Developer, manager or system administrator involved in deploying PHP applications?

This book is for you. Learn best practises and the best deployment tools you can use. Become confident in your deploy process!

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Book contents

What it's all about

Why a book on deploying PHP applications?

In the past years the evolution of PHP has escalated and it’s now a mature language. Applications of the past was often a spaghetti code mayhem. Splitting up functionality between files was a best case scenario, including functions perhaps. Many times version control system were not used. All that has changed. Now that the development process has matured to such a degree; it’s time for our deployment processes to take the same route. An application today often has agile requirements on it. Having an agile deployment process is important for fulfilling the the agile manifesto.

Usually a deployment process is an ad-hoc construction. It gets patched and updated as the application matures. This can spell trouble in many ways. Domain knowledge might be concentrate to one person or a few people. The application’s need outgrows the deployment tool and a switch is necessary. Automation splits up to some manual steps. This doesn’t have to happen and with planning before implementation we can side step it. In the book you will find achievable goals. Once fulfilling them, you can enjoy a stable and long lasting deployment process for your application.

One click deployment

The holy grail in deployment of web applications is having one click deployment. Is most cases that’s not one click of a button, instead it’s through one command. The foundation for this is automation, a key aspect in minimizing errors. Especially human errors since they will always arise when involving people, nobody is perfect. Developers and team members come and go also. Making it possible for anyone to deploy at any time can benefit the development process a lot. Learn why you should, and how to automate your full deploy process to reap all the benefits of it.

Zero downtime deployment

When we deploy we don’t want any down time for our application. Once an application reaches a critical mass of users, deployment will collide with user experience. This is why we strive for zero downtime deployment. This is an informal term, the more formal one is: atomic deploys. Whatever you wish to call it, it’s important to “hide” deployment from the end user. I have written a blog post on atomic deploys that you can read.

The process for achieving this is on the server-side. Symbolic linking of folders is the core part. The book discusses the concept of this structure and the parts of it. To achieve it you must take certain things in consideration for your application. This is a concept based on builds of your application. That’s why you must make sure that your application works when switching builds. Things can break if files or folders aren’t persisted between builds for example.

Meeting your PHP deploy needs

The success and wide spread popularity of PHP is something you can’t sweep under the rug. The stats provided by w3tech are astounding:

PHP is used by 81.8% of all the websites whose server-side programming language we know.

There is no other language that even comes closed to the sheer amount of web sites built in it. This takes to me my next point: every application is unique. Even if you clone a repository of a deployed application and deploy it yourself it will have slight differences. The server software and OS, or the configuration of that software and OS, are just some examples.

Because of this it’s impossible to take a one-size fits all-approach. What I discuss in the book are best practices for deploying PHP applications, and some tools to help you with that. Whether you have an open source side-project with 10 users or a commercial application with millions of users, they apply just as well.

You are maybe interested in deploying the following popular frameworks? But it won’t matter which framework or type of code you have.

Laravel deployment

A fan of Laravel? So am I. It’s not a surprise that its popularity has exploded during the last years. Laravel deployment is easy to set up and automate since it provides the artisan CLI tool. With this you have the commands you need at your fingertips. Clearing caches, running database migrations and so on. If you have a Laravel application you can apply any concept found in this book.

Symfony2 deployment

Consider yourself a more “hardcore” developer and think Laravel is more suited for kindergarten? Just kidding, I hope you get what I mean. Symfony2 does deliver some added flexibility and granularity. That is often forsaken in Laravel for simplicity and explicity. And hey, it’s built on top of the amazing components from Symfony. Here you also have a CLI runner that makes setting up a great Symfony2 deployment a breeze.

PHP deployment tools

There are some PHP deployment tools out there. Some specific to PHP and some aimed at other web applications. Some target PHP applications, but has a code base and an interface in another language. Some are old and mature, some are new and cutting edge. Knowing the pros and cons of the available deployment tool is what is important. This helps you set up a long lasting deploy process.

The book features deployment tools worth mentioning, from simple to more advanced ones. You want to meet certain needs that your application has. Installing dependencies, migrating databases, run tests, etc. The book demonstrates how to automate your deployment with these needs in mind.

Capistrano for PHP

A tool written in Ruby and have been around for a long time. Its original intent is to deploy Ruby applications. But its flexibility allows for deployment of any kind of web application. As long as you’re willing to write some code in Ruby. Many recipes are available that deals with using Capistrano for PHP deployment: for example a Composer recipe.

Capify (coming soon)

Added flexibility and integration for PHP applications when deploying with Capistrano.


One of the most interesting PHP deployment tools available. It still has that fresh deployment tool smell. Rocketeer takes inspiration from Laravel and leverages a lot of code from it. All configuration and code you write is PHP. It has an event system and a task based architecture. This allows for you to extend it beyond anything you might need. Deploys run through executing tasks on a SSH connection to your server(s). Pull code from your repository of choice, with native Git and SVN support.

Phing PHP

A good old fashioned build tool based on Apache Ant. Phing PHP has been around for over ten years(!); that kind of maturity is hard to compete with. This comes with an older interface, where writing build files in XML and the tool itself is written in Java. But when looking for stability it’s a great tool and worth mentioning. But do not fear, extending it means writing PHP code.

Git push to deploy

An often overlooked tool in deployment. Most people look at it as a pure version control system. But there are a few gems (no Ruby pun intended) in there so you can extend it to a deployment tool and make a git push to deploy. These gems are called git hooks and you can use them to run commands at certain times in git operations. Both on the client side and the server side. You can run commands before each commit, or run commands after each push. The latter allows it to be extended to a deployment tool. I have written a introductory blog post to deployment with git hooks if you are interested in learning a little more.


With a good philosophy and structure, Deployer is a solid option for a deployment tool. It’s written in PHP which makes is integrate with your application. One of the most interesting features is parallell tasks: this way you can deploy to multiple servers at the same time. It also features some recipes out of the box for popular tools and frameworks: Composer, Laravel, Symfony, Yii, Zend and WordPress. This way you get good defaults for your application without having to worry about it.

Magallanes (coming soon)

Another tool built with PHP and can be integrate with your application. You configure Magallanes the tool through YAML, that can be a positive thing since it brings a certain amount of clarity. For simple deployments it provides the option of rsyncing builds to your server instead of pulling code from a repository. This can be effective in small applications you’re the only developer on that you want to make a quick deploy for. It has some pre-configured recipes for common tools and frameworks also. The list is not that extensive though: Composer, Symfony2 and Magento.

Git work flow

Using git as your version control system is in no way mandatory. But it does have some great features that makes your life easier when managing code and environments. Git-flow is a git work flow that provides flexibility. The adoption is widespread and it all started out with a blog post by Vincent Driessen called: A successful Git branching model. With it you can construct excellent release management processes. You can make sure that the right code ends up in the right environment at the right time.

If you don’t use git as your version control there are many ideas and concept from it that you can apply. In its purity it’s a branching strategy and nothing else. You have a master branch, a develop branch, feature branches, release branches and hotfix branches. With that branch structure you can enjoy a smooth release cycle.

How to use Composer

Almost no modern PHP applications today can live without Composer. Those applications that can live without it are often old or aimed at a specific purpose. How to use Composer becomes important in this. And it’s not just about installing and updating dependencies. It’s about dependency management. Composer is a package manager, but it does not enforce any kind of best practices for you. It tries to help out, but those helpful hints often make assumptions about your application.

Semantic versioning has taken the dependency management world by storm lately. One of the founders of github introduced it and all major package managers uses it today. This is how we specify what versions we want our package manager to install. But there are many cases where it is hard to understand which version a package the manager will install. Learn about the different version constraints available and how to use them.


Shipping code is not about pushing code straight to a production environment. Sometimes it might be, but that is seldom a good thing. Having multiple environments or stages for your application increases quality of the code that reach your end user. When shipping code through a chain of environments, looked at and tested by more than the developer, code quality will increase.

A solid infrastructure consists of at least three environments: your local development environment, a staging environment and a production environment. Some applications will have even more environments depending on complexity and requirements. We should always test code in a staging environment that resembles the production environment.

Configuration with PHP dotenv

In all these environments you need different configuration. PHP dotenv is a great tool for configuring your application through a single ini file. We can configure many things with it, for example: logging levels, debug flags, database connections, cache connections and SMTP credentials. You also don’t want to store credentials in your repository. Having one local file on each environment with all configuration is the way to go. Including it as a Composer dependency and bootstrapping it is simple. Many frameworks have this feature already built-in also.

Phinx migrations for your database

The chapter is about the concept of PHP database migration in general. You want to have your database schema in your version control, just as with your code. The ability to deploy code along changes to your database in essential for automation. You might have a Laravel application that does Laravel migrations. Or you might have an application with stand-alone Doctrine migrations. Phinx migrations is the tool I’ve decided to use for demonstrating implementation. It doesn’t matter as long as you have it in place. Not just in deployment, but also in rollbacks. Some aspects are often forgotten in database migrations, such as preventing data loss. I think it deserves a thought on how to prevent this also, and that is in the book.

Phinx is a great stand-alone tool we can integrate in any application. You can write your schema migrations in pure PHP or pure SQL. What is great about writing them in PHP is that you can plug in different database adapters. It has support for MySQL, PostgreSQL, SQLite and Microsoft SQL Server.

Running tests

Tests are an important part of an application, and something you should write to some extent. This book is not about writing and maintaining tests, there are many resources on that already. But running tests is something that should be a step in your deployments. Different kind of tests have a time and a place where they should run. Unit tests, acceptance tests, end-to-end testing and manual tests are examples of tests that can exists in your application. When and where should you run them? How do you deal with failing tests? These are questions to take into consideration for your deploy process.

About the author

My story

I've been developing and deploying applications for over 15 years now. During this time I've learned a lot on what do to and what not to do, in terms of how to deploy applications. I've seen how beneficial a great deploy process can be for a team.

You can find my blog at where I sometimes blog about deployment, sometimes I also speak at conferences and meetups on the topic.

Special thanks to

  • My friend and designer Joakim Unge who made the awesome book cover.
  • My sister and copywriter Jenny Modess for proofreading.


And what you'll learn from them

1. Automate

Why automation is a key aspect for minimising errors. It's the most important part of a good process. After all, to err is human...

2. Goals

The bullet list of achievable goals we want when deploying PHP applications, or in fact any web application.

3. Environments

Your application should live in different environments. Learn how they are commonly used, how to manage access to them and separate them.

4. Atomic deploys

What is atomicity and how does it relate to deployment? It's about making deploys invisible to your users. Learn how you can make it happen.

5. Tools

Technical tools that help you deploy, either on the server side or the client side. Git hooks, Phing, Capistrano, Rocketeer and more to come..

6. Version control

How version control and branching strategies can be used as an aid. Learn git-flow and how it helps you and your team ship code.

7. Dependencies

Managing dependencies can be tricky. Learn semantic versioning and how you define good constraints for your dependencies to minimise unexpected errors.

8. Database migrations

Keep your database up to date with your code and version control your database schema. This covers the concept and tools for doing this.

9. Running tests

Having automated tests are a great first line defence against bugs. What kind of tests are there and where should you run them?

10. Logs & notifications

You want to save console output when you deploy. You also want to be notified when something hits the fan, or get a notification when things run smoothly too.

Got any questions?