Zend Optimizer versus Guard Loader
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If you are wondering what is the difference between Zend Optimizer and Zend Guard Loader then you will get the answer here. In a nutshell it all depends on your version of PHP on your system.
If you are looking for the difference to the Zend Framework please see the bottom and What is the Zend Framework.
Both modules Zend Optimizer and Zend Guard Loader are doing the same; they are both runtime decoders. Both are free applications that enable PHP to run scripts you have previously encoded with Zend Guard.
When you need a runtime decoder
Now that you know that you will need one of these modules when you have encoded your PHP scripts with Zend Guard: "What is Zend Guard?"
Zend Guard just by itself is a desktop application encoding PHP scripts. As an [en-]coder you don't use Zend Guard on your server. On a server you will need a [de-]coder, though—that's right Zend Optimizer or Zend Guard Loader.
Why or when do you want to encode your PHP scripts? With encoded scripts you are able to widely distribute your PHP applications without revealing your intellectual property. Zend Guard does this by compiling your PHP source code which essentially encodes your script into intermediate code files.
Check your PHP Version
Once your files are encoded you will need software that decodes your scripts on the server at runtime. Hence the term runtime decoders which these free modules are. The only difference between them is the PHP version on your server.
If you have PHP 5.2 or earlier you will need Zend Optimizer whereas the Zend Guard Loader must be used for PHP 5.3.
As of this writing I don't see any information yet what the future holds for 5.4 but I assume we can still use Zend Guard Loader.
If you don't know what PHP version is on your system simply run php -v command. It'll tell you the version on the first line.
Besides this webpage I have more pages about Zend Guard and if you have any problems please look out for them in this chapter; use the breadcrumbs list above or the Prev/Next links at the end of the document.
What is the Zend Framework
Lately I see questions via Google what the difference is between either of these modules above and the Zend Framework. Since there seems to be some confusion let me address this real quick.
The Zend Framework (ZF) is an open source web application framework implemented in PHP 5 and the project is guided by the Zend Company. Which is also the company behind PHP and, of course, the two modules mentioned above.
A web application framework is designed to help web developers build web applications. It usually doesn't provide a ready to go website or webpages like Content Management Systems but it allows developers to quickly set up the environment to build websites from small to large projects.
As explained above the modules Zend Optimizer and Zend Guard Loader are runtime decoders and therefore have nothing in common with the Zend Framework except that they are provided by the same company.