This section provides an introduction to the options available to you when developing a PHP application that needs to interact with a MySQL database.
What is an API?
An Application Programming Interface, or API, defines the classes, methods, functions and variables that your application will need to call in order to carry out its desired task. In the case of PHP applications that need to communicate with databases the necessary APIs are usually exposed via PHP extensions.
APIs can be procedural or object-oriented. With a procedural API you call functions to carry out tasks, with the object-oriented API you instantiate classes and then call methods on the resulting objects. Of the two the latter is usually the preferred interface, as it is more modern and leads to better organized code.
When writing PHP applications that need to connect to the MySQL server there are several API options available. This document discusses what is available and how to select the best solution for your application.
What is a Connector?
In the MySQL documentation, the term connector refers to a piece of software that allows your application to connect to the MySQL database server. MySQL provides connectors for a variety of languages, including PHP.
If your PHP application needs to communicate with a database server you will need to write PHP code to perform such activities as connecting to the database server, querying the database and other database-related functions. Software is required to provide the API that your PHP application will use, and also handle the communication between your application and the database server, possibly using other intermediate libraries where necessary. This software is known generically as a connector, as it allows your application to connect to a database server.
What is a Driver?
A driver is a piece of software designed to communicate with a specific type of database server. The driver may also call a library, such as the MySQL Client Library or the MySQL Native Driver. These libraries implement the low-level protocol used to communicate with the MySQL database server.
By way of an example, the PHP Data Objects (PDO) database abstraction layer may use one of several database-specific drivers. One of the drivers it has available is the PDO MYSQL driver, which allows it to interface with the MySQL server.
Sometimes people use the terms connector and driver interchangeably, this can be confusing. In the MySQL-related documentation the term "driver" is reserved for software that provides the database-specific part of a connector package.
What is an Extension?
In the PHP documentation you will come across another term - extension. The PHP code consists of a core, with optional extensions to the core functionality. PHP's MySQL-related extensions, such as the mysqli extension, and the mysql extension, are implemented using the PHP extension framework.
An extension typically exposes an API to the PHP programmer, to allow its facilities to be used programmatically. However, some extensions which use the PHP extension framework do not expose an API to the PHP programmer.
The PDO MySQL driver extension, for example, does not expose an API to the PHP programmer, but provides an interface to the PDO layer above it.
The terms API and extension should not be taken to mean the same thing, as an extension may not necessarily expose an API to the programmer.