24 February 2012

Consuming Microsoft .NET SOAP server datasets in PHP

Microsoft Just Clowning Around Again
If you're impatient here is the link that this article leads to

SOAP is generally understood to be a simple method for systems to exchange data in a standard manner. This allows for remote systems to make calls on a server application. This sounds like a Good Idea.

Microsoft, however, does not appear to fully understand the concept of SOAP when it comes to providing a SOAP server based on "datasets".

Apparently the use of these datasets make it much easier for programmers using Microsoft languages to consume web services. 
Unfortunately it makes it inconvenient for everybody else.

So we have a standard way of doing things, but Microsoft decides to "improve" it and thereby forces everybody else to manually parse their XML responses. What is the point of having a standard method of accessing server methods if Microsoft then makes their implementation inoperable to Java, PHP, Ruby, Python, developers? 

Isn't the whole idea of SOAP to allow remote access?  So why make things difficult for everybody except the people who choose Microsoft as their vendor for Server, Desktop, Development IDE, Programming Language, Email, and Security?  What about somebody who wants to use a vendor other than Microsoft for one of these software services?  Is it technically better?  Is it better for a client to be locked into a vendor?  Or does Microsoft make more money by trying to force you to make them your vendor for all software?

Well in any case, if you are trying to consume a Microsoft dataset SOAP packet you will end up needing to write your own helper classes to decipher their code.  That's the bad news.  Trust me, I asked on Stackoverflow, Googled extensively (I didn't use Bing to search though, maybe I should have), and otherwise checked and rechecked why I was not able to handle the SOAP packets being returned by the Microsoft server.

PHP developers can use this code (http://www.bin-co.com/php/scripts/xml2array/) as a start to developing their class.  The code given there will help shortcut the process of reading the Microsoft dataset SOAP response.  If anybody has similar solutions for other languages please feel free to forward them to me.
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15 February 2012

Questions for mid-level PHP developer candidates


I often get CV's from developers applying for positions. Some colleges give people a certificate without really giving the candidate any problem solving skills or real understanding of theory. Here are some standard questions that I ask candidates to complete with pen and paper without access to Google. They cover basic OOP theory, logic, basic PHP syntax, and try to get some idea of the candidates passion for learning.

In the rare occasion that a candidate actually bothers to investigate the company and finds my blog they will naturally be expected to do well on this quiz.  I guess that's bonus marks for being prepared :p

PHP quiz
========

1)  Explain what SQL injection is and give TWO ways to combat it
2)  If you type hint an interface name in a function argument what sort of variables can you pass?
3)  What is an abstract class?
4)  How would you call the construct method of a parent class inside 
a child of that class?
5)  Given two variables $a and $b which contain integer numbers.  
Swap the values of $a and $b without declaring a third variable and using 
only the mathematical functions +,*,-,/
6)  Define a class called House that has an owner property and a method 
called sell that accepts a string parameter which changes the owner
7)  Explain call by value and call by reference.  Which method does PHP5 
use when passing primitive variable types and objects?
8)  What does AJAX stand for?  Write a jQuery AJAX call to 'weather.php' 
which updates the contents of with the results from that file
9)  What is the safest PHP function to use to filter output to prevent XSS?
10) What is the difference between GET and POST?
11) What is your approach to unit and integration testing?
12) What are traits used for and how would you include one in your class?
13) What design patterns are you familiar with?  What do you think about 
the use of the Singleton pattern in PHP?
14) Write a program to roll two six-sided dice 10,000 times.  Sum the two
values on each roll.  At the end of the program run output the average sum 
of all the rolls.
15) What is the value of $a if $a = ( '42' === 42 ) ? 'answer one' : 'answer two';

Feel free to use any or all of these questions if you like them.  They're awkwardly formatted on the blog because of the template I'm using.  I have shared a raw copy on Google Docs.

I have seen question number 5 done in a single line by the way (usually it takes three).
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06 February 2012

Reverse Engineering an MS-SQL database without Visio

The splash screen for Squirrel SQL

I'm working on a project that draws from a Microsoft Sql Database.  Unfortunately there is no project documentation which means that it takes longer to become familiar with the design.  I particularly wanted an ERD of the database but this wasn't available.  So I looked for open source reverse engineering tools and found Squirrel SQL.  This is a very handy tool as it supports a variety of databases and client operating systems.

Installing the Microsoft JDBC (available from the Microsoft site) was a snap:

  1. Just download the archive, extract it somewhere meaningful (I put mine as a directory in Squirrel).
  2. Edit the Microsoft SQL driver in your driver list
  3. Add an extra class and point it to the JDBC4 jar file (version 4 is required for newer versions of the JDK)
  4. The driver should load now
Then proceed to add your connection alias per normal and you're connected to your MS-SQL database.

The plugin to reverse engineer your database is called "Graph".  Simply connect to your database and select the tables you want.  Right click them and choose "Add to graph" from the context menu.
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03 February 2012

Online file resizer

Kraken resizerKraken is an online image compressing utility that compresses  jpeg, gif, and png formats using a new algorithm.  It claims that the compression on existing files can be losslessly improved.

Does it work?

I tried it on a random file on my hard-drive and the algorithm reduced the size from 853kb to 729kb (about a 14% reduction).

Here is the original file (click to view full size):

And here is the reduced file:

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