PHP 7 moves full speed ahead

Next major version of server-side Web development language planned for release in the next year

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PHP 7, a major update to the server-side scripting language due next year, will offer performance improvements and more capabilities, along with deprecation of some existing features.

The release will be anchored by performance enhancements derived from the phpng branch of the PHP tree. Officials from PHP tools vendor Zend Technologies discussed the progress of phpng and PHP 7 at the company’s ZendCon conference in Silicon Valley this week. “[The upgrade is] really focused on helping real-world applications perform significantly faster and plus, we’re going to have additional improvements in PHP,” said Zend CEO Andi Gutmans, who has been involved in the ongoing development of PHP.

Recent versions of PHP have been part of the 5.x release series, but there will be no PHP 6. “We’re going to skip [version] 6 because years ago, we had plans for a 6 but those plans were very different from what we’re doing now,” Gutmans said. Going right to version 7 avoids confusion.

The phpng improvements in version 7 have been focused on areas such as hash tables and memory allocation. A chart on the state of phpng as of this month, presented at the conference, had the technology producing a 35 percent speedup on synthetic tests; 20 to 70 percent performance improvements on real applications, including a 60 percent improvement on WordPress home pages, and better memory consumption for most useful server APIs. The technology supports most PHP extensions bundled into the PHP source distribution and provides speed comparable to the HHVM 3.3.0 open source virtual machine.

A PHP developer at the conference expressed optimism about phpng. “Obviously, speed is the most important thing to a Web app or any app in general,” said developer Pete Nystrom, vice president of engineering and co-founder at Classy.org, an online fundraising platform. While recognizing it would be a while before the technology was available in tools, Nystrom understands what's at stake. “Obviously, going into the core and speeding up all these functions that are core to PHP is a massive undertaking and something that’s going to be great for all of us.”

Also on tap for PHP is elimination of some existing features. “We’re going to deprecate some old functionality that we think is not that interesting anymore,” Gutmans said. Ext/ereg and ext.mysql are on the deprecation list and have both been replaced by other extensions. Other deprecated features include # style comments in ini files and string category names in setlocale().

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