There are (more than) three popular ways to use MySQL from PHP. This outlines some features/differences PHP: Choosing an API:
- (DEPRECATED) The mysql functions are procedural and use manual escaping.
- MySQLi is a replacement for the mysql functions, with object-oriented and procedural versions. It has support for prepared statements.
- PDO (PHP Data Objects) is a general database abstraction layer with support for MySQL among many other databases. It provides prepared statements, and significant flexibility in how data is returned.
I would recommend using PDO with prepared statements. It is a well-designed API and will let you more easily move to another database (including any that supports ODBC) if necessary.