By day, I'm a Java developer.  Back when I was a systems administrator and a college student, I used PHP quite a bit.  It was my scripting language; my glue; my web platform.  I even have some PHP source published (Github, BitBucket).  When I started with PHP, I wasn't using anything in the way of a framework.  No MVC-bits, no ORM, no serializer, no dependency management.  Nothing.  This is wildly different than my Java development experience, where I regularly depend on things like Maven for dependency management, Guice or Spring for dependency injection, and Camel or Hadoop for an application framework.  Where was this stuff for PHP?

It's There

Some of it was there when I first started with PHP, but a lot of it has been vastly improved since then.  The fact is that I never knew these types of tools existed 10 years ago.  Now that I'm going back and doing some PHP development, I'm rediscovering the PHP ecosystem.  I'm finding some analogs for my familiar Java stack and some new tools that I wish I had elsewhere.


I had read a little bit about the original Symfony a few years back, but I never had much of a chance to use it.  I started writing a few one-off web apps and decided that I wanted something lighter weight than Java.  I remembered dealing with Symfony, so I took at look to see if it was something that would suit me.  Since I'd last used it, Symfony2 had some out.

What an awesome piece of software!

Symfony2 is an absolute pleasure to use.  It just kind of makes sense.  I think the most impressive bit about it is that it ties together so many other tools and does so in a way that allows you to switch out different tools.  It just felt better than the Java stacks I had worked with.


Composer is one of the de facto dependency management systems in the PHP world and is the one used by Symfony2.  In short:  it's simple.  It has a JSON file that lists the library and version dependencies.  Thats it...thats enough to get someone started.  It also has a plugin and scripting capabilities like Maven does, except that it doesn't feel anywhere near as clunky.  It works pretty well and tends to be much less verbose.

Friends of Symfony

The FOS bundles are a pretty awesome addition to Symfony.  Specifically, the rest bundle is top-notch.  It just kind of handles routing, serialization, and validation with relatively little input from me.  Spring does this, and I've used Spring for providing data via a RESTful service before.  While the FOSRest bundle has some documentation problems, it was still much more of a pleasure than dealing with the setup and verbosity of Spring.  Routing in particular is a bit painful with the version of Spring that I used.  Symfony, instead of forcing me to annotate every method with the URL, allows me to extend a controller class and to create the methods that I want.  If I follow a simple naming convention, it just works.  If I want to override the default URL scheme, I can.  It just feels more powerful, and I don't have to wait for a servlet to restart between tests.  I feel like I'm just sitting around and waiting less.


Doctrine is the default ORM packaged with Symfony2.  If you've used Hibernate, then Doctrine should seem familiar.  For the most part, they're very similar.  They both hydrate and persist object graphs; they both have a query language; they both have some sort of caching.  My big beef with Hibernate was its dealings with entity relationships.  I felt like Hibernate or the documentation (I'm not sure which one, and I'm too lazy to find out) made figuring out which entity should (or did) own a relationship to some other entity a pain.  A royal pain.  I remember spending days on that in previous projects.  Perhaps I was being thick back then, but I don't remember having those pains with Doctrine.  I felt like the documentation was much more concise and that relationship management was much easier to follow.


I've spent this entire post gushing over how I've started to really like Symfony and how I'm getting back into PHP development.  The down side?  Performance.  Unlike Java, there's no PHP process that sits around and listens for requests.  Also, threading is not a common practice in PHP.  Threading exists, but few use it.  Each request is a process or comes from a process pool.  Each requests is basically an application restart, which can get expensive and is not great for performance.  Event CLI tools like composer can seem slow at times.

That said, there are solutions on the horizon (I haven't tried any yet).  Tools like Reactor exist and claim to erase this cost.

Its Just...Satisfying

That's it.  For whatever reason, despite some of the (large) down-sides of PHP, working with is has just been satisfying.  I don't know if I'm actually any more productive, but I certainly feel like it.  Anywho, here's to doing more of my side projects in PHP and to seeing its ecosystem continue to evolve and grow!

- bstempi