A roundhouse kick, or the state of PHP

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Last week the usual round of PEAR-bashing on Twitter took place, then this morning Marco Tabini asked if PHP (core) was running out of scratches to itch. He also suggests he got this idea from Cal Evan's blog post about Drupal forking PHP.

  • http://blog.tabini.ca/2011/04/is-php-running-out-of-itches-to-scratch/
  • http://blog.calevans.com/2011/04/07/four-reasons-why-drupal-should-fork-php/

[Not submitting to your linkbait.]

Pecl and PHP

So first off — moving libraries from the core to an external repository was done for various reasons. One of them is to not have to maintain more and more in the core — keep it small and lean. Though small is pretty relative in this respect.

Of course doing so, means that people who do not have root on a server cannot install the module in most cases. But I'm inclined to suggest that when a pecl extension is (really) required, there should be nothing holding you back.

And if there is no way, thanks to PHP's extentability there's almost always a PHP-equivalent to any c-extension available.

Drupal and PHP

I know a couple Drupal people myself and most of them consider themselves to be Drupal developers before PHP. Why is that? It's because Drupal found a great way to abstract whatever people annoys about PHP from its developers, thus enabling them to build websites.

Is this a good or bad thing?

Of course it's a good thing because it makes people productive.

It's also a bad thing, because it seems that some (Drupal) people are rather disconnected from upstream [PHP].

Enabling people

Whatever people think about Drupal or any other framework, keep in mind that apparently it's PHP (and not Ruby, Python or pure C) which is more than a good enough enabler because PHP allows people to build a sophisticated content-management-framework like Drupal on top of it.

Drupal is of course no exception here. Despite e.g. the standstill in Ruby-land, in PHP other tools developer over the years who are a defacto standard: take a look at Wordpress or phpBB.

If you'd like to take it down to the framework-level there are projects like Symfony, CodeIgniter, Zend Framework, ezComponents/Zeta and also PEAR.

Fork vs. wat?

I think that forking PHP is a joke and I believe that Cal doesn't know the difference between a fork and a custom package (or a distribution).

A fork usually adds or removes features from the actual code base, but reading Cal's blog post he suggests a custom package. [Woo! Technical details! They get lost along the way!]

The thing is that a lot of people do this already. The people maintain a PHP package for a certain Linux or Unix distribution — Debian/Ubuntu, Gentoo or FreeBSD — there are doing it already. Using these as an example, whatever OS is used, it already runs a customized version PHP; some distributions customize more than others.

No one objects to the Drupal community suggesting ./configure flags or maintaining packages for the various flavours of Linux and Unix, or even Windows.

I would even go as far and say that in order to optimize the stack completely, it wouldn't hurt Drupal if its community recommended flags and extensions for people who run Drupal sites.

I doubt though that anyone will maintain packages for a couple distributions in their spare time and that the majority will not benefit from this effort because they don't run Drupal on their own server. But generally this optimization is enterprisey enough and indeed what I call a business opportunity.

Moving Drupal to ...

So what's "..."? Moving it to Python or Ruby, or maybe Scala? Good luck with that.

While the majority of Drupal developers don't consider themselves to be PHP developers, they still live and benefit off the PHP ecosystem. Think libraries used in modules or used for other areas like testing. Good luck porting those.

Then add PHP's vast adoption among webhosts.

Last but not least

Which brings me to the in my opinion biggest selling point: Doing PHP has another slight advantage over Ruby, Python and the other languages — it's installed on over 90% of the shared webhosts out there.

I invite everyone to google php hosting. It's trivial to find a host for as low as a Dollar per month — you just can't beat that.

Dear Cal, if you call this a business opportunity, I wonder why there's no Dollar Ruby hosting yet. Or Java hosting for a Dollar. But maybe someone is just not seeing this great business opportunity? [Note, Sarcasm.]

PEAR and PHP

What really bothers me about flaming PEAR is that the most vocal people in these flamewars never contributed any code. Open source is different from the Monday morning meetings some people are used to and where they talk people against the wall.

In open source land actual code contributions take the lead.

And while a lot of people complain about PEAR in general, here's something else:

  • thriving download stats of packages
  • PEAR package usage in other projects
  • adoption of the PEAR coding standards and conventions
  • PEAR channels thriving
  • overall installer adoption

Despite being called a mess, PEAR is an enabler for many.

Point taken

PEAR being so many things is confusing!

PEAR packages are not as easy to use as some code you copy-pasted off the Zend devzone or phpclasses. While I agree, that we should try to make it just as easy, it's just not one PEAR's goals right now.

Scratching my own itch

Scratching your own itch, is what code contributions to PEAR are currently all about. Maybe always have been.

Active package maintainers most often contribute to packages they use themselves and they contribute to PEAR's environment to move development forward in areas where its beneficial to them. Call that selfish, but the reality is that most of us contributors actually work in this web industry and we know what we want and therefor we do it.

At the same time PEAR has coding standards and convention which are in place to ensure code is written so its to the benefit of most people.

Maintainership burden

The offiside to this situation is of course that components none of the maintainers have a use for get neglected — but calling this a PEAR-only problem really one-side.

Not even company-driven frameworks like the Zend Framework are prone to this; Zend_GData is/was rather unmaintained for a long time. Or frameworks where the proposal process and architecture are valued above all; I could point how broken ezcFeed is for me. Or general issues I see in projects where decisions are primarily driven by a single person — catch my drift?

This is not meant a pissing contest between frameworks, but I just can't hear it anymore.

Developer-friendly

Is PHP generally developer-friendly?

At the expense of watering the term developer, I'd say yes.

It is extremely easy to get started — embed the following into a .php file:

<?php
echo "Hello World";
?>

There's your PHP. It doesn't require a custom webserver process, root server or anything else. It really doesn't get any easier.

Are PHP frameworks easier than frameworks in [your other favorite language]?

Probably not! Or, hell no!

But that's the barrier of entry to any if not all frameworks on the planet. Some frameworks allow you to write your own blog in 10 steps, but you will soon discover that writing your own blog is not a great indicator for a quality framework.

Indiciators are:

  • maintained code
  • coding standards
  • tests

And if I'm allowed a snarky remark — these are areas Drupal is literally just getting around to.

PHP vs PHP

Destruction breeds creation — but I get the impression that all these fights inside the PHP community don't really make it foster more.

Fighting and trolling may be an art for some and I agree they are entertaining at times, but when it becomes the only way people communicate contribute then let me be clear: it doesn't help.

The PHP community seems to be unaware how thriving PHP is and also its ecosystem. People often mistake stabilization for decline. There's nothing wrong if we don't crank out five new major versions every year.

  • People in the real world are conservative anyway and adoption is slow. [Not a PHP-only problem either, just ask the Ruby folks.]
  • People in the real world don't mind a more stable PHP environment, at the expense of buzzwords and all that crap.

Fin

In hindsight everyone always knew.

I feel like the more vocal people sharing their opinion, are pretty disconnected from the reality. That is dispite them running a magazine or a podcast about the community.

When people resort to flaming others in order to make themselves look smarter or their own project better, then that's just poor judgement on their part. Projects often die off as fast as they came about.

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