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PHP explained and why PHP7 matters

by  David Dwyer on  02/10/2018    135 Reads

There is a tsunami coming to the web and it has the potential to affect all of us; users, business websites, web designers and hosting companies.

This seismic event is going to be caused by something many people have never heard of – PHP.  Well known or not, this will have far-reaching effects on all of us.  Over a series of articles we’ll explain why you should care about what PHP is, why it matters and what you can do about it.
 

Why should I care?

Many of the web’s open source platforms depend on PHP, mainly PHP versions 5.4, 5.5 and 5.6.  

If you’ve heard of website platforms such as WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, the eCommerce platforms Magento 1.9.xx (Magento 2.xx is solely on PHP7) and OpenCart then all of these are dependent upon PHP.  

As a technology it has fuelled the production and spread of cheap web technology, which has been capitalised on by businesses small and large.  The open-source nature of PHP and the other technologies in the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) have kept website development costs lower than their Microsoft .net equivalents, enabling small and large businesses alike to leverage the web to their advantage in a highly cost-effective manner.  Pretty much all the major eCommerce platforms rely on PHP to operate and to allow specific customisation to meet individual customer’s needs.

PHP is now one of the most prevalent technologies in use on the internet today, being deployed in up to 80% of popular websites. In fact Facebook uses a PHP derivative within its own architecture.

For most of us this is as relevant as knowing that there is an engine in our car and that if we turn the key, the car will go.  If on the other hand, you are in the business of maintaining and designing cars, the nuts and bolts of the engine are a big deal – so it is with PHP.  However, we will try and stay away from the complex, techie bits and paint you a bigger picture.
 

Where did it come from?

PHP was originally developed by Rasmus Lerdorf back in 1994 as part of his work on of a series of Perl scripts he was using to maintain his own website.  In ’95 he released these tools as the ‘Personal Home Page/Forms Interpreter’ (PHP/FI) – this included support for web forms and facilitated communication with databases.

Once out in the wild PHP underwent a period of rapid development, the second version of PHP/FI was released in November 1997 and version 3 following in 1998.  David came across PHP in 2002 and developed his “My Sober Assistant” using the LAMP stack and XHTML.

By 2004, version 5 of PHP was released and would go on to become one of the most widely used web technologies.

Over the years there have been new enhancements, features and security patches added or updated. PHP 5.xx is the version currently in use on most websites and included several new features such as support for object-oriented programming, a consistent interface for database access, and several major performance enhancements.

The web has relied heavily on PHP version 5.xx for many years. However with the increasing menace of weaponised hacks being released into the wild, see Wannacry that hit the UK NHS last year.  A more secure version was planned, version 6, this was eventually abandoned when it proved hugely problematic and PHP moved instead to a new engine with series 7. xx.  

PHP7 is the “go-faster” version capable of 100% performance uplift compared to previous versions and includes improved security and error handling amongst other features.

Tell me more!
 

Change is coming

The important takeaway from this article is understanding just how fundamental PHP is to most websites today.  It lives on your web servers and the decision about which version your website relies on is not entirely yours; that lies with your web hosting company.  The version of PHP can affect which software you can run on your site and which plug-ins you can use, that’s important as it has a direct influence on functionality. The version of PHP running has a direct influence of the security of your website.  It has been suggested that some micro hosting companies have already abandoned the hosting market, aware that they simply won’t be able or willing to deal with the scale of change that’s coming, and change is coming.  This is all down to PHP.

In part two of this series we’ll examine the issues around the continuing reliance on version 5. xx and why moving to version 7.xx of PHP is not so much a ‘nice to have’ but a necessity.

If you have any questions regarding your website or would like to discuss how Inspire can help you build the web presence your business deserves, contact us.  We will be happy to discuss even the arcane minutiae of web building and design!

Magento e-commerce, PHP, Security, Wordpress
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