I had pretty much forgotten phpMyAdmin when I got a mail from Swati at Packt Publishing asking me to review this book. It's been a very long time since I last used phpMyAdmin. When I first started out with web development (under Windows) and PHP I was hosted on a shared web host. They had phpMyAdmin installed as their main database management tool. With little to no knowledge on databases I was very happy to be able to do my basic list of operations to get stuff working. Needless to say I was a lightweight user.
Fast forward to today. I've moved on to Linux and the way of the command-line as many others, using the MySQL Gui Tools (Query Browser, Administrator) in addition. The tools from MySQL sure have their quirks and bugs, but they have mostly suited my needs for the last years. So, how does phpMyAdmin hold up, and is this the right book to get you started?
The book, written by Marc Delisle, clocks in at 326 pages, split into 18 chapters. The topics range from basic installation and database / table management to the "Multi-Table Query Generator" amd "The Relational System".
The first few pages of the first chapter explains a bit background info on the software, which is pretty much skim-though-if-interested. More interesting, it covers installation for various platforms. The coverage on the installation parts can be a bit short for new users, but should be sufficient in most cases.
I especially liked chapters 2 and 3. Chapter 2 deals with authentication, which is pretty well covered, and the features are surprisingly extensive. Previously I was a bit reluctant to use phpMyAdmin in a production environment due to the lack of proper authentication, but these added features grants it a new evaluation. In chapter 3 the author spends time explaining the GUI itself and how it can be customized. Some parts of this section will definitely be interesting for people doing web hosting as it allows some branding of the software itself as well as laying down some 'ground rules' on the feature set to expose. In addition there are tips on user-centric adjustments for optimizing the work flow for the developer using the software. When using it on a regular basis this information is very nice to have.
Chapters 4 and 5 and 6 deals with database, table and data management. These chapters will probably be skim-trough material for most experienced developers, as the GUI is quite self-explanatory when it comes to these kind of actions. However, it's worth mentioning that the author points out lots of configuration keys for controlling both the GUI, behavior and again features offered. Nothing is crucial for the lightweight user, but if phpMyAdmin is your main tool for the job you'd want to read these chapters in detail as well.
The coverage of exporting schemas and data is quite well done. Again I was surprised with the list of formats supported by phpMyAdmin. The author takes care to describe the various formats, as well as server-side requirements and how-to's where applicable.
There is a chapter dedicated to searching, which I do not think needs a whole chapter on it's own since it's also very intuitive to use the GUI here. However, the chapter is quite short. The same goes for table and database operations which are also covered. Again I find the GUI clear enough for most of these tasks to be straight forward.
Chapter 11 deals with 'The Relational System', which I've never heard about. Turns out it's pretty neat! The author does a good job of covering the tool and it's features. It takes a bit of extra configuration to get it running (create the phpMyAdmin database). This is basically a tool that lets you work visually with your database, seeing relations between tables etc. I've mainly used MySQL Workbench when I've had to generate a model based on a database. This is a viable replacement. The chapter dealing with system documentation can come in handy if you like to document your schema.
There is also a chapter dedicated to MySql 5.0 and 5.1 features which may come in handy if you are up to date on that front.
I've learned that phpMyAdmin has evolved quite a bit, especially in terms of authentication features and installation scripts. I was quite happy to set up the config by hand, but I think the guided setup script is a quite nice feature to new developers. My impression of phpMyAdmin has definitely changed. I used to view it as a "hobby-developers-tool" for database access, but I've come to realize that it offers a wast selection of features that might reduce both time and complexity for database management. For shared web-hosting and development environments it's a really nice tool to have.
The book does a very good job at documenting phpMyAdmin. Some parts of the application are really too basic to describe in detail in a book, however the author has tackled this nicely by adding references to configuration tweaks and settings which makes these chapters interesting to the more advanced users. If phpMyAdmin is your weapon of choice when it comes to database management you'd definitely want to read this book. If you want to take it for a spin first, check out this sample chapter.