Bitcatcha's content is reader-supported. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

PHP Version History: A Look Back and A Look Ahead

Timothy Shim
May 25, 2024


PHP is one of the most widely used programming languages today, powering over 77% of all websites. The language has undergone many changes since its creation in 1994, evolving from a simple set of scripts to a powerful, object-oriented language for developing dynamic web applications.


In this article, we will look back at the history of PHP and its evolution over the years and discuss what the future may hold for this popular language.



The Early Years Of PHP


PHP code

PHP evolved from a basic tool into a comprehensive language destined for greatness.


PHP, which stands for “Hypertext Preprocessor,” was created by Rasmus Lerdorf in 1994 as a collection of Common Gateway Interface (CGI) scripts for tracking visitors to his personal website.


Originally named “Personal Home Page Tools,” the scripts were written in the C programming language and designed to help Lerdorf track who visited his site and how they used it.


In 1995, Lerdorf released the code as an open-source project, allowing other developers to contribute to its development. Over the next few years, the language began to gain popularity as more and more developers discovered its ease of use and flexibility for building dynamic web pages.



How PHP Rose In Prominence In Web Development


In 1997, two developers, Andi Gutmans and Zeev Suraski, rewrote the PHP codebase from scratch to create PHP 3, a new language version that added many new features, including object-oriented programming support and greatly expanded the language’s capabilities.


In 2000, the next major release of PHP, PHP 4, was launched. This language version significantly improved over PHP 3, adding support for many new features and improving performance. PHP 4 included the Zend Engine, significantly improving the language’s performance and making it much faster than previous versions.


During this time, PHP emerged as one of the most popular programming languages for web development, and many developers began to build robust and complex web applications using the language.



The Arrival Of PHP 5


In 2004, PHP 5 was released, marking a significant milestone in the language’s evolution. This version of PHP introduced many new features, including support for exception handling, improved support for object-oriented programming, and better XML integration.


PHP 5 also introduced the concept of “namespaces,” which allowed developers to organize their code more effectively and avoid naming conflicts between different components of their applications.


This was a significant improvement over previous versions of PHP, which needed this feature and made it easier to manage complex applications.



PHP Today: Building the Web on PHP 7 and 8


Laravel Nova

Frameworks like Laravel Nova help developers build PHP applications faster. (Credit: Laravel)


The latest versions of PHP, PHP 7 and 8, have introduced several new features and improvements, making it an even more powerful tool for web developers.


PHP 7: Faster and more efficient


PHP 7, released in 2015, was a major update to the language. It introduced significant performance improvements over previous versions, making it faster and more efficient. Some of the key features of PHP 7 include:


  • Improved performance
    PHP 7 is significantly faster than previous versions, with up to twice the speed and 50% better memory usage.
  • Scalar type declarations
    PHP 7 introduced the ability to declare scalar types (such as integers, floats, and strings) in function arguments and return values. This helps to improve the readability and maintainability of code.
  • Return type declarations
    PHP 7 also introduced the ability to declare return types for functions. This helps to ensure that functions return the expected data type, reducing the likelihood of bugs and errors.
  • Error handling improvements
    PHP 7 introduced several new error handling functions and improved the handling of fatal errors. This makes it easier for developers to debug and troubleshoot their code.


These improvements have made PHP 7 a popular choice for web developers, with many websites and applications built using this language version.


PHP 8: New features and improvements


PHP 8, released in November 2020, builds on the improvements introduced in PHP 7 and introduces several new features and improvements. Some of the key features of PHP 8 include:


  • Just-In-Time (JIT) compiler
    PHP 8 introduces a new JIT compiler that improves performance even further by dynamically compiling code at runtime.
  • Union types
    PHP 8 introduces the ability to declare union types, which allows developers to specify that a variable can hold multiple data types.
  • Named arguments
    PHP 8 introduces named arguments, which allows developers to specify arguments by name rather than by position. This makes it easier to understand and maintain code.
  • Attributes
    PHP 8 introduces attributes, which are annotations that can be applied to functions, classes, and properties. This provides a flexible way to add metadata to code.


PHP 7 and 8 are potent tools for building the web. They provide a flexible and efficient language that can be used to build a wide range of applications, from simple websites to complex web applications.


One of the most popular uses of PHP today is for building content management systems (CMS) and e-commerce platforms. Many popular CMS platforms, such as WordPress and Drupal, are built on PHP and use it to power their core functionality. Similarly, many e-commerce platforms, such as Magento and WooCommerce, are built on PHP and use it to handle the complex logic of online shopping.


In addition to CMS and eCommerce platforms, PHP is commonly used to build web applications such as social networks, online forums, and project management tools. Its flexibility and ease of use make it an ideal choice for these applications, which often require complex data processing.



Challenges Faced By The PHP Community


The PHP community has faced various challenges over the years, from issues with the language to external factors like competition from other programming languages and frameworks.


Some of the critical challenges the PHP community has faced include:


  1. Security issues
    session hijacking

    PHP applications can be vulnerable to session hijacking. (Credit: Wikitechy)

    One of the main challenges the PHP community faces is security. PHP has a reputation for being less secure than other programming languages due to its history of vulnerabilities and exploits.
    While the language has improved over the years, security remains a concern for many developers, and there are still security breaches and attacks on PHP-based applications.

  2. Performance issues
    Another challenge faced by the PHP community is performance. While PHP has made significant improvements in recent years, it still lags behind other programming languages in terms of performance.
    This can concern developers who need to build high-performance applications or are working with large datasets.
  3. Competition from other programming languages
    PHP faces competition from other programming languages and frameworks, such as Python, Ruby, and Node.js. These languages offer different features and benefits, and developers may choose them over PHP depending on their specific needs and preferences.
  4. Lack of standardization
    Another challenge the PHP community faces is the need for more standardization. While the language itself is standardized, many different frameworks, libraries, and tools are available for PHP, and they can vary widely in terms of syntax and functionality.
    This can make it difficult for developers to work with different PHP projects, especially if they are unfamiliar with the tools and frameworks used.
  5. Difficulty in scaling
    Scaling can also be a challenge for PHP-based applications. While many tools and frameworks are available for scaling PHP applications, it can be a complex and time-consuming process, requiring careful planning and optimization.
  6. Difficulty in finding qualified developers
    Finally, finding qualified PHP developers can be challenging for companies and organizations relying on the language. While PHP is widely used, it may be less popular among younger developers, who may be more interested in newer programming languages and frameworks.
    Despite these challenges, the PHP community continues to thrive, with millions of developers using the language for various applications. With ongoing improvements to the language and the tools available for building PHP-based applications, the future looks bright for the PHP community.



Recommended Web Hosts Offering PHP 7 or PHP 8



A2 Hosting offers everything from PHP 4.4 to 8.1.


Most web hosting companies offer customers several PHP versions. While most older releases are seldom provided, most current and new PHP versions like 7 and 8 are widely supported. Some good web hosts to consider for PHP support include;


  • Bluehost
    Bluehost is a famous web hosting company that offers PHP 7 and 8 on their shared hosting plans. They also provide a simple one-click installation process for PHP applications like WordPress.
  • Hostinger
    Hostinger is a budget-friendly web hosting company that offers PHP 7 and 8 on all their hosting plans. They also provide a custom control panel that allows users to manage their PHP settings and extensions.
  • A2 Hosting
    A2 Hosting is known for its fast and reliable hosting services, and they offer PHP 7 and 8 on all their hosting plans. They also provide various PHP optimization tools, such as caching and opcode optimization.



The Road Ahead for PHP


As PHP evolves, it will likely remain a popular web development choice. The language is constantly updated, with new features and improvements added to each release.


One area where PHP is likely to continue to grow is in the development of APIs and microservices. As more and more applications move to the cloud and become distributed across different servers and platforms, the need for APIs that can connect them becomes increasingly important.


Another area where PHP is likely to continue to grow is in the development of machine learning and artificial intelligence applications. As these applications become more widespread and essential, the need for a flexible and easy-to-use programming language like PHP will only increase.