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State of PHPCR

Note: This article was originally published at Planet PHP on 10 May 2012.
Planet PHP

It feels like every minute a PHP developer somewhere on this planet starts implementing something aching to a CMS from scratch. Some do it because their project is "so big" it that it "obviously needs" a custom solution. Some do it because their project is "so small" it "obviously needs" just a few days of hacking .. to build a custom solution. Let me briefly focus on the later group. Working in a company with less than 10 people building websites for customers a project needs a bit of a CMS to manage those 10 "semi static" pages seems to be the poster child example of this group. The devs whip up a DB table, slap an ORM in front, maybe even use some generator for the admin UI. Done. Later the clients also wants versioning and luckily many ORMs provide some solution for that. Easy. Permissions? Most frameworks provide some ACL system. Child pages? ORM has some tree algorithm supported. Fulltext search? Integrate ElasticSearch. Custom page types? Uhm well by now you have enough sunken costs that you will make that happen somehow too. Some morning you wake up and you have created the next Drupal or Typo3. If you did, then it would be hard to claim that you did it wrong because both are very successful projects. What PHPCR aims to be is to provide you with a short cut for this path. Or in other words there should be a PHPCR implementation that is so easy to use, with so many helpful higher level components in your favorite framework, that it becomes the natural choice for your next CMS needing project.

Every time anyone talks about PHPCR, they will mention Jackrabbit sooner or later as it is the basis for the currently most mature PHPCR implementation. Here, I just did it too. Jackrabbit requires Java. More importantly it is not trivial and most of you have never heard about it, let alone used it. I think for many high scale use cases its great that PHPCR has been integrated with Jackrabbit, but it needs to be relegated to a side note you mention when someone starts talking about scaling to millions of documents and many GBs of data. Once there is a PHPCR implementation that works with pure PHP, using any RDBMS (including SQLite which is bundled with PHP) it will become easier to just use that instead of whipping up your own tables. No more convincing the sys-admin guy about adding a new daemon to the setup. Instead being able to tell the client what other features they could get in the next code sprint.

So today, we are not there yet. We have an implementation of PHPCR that works on top of Doctrine DBAL to in theory support any RDBMS. Well in reality it already does though the search API only works with MySQL and PostgreSQL. It also doesn't support versioning and ACLs. Oh and if you drop more than 50 documents into it, search performance will start to hurt quickly. Bummer. But there is good news too. The core infrastructure is laid out thanks to Benjamin. Progress on it, while not rocket fast, is continuous thanks to Liip intern Adrien .. as a matter of fact if you go to our demo page it would run all but the admin interface on top of it just fine (yes this includes the cool inline editing!).

I believe that a decently experienced database developer would need a man month to fix up the searching to perform decently unto lets say 1k documents as well as implement simple versioning on top of SQLite. Another 2 man months should enable implementing permissions and support for even more documents, ACLs and a few other goodies. Is this something that a 10 developer company can commit to when offering that simple CMS solution to one of their customers? Obviously not. This takes a few developers who are willing to invest into the future. Until they come along unfortunately PHPCR will continue to not be a viable option for many small CMS projects.