Is PHP out of fashion?

One thing I keep running into is the claim that "PHP is out of fashion," which I don't quite understand considering PHP is the most popular server-side language on the entire Internet, and many of the top websites in the world use it. Indeed, even on Twitter recently I had this conversation (edited for readability, see link for context):

Faizan Javed (‏@faizanj): A bigger issue – what is it with valley startups and PHP?
Tony Showoff ‏(@TonyShowoff): What do you mean? The polarisation of it, to where either it's evil or it's the only thing used?
Faizan Javed (‏@faizanj): the intense focus and controversy over an arguably out-of-fashion language.
Tony Showoff ‏(@TonyShowoff): Java is also "out of fashion" but still used, PHP is used by more web sites than any other language. I think it's inadequacy. A lot of things go in and out of fashion, but fashion doesn't reflect usefulness. Remember the coming p2p/push/xml/etc revolutions?
Faizan Javed (‏@faizanj): one can argue Cobol and Fortran are also still useful in their domains. But hip, cool and mainstream they are not.
Tony Showoff ‏(@TonyShowoff): So is hand looming one could say, but half of all internet sites don't use COBOL and half of looms aren't hand driven.

Like underwear, PHP is becoming cleaner, as if it's been washed with Tempa-Cheer on double rinse at high heat.

I think he does bring up a good point and question though. Are COBOL and Fortran fashionable at all since they still are in use, mostly in the realm of maintenance? Well, maybe, but I don't think so. As I tried to point out as best I could on Twitter, niche use cases are not the same thing as something being ubiquitous. Just as you can still find handloomers that doesn't mean machine looming is falling out of fashion, despite the rise in custom hand made items on etsy.com

I think people often confuse what's cool with what's in fashion and what's useful or available. This is less of a big deal in pop culture trends, but in the computer world it doesn't really make much sense. Sure, PHP may not be cool, I'm not sure if it ever was, but that doesn't change the fact that to this day when you want to find a web host, almost always they have PHP hosting available and not much, if anything else. Despite Python and Ruby becoming more hip, along with Erlang and the less useful other things which are some goofy spin off of another thing, they simply aren't available everywhere or ubiquitous.

So, in a sense, asking whether or not PHP is in fashion is sort of like asking whether or not underwear is in fashion. Sure it may be cool, or sexy, not to wear it, but for the most part you'll find it everywhere you look. Is that a bad analogy for PHP? Maybe, but reflecting PHP's problems over the years, I think it's pretty apt, but like underwear, PHP is becoming cleaner, as if it's been washed with Tempa-Cheer on double rinse at high heat.

But what about the numbers (click image for source information)?

stats-w3techs

php-trend-201301-netcraft

And finally, what about as far as community help goes? After all, a programming language's success and usability these days often relies on thriving communities. Well…

tiobe-community-stats

Uncool? Maybe, but no programming language has ever been cool. Out of fashion? I don't think so.

Quora, where incompetence is fine so long as you have good grammar

I get Quora summary emails despite not being a Quora user, and sometimes I see very interesting questions, and more often than not very incompetent answers… rather, incompetent answers written very well so they sound like they could be correct. Here's one example:

rewrewrew

Well, as most of you know, YouTube was never written in PHP, and they could've gained this much by just looking up YouTube on Wikipedia. I think the second part of the question is an interesting one, however the answer is dog shit. Primarily because it's a question of scalability with two different types of platforms. Sure, Twitter and Facebook seem similar enough. They're both web sites full of assholes bragging about themselves (myself included) and trying to pick up strange, but their problems are completely different.

So, this is a classic thing of "anything is faster/better than PHP so therefore if it used PHP it would've failed," which is totally stupid and based on nonsense.

Twitter works in ever changing content where historical entries are rarely retrieved, Facebook does pretty much the opposite. I suggest looking up the histories of both how Twitter and Facebook have dealt with scalability on websites like highscalability.com and also YouTube has tons of videos where their engineers have discussed it. Note that you could only listen to information provided by actual Twitter and Facebook insiders, not random morons who think they've got it all figured out, that's why I'm not listing it all here myself.

YouTube could've survived the volume, because it survived with Python, which is slower than PHP in a lot of ways, but I think any actual developers reading this, whether or not they love or hate Python or PHP, know that YouTube's bottlenecks are database and bandwidth, not their code backend. And there's plenty of videos on YouTube of developers from there stating this very fact too.

So, this is a classic thing of "anything is faster/better than PHP so therefore if it used PHP it would've failed," which is totally stupid and based on nonsense. Sure, PHP used to really suck, especially in the days YouTube launched, but that has nothing to do with their success or failure.

But oh it gets worse:

rewrewrex

Facebook's HHVM still couldn't be enough? Well, Raphael Costa claims to have 15 years in enterprise software, and I believe it, because it would explain why most enterprise software systems are garbage, because their engineers are incompetent.

Let's just point out why this is nonsensical garbage:

  • Facebook used PHP and expanded with it beyond the popularity of YouTube, and yet YouTube couldn't have used it?
  • Facebook is more popular than YouTube, so this makes no damn sense at all. I guess I said that already.
  • Facebook also serves video.
  • Most importantly: serving video literally has not a fucking thing to do with the language you run on the backend, because you're serving them as flat files or from CDNs. This is true in the case of both YouTube and Facebook, and also your major online porn video sites.

Yet, his post gets the most upvotes, and he is considered authoritative. This is just one example of Quora really being no better than Yahoo answers, especially nowadays. I've never used Quora or contributed, and this is pretty much why.

PHP 7 replacement for xdebug tracing

I started working with PHP 7.0.0-dev and, at least at the time I wrote this, xdebug and Zend debugger are not currently compatible with it, because of the extension API changes.  If you need something better than a simple NOTICE or ERROR, then this will probably work for you.

The code is fairly clean, but could use some improvements, and if you have any suggestions or insights, please comment.

Some Notes

  • Some really nice debugging classes and so forth exist (like kint), but they're huge and do way more than I need them to, and also most won't easily mimic xdebug, if at all.
  • It does not work as well or provide as much detail as xdebug's stack tracing, but it's pretty close and may work for most people.
  • It doesn't provide remote debugging or anything like that, obviously
  • The code, ironically, does not take advantage of any improves made within PHP 7, so it can be used with older versions, but I've only tested it with 5.5 and 5.6

Instructions

I put the code at the top of my entry point (index.php for me) before any other code (autoloader, etc). Of course if you don't have an entry point, you can probably put it in some other global file if you want, such as a config file.

I also put it in the condition of "if (PHP_MAJOR_VERSION == 7) {…}", just in case I test my app with other versions as well.

PHP scalar type hinting takes a massive blow

One of the biggest criticisms of PHP (aside from syntax) is the lack of any sort of scalar typing, weak, strong, doesn't really matter, it simply doesn't exist. A push in the right direction was the call for "scalar type hinting," which was laid out in this PHP RFC:

https://wiki.php.net/rfc/scalar_type_hints

This topic, believe it or not, is a sensitive one, with some people being so against it that… well, I can't really think of an analogy, I don't know why the hell you'd be against it. Though some were against it just because they didn't like how this specific RFC defined how the PHP interpreter would know whether or not to do the actual type hinting.

Yes, they wanted to sink the idea because of a slightly related syntactical issue, instead of dealing with it later and implementing a very important thing.

The issue apparently caused so much grief that the major promoter, @AndreaFaulds has left PHP*:

http://news.php.net/php.internals/82750

This really sucks, and I find it to be truly disappointing. I think if we want to have PHP be taken more seriously by the broader programming world, we need to implement things that more "serious" languages have. I'm even more disappointed because I honestly thought that if this RFC did not pass, it may be years before anything close to type hinting on scalars is implemented in PHP, because it would create an untouchable issue like other things.

So, in the unlikelihood that other PHP developers are reading this, please keep pushing for scalar type hinting or something at least approaching that, and if you're a developer in PHP, keep asking for it, I know I will.

If no RFC is submitted for scalar typing in PHP 7, I'm probably going to switch languages, maybe Go or something, I don't know. I've been using PHP since 2002, and I've been waiting too damn long.

*Furthermore I think Andrea Faulds leaving PHP is sad because she promoted really good fucking ideas and defined them very well in her RFCs. I think this is a language set back, but there are still a lot of great people on the PHP team, but I have to be honest and say I was really wanting to see all of her recent RFCs pass, they were all things I was also heavily interested in.

Better Unicode support for MySQL (including emoji)

When it comes to character support I think the only thing that should ever be used is Unicode. That's right, I said it. However, when it comes to support in MySQL, things get a little bit murky.

I never had too much of an issue using plain ol' utf8_general_ci, however when trying to add language support for Gothic (tested because it's rare), I ran into a serious issue:

Source: brainstuck.com
Source: brainstuck.com

Son of a …

This issue is caused by the fact UTF-8 in MySQL isn't fully supported by utf8 the character set, it only supports a maximum of 3-byte characters. If you want something more realistic you're going to need to have at least MySQL 5.5.3 and you're going to have to use utf8mb4 not regular utf8. Yes, seriously.

Make sure you read through all this before trying anything, because there are edge issues, especially with indices (indexes) which you may need to consider.

Also back up your data first.

Updating Database

I'll be working under the assumption that you want your entire database to be utf8mb4, but if you don't then you'll have to adjust a bit, but seriously reconsider joining the 21st century if you're not using unicode. I'm also assuming you want case insensitive text, and if you don't, replace utf8mb4_unicode_ci with utf8mb4_bin — most people want case insensitive text in most cases.

Update the default character set and collation for your database:

Updating Tables

First we need to change the default character set, this way when you add new columns in the future, or whatever, you don't need to worry about adding all of the character set specification:

Updating Table Columns

Now, you can convert one column at a time, and this may be what you wish to do if you require different character sets for your CHAR, VARCHAR, and TEXT columns, here's how you do that:

Now obviously you're going to want to make sure that you're converting to the same column type and length, etc, the above is for example only and if you copy/paste it, you may screw up your column schema. Essentially you're just using ALTER TABLE CHANGE on the column in order to change the character set to utf8mb4 and collation to utf8mb4_unicode_ci.

If on the other hand you just want to change the entire the entire table at once, you can do:

Updating Table Indices

When changing the character type, you may run into this on InnoDB:

or this on MyISAM:

Ah, CRAP!

Oh snippy snap, snap, there are solutions:

If you're using InnoDB on MySQL 5.6.3 or higher you can enable innodb_large_prefix in your MySQL config file (more information in manual here), but if you aren't you can take a few steps to work it out the old way:

  1. Make note of the conflicting index, it's going to likely be one which is something like VARCHAR(255) or an index across multiple columns which includes VARCHAR. Make note of the index name, type, and which column(s) it crosses.
  2. In my own scenario, I had a lot of columns which included some sort of VARCHAR(254) and ID which was binary(20).  Now it seems like 254+20 = 274, and hey that's less than 767 (or 1000) so what's the deal?Well, not so fast there, Professor.MySQL doesn't count literal bytes in VARCHAR when it comes to Unicode, rather potential Unicode bytes are themselves counted as a byte (wait, what?).So if the column is 254 and it's utf8 that means the actual potential length is literally (254 * 3) bytes, and with utf8mb4 it's (254 * 4). So really the length of the key you're trying to create is ((254 * 4) + 20).InnoDB only allows a maximum of 255 bytes for the column in an index with utf8 and 191 bytes for utf8mb4.So if you need the entire column indexed, you aren't going to want to change the character set for that column(s), and instead I recommend changing all others one by one (as seen in the Table Columns section) rather than trying to convert the entire table. However if you do not need the entire column to be index, and in certain cases I did not.Drop the index:

    Then recreate it with the offending column(s) limited to 191:

    or if across multiple columns (assuming mycolumnb is not utf8 for example):

As long as the indices are the same, and in the same column order, you should receive the same benefits for the indices without worrying about redoing your queries.

Additional Notes and Considerations

If a column is not being used for search and case insensitivity isn't an issue, instead of using CHAR or VARCHAR, I suggest using BINARY and VARBINARY. Not only is comparison vastly faster, but also there's less to worry about as far as character set issues go, i.e. they don't matter. Further also VARBINARY is literal length so the UTF-8 limitations described in the index section of this post do not apply, so you can get the full width for your index.

Additionally instead of using TEXT, use BLOB, for the same reasons, but also realise the same limitations apply, such as no fulltext searching.

In summation, if you don't need case sensitivity and you don't need fulltext search, consider BINARY, VARBINARY, and BLOB over CHAR, VARCHAR, and TEXT, it'll be a lot easier to deal with when it comes to Unicode.

You can learn more about this on my MySQL performance, using case insensitive columns post.

Database Connections

Depending on your programming language, you may need to specify when connecting which chartype to use (you can also, in most cases, specify this on configuration, see that section at the bottom), this usually can be done by sending this query  right after connection:

Configuration

You can edit your my.cnf (or my.ini on Windows) and make these changes to the appropriate sections of the configuration file (applicable to MySQL 5.6, older versions may need adjusted configuration):

Properly escaping MySQL queries in PHP

I'm on various boards and such and from time to time people run into issues where they're trying to insert something into MySQL via a raw query and they inevitably run into that pesky apostrophe and the query dies.

Then almost always someone comes along to tell them that they need to use addslashes().

This is wrong.

Ideally you really want to use prepared statements (mysqli and PDO extensions), but let's assume for now you're throwing caution to the wind and you're going to do it the old fashioned way.

If you're using the mysql extention, you should use mysql_real_escape_string() around all of your variables which are not cast as integers. But actually, you shouldn't be using this function because mysql_* is deprecated, way deprecated. Instead you should be using…

mysqli which is faster, better, sexier, everything you want in a wom… extension. In this case we have the more logical name mysqli_escape_string() or you can use the back-to-goofiness-again method in the mysqli class $mysqli::real_escape_string() and it works the same way.

One issue is that with both of the above functions you have to actually be connected to the server to use them, that's because it escapes based on your connection chartype and some other stuff.

However assuming you're not too worried about potential unicode issues (I've yet to have any, supporting Serbian and Hungarian) you can always make your own function to escape based on what MySQL requires:

But there's always a potential danger in doing things yourself and I actually don't have proof the above is faster than the connection required escape functions, so just use prepared statements ideally.

So, what the hell is type casting anyway?

Casting is a way to take a liquid and mold it int… oh yeah

So casting is just a fancy way to refer to type conversion, that is where you change the "type" of a variable from one thing to another. For example changing a string to an integer.

How about some examples? Is that what you want?

OK, fine, you talked me into it. Here are some PHP examples:

So, who cares? What's the point?

Well, depending on what you're wanting to do, it's important to change the type, and this is especially true in languages where there is no dynamic typing (like C#) and it's still useful in languages with dynamic typing like PHP, because it allows for one to avoid potential issues with mathematics, concatenation, etc. Aside from math related things, in PHP I use (int) a lot to clean up variables for SQL queries for both safety and also so MySQL doesn't have to convert the types itself.

You can learn more about type casting in PHP specifically and why it's a great way to do certain things here: Casting int faster than intval in PHP.

Casting int faster than intval in PHP

For years I've been using intval($var) for being sure something is an integer, and sometimes using (int)$var to cast it into an integer, which essentially does the same thing — learn what casting is.

I'm here to tell you that unless you require the second parameter of intval(), which changes the base, then you should be casting instead.

In the case of casting int, it's about 300% or 3 times as fast as using intval(), and if you use it a lot like I do, for example in setting the correct type/checking for SQL queries, then it's time to switch. I know I am.

You can also pile them up if you want, for example:

$var = (int)(bool)$var;

This will change strings of "1" and "0", actual numbers of 1 and 0, boolean values, and null to True and False (Null is always False). Pretty useful if you've got a bit or tinyint(1) for pseudo-bool columns in your database or what have you, clean it up real nice.

It's sort of strange too because in other languages I always cast when available, but for some reason in PHP I got in the habit of using intval(), floatval(), etc.

Available casts:

Let them learn COBOL / PHP isn't evil

I received this in my inbox earlier:

What programming languages should a modern-day programmer have in his/her arsenal? (Quora)

OK, fine, now I'm forced to evangelize for PHP, this puts me in a really painful position, but since I'm apparently the only person

Give me some of those Valley trends, baby
Give me some of those Valley trends, baby

reading this who can think for myself instead of freebasing whatever the Valley tells me to use, here we go…

The general theme seems to be to either learn a pretty hardcore language like C or C++ which won't benefit most people right away these days, since there's almost no excuse to make classic applications anymore. I think if anything it will discourage some people from learning to program since they have to spend a lot of time learning to clean up garbage, compiling, debugging, etc. Way to ruin their fun by making them spend all that time on a language better suited for drivers than web or phone apps.

Promoting Java is also a thing for some reason, I thought we were trying to kill this language? It's still used by a lot of places, but so is COBOL. In fact there's still a ton of places that use COBOL, so why not promote it? Probably because it doesn't come with a hipster mustache and a really tall bicycle.

If it's about job security, automatically Python and Ruby were a terrible suggestion, same with Erlang. You might as well be one of those skinny guys promoting Lisp.

A huge one though is promoting Python (and sometimes Ruby), blindly suggesting it's the best way to go without consideration for how huge of a pain in the ass it is to start a project. The syntax of the language(s) is very easy and the language itself quite powerful, but also slower than other options, harder to get going, and not widely supported. Starting a project in Python is about as difficult as starting a car by putting the engine in the car first. Turnkey? Hell no. You can get used to it, take some shortcuts, etc, but really for a new person, it's a nightmare.

It's really a hipster language, and Monty Python isn't funny, I'm just saying, it really isn't, I mean, seriously.

That's unrelated to this topic, but since Python is named after it, I felt it was important for me to communicate that it's just … knights who say Ni? yeah, fucking falling over laughing. Monty Python films had a few snicker moments here and there, but it was mostly diarrhea (or diarrheoa). I liked Flying Circus much better, why don't many people talk about that?

Yes, I've seen all of the popular films, and no I didn't laugh. I didn't go into expecting it to be about as funny as a hernia operation either. I had thought they would be funny since that's what people were saying, and after wasting about six hours of my life I realized: holy shit, I didn't laugh once. No, I mean that literally, I didn't laugh one time. A few smiles, sure, but not much else.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, terrible ideas…

Some other promotions for assembly, as if it's 1977 or something.

In general though there was a lot of PHP hate spread through the entire thread, mostly that it was bad, but nobody ever saying why, it just is. That's a lot of bullshit. It's because PHP is widely used, widely available, and despite their claims PHP has made a massive amount of headway over the last few years, and is only getting better.

Much of the complaints about PHP people have are true.. if you've fallen out of a time machine from 2004. Hating PHP is like hating MySQL, it's just easier to ignore the last decade and pretend nothing ever changes, then go on to promote your slower, less widely available, much cooler alternatives of Python and PostgreSQL.

It's just the toxic runoff coming from the Valley of essentially acting like Pookie for anything cool coming out of the Valley, Bay Area, etc. And hey, I've lived in the Bay Area, so that makes me an authority on everything there.

I don't mind the C# suggestion, I don't like the platform limitations. Yeah there's mono, but seriously, yeah, who cares. C# has a lot of things like static typing that I wish PHP had, but Hack from Facebook does add a lot of those features right back into PHP and many of those will be moved into core PHP over the next couple of years.

The blinding hatred of PHP out there causes people to promote things in a manner which can slow newcomers down. PHP sure isn't perfect and there are of things I'd change about PHP, but it's faster, extremely powerful, and most importantly easy as hell to get going.

I'm of the mind though if we're going to want to stop people from learning to program, then yes, let's promote Python, Ruby, Erlang (what the fuck are you promoting this for, do people making small sites really need message queues? Don't be an asshole.), and while we're at it Java. Languages which can be easy at face value, easy in syntax, but a pain in the ass to get going and deal with, not to mention slower. Except Java and Erlang, those can be pretty fast.

So reasons not to learn PHP?

  1. It's not really cool
  2. It's not the steam punk of languages like Python, so you don't get a stupid ass top hat with goggles and proclaim you're awesome
  3. It's making headway faster than most languages, some of which aren't even changing or improving at all any more.
  4. It's widely available, i.e. essentially everywhere, so you're not held hostage by host availability
  5. It will help you learn C-style syntax which you can more easily pass on to other languages like JavaScript (also used on the web), plus countless other languages like C, C++, Java, C#, etc

Python and Ruby aren't bad to have in your arsenal, but blindly suggesting them first, when C-style languages is king is just ridiculous. Meanwhile the most popular web language being PHP, which is a C-style language, oh no, don't use that, it's bad just because it's bad, I mean, no reasons listed here, it just is.

Anyway, now a choice, spend 10 seconds starting a PHP project or spend half an hour setting up a Python environment and prepping shit just to get coding, and I mean really coding, throwing things directly to the interpreter isn't how you make real projects, it's how you demonstrate the language without making it obvious how much of a pain in the ass it is.

I'll use the language best suited for the situation, I'm not going to blindly dislike something because a broader community of self-deluded permanent man-children hate it.

My choices of languages:

  • PHP
  • JavaScript / node.js
  • Ruby
  • C#

My choice of languages in 2004:

  • Perl
  • C++
  • PHP

My choice of languages in 1997:

  • Perl
  • C++
  • Visual Basic

Nope, shit never changes, I'll just use Python forever and tell everyone that's all I've ever loved.

I hope you can appreciate the irony of blind hatred and ignorance of modern PHP meanwhile essentially doing the same thing with Python. That's my point, when it's turned around, it's obvious how idiotic you look.