This chapter shows you how to write C language extensions to PHP. Although most functionality can be written in the PHP language, sometimes you need the extra speed and control you get from the C API. C code runs an order of magnitude faster than most interpreted script code, and it is also the mechanism for creating the thin middle layer between PHP and any third-party C library.
For example, to be able to talk to the MySQL database server, PHP needs to implement the MySQL socket protocol. It would be a lot of work to figure out this protocol and talk to MySQL directly using fsockopen( ) and fputs( ) from a PHP script. Instead, the same goal can be accomplished with a thin layer of functions written in C that translate MySQL's C API, implemented in the libmysqlclient.so library included in MySQL, into PHP language-level function calls. This thin layer of functions is known as a PHP extension. PHP extensions do not always have to be a layer between PHP and some third-party library, however. An extension can instead completely implement some feature directly (for example, the FTP extension).
Before we get into the details of writing extensions, a note of caution. If you are just learning PHP and do not have any sort of C programming background, you should probably skip this chapter. Extension writing is an advanced topic, and it is not for the faint of heart.