Strange Loop

Taking PHP Seriously

PHP is as often maligned as it is widely used. Conventional wisdom is that PHP is an inferior language, whose popularity is due solely to legacy effects. The success of projects written in PHP, according to this framing, proves only that with enough thrust, even pigs can fly.

This point of view glosses over some critical details. PHP has made unusual choices in the design space of programmer workflow, concurrency, and shared state. Even relative to its peer dynamic languages, these choices increase developer efficiency, reduce the opportunity for bugs, and limit the cost of bugs that slip through. These benefits have actively contributed to the technical and social success of Facebook, WordPress, MediaWiki, Drupal, and many other PHP software efforts.

This talk examines the strengths that, whether by design or accident, have made PHP a dominant language in its niche. Even if you never use PHP, its success holds lessons for other environments. We will also highlight Facebook's attempts at remedying the inconsistencies and misfeatures in the core language, while maintaining PHP's strengths.

Keith Adams

Keith Adams


Keith Adams is a Virtual Machinist at Facebook. He is one of the initial designers and implementers of HHVM, the open source PHP JIT that runs Facebook's front-end. Through a series of mostly fortunate events, Keith became a founding member of The I-can't-believe-I'm-a-PHP-advocate Club. Before working at Facebook, Keith worked on VMware's virtual machine monitor. He holds a B.Sc. in Computer Science from Brown University.