Open-Source Survey Tool phpESP Stands Test of Time

Simpler survey needs may be met by open-source portal apps.

Given the high cost of commercial survey applications and services, its no surprise that low- and no-cost open-source alternatives have emerged for performing surveys using the Web. These options range from open-source tools that provide everything from basic surveys to complex questionnaires to authoring tools that allow sites to build their own survey applications.

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Back in the summer of 2003, eWEEK Labs reviewed a then-new open-source product called phpESP (php Easy Survey Package). We found it to be an effective Web-based survey application for creating complex surveys, viewing results in real time and performing advanced analysis. And because we occasionally needed to conduct our own Web-based surveys, we adopted phpESP for many Labs and eWEEK surveys. (phpESP is a SourceForge project and can be found at

During 18 months of use, phpESP has stood up well, enabling us to generate surveys with fairly complex question structures and then handle hundreds of responses.

phpESP is based on the PHP scripting language, and weve used it running both on Linux and Windows. Completed surveys can be delivered as stand-alone Web pages or embedded in existing Web pages by incorporating a small amount of PHP code.

Although weve been generally happy with phpESP, we have found a few things wed like to see improved in upcoming versions.

Probably the most problematic part of the application for us has been surveys that let respondents add comments or enter "other" responses. In the Web-based results page that phpESP delivers, these responses are simply added as individual lines, potentially leading to hundreds of additional lines of responses.

In addition, although we have been able to easily export our responses to a Microsoft Corp. Excel spreadsheet and to filter these responses effectively, we would welcome an option to more easily separate or compress responses.

phpESP is the only open-source application weve seen that addresses complex enterprise survey needs, but companies that have simpler needs can turn to many other open-source options.

For example, portal and content management applications such as PHP-Nuke ( and Plone ( have the ability to carry out basic Web surveys and questionnaires.

On the development side, authorizing tools have added componentized features that make it much easier for site developers to add survey capabilities to their Web applications.

Products including Microsofts Visual Studio .Net and Macromedia Inc.s Studio MX have made it possible for site authors and developers to create fairly capable surveys using drag-and-drop components.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at

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