Debugging in PHP

When you transition from JavaScript to PHP, you soon find you're rather spoiled on console.log() and its compatriots. YUI even has its own fancy console logging utility to help out. With PHP, you can print to the page, or print a commented-out or CSS-hidden element to the page, but these options just feel gross. Not to mention that if I'm doing anything GUI-related, it's counterproductive.

There is FirePHP. I've also read about printing vars to your HTTP header response. It all seems so convoluted compared to console.log($my_var) that I can't quite muster the initiative to get set up to use them. But one of my colleagues showed me a pretty simple way to trace out my variables without having to print them to the page.

Use the following to write your variables to Apache's error log:

error_log('$db_val_is_sane = '.$db_val_is_sane);  // Print a variable
error_log(print_r($indexed_choices, true));       // Print an array

Then access your Apache error logs:

// For an OSX MacPorts installation, this is where they're at.
cd /opt/local/apache2/logs tail error_log 
// Prints the last 10 logs to terminal (believe me, you don't want the whole file)
tail error_log

It's a fair assumption that you're working on a Web page, and if that's the case, any change to your PHP will have to be followed by a browser reload. So, workflow as follows:

1. Update your PHP file.
2. Refresh the relevant view or initiate the relevant script view with the necessary UI action.
3. Access the error_log.

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