think it went ok but a little long – we had too much material as usual.  Email me if you have any questions, particularly about the bits we didn’t get to in the time.

I love OSCON; I always feel like my brain is expanding the whole time I’m here.  This time I keep hearing about parallelism, something I haven’t spent a lot of time on since doing pthreads stuff in  my final year at college.  I have been thinking the last couple of weeks that it’s time to refresh some of the things that I have long forgotten, and acquire some new skills.  OSCON is a great place for all of that.

OSCON Day Zero

Yesterday I arrived in Portland for OSCON and headed straight down to the PGDay.  I missed the start, but caught part of Rob Napier’s talk on "Build a PostgreSQL Web 2.0 Application in 10 Minutes", Theo Schlossnagle on PostgreSQL with Solaris, and Chris Travers talking about LedgerSMB.

Rob’s framework allows non programmers to build RIAs fairly simply, and seems to be aiming at the Filemaker or Access market, which is a large one that when we’re thinking about big sexy databases tends to get overlooked.   Theo talked mostly about the wonders of Postgres combined with ZFS (which obviously is something I’ve heard a bit about before) – it was a good talk.  I must admit I was flagging a bit during Chris’ talk, having missed lunch, but he looked at LedgerSMB internals.

Afterwards everybody headed up to the PGParty at the Courtyard Marriott. (pictures here) Overall a good lead in day.

Monday I’m spending the morning in Wez and Marcus’ Extending PHP tutorial, and the afternoon in various phone calls and doing a video podcast…should all be fun.  I’ll be taking it easy Monday night since our tutorial is at 8.30 on Tuesday, unfortunately.

Moving on and OSCON

For those that haven’t heard it from me or the grapevine, I’m moving on from OmniTI.  I’ve had an exceptional amount of fun working with the good peeps over there for the last couple of years – it’s an excellent team and they do great work.  I’m still looking for my Next Big Thing.  Not sure yet what that will be but I am sure it will be fun.

I will be travelling a bit over the next week or so, will be in San Francisco next weekend and then on to Portland, Oregon on Sunday for OSCON.  I’ll be presenting the PHP and MySQL Best Practices tutorial with Luke, hope to catch up with all the usual suspects, meet some new people, learn some cool stuff, and have the general uber experience that is OSCON.  Hope to see some of you there.