Lerdorf: Future PHP releases 'evolutionary, not revolutionary'

The forthcoming PHP version 5 release will be more about "evolutionising" the scripting tool and ensuring its smooth interaction with other programming languages than a revolutionary change in its feature set, its creator reports.

Discussing the differences between the current PHP version 4 and its successor in an interview with LinuxWorld, PHP guru Rasmus Lerdorf said version 5 was more about improving PHP's ability to support newer Web protocols and languages than in building up a host of new features.

For example, version 5 will include further improvements in the support of Java and XML languages, he said.

Another key focus with the forthcoming version 5 release was to update some of PHP's original code base -- much of which has been in place since the creation of PHP in 1994, he added.

PHP (Hypertext preprocessor) is an open source, object-oriented programming tool designed for scripting content and applications for the Web.

Lerdorf said the initial idea behind PHP was "to create a script that didn't get in the way."

"PHP was based on a tool that worked for me -- nothing else. I never set out to change the world of programming. It's simple language with simple syntax."

Nevertheless, PHP has become a prevalent tool across the Web. According to a 2002 NetCraft survey of over six million Web domains, one in five Web domains utilise PHP. The survey found this figure is growing at an average of 15 per cent per month.

Additionally, there are now around 800 to 900 people contributing new code and patches for PHP.

Commenting on PHP's success, Lerdorf admitted he had expected another tool to have been developed somewhere along the line "which would do what PHP did, only better".

"I always expected another tool to turn up which could also do what PHP does but it hasn't yet. And it's been 10 years."

One of the biggest benefits to open source software as compared to commercial software is the ability for users to "chop and change" the code to customise features and functions. This remains a priority in the development of new versions of PHP, he said.

But although there will be ongoing improvements required to support future Web standards and languages, PHP will remain inherently a straight Web scripting tool.

"It's the glue holding the Web together," Lerdorf said. "As long as there's a Web, we will keep requiring a tool to tie it all together."

PHP version 5 is expected to be released later this year. A final beta (beta 3) is now available for testing from the PHP development group Web site: http://www.php.net.

Lerdorf is one of several speakers presenting tutorials and papers at the annual Linux.conf.au event, being held in Adelaide from 14 -17 January 2004.

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