Rasmus Lerdorf: PHP Frameworks? Think Again.

    David Peterson
    David Peterson

    This is the fist time I have heard Rasmus Lerdorf speak and it was entertaining to say the least. Refreshing would another way to describe it, I enjoy hearing real opinions and not holding back — Rasmus doesn’t hold back.

    Just a short background, Rasmus Lerdorf is the creator of PHP and still continues as a core developer to the PHP project.

    PHP frameworks

    In his address he choose to highlight PHP frameworks (Drupal was not spared) and how poor they are at performance. Not only are they slow, but their "jack-of-all-trades" attitude leads developers down the wrong path by not using what is best for the job. He continues on by stating that PHP developers really need to think about performance for not only scalability reasons but for green reasons. If programs were more efficient it would cut the number of data centres and would reduce energy needs as a result. In our newly emerging age of energy awareness this does become an important aspect and I am glad that he is raising awareness.

    Back to frameworks, he started by discussing a database heavy Twitter mashup that he created. This does a lot of database calls and a lot of behind the scenes work. By hand-tuning it he was able to get on the order of 280 req/sec. By comparison and simple HTML page with nothing but "Hello World" served by Apache is just over 600 req/sec. Okay, stage is set (by the way, this was tested on his local machine).

    Hello World

    How do PHP frameworks score on the "Hello World" test? No database calls, just the framework being used in its native tongue to output Hello World. The results were not too good, one of the fastest got just over 120 req/sec, the slowest was 8 req/sec. This is a dramatic difference and of course highlights his argument for performance. Where did Drupal score? Right above 50 req/sec. So not the greatest, but he did make the point that Drupal is not really a framework in the traditional sense. It is a web content management system that can be quickly extended.

    So, are there any frameworks that don’t suck? Rasmus did mention that he liked CodeIgniter because it is faster, lighter and the least like a framework.

    How to make PHP fast

    "Well, you can’t" was his quick answer. PHP is simply not fast enough to scale to Yahoo levels. PHP was never meant for those sorts of tasks. "Any script based language is simply not fast enough". To get the speed that is necessary for truly massive web systems you have to use compiled C++ extensions to get true, scaleable architecture. That is what Yahoo does and so do many other PHP heavyweights.

    RDF, Semantic Web and the Monkey

    RDF in Drupal. Rasmus made a special point of highlighting the importance of embedding structured metadata into the page. RDFa allows you to embed data into your web pages and also lets you create custom vocabularies, or even better, reuse existing vocabularies. Why would you want to do this? Searchmonkey will go out and index this content and open up a rich search API to allow you to do intelligent queries. Well beyond what is possible with traditional search.

    Along with rich search you also get enhanced search results. I have blogged about this previously so take a look. It is really cool stuff and I will be discussing it in much more detail over the course of the conference.

    Pitching the Semantic Web

    What if all Drupal sites had embedded RDFa tags? Well, for one, Yahoo would be very happy. It would play directly into the strengths of Yahoo’s new Semantic Web strategy. They are trying to do interesting things with semantic data but of course they need data — the classic chicken and egg thing.

    Rasmus mentioned that Yahoo’s semantic data store can scale to the size of the web so the invitation is open.

    The future of Drupal

    This is where my focus at Drupalcon is, driving the adoption of semantic technologies within Drupal — I feel that the momentum here will make that a reality. There is a lot of interest, a Semantic Web BoF session was stacked with people with some cool ideas…

    More to come.