No Food for Thought

WampServer? Wait!

admin Wednesday July 1, 2015

Short version

Do not use WampServer.

Long version

The first time I installed an AMP on Windows, I chose EasyPHP. When I came back to PHP development on Windows, around 2013, I chose WampServer. I knew about XAMPP and EasyPHP, but for some reason (probably the precise software offered), I went with WampServer. That decision would cost me several hours...

The good

PHP is already buggy, but I suppose I didn't realize the distribution you chose could make it much more buggy. I sticked with WampServer, initially in version 2.4, because it contained Xdebug, was simple to install and worked immediately. I must admit the UI looks good - the design is good, and it lets you choose your PHP and MySQL versions.

The bad

Things changed when I started configuring PHP. Inevitably, the first problem you'll notice is that WampServer ignores your changes to php.ini. It turns out that is because WampServer installs (at least) 2 different php.ini files, one in php/, one in apache/. The file used by Apache is the latter... but of course, the one linked by WampServer's UI is the one Apache ignores.

That must be when I had to familiarize myself with the wamp directory's hierarchy. Duplication can be deplored, but the worst part is naming. Indeed, both of WampServer's php.ini files are found in... wamp\bin\. Well, I suppose whoever decided that scheme considered that all files were binary, indeed.

Eventually, some development required me to enable 2 PHP extensions disabled by default - intl and ldap. In both cases, I must have wasted an hour until I figured out that icu and sasl DLL-s needed to be copied from php\ to apache\ for the extensions to work with Apache.

The really bad

After hitting some bugs possibly in PHP, I tried upgrading it to 5.5, which required me to upgrade from WampServer 2.4 to 2.5. Unfortunately, WampServer does not offer upgrades. What do you do with such Windows programs? Of course, you download the new version and run the installer. I did that and everything went fine, except servers would no longer start, throwing cryptic errors. That's when I headed to the net and found a post on WampServer's forum explaining that upgrading is not supported. Good thing I had the presence of mind to backup wamp\ first!

It turns out the way to upgrade is indeed to uninstall, and only then to install the new version. You must think I had surely ignored a README which warned against such a crazy idea. But... there is no README. The "official" upgrade instructions are in a forum post!

The only good thing about this part is the honesty of the instructions' writer, who warns that upgrading will take 2 hours, up to 4 for inexperienced users. And indeed, if you had enabled a few extensions, had a few virtual hosts and some customization, it will take hours, even if you've been using PHP, Apache and MySQL for a decade.

The ugly

One of my projects used extensions which are disabled by default. Even after enabling them, they wouldn't show in phpinfo. PHP would merely log a useful error each startup:

PHP Warning:  PHP Startup:  in Unknown on line 0

After an hour of searches, I eventually applied the same workaround I had used (and since forgotten) when enabling them for the first time, copying the missing DLL-s to apache\.

The workaround

After so much frustration, I realized that the huge release notes for 2.5 (again in the form of a forum post) mentioned a simple fix, not only for extensions not loading, but for the tray icon shortcut pointing to the wrong php.ini. That workaround is to click on Apache->Version->2.4.9 via the tray icon. Yes, clicking on that will create symlinks (yes, symlinks on Windows!) from apache\ to php\ for the missing DLL-s, and make the php.ini in apache\ a symlink to the php.ini in php\. Yes, that is the fix, even if that version is already checked. But do not do that without first backing up your php.ini - it will be silently overwritten.

Still think you might give WampServer a go? Here's one last reason why you shouldn't. Playing with the version made me realize one more issue - the links to get different Apache, PHP and MySQL versions are all broken.

The non-lesson

After wasting all of these hours, I figured I would at least go contribute something to the issue tracker. But WampServer has no issue tracker. Not even a forum about issues. Are WampServer developers aware of these issues, and since when? Who knows.

So the only lesson here is already known - avoid software without an issue tracker. OK really...
Even if the website is fancy,
Even if the project seems active,
Even if you share your native language with the developers...
Do not use software without an issue tracker if you don't have some kind of contract with its developers.
And please, developers, avoid versioning your release 2.x until your software is reasonably functional and has an issue tracker.

Unfortunately, this is fundamentally a rant, not a review (and the list of issues is not complete). I will only dump WampServer when the next time to upgrade comes, and I won't recommend an alternative I have not tested until then. Meanwhile, I found a fairly complete review of WAMP stacks, but it's from 2012. If you're starting PHP development, I'm sure you'll find a better WAMP stack than WampServer 2.5. You may want to read about my unsatisfactory experience with XAMPP or about my similarly unsatisfactory experience with EasyPHP.

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