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Tech insights: PHP Isn’t Dead ft. Jeffrey Way, Erika Heidi and others
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PHP Isn’t Dead ft. Jeffrey Way, Erika Heidi and others

By Anne Gonschorek

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We asked Jeffrey Way, Matt Stauffer, Freek Van der Herten, Erika Heidi, Diana Scharf, Jess Archer, Christoph Rumpel, Adam Wathan, Nuno Maduro, Dries Vints and Eric L. Barnes about their thoughts on the current state of PHP and how they feel when other programmers claim that PHP is dead.

Transcript

Matt Stauffer

I mean, a lot of people think that PHP is dead. And those people used it for the last time, 15 years ago, when it was a very different animal than it is today.

And then they moved to Ruby because that was the thing that was hot right then and then they stayed pretentious about PHP for the next decade and a half.

PHP has its warts. No question in my mind, it’s an imperfect language. However, the PHP of today is almost unrecognizable in a lot of ways, from the PHP that a lot of people wrote before Laravel was a thing.

Jeffrey Way

I have two responses to the argument that “Is PHP dead?” or “It is dead”.

My first response is: When people say that, they are thinking of PHP as it existed about 15 years ago. And so what often happens is, PHP is such an approachable language that people often learn it at the beginning.

But the side effect of that is they learn PHP, they figure out how it works and then as they mature and they get better, they just kind of naturally gravitate towards other things. But they still look back on the code they wrote back then, years ago, as inferior, because as developers, they were inferior as well.

And so all of their memories are of, “Oh, here’s how PHP existed in 2005” or something like that. But they’re forgetting that, like everything else, PHP matured as well. PHP doesn’t look anything like it did in 2005. The PHP ecosystem and community doesn’t look anything like it did when I was first getting started.

I mean, it’s a night and day difference.

Erika Heidi

There are these two groups of people: People who used it 20 years ago and people who’ve never used it. And they together like to makes jokes. All the time we hear things like that.

And I, honestly, I am already use it to that, because my whole career there was all these sorts of things. But really, if someone is open to change their mind and give it a try, PHP is a whole different language nowadays.

Diana Scharf

PHP has grown over, I think 20-25 years now. And if a language is so old, it will have somewhat of a legacy, of course, it’s just how it works.

Freek Van der Herten

I think it has a little bit of a bad reputation because of its past.

You know, in the past, and I think this is pre-composer days, we didn’t have like a good dependency manager there. The language itself was a little bit stale. It took years of time before there was a new version released.

Christoph Rumpel

Back then you had to look for classes on the internet. So there were websites where you could copy classes and then you copied like a router or a calendar or something, and then you hoped it would just work. And mostly it didn’t, so…

Freek Van der Herten

I think PHP also got a little bit of a bad reputation because it is so easy to do stuff with. So beginners, they do stuff with it.

And yet it’s totally unstructured, it sucks and all of these scripts. They made it someway on on the internet, making people think, “Hey, you can only do bad stuff with PHP”.

But with all the new features being added, you can make a very modern application with PHP.

Nuno Maduro

The reality is that PHP seven and eight, which are the most recent versions of PHP, they have almost quadruplicated the speed of PHP on the most used PHP frameworks.

PHP nowadays pretty much looks like any other modern language out there. It has its own native type system, which is fantastic, by the way. And it’s really like still growing, which is quite impressive.

Jeffrey Way

Here’s what PHP does have going for it. It has a gigantic user base. It has WordPress. It has Laravel. It has Symphony. It has the best package manager I’ve ever used across any community, which is composer.It has people who constantly want to improve it and help and make the language better and better.

Adam Wathan

You can find a package for basically anything you need. There’s so many people building websites with PHP that all the information that you could ever need when trying to figure out how to do something is out there and available.

Jeffrey Way

What it does not have is, um, I don’t know, the “hot new thing” effect. PHP has been around for a really long time. It’s not the new thing. You know, it’s not exciting.

And that’s why often, when people do hear about it, if they’re not active in this world, they will say something kind of snarky, like “Is PHP still a thing?” or “Do people still use that?”.

But it kind of just shows a little bit of ignorance because PHP is so widely used. It’s not even funny. It dominates the web. WordPress dominates the web, and WordPress is built with PHP.

Some of the biggest products in the world are built with PHP, so it’s just kind of a silly question at this point.

Mohamed Said

When people say PHP is dead, to me, it’s like they’re saying English is dead or Spanish is dead or whatever or Arabic is dead. There is no dead language if people are using it. And if you look at PHP, it’s being used by millions of developers and the entire web is built on top of PHP. So I don’t see how people can think that it’s a dead language.

During the past four or five years, PHP has evolved a lot, so it’s not just language that you use to build web applications. You can see people using PHP for big data, you can see people using PHP for cloud solutions. Like, in Laravel, we use PHP to orchestrate the AWS cloud to serve Vapor customers, and we use it to orchestrate the different server providers to help people provision servers on Forge. So it’s not just now, it’s not just the tool that you use to build web pages. You can do a lot of things with PHP.

Christoph Rumpel

PHP has changed so drastically and the people that now say that PHP is bad and not a good programming language and will soon be dead, they just don’t know PHP that well. Especially the last two years with PHP 7, 8 and now 8.1, it has improved so much as a language. And I think finally, we can say solid software development is possible with PHP, all with the new type system features and with the new things regarding asynchronous and serverless as well.

PHP isn't dead

Jess Archer

It is only just starting to hit its stride. It’s evolving faster than it ever has before. It’s pulling in all sorts of modern language features. It’s taking inspiration from different languages and as you know, to me, has become the go-to language.

I mean, it always has been the go-to language for building anything on the web, and it just continues to cement its position. And I just don’t think any other language out there competes with PHP for, you know, building web stuff.

Like, there’s some things about PHP that I definitely would change if I could. But, there’s a lot more things I would change about every other language I’ve used. So, yeah, I mean, like different languages fit different people better.

Dries Vints

I think the core team is doing a very great job at managing RCs, managing new ideas like just having that’s very rapid release cycle as well, so we can all profit from new things early on.

And I think like the way that PHP was viewed upon, like in the past, was maybe due to like a stagnation in the evolvement process of PHP in the decade before that.

But if you look at PHP over the last decade, you can’t really make that assumption any more from if you haven’t really been involved with the language itself.

Adam Wathan

There’s always been a big focus on backwards compatibility in the ecosystem, which as an open-source maintainer, I think is extremely undervalued by most open-source content maintainers and is extremely important.

And because of that, yeah, PHP sort of carries around some of the warts of its history. But frameworks like Laravel, you know, make it an extremely productive environment to work in. And just as a language, it’s surprisingly fast and productive.

What I think a lot of people from other ecosystems don’t like fully appreciate about a language like PHP is that, unlike Ruby and a lot of other languages, PHP has this like request response cycle where the request comes in, the framework spins up from scratch, processes the request and shuts down. Whereas in languages like Ruby, you start a Rails server and it’s just sitting there listening for requests, and it’s already paid that sort of boot up cost once.

And that’s it. And even though PHP is starting the process from scratch, basically every single timem and bootstrapping everything from scratch, it’s still faster than languages like Ruby.

Eric L. Barnes

It keeps progressing and getting better and PHP pays the bills. That is the motto I like to stick with. And, you know, I don’t know of any other frameworks or programming languages that have the amount of people using it that PHP does.

Christoph Rumpel

There is for sure, a bright future out there for PHP and everybody saying something else, they just don’t want it to happen.

Jess Archer

They look at, you know, other new languages and they look at them through like, you know, the 2022 scope.

But they still look at PHP through like a 2010 scope or, you know, even an early 2000 scope, which I don’t think is fair. And I think if they, you know, gave it another chance, looked at it. And, you know, it still has its quirks. I’m not saying PHP is the best language to every person. It’s the language that allows me to do what I want to do in the quickest way. It makes the most sense for me. It fits me the best.

If you don’t like it, that’s cool. But don’t go around like trashing the language that has brought so much like joy to other people and so much money to other people as well.

Jeffrey Way

I just don’t care. It’s kind of like, “OK, you don’t like PHP” like, I don’t care like I have, I have two kids over here I have to deal with. I’m not interested in having this debate of what you, whoever I’m talking to, who is not used PHP in a decade thinks about PHP.

Erika Heidi

It’s really hard to go against a kind of urban legend because that’s what it became that PHP is bad, but you can see the numbers, you can look at how popular it is still nowawadays.

There’s no point in fighting these people, I think. Because the data is there and, you know, the community’s strong and that’s all we need, right? We don’t need people to make it the new JavaScript.

If you don’t like it then…well, I don’t care, really.

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