Microsoft makes debugging PHP less painful with new Azure tool

Microsoft has tapped Zend's Z-Ray for advanced PHP analysis

Microsoft is equipping its Azure cloud service with a tool to debug PHP-based Web applications that are running on the platform.

The service "offers in-depth insight into how an application is performing," said Andi Gutmans, who is the CEO of Zend Technologies and one of the original developers of PHP. Zend is supplying the debugging tool, called Z-Ray. The software "exposes a huge amount of information to the developer through the Web browser," he said.

PHP is one of the most widely used languages for building Web applications and dynamic Web sites. Microsoft has long supported PHP on its Azure platform, offering a PHP runtime environment and a selection of PHP aids such as a software development kit and a lightweight integrated development environment called WebMatrix.

The new additional debugging capabilities indicates Microsoft's interest in staying competitive with other cloud providers in supporting Web applications, one of the primary uses of cloud computing services today.

As a Web programming language, PHP code can be particularly thorny to debug. When something goes wrong, error messages may not make it to the browser screen, leaving developers scratching their heads.

Zend designed Z-Ray to give developers more insight into how their PHP code is operating under the hood of the browser. It details each PHP call the browser makes to the server, and reveals the code making those calls.

The software, for instance, can show what specific database queries PHP has issued, and how long they are taking to complete. It can show how the session data changes between user requests.

In addition to revealing the inner workings of PHP, Z-Ray can also be used to troubleshoot many popular Web platforms written on PHP, such as the WordPress and Drupal blogging software and the Magento e-commerce platform. "It can show the architectural issues that are otherwise almost impossible to figure out," Gutmans said.

The Z-Ray service will be available as an optional add-on for PHP Azure users in two editions, a basic version available without charge and a more comprehensive version available for a "modest," still undetermined, fee, Gutmans said.

The service will be available as a preview after Microsoft's Build developer conference at the end of this month.

Zend, which bills itself as "the PHP company," also offers Z-Ray as stand-alone software, and as a service on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) marketplace.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is

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