PHP upgrade improves Windows backing

Zend official details 5.3 release of the scripting language, including garbage collection, namespaces, and PHP archive files.

PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) 5.3, a significant upgrade to the server-side scripting language for Web applications, is expected to be available in a beta release in October, a representative of the PHP community said on Wednesday.

Version 5.3 features improved support for Windows, said Andi Gutmans, who is participating in development of the release and is CTO at PHP tools vendor Zend Technologies. Gutmans spoke about the release during an interview at the company's ZendCon 2008 conference in Santa Clara, California on Wednesday afternoon.

"The community has worked on creating a much better binary package for PHP on Windows, which includes the latest [Microsoft] compilers," to benefit performance, Gutmans said. Additionally, more recent third-party libraries are featured for running PHP applications on Windows, with support for XML, graphic manipulation, and database access.

Namespaces, a capability enabling mixing and matching of PHP code from various sources, is highlighted in 5.3. This feature enables better maintenance and reuse, Gutmans said. "It allows you to modularize your applications for better maintenance and it makes it easier to use various frameworks together," he said. Frameworks like Zend's PHP framework and PEAR (PHP Extension and Application Repository) could be leveraged, said Gutmans.

A full implementation of garbage collection, which provides more efficient use of memory, is featured in PHP 5.3 as well. With garbage collection, long-running PHP scripts will make more efficient use of memory by avoiding conditions that could lead to memory leaks, Gutmans said.

Another feature, PHP archive (phar) files, enables bundling of a PHP application into a single archive. This makes it easier to distribute and deploy a PHP application, Gutmans said. The concept is similar to the JAR (Java Archive) files used in the Java world.

Version 5.3 also offers significant performance enhancements as well a client library integrating PHP with the MySQL database. In general terms, PHP 5.2 applications should function on the PHP 5.3 runtime, according to Gutmans.

Internationalization support has been enhanced, for building of applications that can be multilingual. Specifically, the ICU (International Components for Unicode) library is being exposed. Developers can perform functions like sorting and transformations.

Although Gutmans previously estimated a late-2008 release for PHP 5.3, the release now is expected to reach the release candidate phase in the first quarter of 2009. General availability will follow.

Also at ZendCon on Wednesday, Zend offered insights on what it views as the next-generation of PHP applications. These will be easily maintained, extensible, powerful, and lucrative, said Wil Sinclair, manager of the advanced technology group at Zend.

The first generation of PHP applications was very simple and lacked testing, he said. They had layers for presentation, application control, database access, and business logic. The next generation of applications has had perhaps millions of users, is object-oriented, and is typically modular, Sinclair said.

Next-generation systems have been built on the Model View Controller framework and are unit-tested. "Now, we've got an assurance of quality, not necessarily a guarantee," Sinclair said.

PHP has entered the commercial world, he said. Sinclair presented as an example Magento, an open-source e-commerce platform built on PHP 5 on top of Zend Framework. Built by Varien, Magento has had more than 450,000 downloads and more than 170 Magento Connect extensions. The application has processed millions of dollars in transactions, according to Sinclair.

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