PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor (or simply PHP) is a general-purpose programming language originally designed for web development. It was originally created by Rasmus Lerdorf in 1994; the PHP reference implementation is now produced by The PHP Group. PHP originally stood for Personal Home Page, but it now stands for the recursive initialism PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor.
PHP code may be executed with a command line interface (CLI), embedded into HTML code, or it can be used in combination with various web template systems, web content management systems, and web frameworks. PHP code is usually processed by a PHP interpreter implemented as a module in a web server or as a Common Gateway Interface (CGI) executable. The web server combines the results of the interpreted and executed PHP code, which may be any type of data, including images, with the generated web page. PHP can be used for many programming tasks outside of the web context, such as standalone graphical applications and robotic drone control.
The standard PHP interpreter, powered by the Zend Engine, is free software released under the PHP License. PHP has been widely ported and can be deployed on most web servers on almost every operating system and platform, free of charge.
The PHP language evolved without a written formal specification or standard until 2014, with the original implementation acting as the de facto standard which other implementations aimed to follow. Since 2014, work has gone on to create a formal PHP specification.
The original, only complete and most widely used PHP implementation is powered by the Zend Engine and known simply as PHP. To disambiguate it from other implementations, it is sometimes unofficially called “Zend PHP”. The Zend Engine compiles PHP source code on-the-fly into an internal format that it can execute, thus it works as an interpreter. It is also the “reference implementation” of PHP, as PHP has no formal specification, and so the semantics of Zend PHP define the semantics of PHP. Due to the complex and nuanced semantics of PHP, defined by how Zend works, it is difficult for competing implementations to offer complete compatibility.
PHP’s single-request-per-script-execution model, and the fact the Zend Engine is an interpreter, leads to inefficiency; as a result, various products have been developed to help improve PHP performance. In order to speed up execution time and not have to compile the PHP source code every time the web page is accessed, PHP scripts can also be deployed in the PHP engine’s internal format by using an opcode cache, which works by caching the compiled form of a PHP script (opcodes) in shared memory to avoid the overhead of parsing and compiling the code every time the script runs. An opcode cache, Zend Opcache, is built into PHP since version 5.5. Another example of a widely used opcode cache is the Alternative PHP Cache (APC), which is available as a PECL extension.
While Zend PHP is still the most popular implementation, several other implementations have been developed. Some of these are compilers or support JIT compilation, and hence offer performance benefits over Zend PHP at the expense of lacking full PHP compatibility. Alternative implementations include the following:
HHVM (HipHop Virtual Machine) – developed at Facebook and available as open source, it converts PHP code into a high-level bytecode (commonly known as an intermediate language), which is then translated into x86-64 machine code dynamically at runtime by a just-in-time (JIT) compiler, resulting in up to 6× performance improvements. However, since version 7.2 Zend has outperformed HHVM, and HHVM 3.24 is the last version to officially support PHP.
Parrot – a virtual machine designed to run dynamic languages efficiently; Pipp transforms the PHP source code into the Parrot intermediate representation, which is then translated into the Parrot’s bytecode and executed by the virtual machine.
Phalanger – compiles PHP into Common Intermediate Language (CIL) bytecode
Quercus – compiles PHP into Java bytecode
HipHop – developed at Facebook and available as open source, it transforms the PHP scripts into C++ code and then compiles the resulting code, reducing the server load up to 50%. In early 2013, Facebook deprecated it in favor of HHVM due to multiple reasons, including deployment difficulties and lack of support for the whole PHP language, including the create_function() and eval() constructs.
PHP is free software released under the PHP License, which stipulates that:
Products derived from this software may not be called “PHP”, nor may “PHP” appear in their name, without prior written permission from firstname.lastname@example.org. You may indicate that your software works in conjunction with PHP by saying “Foo for PHP” instead of calling it “PHP Foo” or “phpfoo”.
This restriction on use of “PHP” makes the PHP License incompatible with the General Public License (GPL), while the Zend License is incompatible due to an advertising clause similar to that of the original BSD license.