5 things about PHP 5.3 that make me smile

30 Jun 2009

Archive Notice: This post is an archive post from my older blog. Comments are disabled and the information contained in it may no longer be accurate.

Rest assured. Soon I will be writing “Things about PHP 5.3 that make me cringe” but for now I sing the praises of the latest release of PHP that that came out today. I’ve been playing with the new release for months and there are indeed many good things about it and many of them have been a long time coming.

The other day I was reading the release notes and I couldn’t help but smile.

1. New native MySQL driver

I’m saving the best for last. So bear with me. Lets get through the small grins before we get to the big toothy ones (or you can read ahead… you’re choice). PHP 5.3 ships with a new MySQL driver called mysqlnd. A database driver is responsible for making the actually connection from PHP to MySQL. The previous MySQL driver had some flaws. For one, it was license in a way that was not compatible with the PHP license. The new MySQL Native Driver has a more amicable license (which is big in the open source world). It also adds some experimental functionality including improved persistent connections. There is also a down side but that is for another post.

2. Host specific PHP INI configurations

I previously worked on a hosted CMS and web publishing tool that had dozens of virtual hosts but only one php.ini. The new functionality allows to section off your PHP configuration to have a different configuration for every host or file path. I haven’t tried this one yet so I’m not sure how well it works. Try it out for yourself. There is a comment on PHP.net right now saying that it only works for CGI PHP and not for the CLI implementation.

error_reporting = E_ALL
display_errors = On

Example from the PHP documentation.

3. Shortcut ternary operator

I had never considered this before. However, this saves a lot of time for rather repetitive code. Consider these three identical code snipits.

if ( $foo ) $x = $foo;
else $x = $bar;
$x = ( $foo ? $foo : $bar );
$x = ( $foo ?: $bar );

The third method is the new shortcut. It reads simply: “if foo than foo else bar.” I am still waiting for the first time for this to be useful. The biggest issue I see is that in the above example $foo cannot legitimately be anything that evaluates to false. As a result it is best used for variables that should be non-empty strings or non-zero numbers.

4. Date math

The DateTime class now has several new methods in it for dealing with date arithmetic. It puts an end to manually converting to timestamps and back to dates again. It works very simply:

$date = new DateTime('2009-06-30 09:00:00');
$date->sub('P5D'); // Subtract five days
echo $data->diff( new DateTime() )->format('%d').' days ago';

The new DateTime methods and the new DateInterval class (returned from and passed to math functions) aren’t very well documented because they are so new. It is worth noting that the format methods are different in the two classes. Intervals require a percentage (%) in front of placeholders. Watch out for that.

5. Closures

Closures are one of the best parts of PHP 5.3. At first I wasn’t very excited about them. I use closures constantly in Javascript but in a stateless HTTP request situation they appear less useful. But then I got into it. They are improved methods of dealing with lambda-functions. In other words, they are functions that are nameless and can be assigned to variables. In actuality they are classes.

$y = 10;
$x = function($number) use ( &$y ) {
  return $number * $y;
$y = 100;
echo $x(8); // Output: 800

This is the point at which a lot of PHP programmers would pause. Did I say they are classes? Since when can you call a class like it was a function? Since PHP 5.3 you can! You do it by defining the __invoke magic method. Like so:

class testInvoke {
  public function __invoke( $x ) { echo "Hello $x"; }
$x = new TestInvoke();
echo $x('world'); // outputs "Hello World"

This is by far one of the coolest new features in PHP 5.3. It opens a whole new world of possibilities for clean / manageable code.

Bonus Things

5.1. New magic method for matching calls to static methods

For a while now we have been able to define the magic method __call in our classes that will be executed if you try to call a method in a class instance that does not exist. Now the __callStatic method does the same thing only for methods of static classes.

5.2. Late static binding

Late static binding is a long time coming. In fact, this has tripped me up in several projects. In simplest terms late binding is waiting to determine what object a method or member variable belongs to until it is called. Late static binding in PHP, as its name indicates, applies this concept to static methods and members variables in PHP. The PHP.net website bests describes in on the manual page for late static binding.


Here is a tip for everyone: if you are developing open source PHP software you should develop it in E_STRICT mode. This new E_DEPRECATED flag is actually part of E_ALL which sends a strong message that you shouldn’t be using these depreciated functions. I am a huge fan of anything that helps us write better code.