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Moving on to PHP 7

Despite attracting lot of criticism in the past, PHP seems to have become one of the most popular programming languages for most web development companies today. In fact, it powers over 80 percent of sites on the Internet. Moreover, several PHP versions have been released that has helped in expanding the PHP language and provide more capabilities to fulfill web development needs. And now, the latest PHP version 7 helps add more power to the web programming language and opens new avenues for a web development company – in terms of functionality and performance.

The latest PHP version was released in December 2015 and offers some fantastic new features. Through this post, I’ll help you get answers to some important questions about PHP 7.

php 7

What Has Happened to PHP 6?

Considering that we’ve been working on PHP 5+ versions till date, possibly you may think what happened to PHP version 6. The PHP community did start to work on PHP 6, but the project got stalled when the Unicode issues couldn’t be solved in version 6. With passing time, the reputation of PHP 6 status became worse to an extent that the community no longer wanted to use the same name for new PHP versions. And so, the upgrade of PHP 5.6 version was called as PHP 7. You can find several other reasons that will make you understand the reasons as to why you should skip version 6 into PHP 7.

What Led to the Development Of PHP 7?

More and more people today spend most of their time online, and most importantly, most of them use mobile devices to access the Internet. However, the majority of mobile users tend to use slow network connections. And so, it is crucial for a website running on any server to be fast enough to respond quickly to user requests. Many studies conclude that “40 percent users leave a site if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.” This clearly suggests that you should consider building a site or application with increased performance.

Plenty of critical changes have been made to the new PHP version that helps boost the performance of the websites built using the language. What’s More? PHP 7 is said to offer 100 percent improvement in how a web solution performs in terms of speed compared to PHP 5.6.

Besides performance speed, another crucial factor that motivated the PHP community to develop something like PHP 7 is the increase in demand for scripting languages that run in a more efficient manner. There were two factors that drove the need for running efficiently, such as:

  • the necessity to cut down costs.
  • the need to restrict power consumption for protecting the environment.

Also, in comparison to PHP version 5.6, the new PHP version release put less load on the server.

What to Expect From PHP 7?

So, now that we have talked about some key facts that led to the development of the new PHP 7 version, let us now discuss in detail what all new features the latest PHP version offers:

Syntax Changes

1) Return Type Declaration

This is indeed one of the most commonly used features of most of the web programming languages. And now, the ‘Return Types’ feature has also been introduced to PHP, enabling programmers to determine which type of variable any function should return. When working with PHP 7, the return type is required to be defined after the closing parenthesis of an argument list as follows:

function func1(): array {

return [];


In the above example code, a function with the name func1 is specified that is returning an array. However, in the previous PHP 5.6 version, programmers did not have any option to specify the return type. And so, anyone reading the code in PHP 5.6 can’t know what the function “func1” will return as output. But, declaring return types explicitly makes the reading code a lot easier. This proves quite useful during code debugging or when you’re working with someone else’s code.

2) Null coalescing operator

In order to fulfill your need to using a ternary operator in conjunction with isset(), the null coalescing operator (??) has been added in new PHP version. The operator fetch and returns its first operand if it exists (and it’s value is not NULL); Or else it returns the second operand. Here’s an example of how the null coalescing operator is used in a code snippet:


// Help get the value of $_GET[‘newuser’] and returns ‘nobody’

// if it does not exist.

$username = $_GET[‘newuser’] ?? ‘nobody’;

// This is equivalent to:

$username = isset($_GET[‘newuser’]) ? $_GET[‘newuser’] : ‘nobody’;

// Coalescing chaining: this will return the first

// defined value out of $_GET[‘newuser’], $_POST[‘newuser’], and

// ‘nobody’.

$username = $_GET[‘newuser’] ?? $_POST[‘newuser’] ?? ‘nobody’;



3) Spaceship Operator

Another exciting syntax change in PHP 7 is the spaceship operator. The operator is used for comparing two expressions in a quick and convenient manner. The spaceship operator is declared as shown in the following line of code:

a <=> b

What does this mean?

  • The above expression will return -1 in case a is less than b
  • The above expression will return 0 in case a is equal to b
  • The above expression will return 1 in case a is greater than b

The spaceship operator requires much less typing when comparing variables than the traditional operators – like less than (<), greater than (>), equal to (==), etc. – do when used in code for multiple tests.

Some other minor changes to the syntax made in PHP 7 over PHP 5.6 are:

  • The traditional error handling method has been substituted with object-oriented exceptions. Such a change will help developers in locating bugs in their code and fixing them a lot easier.
  • The syntax for both foreach statement and variable dereferencing has changed.
  • The list() operator won’t be supporting strings when working on a project in PHP 7.
  • A bug fund in PHP 5.6 that let the switch statement have multiple default classes, made the code behave in an unpredictable manner. But, this bug has been resolved in PHP 7.

Availability of Useful Tools

Many helpful tools have emerged with the release of PHP 7. Let’s have a glimpse of some of the most important tools:

1) PhpStorm

PhpStorm helps in making any PHP website or application highly productive. The tool comes with several features, most importantly, it comes with ‘Intelligent Coding Assistance’ that helps in writing easy to maintain and clean code.

2) Exakat

Are you having problem analyzing which PHP version your website or application supports? Well that won’t be a problem anymore with the help of Exakat. This tool provides a code analyzer that works for PHP 4 or higher versions. It helps in checking version compliance, locate security risks, and much more.

3) Vagrant

If you want to test many different versions of PHP, then adding a Vagrant box will come in handy for you.

Final Words

PHP 7 happens to be the most significant update compared to the older PHP versions. And so, upgrading your existing PHP version to the latest PHP 7 might prove challenging to you. But once you have successfully completed the update process, you can expect to enjoy some great benefits. Here are a few things to take into consideration when performing the upgrade:

  • Ensure that all the libraries used in your project are being made available for PHP 7 as well. But in case any library do not support PHP7, then you should not proceed with the upgrade until you can remove the dependence on those libraries.
  • You won’t face any issue upgrading your code to PHP 7 if it is written in PHP 5.5 or PHP 5.6. But, in case you need to update the code from PHP 4, then make sure to familiarize yourself with the syntax changes. That’s because many changes implemented to the syntax were not introduced in PHP 4.

Lastly, it is recommended that you must include unit and integration tests when upgrading your current PHP version to version 7. Doing so, will help you catch any little issues within your application before becoming bugs in the live version of your app.

Author bio :

Ella Cooper works in a leading web development company as a programmer. Apart from programming she has a penchant for writing and thus she shares her development experience through blogging.