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PHP: Innocent Villagefolk or a Pillagin' Pirate?

Note: This article was originally published at Planet PHP on 13 April 2012.
Planet PHP


A stereotypical caricature of a pirate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a train of thought article (i.e. it may make senseaor not). You've been warned in advance. The CL;DR will be posted to Twitter when Hell freezes over, pigs fly, and Hollywood makes an ensemble casted DC Universe movie. This is what happens when you have a laptop, an editor, a train ride home, and have just realised that the wifi connection is not working.

In PHP, we're well insulated from what happens in other programmer languages. This is not by accident - saying PHP while among a crowd of Java, Ruby, Python or Perl programmers is liable to result in a heated argument, several fistfights and one dead PHP programmer. Death by mobbing is not a pretty way to go. I'm sure a few of us have been there - at a web conference where people dismiss PHP out of hand as a kiddie toy for the weak minded and demented. When everyone around you starts nodding, remember to make yourself as inconspicuous as possible and request armed backup from the local PUG.

Of course, PHP programmers all know that the other programmer languages are just jealous - PHP has no true OOP model, it's ugly as sin, can't figure out which parameter order is right, and is several years behind the curve in adopting best practices but the damn thing remains extremely popular, keeps getting faster, has the best reference manual ever invented, more frameworks than grains of sand on a beach, and in recent years has become a hotbed of innovative libraries now that PEAR and its messy aftermath have been displaced by Github. It's sickening.

I often wonder why that is. I could go with the usual arguments - PHP is easy to learn, very effective, yada yada yada. Those are the boring reasons we try very hard to believe in. Ruby is easy to learn, very effective, and has even more yadas to go around. It's still sitting at 11 on the Tiobe Index to PHP's 6.

What's fascinating about some programming languages is their reaction to and life after maturity. PHP is an immature programming language which pretends to be mature (to earn Enterprise cookies) but otherwise couldn't give a toss. I don't mean that in a bad sense. PHP continues to exude a sense of adventure as it playfully steals ideas left, right and center from its peers. Most of our foremost advances are aoborroweda years after their adoption elsewhere. What PHP excels at is tireless consumption. Marathon races make one hungry and we can't help but notice the feasts being exposed by Rubyland or Pythonville as they do their best to sprint past us. Without that thieving spirit, PHP would long since have entered obscurity as a quaint html oriented scripting language used by college students to build cheap websites with flashing text and under construction GIFs.

To me, PHP is a rogue. If we were playing an RPG, PHP would have pointy ears, a cloak, a couple of daggers and as many lockpicks as it could fit in its inventory (leaving sufficient room for liberated loot, of course). Ruby will never see us comingaour sneak skill is epic. PHP figured out how to keep the W key depressed while crouched in a corner in Elder Scrolls: Morrowind before the game was even designed.

I'm sure this comes across as being a bit humourous, but is it? Sometimes when I hear about PHP being innovative I almost crack up on the spot from disbelief. As PHP developers we're not often (as in never) in the limelight generating new programming paradigms and practices - we're most likely to be found connecting the dots between PHP and some novel idea we stumbled across elsewhere. Our strength lies in our ability to connec

Truncated by Planet PHP, read more at the original (another 3861 bytes)