Originally Published: Wednesday, 8 March 2000 Author: Blair Ireland
Published to: In-Depth Reports/In-Depth Reports Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

The PHP Project

PHP is quickly becoming the next Apache. People are having fun in this open source project, and great minds from all over the world are collaborating and making it better for each release.

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The infamous ApacheCon conference is officially underway, and who better to speak at it then some of the main developers behind Apache's most popular module? That's right, some of PHP's power users, Nathan Wallace, Craig Kohtz and Tobias Ratschiller, will be giving presentations for the next three days on various topics, including migrating from ASP to PHP and advanced PHP programming.

According to E-Soft Inc, mod_php has a 5% lead on the FrontPage module for Apache. Since nearly 1.5 million domains are currently using PHP, the world has taken notice. PHP took its first steps in the fall of 1994, when Rasmus Lerdorf created a system to administrate his online resume. In 1995, the parser was rewritten, a few features were added and PHP 2.0/FI was born. People started contributing code, and a community quickly enveloped itself around the language. It was in 1997 that the development of PHP took a drastic change. The project was no longer Rasmus' pet project, but rather a team effort of developers. Two of these developers, Zeev Suraski and Andi Gutmans, decided to rewrite the language parser once again, and PHP3 was born.

So where is PHP at today? Well, the PHP 3.x generation is still alive and being updated, though a great deal of attention is being focused on the beta versions of PHP 4.0. The last PHP3 update was on February 25, and brings the version up to 3.0.15. The update brings on several new security features, and it is highly recommended to upgrade your version if you run PHP in safe mode. PHP 4.0 is being worked on quite a bit though, so I would expect few more 3.x releases to become available anytime soon. The big, high-traffic users of PHP still are sticking to the 3.x releases though. The lead developer behind Linux.com, Gareth Watts, has been a fan of PHP since 2.0. Linux.com is currently powered by version 3.0.14, and everyone is happy with it. "It's lightweight, reasonably efficient and does exactly what we need it to do".

Since even I use PHP extensively at my site, TheScripts.com, I know exactly how much of a helper PHP is. Turnaround time for deploying new features and code is extremely short, and often without any errors to be worried about. Even on a large site like Linux.com though, turnaround time is generally kept to a minimum. This is what has helped attract attention to the development of PHP.

So what's the big deal about PHP 4.0 anyway? The Zend engine of course. Zend, developed by Zeev Suraski and Andi Gutmans, is a full rewrite of their PHP 3.0 scripting engine. Not only is it blazing fast, but it removes several limitations that existed in version 3.0. What is expected to be the final release in the beta cycle of PHP 4.0 is Beta 4 Patch Level 1, released February 21, 2000. It is known as "Patch Level 1" because a last minute bug crept into the release, preventing PHP from working properly if the "magic quotes" feature was turned off.

With all the excitement filling the air around the PHP community, the primary developers decided to sit down and figure out together where PHP is headed. The session occurred on January 20, 2000 in Tel Aviv, Israel. In addition, the MySQL developers attended the session as well so the two teams could explore how the PHP/MySQL combination could become even stronger. With the MySQL team's recent traffic in the PHP developers lists, you know they are already at work.

In result of the meeting, Sascha Schumann created snaps.php.net to provide all the daily snapshots of PHP versions 3 and 4 to users. Though quite a few bugs are lying in the database unresolved, the snapshots are relatively more stable than I thought. I was personally unable to reproduce some of the crashes and other unsightly incidents on my server, but for some people the crashes still happen. With the current pace of the development team and bug squashers, these issues will likely be taken care of quickly.

Some future features discussed at the meeting include a template engine which would provide a better framework for template systems with PHP, startup optimization, namespaces and possibly implementing some of the customizations Midgard made to PHP. For a full technical summary of the meeting, browse to the summary page.

What does all this mean? PHP, as good as it is, will be better. The recent organization of the PHP group is making great headway in its development, allowing for more features and functions. PHP has also been released under a new license, namely referred to as the PHP License. This license is a lot more liberal compared to other open source licenses, despite what you might have heard. The Zend scripting engine, the force behind PHP, is not under this license though.

So how can you get involved with this beautiful open source project? According to Rasmus Lerdorf, "the best way to stay on top of what is going on with the PHP project is to join the right mailing lists and read read read. This means joining php-dev@lists.php.net and php4beta@lists.php.net." You can find all of the available mailing lists at PHP's support page. Sign up for those, and get to know the community. Next, check out the PHP Version 4.0 CVS Tree. Here you can get the latest copies of all the files in the PHP development tree, and make your modifications, bug-fixes, and so on. Again, as stated earlier, you can also grab the latest PHP snapshot at snaps.php.net.

From how everything looks, though, PHP is quickly becoming the next Apache. People are having fun in this open source project, and great minds from all over the world are collaborating and making it better for each release. Also, the recent organization of all the developers is making the project look more official. If you know the history of Apache, these are the steps it took before it got to it's current state. If all this continues, PHP will become even more of a hit.

Blair Ireland (bireland@linux.com) is the Web Technology Correspondent for Linux.com. Located just outside of Toronto, Ontario, Blair has been developing TheScripts.com for about 6 months.

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