Skip to main content

Let's talk about PHP

· 6 min read
Holger Dörner

An interview about the work of the PHP Chapter

PHP is the server-side programming language that powers most of our customer projects. It is part of our toolchain since bitExpert was started in 2003. Over the years PHP has evolved a lot, it is far away from being the scripting language it used to be some 20 years ago.

We took this opportunity to talk about this great language with our PHP chapter lead, Holger Dörner.

1. Hello Holger, when did you start working with PHP?

So I started with C back then, self-taught. That was back in the 90s. It's been over 25 years now. At that time the Internet was still quite in its infancy. One of the first things was of course to build your own websites with HTML and so on. Then there was the CGI, so if you wanted to bring a little more movement to web, there was not much more left than to implement the whole thing in C and run it on the web server.

And then came PHP as a thin layer on top of C that made things easier. You didn't have to code in C and compile it at first. You could write directly in PHP and run it straight on the web server and that was a really cool thing. And then also the first forums written in PHP came. Hacking around there was an exciting thing. It was like an adventure.

2. What's your favourite framework or tool you use in your daily work?

Definitely the command line. I have been always very, very happy to work on the command line. I worked a lot with it through Linux, and also through Windows.

I grew up with Windows and DOS. With DOS of course there was no graphical user interface. Linux followed much later. For me, it is the most direct tool to work and interact with the system and interact with the server and most importantly it also helps me automate processes. I can easily write scripts based on command line tools to tailor some workflow that I need at the moment or need repeatedly. That's why generally for me the command line is the most important tool of all and everything above is a bonus for convenience. My favourite editor is actually still the VI, but I don't use it so much anymore, because the features in modern IDEs make working much more pleasant and smoother.

3. PHP 8.2 will contain some new features. Is there a feature you are still missing in PHP?

That is a critical question. I have been asked this question many times. For me, the language itself is first and foremost a tool of expression. More exciting for me is actually what is happening in the runtime environment because that is also what it all comes down to. I share the attitude of Rasmus Lehndorf in this case. He sees PHP as a working language. It should do its job. So that you can develop really easy goal-oriented software in the web area. PHP stays down to earth and I find that very pleasant because it takes away the stress of constantly learning a lot of new things about the language such as frameworks or libraries. Staying reasonably up to date with the frameworks requires a certain amount of time in itself, and I'm glad that PHP as a language makes it accessible to me to simply get my work done quickly and effectively. I don't need to be able to break 30 lines of code down to one line because the whole thing needs to remain maintainable at some point in the future.

I do not think that PHP is really missing something substantial. The language does its job well in my eyes and that is important. I'm not a fan of pimping a language with whatever "cool" language feature like Python does nowadays. Because first of all the benefit is not really given and the whole thing is just confusing. At some point, you can't really see through all the features and that also makes it difficult to review the code. It's better to have a smaller set of features that are really useful and make sense.

One of the good new features, for example, is now in the eighth branch of PHP, the new match expression. This is a very good addition to the switch case or almost even a replacement. It is useful in many places, in my opinion, and also makes the code a bit more readable. However, there are also opinions against it. Especially when it comes to language features, it's a matter of personal taste.

4. How do you keep up to date with the changes in PHP or your favourite framework?

It is a mixture of many things. Of course through social media, mainly the Facebook and Instagram pages of the developers of the framework's tools. That way I'm always informed. Otherwise, I also like to hang out in the forums. But most of the time I just read posts. Especially in the developer forums, so I can see what is planned for the future or where the bugs are in the current versions that need to be fixed. And mailing lists - I still subscribe to mailing lists, but not so many. It becomes confusing otherwise.

And of course, conferences are always a good way to stay up to date. To see what's going on behind the scenes and get in contact with the developers behind the frameworks. I think that's the best source - to communicate directly with the developers.

5. Which are the next events you will participate in?

The next highlight is in 2 weeks: The API Platform Conference in Lille, France. There will be a lot going on there. They also said something about a big announcement. I don't know what's behind it yet, but I'm very excited. In addition, of course, Symfony developers will be there.

Thank you for this great interview, Holger!

We wish you lots of fun and success in your work with PHP.