In early 2006, the software company Zend Technologies (now part of Rogue Wave Software) released a pre-alpha version of the PHP framework, Zend Framework, under the BSD license. The founders of the Israeli company were two developers, Andi Gutmans and Zeev Suraski, who had previously developed the script language, PHP, programmed by Rasmus Lerdorf as part of their studies at the Israel Institute of Technology along with other graduates. Zend Technologies has continued to work on improving the open source language and has released a PHP interpreter, known as Zend Engine. To date, the Zend Framework has been downloaded over 15 million times. The current version 3 (which succeeded Zend Framework 2.0 in July 2016) isn’t compatible with the previous versions, but web applications and services can be created which are based on PHP 5.6 (or higher).

What is the Zend Framework?

The object-oriented Zend Framework is the perfect development platform for web applications thanks to its broad foundation. The collection of professional PHP packages, which have been integrated into the framework, is very simple and impresses even experienced developers. Basic functions can be integrated quickly and with minimal programming effort, whereby the focus can be placed on implementing features of your own application. The framework uses the package administrator, Composer, the script-test environment, PHPUnit, and Travis CI, a tool for continuous integration, where GitHub projects can be built and published automatically. Zend technologies has always been supported by the very active PHP community, which helps to develop and continuously improve the open source framework. In addition, companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Adobe, who have partnerships with Zend, offer the framework various interfaces to their web services.

What does the web application framework offer?

The standard Zend Framework contains over 60 packages, which are executed quickly using Composer and a simple line of code. If the installation package is not included in your operating system’s package management, you can find it on the official website. Alternatively, you can download and use the framework packages individually on GitHub. Among other things, you can use the various components and classes to implement the following functions for your web project:

  • Authentification/user management
  • Database access (CRUD)
  • E-mail system
  • Search indexing
  • Localisation
  • Caching
  • Captcha
  • MVC architecture

The great advantage of the Zend Framework is the fact that all components have been programmed so that they are not dependent on others. Having this structure makes it possible to pick only the required modules and to compile a development platform according to your own taste. This is known as a 'glue' framework. So you’re equipped whether you need the powerful MVC architecture, a CRUD interface for database access, authentication options for different user groups, or the complete package. With the test framework PHPUnit, you can actively check the progress of the program and discover weaknesses and malfunctions as early on as during the development process. The Zend framework is not only a very flexible architecture, but it can also be used in other PHP frameworks like CakePHP or Symfony.

PHP as a development basis

The various components of the Zend Framework are based on PHP, making the framework the obvious choice for all programmers who plan to work with this scripting language. The open source software can be used without needing to acquire a paid license.

Hosting and operating a PHP web application is also uncomplicated, both by itself and with an external provider where PHP is par of the standard repertoire. There is high level of distribution, numerous manuals, user forums, and other support possibilities via the helpful community. It is very notable how much community members and the early developers who were involved from the start play a big part in further development of the Zend Engine and the Zend Framework. Since version 3, the Zend Framework supports the performance-oriented PHP 7, which makes the development of even more powerful web applications possible. Compared to PHP 5.6, the official successor promises not only to double the speed, but also to optimize the memory requirements of your web project.

The different influences on the development of PHP have not always been beneficial to the structure of the script language. In contrast to languages with a clear philosophy like Ruby, the orientation of PHP has changed again and again. It was initially Perl, then later inspired by C, C++, and Java. Consequently making script language lack in uniformity, according to many critics. In particular, naming functions and arranging arguments is anything but self-explanatory. Therefore, programmers need to be patient and get to know more about the open source language so they can use it correctly for their own web application. Although the introduction may appear relatively easy, any further learning is rather sluggish due to the lack of clear concepts. The architecture of the Zend Framework is more of an obstacle, since the finished scripts save a lot of programming time and effort, but at the same time they make it harder for beginners to comprehend.

Zend Framework: expandability and support

Even though PHP has structural weaknesses that add complexity to the language at certain points, it still counts as one of the most effective server-side programming languages for web projects, as long as the user masters it correctly. Zend’s framework means it also provides experienced developers with the best tool for a faster work flow. Important features can be implemented using the classes and components included in your own web application as well as be adapted to your own needs. Numerous, revised components, which can be downloaded additionally to the framework, also increase the number of features possible.

As mentioned above, support is just as diverse as the possibilities offered by the Zend Framework: online manuals, tutorials, and webinars, are not only provided on the official website, but also from members of the Zend community. In addition, there are several mailing lists, IRC channels, and forums in different languages. If you want to learn how the web application architecture actually works, there’s enough material available to you – just as is the case with the underlying script language, PHP. The framework’s technical support is also impressive: Zend is responsible for the entire development process of individual components and offers support for three years for the larger releases. During this period, the company regularly releases minor updates that resolve critical errors and security issues.

If you discover bugs and security issues in the Zend Framework, you can report them via GitHub Report or by sending an e-mail.

Advantages and disadvantages of the Zend Framework

With Zend Framework 3 and the implemented support of PHP 7, the Zend developer team has made a crucial step forward and has given the application architecture a decent performance upgrade, which is also available for older PHP 5 projects. To date, the speed of the developed applications had often been criticized, but this is no longer a problem. However, using the complete framework still has two decisive disadvantages. Firstly, the framework isn’t suitable for realizing smaller projects due to its complex structure. Secondly, using the framework and PHP as a programming basis means that getting acquainted isn’t particularly easy. You should not underestimate the time required to learn the architecture and the individual components. Added to this, is the fact that the framework does not have its own test environment and is therefore dependent on the external PHPUnit.

The range of features is representative of how versatile the web application framework is. In the long run, the effort you put in at the beginning is very likely to pay off since you can’t start at zero with programming, but rather you can rely on ready-made designs. You only have to program a small part of your application yourself. Thanks to the MVC module, separating the user interface (GUI) and business logic (the actual programming) isn’t a problem at all, which is a great advantage for web projects with regular design adjustments. The biggest plus of the Zend Framework is, however, the excellent support provided by Zend Technologies and the diversified community, which has given the framework its necessary stability and security over the past years.

Who is the PHP architecture suitable for?

This list of projects using the framework shows just how versatile the Zend Framework is. These include the shop systems, Magento and Shopware, the content management system, Pimcore, the web analysis tool, Piwik, as well as the genealogy software, Webtrees. In the CMS and shop system sectors, the modular scheme of the framework takes effect. The good news is that there are numerous potential contacts you can get in touch with in case there’s a problem. In general, however, the smaller the web project, the less beneficial the planned web framework is. If you want to create a simple company page or a personal website, there are more efficient and resource-saving solutions. Your language preference plays a crucial role since the Zend Framework always requires PHP – even if you port components into other frameworks. While developers have to get used to the simplifications and maybe even have to engage with them, it’s naturally twice as hard for beginners: on the one hand, you have to learn PHP and on the other hand, you have to understand the ready-made components. Otherwise, you won’t be able to use the framework properly and adapt it to your project.

Zend Framework: flexible framework for modern PHP projects

If you are planning to program a web application based on PHP and want to write each individual line of code yourself, you don’t need the Zend Framework for this. If, on the one hand, you are looking for time-saving support during the development process, it’s worth taking a look at the Zend development platform. With this, you can realize your web project using ready-made PHP packages without having to write the entire code from scratch. You’re free to choose the operating system and web server since PHP is supported as an established scripting language by all modern platforms and software.

Since version 3 the Zend Framework has supported PHP 7, which gives applications an additional boost of speed if they were created with the web application framework. You’re in good hands if you have any questions or problems since the large community offers support for the scripting language as well as the framework. However, since the framework is becoming more popular, criminals take advantage of this fact and search for vulnerabilities in the Zend Framework and in applications developed with it. The help offered by these communities enables you to write clean and secure code and therefore prevent potential attacks. In addition, all framework users can report any vulnerabilities they’ve detected so that they are fixed at the next possible opportunity.

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