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An Earth-shaking release like PHP 7.0 is tough to follow-up, and at first glance, the upcoming PHP 7.1 release appears, shall we say, not as exciting as the last. But don’t let that damper your enthusiasm, for the PHP 7 line is indicative of a language reaching a state of maturity and stability, and what we have with 7.1 is a cautious incremental release that moves things forward at a pace befitting this.

Indeed, #internals is full of exciting RFCs mapping future courses that we’d love to tinker with today, but are not decidedly not ready for prime-time. As much as we like new toys, we spend enough time staring down large PHP codebases that we’re excited by many of the incremental improvements found in 7.1.

Let’s run through those areas of improvement that have caught our eye.

Return Types

The addition of Return Types in 7.0 has gone a long way toward solidifying our APIs, moving vital interface parameters out of documentation and into the code, where the parser can enforce what was previously a suggestion. 7.1 brings two subtle but useful refinements of this system.

Void Return Types allow you to specify a function that is expected to return literally nothing, whereas before you would omit the return type and specify void in the documentation block accompanying the function.

Nullable Types allow for returns that are either a specified type or a null, much as you might specify

ObjectType $variable = null

upon input, allowing either that type or nothing at all. This is one that we’re looking forward to in particular, allowing for more flexibility in the construction of cohesive interfaces.

Array Unpacking

Having worked extensively with ES6 and having become very used to its destructuring syntax, this is an area of welcome improvement.

First is a more concise notation, optionally replacing the use of the list keyword, bringing things more in line with the square-bracket array syntax we’ve enjoyed since 5.4.

Second, the allowance of keys within the list construct allow properties to be extracted by name, much as we’ve come to expect on the JavaScript side.

Iterable Pseudo-Type

PHP has long had the Traversable interface, allowing iterable objects to be treated relatively interchangeably and foreachd without regard to specifics, much as you’d treat an array. Except array itself is not an object, and could not be interchanged with a Traversable. You could specify an iterable object or an array, but not both at once.

7.1 resolves this with Iterable, nicely encompassing array primitives and iterable objects under a single umbrella. It’s a small change that brings considerable flexibility to your API.

Closures from Callables

Over the past couple years, our framework has come to be increasingly driven by callbacks, while avoiding some of the common pitfalls through sensible class-based organization (patterns our ES6 and PHP7 codebases have increasingly come to share.)

However, JavaScript objects are wide open and lack a concept of private or protected members. Previously, class-bound callables we wished to pass around had to be marked public in our PHP codebase, even when it would be appropriate to limit and allow the parent class to dispense access.

This could be accomplished with hacky workarounds that we’d rather not use in production, but now we have a language construct to do so in a safe way.

… and more!

Head over to php.net for an exhaustive list, and tell us what you’re looking forward to in the comments.

Finally, remember that the PHP development process is a remarkably open and democratic one, and that you too can get involved and help shape the language’s future.

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