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Matthew Weier O’Phinney
With new improvements to the language, and the ever-growing need for polished, customer-facing digital experiences, PHP in 2021 is alive and well. But what does the future have in store for PHP?
In this blog, we discuss the current reality of the 2021 PHP landscape, answer some common (if not hyperbolic) questions about the state of the language, and weigh in on the future for PHP both as a language, and as a development ecosystem.
PHP celebrated its 25th birthday this past year. It has come a long way from its roots as a template parsing system that would run C functions as it encountered tags.
The language today is still recognizable as the language from 20 years ago, though it offers better and more numerous features that help developers to write flexible, maintainable, and correct software. Developers can even use the language to write web servers — a possibility most would never have considered 20 years ago.
Now at version 8.0, PHP offers full object-oriented capabilities, an opt-in strict-typing system, a Just-In-Time (JIT) compiler, extensions for just about any database in use today, robust date and time processing tools that put other languages to shame, and far, far more.
But those improvements alone don’t quiet the doubters. So, for the sake of argument, let’s answer some common questions about the state of PHP in 2021.
Absolutely not. When you consider the improvements and capabilities added under PHP 8, it’s a truly exciting time to be a PHP developer.
Unequivocally, yes. PHP powers content management systems, eCommerce, customer rights management, and resource management systems. That’s not to mention APIs feeding mobile applications and communicating between businesses rely on PHP.
With the digital economy set to grow astronomically in coming years, and most of that digital economy using PHP in some form, PHP development skills will be in high demand for the foreseeable future.
See 2021 PHP Trends and Analysis
Want to hear discussion on the state of PHP, and projections for the future from our experts? This webinar discusses the results of our recent PHP landscape survey, and offers expert insight into the shifting landscape of PHP in 2021 and beyond.
Many of the features introduced in PHP 8 will help improve developer productivity (named arguments, constructor promotion, match expressions), reduce maintenance overhead (union types, enhanced covariance/contravariance rules, full range of type hinting capabilities), or increase performance (JIT). Features such as the Just-In-Time (JIT) compiler have yet to demonstrate their potential to the language, but could provide inroads into systems programming and machine learning.
The PHP ecosystem has diversified and matured immensely in the last few years. Testing tools and automation are gaining traction. Organizations are increasingly using containers to deploy applications. Async applications help enable real-time dashboards and data processing. As such, the average PHP developer needs more training and education to build the APIs and business-critical applications their organizations depend upon.
At this point, PHP is a stable, mature language, while still expanding its capabilities to gain a foothold in additional ecosystems, including Big Data and Machine Learning. Being a PHP developer comes with both the stability of 25 years of development and refinement as well as the excitement of all the growth and innovation to come.
Want to see the PHP technologies developers are using most? Want to learn about the top trends in PHP development? The 2021 PHP Landscape Report gives an inside look at what PHP development looks like in 2021, and projections on how the landscape may change going forward.
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Update since publication of this blog: check out the new 2022 PHP Landscape Report!
Zend Product Manager, Zend by Perforce
Matthew began developing on Zend Framework (ZF) before its first public release, and led the project for Zend from 2009 through 2019. He is a founding member of the PHP Framework Interop Group (PHP-FIG), which creates and promotes standards for the PHP ecosystem — and is serving his second elected term on the PHP-FIG Core Committee.