As the title suggests, this is a book about developing web based applications with PHP. It is not a book for learning PHP, nor is it a book covering advanced topics. It does however, discuss the various technologies and issues encountered with web development and how they can be used in PHP. The book, as with others published by New Riders, is nicely bound and well laid out.
This book was a bit of a disappointment for me and I struggled to make it through the whole book. While reading I realised that my negative reaction to the book was surprising, as this is a subject I am very interested in. There is nothing technically wrong, although on occasions it is vague or hides underlying technicalities.
My major gripe is with the authors writing style, it is too chatty and often meanders around the subject. For example, during a discussion on authentication the authors embark on a six-page discussion on bit manipulation. In places the content is reduced to mere opinions with no real supporting discussion, for example the section on OOP.
The topics covered are varied and generally provide a good introduction to PHP implementations. Subjects covered are browser-based interfaces, database connectivity, sessions and cookies, XML and a few others. However if you are not familiar with these topics then you may need to look elsewhere.
On the plus side the book does make an effort to promote software quality in development, something that is often lacking in web development. Design, testing, reviews and version control are among the virtues discussed and recommend.
In my opinion the best part of the book is the last section, 'Extending PHP'. PHP is implemented in C and is structured to allow extensions to be added. Although the book attempts to cater for non-C programmers, if you don't know C then this section will only serve to confuse. While this section is far from perfect, it does provide a nice introduction to developing extensions and guides you through the common pit falls.
On the whole I would say that the book is nothing remarkable in a subject area that is quickly becoming saturated with reasonable quality books. It is suitable for PHP developers who want to expand their background knowledge in related, but unfamiliar areas. Before you buy though I advise you have a little read in the shop to check that the writing style appeals to you.Linux etc.