Dev

Why the father of PHP doesn’t like programming

Above: PHP creator Rasmus Lerdorf with VentureBeat's Jolie O'Dell

Image Credit: Michael O'Donnell

PHP‘s creator Rasmus Lerdorf did not intend to create an entirely new programming language.

Over 20 years ago, the Danish software engineer was looking for a better way to fix what he described as a “young problem.” The PHP project kicked off in 1995 and would eventually become a server-side scripting language and general-purpose programming language used by tech giants like Facebook, Yahoo, and Etsy.

Lerdoff, who is a contributor to many open source projects, worked as an infrastructure architect at Yahoo for more than seven years and joined Etsy in 2012.

In an Ask me Anything (AMA) session at our DevBeat conference, developers asked Lerdoff a series of tough questions about how he developed the language and what his future holds.

If you could change one fundamental thing about PHP, what would it be? 

Lerdoff: Case sensitivity in PHP —  the question of whether it should be lower case or upper case. Back then [when I started PHP] there were huge arguments, and I didn’t want to take sides in this religious argument. It’s more painful to make changes now, as much as people criticize pieces of PHP. There were semi-intelligent reasons for doing this at the time though.

Do you continue to code? 

Lerdoff: I spend more time on the infrastructure and keeping the project afloat. I do occasionally write code. I do have some commits on Github now and again; generally, bug tracking. My time is usually better spent motivating others to write code. I used to code 20 hours a day.

Do you intend to create a new programming language? 

Lerdoff: PHP wasn’t written because I wanted to write a language. It was to solve a problem. No one had come up with the right tools yet. Honestly, I am passionate about solving problems — I don’t like programming. It’s tedious. I’m an engineer who will use whatever tools I have [and] if I don’t have a tool, I’ll make a new one. There is no mission to write another language.

What’s your favorite programming language? 

Lerdoff: C. I’m more of a C developer than PHP.

Why has Facebook so heavily invested in PHP? 

Lerdoff: PHP was supposed to be a thin layer on top of a bunch of C++ code, which is what I did at Yahoo. Facebook rolled everything out in PHP instead of translating that to C++. They just write faster Gits for PHP — I wonder what will be the next engine? Google has done some work along these lines. Maybe we’ll have some Git competition in a few years.

I’m new to PHP — but can code in Python. Will it be a challenge to learn? 

Lerdoff: Just dive in and download some code. Start solving problems using PHP. I often joke that I can teach a moderately intelligent monkey to write PHP in a day. The learning curve is really shallow, so you’ll get up and running really fast.


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