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At last after a decent debate about the name of the next major version .The discussion was about calling it PHP 6 or PHP 7. The arguments for each of the proposals were presented in a RFC document called Name of the Next PHP Release.The reason why this question even comes up, is that there has been a previous attempt for a new major version, which was initated in 2005 and abandoned in 2010 due to difficulties in the Unicode implementation. Apart from language-integrated Unicode support, most features added for that version were integrated either in PHP 5.3 or PHP 5.4.
This previous attempt for a new major version was also developed under the name of PHP 6 and as such there are various resources referring to it, including a number of books. There is concern that there might be confusion between the abandoned previous attempt and the work that is currently happening.
The whole feature set for PHP 7 is not yet defined. Some features we can already talk about because they are already being implemented. Others we can only speculate based on reasonable guesses.
The latest version of PHP has released with a huge improvement in the performance.The main goal of PHPNG was to bring performance improvements that could at least match what Facebook HHVM provides.
Zeev Suraski of Zend has written an article on which he openly admits that they take HHVM as a competitor of (the Zend Engine based) PHP. This just confirms that the release of HHVM and then Facebook Hack triggered this great interest of Zend to continue to provide the leading implementation of PHP.
On that article he also demonstrates how far PHPNG branch has evolved in terms of performance improvements.
According to Dmitry Stogov of Zend, the development cycle of PHPNG was started from the motivation to research the implementation of a JIT engine for the Zend Engine based PHP.
A JIT engine can dynamically compile Zend opcodes into native machine code that eventually would make the code run faster next time it is run.
Nikita Propov proposed , the implementation of the generation of an Abstract Syntax Tree , as an intermediary step for the PHP compilation process.
An AST would provide several advantages that he described in his proposals, including the potential for more optimizations that would make PHP run even faster.
In the latest proposal he describes the possibility to expose the AST to PHP extensions and userland applications. That could open space for more interesting tools like static code analyzers which are often useful to detect bugs or potential source level optimizations of your PHP code.
Nikita already provided a patch to implement AST support on top of the PHPNG branch.
This seems to be an important stemp to implement the EVENT LOOP. An event loop is part of the code that takes care of handling events related with I/O operations and other asynchronous tasks that may be going on in parallel, like accesses to files, network, databases, timers, etc..
The programmers may not get the performance improvementof just by enabling the support for asynchronous programming. Since Facebook HACK has successfully step into it there is no surprise from the PHP too.
Standalone multi-threading make the PHP more scalable.PHP can already be run from multi-threaded Web servers like ngynx, lighttpd or even Apache in worker mode, however that is not the same as having PHP run on its own multi-threading Web server.
This allow PHP use a single pool of database connections, thus minimizing the number of simultaneous database connections opened during access peaks.
HHVM can already be run as a standalone multi-threading Web server since the days when the project was called HipHop PHP compiler.
This allowed Facebook to reduce bit of server machines needed to handle the high load of accesses that they have.
Leaving all the above points , most of the PHP programmers and the well wishers are really curious about the release date of the new version. As normal there are various opinions and surveys. The most famous says the release would be on 2016.