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The WordPress Coding Standards: Braces, Regular Expressions, and PHP Tags

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This post is part of a series called The WordPress Coding Standards.
The WordPress Coding Standards: The Ternary Operator and Yoda Conditions
The WordPress Coding Standards: Database Queries and Formatting SQL Queries

In this series, we've been taking a deep dive into the WordPress Coding Standards in order to get the word out about them, understand them, and begin to practically apply them in our day-to-day work.

If you're just joining the series, so far we've covered the following topics:

  • Naming Conventions and Function Arguments
  • Single Quotes and Double Quotes
  • Indentation, Space Usage, and Trailing Spaces

In this article, we're going to continue building on top of the content in the previous article: Specifically, we're going to be taking a look at brace style, regular expressions, and nuances of working with PHP tags within the context of building WordPress themes, plugins, and applications.


Why Style Matters

Throughout this series, one of the issues that we've reiterated over and over is that coding standards help to make code more readable, maintainable, and that they should ultimately make it look like one developer has written the code.

But one of the things that we haven't actually talked much about is why style matters. First, though, this raises the question: what's the difference between style and coding conventions?

Honestly, I think that some would say that there is no difference - in fact, they'd say that they are synonymous. I don't necessarily agree. Personally, the way that I've always viewed it is that the coding standards define the style of the code that's being written. Coding standards are the conventions by which we style our code.


Brace Style

So with that said, let's resume our conversation on coding conventions by looking at how the WordPress Coding Standards define the usage of braces.

Generally speaking, the rules are simple:

  • Single line blocks can omit braces
  • Multiline blocks should always include braces
  • When you have excessive multiline conditionals, consider breaking up the conditionals into their own functions to minimize the block

These principles are often best demonstrated in code. The first two are simple:

Nothing terribly complicated, right?

In fact, you can see that I used methods in the blocks above. Which is what leads us to our next principle: If you have an overly complicated body in your conditional, it will likely help to refactor the conditional for easier readability.

Let's take a look at an example.

Before

In this example, we're going to iterate through the meta data of the current user, and, if the current user's meta key has the substring of "destroy:" then we'll delete that user's meta key.

Notice in this example that all of this work is being done in a conditional, in a foreach loop, and then in another conditional.

Lots of nested code, right?

After

There's a variety of ways that this can be refactored. In fact, some developers will go as far as taking each block and abstracting it into its own method - there's nothing wrong with that, either.

But in order to demonstrate this point, we're only going to provide one level of abstraction: We're going to take the loop and the inner conditional, move it to a function that accepts a user, and then perform the original action.

Like I said, this is a relatively simple example, but the point remains: Moving a large block of a code into its own, specialized function can go a long way to refactor the conditional so that it's easier to read.


Regular Expressions

At this point, we're going to shift gears a little bit and talk briefly about regular expressions. If you're not familiar with regular expressions, just know that they are powerful ways to perform character or string matching. You can read much more about them on Wikipedia.

At some point during your WordPress development career, you're likely going to encounter them - either in the core source code, the code of theme or plugin, or even needing them to perform an action in your own project.

Luckily, PHP offers some really simple, really powerful functions for using regular expressions in your code; however, there are proper and improper uses of them when it comes to working with them in WordPress.

Here are the general rules:

  • Use the preg functions that PHP offers
  • Do not use the \e switch that is offered by PHP - use preg_replace_callback instead.

For those who are curious, there are a number of functions that are available.

For example, I recommend becoming familiar with:

Finally, preg_replace_callback is a way to call a function when a regular expression has found a match.

Obviously, the rules for regular expressions in WordPress are simple - it's more of a matter of knowing the functions that you should use and what you shouldn't use, and how to employ them in your day-to-day work.


PHP Tags

The last thing to cover in this article is the importance of how to use PHP tags in the PHP files that make up your project. Luckily, there is a very simple rule of thumb for this particular situation:

  • Never use shorthand PHP tags

First and foremost, this means that you should never open a file or an inline PHP statement with <? or with <?=. Naturally, all inline PHP statements should still be terminated with the ?> closing tag.

Now, this next topic is a bit of a deviation from the Coding Standards, at least at the time of this writing, it's becoming a more common practice to leave the terminating tag off of the bottom of the file if and only if the first line of the file in question is an opening <?php tag.

Specifically, this is more common in the context of plugins than it is in themes and here's why: PHP is a way in which server side code can be embedded within front-end markup. As such, it requires both an opening tag and closing tag so that the interpreter knows how to parse the code.

But if you're writing a plugin or an application file that's 100% PHP, then there's no need to add a terminating tag at the end of the file. The parser will be able to detect it itself, and if you do include a terminating tag, then you can potentially have whitespace left at the end of the file that can cause all sorts of problems when it comes time to activate the plugin.

So in addition to the coding standard that is defined above, I'd also add:

  • Avoid adding a terminating PHP tag in pure PHP files.

Conclusion

As we close in on the final stretch of examining the WordPress Coding Standards, we'll begin to focus on smaller things such as ternary operators and Yoda conditions; however, we'll also be taking a look at the finer points of performing inline SQL queries and the important rules around that.

If you've not already caught up on the series, now is a good time to read back through what we've covered so far as it will factor into where we're headed with the next set of articles.

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