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PHP Foundation formed to fund core developers, vows to pay 'market salaries'

Scripting language's dependency on two contributors sparks worries about its future

A group of 10 companies is forming a new PHP Foundation, with temporary administrators including PHP founder Rasmus Lerdorf.

The trigger for this initiative appears to be the decision of Nikita Popov, a significant PHP contributor, to focus mainly on LLVM in future. Popov, currently a software developer at JetBrains working on the PhpStorm IDE, will be leaving the company from 1 December, according to a post by product marketing manager Roman Pronskiy, which also introduces the new foundation.

Pronskiy's missive references remarks by Joe Watkins, another PHP contributor, in which he argues that "there are certain parts of PHP source code that only a few people understand," and that the future of the language depends on two people, namely Popov and Dmitry Stogov, principal engineer at Zend by Perforce. Stogov is the only person who understands the PHP JIT (just-in-time) compiler, Watkins claims.

If Watkins is correct, it puts PHP, the foundation for countless web sites and applications, in a precarious position, particularly with Popov moving on. JetBrains therefore joined with nine other companies, including Zend, Automattic (stewards of WordPress), Acquia (home of Drupal), and Laravel (which provides a PHP deployment platform on AWS).

Further evidence of underinvestment in PHP infrastructure came in March when its main code repository was breached to add malicious code, though it was quickly spotted and the repository moved to GitHub.

JetBrains will contribute $100,000 per year, with a target for total revenue of $300,000. The foundation will be non-profit, and intends to "pay market salaries to PHP core developers," Pronskiy says. The foundation was started as an Open Collective project, where Open Collective is a platform for community projects.

Lerdorf is listed as one of the first contributors and has agreed to be part of an initial temporary administration, with "the composition of the permanent administration to be decided once the Foundation is up and running," Pronskiy adds in his post.

Funding developers to work on PHP is described as the foundation's "primary task" and any contributor is invited to apply. Language decisions will remain with the PHP request-for-comment process. The JetBrains post is also referenced on the official PHP site. That site is owned by the PHP Group, a group of 10 people which includes Lerdorf.

According to Pronskiy, PHP runs "78 per cent of the Web," though the figure is misleading bearing in mind that this is partly thanks to the huge popularity of WordPress, as well as Drupal and other PHP-based content management systems. PHP is some way down the list of most popular programming languages, 11th on the most recent StackOverflow list, and sixth on the latest GitHub survey, down two places from 2019.

That still represents a huge user base, and the proposed budget of $300,000 seems a small investment towards keeping such a critical platform in good health. ®

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