PHP 8 features that prove it’s for more than the web
PHP is a commonly recognized programming language that many developers rely on for web development. Since its initial launch, PHP has evolved through version changes and upgrades with additional features designed to streamline the programming process, such as with the release of PHP 8.
In this article, we’ll go over some of the basics of PHP and how the language works. Next, we’ll explore some great features and integrations of PHP 8, as well as the opportunities that this release offers developers who want to go beyond web development. Finally, we’ll take a quick look at how languages ââlike WebAssembly accelerate the need for server-side web languages ââlike PHP to add new levels of sophistication to the development capabilities they offer.
Basics of PHP programming
The launch of PHP in 1995 opened up a whole new world of possibilities for web page development and design, all with unprecedented levels of scalability, security, and customization. To date, PHP provides developers with a versatile staging environment to perform server-side scripting, command-line scripting, and desktop application versions.
PHP provides the backbone for a wide range of primarily web-centric application functions, such as dynamic content management, remote database integration, and user session tracking. Programmers can also use PHP to request items directly from a server or database and then easily make that content accessible to web users.
PHP application builds typically follow a four-step execution process:
- Tokens are constructed and defined using a lexer configuration, and an interpreter parses the script.
- Using these tokens, the parser function creates a hierarchy called abstract syntax tree (AST), which parses the syntax in the source code and creates a structural model for the program.
- The compiler translates the AST into code that dictates the compilation and execution actions performed by the Zend virtual machine (Zend VM), a component found in PHP’s unique Zend Engine scripting environment.
- The Zend VM processes the opcode and performs the operations within the application.
PHP developers also have the option of using inversion of control techniques to call a specific function from PHP libraries. For example, the Laravel framework uses a model-view-controller design pattern and provides a feature-rich platform for building web applications. Another example library is the Symfony framework, which provides a set of reusable components that can help speed up modular development.
Outstanding Features of PHP 8
While PHP 7 offered performance and security improvements, PHP 8 represents a major release with substantial new features. These features include the just-in-time (JIT) compiler, a named argument method, static return types, inheritance, and OPcache extensions.
The addition of JIT gives PHP 8 a particularly attractive advantage over previous versions. JIT compiles a script to machine code before execution to save performance and memory usage. This enhances the capability of PHP in high compute environments and extends the possibilities of using PHP beyond simple web development, from IoT deployments to machine learning models.
For example, using shared memory storage for bytecode means that PHP’s four-step execution process only needs to run once. During this time, this bytecode is immediately available for execution by the Zend VM. The combination of the JIT compiler and the OPcache extension also eliminates the need to load and parse scripts on every request.
Finally, named arguments represent another feature of PHP 8 that seeks to add support for higher levels of development complexity. Named arguments is a method that allows arguments to act independently of order. Arguments are then passed to functions based on their identity, rather than their position in the workflow, allowing for a more sophisticated level of asynchronous behavior.
Competition with WebAssembly
WebAssembly (Wasm) operates primarily as a language-based tool for execution in web applications and provides a text-based assembly language and interfaces necessary to interact with host systems. Since the code in Wasm acts as an accessible multilingual target for a compiler, programmers can convert their preferred language to Wasm and run the new code in the browser.