Dev

Exclusive: PHP, the web’s most popular programming language, is coming to mobile

A certain kind of developer loves to hate on PHP. They are really going to hate where PHP’s custodians are taking it next.

PHP was created by Danish programmer Rasmus Lerdorf in 1995. In 1997, Israeli programmers Andi Gutmans and Zeev Suraski rewrote the parser, creating the base for PHP 3. By 1999, they had built the Zend Engine, which is still the interpreter for PHP.


Update October 18: Andi Gutmans just gave us more details about where PHP is going in mobile.


Gutmans and Suraski continued their partnership with Zend Technologies, a commercial entity that creates add-on products and services for PHP developers, particularly developers in the enterprise.

Today, after multiple massive iterations to the codebase, 35 percent of web traffic is handled by PHP, says Gutmans. Wikipedia says 75 percent of websites use PHP. Facebook, Wikipedia, Yahoo, and Photobucket are all built in PHP. WordPress, the most popular blogging platform in the world, runs on PHP and probably accounts for half of that 35 percent. Most of the other major content management systems, such as Drupal and Joomla, are also built in PHP.

No respect?

Still, the language can’t seem to get any respect and has been derided for years by programmers coding in C, Java, .NET, Python, or Ruby. In terms of trends, PHP as a search term has been dropping for years, and the mobile app revolution has led to the revival of Objective-C and Java.

So is the programming language that powers so much of the web disappearing gently into the night?

Not if Gutmans has anything to say about it. VentureBeat talked to him about PHP and the future, and he’s more bullish than ever, especially when it comes to the mobile-focused ace up his sleeve.

Riding the U.S.S. Enterprise

“All dynamic languages are gaining share from Java and .NET right now,” says Gutmans. “We’re getting a lot of benefit.”

Above: Andi Gutmans

Image Credit: Wikipedia

So the noise around trendier technologies like Ruby on Rails or Node.js doesn’t especially bother him. Mindshare is nice, of course, but market share is nicer. And market share is what Gutmans is focused on, especially in the enterprise.

“From a maturity point of view,” Gutmans told me, “I don’t think any other dynamic language right now has the full tool set. Our competition is Java and .NET … never with other dynamic languages.”

While he likes what Ruby on Rails is doing, and thinks there are some things there that PHP can learn and grow from, Gutmans points to PHP’s massive support in packaged solutions like WordPress, Drupal, and Magento.

“We’re better off than we were eight years ago … today we’re the only ones who have really hit the mainstream enterprise,” says Gutmans. “We do believe that the momentum and the size of PHP will continue. We don’t see it slowing down right now.”

Gutmans speaks with the enthusiasm of a founder; of course, there are other companies catering to the PHP-related needs of the enterprise. But Zend remains one of the biggest and best-known, especially due to its provenance.

And he’s got a point: Two-thirds of developers in a recent study reported spending half their time in PHP. And in a recent study by Rails developer Marc Gayle, half of all developer job postings on Craigslist call for PHP developers. When I talked to Gayle, he surmised the reason might be PHP’s super-popular content management systems.

“I think that is skewing the results,” he said. “But I can’t be sure.”

And a mysterious mobile story, coming soon

When it comes to mobile apps, Gutmans sides with the likes of JavaScript creator Brendan Eich in a firmly held belief that the web and web languages will eventually catch up and win out over native stacks.

But, he hinted to me, PHP and Zend will be providing client-side app-enabling tools.

Gutmans declined to comment further, saying he would only announce the full details at Zend’s conference in late October. However, it sounds like PHP will have a mobile app story of some sort, in spite of being the web’s predominant server-side language.

What that looks like and how it will be distributed is still mysterious. But a strong mobile story, says Gutmans, will only help PHP continue to grow.

It’s hard to argue with that.

photo credit: Red Bonzai

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