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PHP in 2023

From its humble beginnings as a personal project in the mid-90s, PHP has grown to become one of the most popular languages for web development, powering everything from small blogs to large enterprise applications.

It's a language that has seen an astonishing transformation over the course of almost three decades. Even within the last 10 years, PHP has transformed in ways we couldn't imagine.

Every year, I write a post about the current state of PHP, where I look back and forward. Let's begin!

# The PHP Foundation

I usually start these posts with a summary of the latest PHP version, but this time I want focus on the PHP Foundation first. It's been a little over a year since the foundation was created: a collective of 10 volunteers and 6 developers being paid to work on PHP, the language.

Last year, I wrote this:

I'm a little worried now that Nikita has stepped down. He's definitely not the only person capable of working on PHP's core, but he did a tremendous amount of work these past years with PHP 8.0 and 8.1. I hope the PHP Foundation will be up to speed soon and that there are enough core developers who have time to work on PHP next year. PHP 8.2 is already in development, although there aren't many RFCs drafted yet.

I don't think 2022 will be the most mind blowing year for PHP, but rather a year of adding stability. Nothing wrong with that.

I think it's fair to say that the Foundation has delivered. They recently published their 2022 report, and it shows some pretty impressive numbers:

I think the Foundation is one of the best things to happen to PHP in a long time, and I hope they'll be able to improve the language even more in 2023. If you're working at a company that uses PHP, I'd highly recommend you consider donating.

# PHP 8.2

Moving on to PHP 8.2. It's generally regarded as a smaller release, but nevertheless it has a bunch of nice features. Just to name a couple:

Readonly classes:

readonly class PostData
    public function __construct(
        public string $title,
        public string $author,
        public string $body,
        public DateTimeImmutable $createdAt,
        public PostState $state,
    ) {}

A brand new randomizer:

$rng = $is_production
    ? new Random\Engine\Secure()
    : new Random\Engine\Mt19937(1234);
$randomizer = new Random\Randomizer($rng);


Standalone null, true and false:

function alwaysFalse(): false
    return false;

Disjunctive normal form types:

function generateSlug((HasTitle&HasId)|null $post) 
{ /* … */ }

Redacted parameters:

function connect(
    string $user,
    #[\SensitiveParameter] string $password
) {
    // …

And more.

It's kind of crazy to realise how much PHP has evolved over the years. I made a little video comparison that clearly shows the difference:

# The ecosystem

Just like every year, I should mention Packagist, PHP's package manager: it now lists 361,000 packages; 60,000 more than last year:

One impressive number is the total amount of installations. Last year I mentioned this:

Oh, by the way, just recently Packagist passed the milestone of having handled over more than 50 billion installs. Congrats Packagist!

I just checked, and we're now at 74,492,061,634 installs. That's an increase of 24 billion installs in one year, 2 billion installs per month. All of that to say: the PHP ecosystem is growing a lot.

Twice a year, I publish my version stats post. In these posts, I analyze PHP version usage across the community based on Packagist's data. I wanted to share a graph from that post again: the timeline between 2013 and now, showing the per-version usage history.

While it's great to see PHP 8.* usage rise steeply, there's also a big chunk of people still stuck on older, slow and insecure PHP versions. My hope for 2023 is to see those old version numbers decline even more rapidly. I wrote it like this in my version stats post:

This data beautifully visualizes the division within the PHP community: one part is keeping up with modern PHP, while another one stays helplessly behind.

Speaking of upgrades, I want to mention one tool in particular: Rector. Rector is a free automation tool that helps upgrade your PHP codebase. All it takes is a tiny amount of configuration, and it'll do a huge amount of work for you.

I recently used it to update my community-driven content aggregator, Aggregate to PHP 8.2, and it was really fun and easy to use.

When, after publishing my version stats post, several people told me they hadn't updated yet and were stuck on PHP 7.*, I asked them why. They told me it was simply too much manual work. Interestingly enough, no one had even tried to use tools like Rector to help them…

I firmly believe that a "programming language" is so much more than a compiler: it's the tools and ecosystem that play an equal part in defining that "programming language", and I really think lots of people, projects and businesses would benefit if they looked into using automation tools like Rector.

Since I'm talking about the ecosystem, I can't go without mentioning PHP's two largest frameworks: Laravel and Symfony.

Over the past years, Laravel has grown tremendously. They now employ 8 full time developers to work on the framework and its ecosystem. On top of that, JetBrains' dev survey reports that 67% of PHP developers work with Laravel.

While Symfony as a framework might be less popular compared to Laravel these days, it's still one of the most mature and stable frameworks within the PHP community. It's more often used for enterprise app development, but its standalone components are popular throughout the whole PHP ecosystem — Laravel also has a couple of dependencies on Symfony components. No surprise that more than a handful of Symfony packages make it into Packagist's top package list.

I should also mention WordPress. I'll be honest, I have a love/hate relationship with it. As a user, WordPress is great. It's so easy to install and use, and I think it has earned every bit of its popularity over the years. As a developer though, WordPress makes me sad. The inability to stay up to date with modern and safe PHP versions casts a shadow on the whole PHP community.

Right now, WordPress only has beta support for PHP 8.0. Now, to be clear: PHP 8.0 was released in 2020, and is now end of life, three years later — and WordPress doesn't yet support it…

Of course, there are reasons for not properly supporting newer PHP versions. Up to you to decide whether they are good or not. My personal opinion is that the decision to hold on to backwards compatibility as much as WordPress does is mostly business driven: a big part of WordPress is the commercial part, and a big part of their customer base is running old PHP versions. It's a vicious circle where both parties are holding each other back and, by extent, hold back the PHP community as a whole.

On the other hand, we should recognise the fact that not many software projects are able to stay as popular and relevant as WordPress after almost 20 years, so maybe their strategy about backwards compatibility is the right one?

# Superset

Finally, I can't help but mention my long-term dream for PHP. I write about it, I speak about it, and I hope that one day it'll become true: a superset of PHP, with proper IDE and static analyser support.

There are a bunch of reasons why I want it to happen, you can read and hear about them if you want to; but I really hope it'll become a reality. I doubt we'll get to see a widely accepted and supported superset in 2023, but some baby steps are already being made. I'm definitely keeping a close eye on PXP, which might take things in the right direction.

With all of that being said, I hope that you'll enjoy 2023! And just in case you're new here: I'm Brent, developer advocate at JetBrains, I write and vlog about PHP; and I'd really appreciate it if you checked out the YouTube channel I've been working on lately. Take a look, and maybe consider subscribing? Thanks!

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