2011 A Year in PHP

by Ben Longden.

2011 has flown by in a blur as we have been busy helping many new clients with large scale PHP projects - proof that PHP continues to gain traction with enterprise. The speed and cost of developing PHP solutions has always been interesting to IT managers and now that some of the larger PHP projects and frameworks are reaching true maturity through a second and third major iteration, they can also now demonstrate existing enterprise clients in many sectors. The once common conversation about PHP’s suitability with large enterprise seems to have been long since forgotten. The ongoing financial climate only adds pressure for IT managers to cut costs and deliver more value from their existing infrastructure and therefore require enterprises to re-consider any prior aversion to Open Source and PHP. This is allowing our industry to consistently buck the trend of the markets and expand to support the increased demand.

New developments

PHP 5.4 made it to a release candidate status in November 2011 bringing some welcome changes to the language. Small tweaks to the syntax include class member access on instantiation and array dereferencing, multibyte support by default, short array syntax, and many others - but one of the big new ‘headline’ features is that of traits, an OO model for constructing classes that avoids the problems caused by the overuse of inheritance. It’s great to see a mix of syntax improvements balanced out with useful new language features - a sure sign that PHP is maturing and headed in the right direction.

During July, the first stable version of Symfony 2 was released requiring a minimum version of PHP 5.3. Zend Framework 2.0 hit it’s beta phase in 2011 which is also built on version 5.3 of PHP. This version requirement will start to really phase out development of new projects on hosts who are stuck on versions of PHP that are no longer supported (5.2 went end of life in December 2010), which can only be a good thing for the advancement of PHP around the globe.

Another interesting development in 2011 was the announcement by Facebook of their PHP Virtual Machine hhvm (HipHop Virtual Machine). We’re not trying to solve the same capacity problems that Facebook contend with - but it’s really interesting to see how PHP is developing in this area with more and more enterprises looking to the PHP language to solve problems on very high traffic sites.

Ibuildings have traditionally had a large number of speakers throughout the year at a number of different conferences around the world - this year was no exception. We delivered content at PHP NW, PHP Benelux, Dutch PHP Conference, PHP Barcelona, 4Developers (Poland), Magento Imagine and Magento Developers Paradise.

Open Source Projects

Behaviour Driven-Development (BDD) seemed to gain some traction with both PHPSpec gaining a new lead developer and pushing out some long awaited new features. Behat has also been hitting the headlines throughout 2011 as a BDD framework based on Ruby’s ‘Cucumber’ project and follows the same Gherkin syntax. PHPUnit has been the de facto testing solution for a number of years now, but new and good alternatives to the xUnit way of testing are starting to emerge onto the scene by way of these new developments.

A number of turnkey scalable hosting solutions have emerged during 2011. This type of service that has formally been available for Ruby projects has been created with a PHP focus. Allowing you to develop an application and leave the infrastructure and scalable hosting to the service operators. Services such as https://phpfog.com/ and http://orchestra.io/ have quickly emerged with great services and have quickly been adopted. Culminating in the acquisition of orchestra.io by Engine Yard the leading proponent of these services in the Ruby space.

During 2011 Magento was acquired by Ebay to form part of X.commerce a range of products and services that will facilitate innovation and expand the opportunities to develop integrated commerce solutions that link on-line and off-line channels. This acquisition could be viewed as a negative step for an Open Source product but early suggestions show otherwise. X.com will continue to support the Open Source edition of Magento and many of the other parts of the platform are also being released with an Open Source licence. These developments will give Magento even more credibility within the commerce space and allow PHP to be at the heart of major enterprise commerce. Predictions for 2012

Many of the PHP frameworks appear to be converging on similar strategies. Each evolving into a second or third generation maintaining a full application stack but providing developers with greater flexibility to select only the components they require. Or even to just use a micro framework with smaller feature set but much lighter and quicker to deploy.

Dependency injection and Injection Containers will be part of the larger Frameworks in their next releases. During 2011 there has been much debate about decoupling of dependencies and there are many strategies to accomplish this. However 2012 is likely to see Dependency Injection Containers become common place for more and more PHP projects and developers.

We have proven on a number of projects that Open Source software can scale and perform for every application. We have deployed Varnish HTTP accelerator for a number of clients including some large Magento clients. We expect Varnish to become a de facto element of many projects. Many of the Open Source frameworks are building in support for gateway caches such as Varnish.

The PHP community continues to grow. The PHP conferences are each expanding with extra days and larger venues to support the ever expanding interest. This is also attracting more and more speakers travelling internationally to present.

Some of the Ibuildings team will be presenting at many of the conferences during 2012. If you see them say hi!