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PHP Runner 5.3 by Xlinesoft

Review

With a hefty price tag of $399 (or $599 if you want the optional Chart/Report Builder) we are expecting great things from PHP Runner by Xlinesoft. Do you get what you pay for, or is it merely over priced? Read on as we are about to find out!

Installation

Installation was straight forward – it created a folder with the usual links to the program, un-install, help etc. It takes around 45mb of disk space.

Interface

The program looks a little dated in places yet in others manages to look quite modern.

PHP Runner - Opening Screen

PHP Runner - Opening Screen

It opens with a choice of templates and options to name your project and specify it’s location. Ensure that the location exists otherwise you can get into an error loop like I did and have to restart the program.

The templates on offer are Application Wizard, Cars, Classified, Events, Jobs, Knowledge Base, News, Paypal, Real Estate, Sporting, and Vacation.

Rather cleverly, they have created templates for popular industries where with very little work you can create a fully functional Job Site, Classifieds Site etc.

I had a quick look at the Cars template and sure enough, it even creates the database for you – so you can have a fully functional Car dealers website up and running in minutes!

Also on the front page are links to look at live demo applications on the publishers website which demonstrate features such as how they handle Master Detail relationships, security etc. There is also a link to a selection of short “how to” videos. They really have thought of everything.

Since I’m using the MySQL Sakila database to test out all the code generators in this test I decided to use the Application Wizard template.

The next stage is to choose a database – It gives you the choice of MySQL, Oracle, SQL Server, Access, PostgreSQL, and even Spreadsheet, Informix, DB2 and SQLite – giving you amazing flexibility.

PHP Runner - Select Tables

PHP Runner - Select Tables

The next page shows a treelist of Tables and Views, when you click to select a table or view, it appears in the visual area with a list of fields, and you can draw links between tables like you can in Microsoft Access Visual Query Editor.

Unlike many code generators PHP Runner automatically detected the Foreign Keys in the Sakila database and set the Language ID and Original Language ID fields of the Sakila database drop-down lists that select from the Language table. However, I couldn’t find an easy way of getting the grid to display the language rather than the ID. I’m sure with a bit of digging there is a solution. Incidentally, I tried it again without the Foreign Keys to see if it would take a guess at them, but it was unable to do so.

Next you can select Sort / Filter options and then on the next page you tick the pages you want to create for each selected table/view - List, Edit, Add, Delete, View, Copy, Print-Friendly, Export and Import and PDF options.

The next page lets you tick on a field by field basis whether it appears on the List/Search/Add/Edit/Delete… etc pages. This could be quite time consuming but does give you find grain control.

The next page lets you select the field order on each layout (List, Edit, Add etc).

Moving on, the next page lets you select language settings and the next one allows you to setup authentication settings – you can either use a hard-coded username/password or use a table. It doesn’t give any options for MD5 or SHA1 encryption.

PHP Runner - Theme Selection

PHP Runner - Theme Selection

Theme selection lets you preview each page by clicking on the chosen theme, you can also create a custom style.

A nice feature on the next page lets you add code to specific events – e.g. BeforeRecordAdded, BeforeDisplay etc which allow you to write PHP code to fire when these events occur and allow you to interact with the results.

There are also standard code templates you can add. So for example on the BeforeRecordAdded event you could do some thorough validation, or look to see if the record already exists, and cancel the event if it doesn’t measure up.

Of course you need knowledge of PHP to use this feature, but even if you aren’t a PHP programmer now, the feature is there if you later learn it.

Generated Applications

PHP Runner - Web Application

PHP Runner - Web Application

Now for the step we’ve all been waiting for – generating the application! Once generated it helpfully gives you links to view in your web browser, open the folder in explorer, or open up an FTP program.

The app has a big red message at the top of the page that says is was created in an evaluation version of PHP Runner, and assures that it will not appear in the paid version.

For some reason the Film table kept coming up with an error “Incorrect Table Name”. I tried rebuilding the project but had the same issue. Perhaps it gets confused by the SET field or the two links to the Language Table or something like that?

Otherwise the generated applications do look quite decent, with in-line grid editing (and autocomplete lookups) particularly welcome additions.

Code / Application Structure

The core code seems to be well written Object Oriented code, perhaps a little bit cryptic for a PHP newbie.

It appears to use Smarty for templating so changing the look and feel of generated templates should be fairly straight forward as it separates logic from presentation.

It uses a few 3rd party open source libraries such as FPDF (for generating PDFs), ExcelReader, GIF Library and PHPMailer.

Summary

PHP Runner is far from cheap at $399 and if all you want to do is generate a basic CRUD application to maintain data in your website database there are cheaper and perhaps better alternatives for that purpose.

However, if you want to build front-end shopping or catalog websites then PHP Runner is a serious contender and could easily pay for itself on the first project you use it for. Even more so if there is a template for your industry.

The trial period is short at just 21 days, however that should be enough time to give it a good test out to see if it is what you are looking for, and aside from adding text to the applications it generates, there appear to be no other limitations that would stop you trying out the program fully.

There is also a chart/report builder option though that pushes the price up to $599.

Reviewed September 2011

PHP Runner Publisher's Website


If you have used this product and have any comments about this review (perhaps we missed a killer feature, or missed some major hole that only manifests itself after prolonged use) then please comment below.

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