Earlier today, the PHP Framework Interoperability Group accepted two standards recommendations:

  • PSR-1, “Basic Coding Standard”, passed with 17 in favor and none against.

  • PSR-2, “Coding Style Guide”, passed with 13 in favor and 4 against, 1 abstaining.

There’s been a lot of commentary about these proposals over the past two weeks, some of it positive and some of it negative. Here’s a taste:

I’d like to address some of the negative commentary here; I don’t expect to change many minds, but I do want to make sure the comments are answered.

(Full disclosure: I’m a voting member in the group, and have been since its beginning. I did not introduce the original measure that led to PSR-1 and PSR-2; that honor belongs to Klaus Silveira, a non-voting member. However, I did shepherd the PSR-1 and PSR-2 recommendations through the voting process to their acceptance by the group.)

Regarding The Group

Q: What the hell is the “PHP Standards” group? I’ve never heard of it before now.

The name isn’t “PHP Standards” any more; it’s the “Framework Interoperability Group” (FIG). We did start off as “PHP Standards” because, well, we all worked in PHP, but realized pretty quickly that the name was too broad, and renamed it the “Framework Interoperability Group.” (That name turns out to be too narrow, as the group now has representatives from library and CMS projects as well.)

The idea behind the group is for project representatives to talk about the commonalities between our projects and find ways we can work together. Our main audience is each other, but we’re very aware that the rest of the PHP community is watching. If other folks want to adopt what we’re doing, that’s cool, but it’s not what we’re focused on.

Q: Then why is the mailing list called “PHP Standards” instead of “FIG Whatever” ?

The Google Groups mailing list does still bear the original name of “PHP Standards.” It’s a legacy issue. To reduce continued misconception, we need to change that to the reflect the new name, but I don’t know when that will happen. (The Github repository for the group does use the new name.)

Q: Why are you guys so secretive and closed?

Just because you haven’t heard of the list, doesn’t mean we’re keeping it a secret. There’s a lot of discussion groups out there. ;-)

We did start out with a closed list years ago, but we opened it up pretty quickly thereafter. Anyone can join in and make their voice heard.

There’s nothing “closed” about the list or the decision-making process. Anyone who wants to drive the group to open even further is free to join the list and make suggestions for doing so. (I’m looking at you Anthony Ferrara. ;-)

Q: So once I join the list, I can vote on PHP-FIG Standards Recommendations? Sweet!

Sorry, no. The only people who can vote on a measure are the voting members. But anyone can discuss the measures on the list.

Voting is reserved for people who represent a member project. If you want to vote, then participate on the list for a while, and submit your project for membership. If enough other existing members vote in favor of your request, then you’re in and can vote on measures thereafter.

Q: I knew it. You’re a bunch of self-appointed elitist jerks.

“Self-appointed” is probably accurate; “elitist jerks” we can discuss. ;-)

Regardless, the group is currently composed of representatives who have volunteered from the following projects:

  • Agavi
  • CakePHP, CakePHP 2
  • Chisimba, C4
  • Composer, Packagist
  • Doctrine, Doctrine2, et al.
  • Drupal
  • eZ Publish
  • FLOW3
  • Joomla
  • Lithium
  • phpBB
  • PPI, PPI2
  • Propel, Propel 2
  • SabreDAV
  • Solar Framework, Aura Project
  • Symfony, Symfony2
  • Zend Framework, Zend Framework 2
  • Zikula

Some of these projects are large, and some are small (for various definitions of “large” and “small”). They’re all very different from each other in lots of ways, and have very different ideas on how to approach various problems.

Q: Whatever. I don’t need you guys telling me what to do. If I don’t want to follow your so-called “standards” then you can’t make me.

We’re not trying to make anyone do anything. Hell, not even all of the member projects subscribe to all of the standards recommendations. What we’re trying to do is find commonalities between the projects so that we (the members) can all eventually share similar practices and techniques.

Regarding PSR-1 and PSR-2

Q: Who the hell are you to define a “standard” for coding style?

It bears repeating: the primary audience for the recommendations is the group itself. If others in the wider PHP community want to adopt the recommendations, I think that’s a positive outcome, but it’s certainly not mandatory in any way.

Q: Coding style is all personal preferences. How can you make a “standard” out of them?

On one hand, you’re right: a style guide is a collection of preferences. On the other hand, it’s not exactly personal when a lot of different projects run by a lot of different people indpendently arrive at a similar set of rules.

Q: How did you come up with this stupid “standard” ?

Somebody on the list mentioned that it would be nice to have a single style guide for member projects, code in different projects would look similar. He included an initial set of guidelines. Several of the voting members agreed that it was a good idea, and we expanded on that initial set of rules.

After some back-and-forth, someone else brought up the idea of doing a survey among the member projects, to see exactly how many projects are following which points of style. We ended up with 22 projects in the survey. The results made it pretty clear what the majority of projects were using for their standards.

Q: Only 22 projects, out of the whole world of PHP code? That’s not a valid sample size!

Recall that our primary audience is the group itself. If you have the time, energy, and inclination to do a survey of defined coding styles across the entire PHP community and analyze the results using a statistically valid methodology, I will be very interested to see your report on it.

Q: Where’s this survey at? I bet you’re hiding it so nobody can see the results.

Here is the original Google spreadsheet. It is also incorporated into the PSR-2 document as an appendix.

Q: Oh my God, you’re saying we MUST use spaces and not tabs? But I hate spaces!

If the majority of surveyed projects had used tabs, the recommendation would have been to use tabs. A super-majority (two to one!) use spaces, so that’s the recommendation.

Neither tabs nor spaces has any moral superiority over the other. If you hate spaces so much that you simply cannot adjust to them, that’s fine. Your project won’t adhere to PSR-2, but then, nobody says you have to.

Q: Why can’t the rule be “use either tabs or spaces, as long as you’re consistent within a project?”

The focus of these recommendations is not “indivudal projects by themselves.” The focus is on “working with/on lots of different projects.” If one project wants to use tabs, cool; if another wants to use spaces, fine; but if you end up working on both, you want the rules to be the same for each one. Thus, we have to pick something to apply identically across lots of projects at the same time.

Q: The standard is inconsistent: braces in one place sometimes, and in another place at other times. Dumb!

I’ll refer you back to the survey; the brace rules are what the majority of member projects have already picked for themselves. (A minority of projects consistently put braces on the same line, and a different minority consistently put braces on the next line, but there was no majority that consistently put them in the same place.)

Q: Wait, you mean the rules are defined by a survey, and there’s no design involved at all? Brain-dead!

The “design” portion happened in the individual member projects. The survey identified common elements of design across those projects. The follow-up discussions refined the broad commonalities, and the proposal codified them.

Q: There are lots of other standards out there. Why not just pick one of those?

In a way, we did, although in a very roundabout way. The survey revealed that the majority of member projects are already adhering to a large subset of the PEAR standard (itself the oldest existing common standard in PHP land.)


If you have other questions or comments, please leave them below. I know this kind of topic inflames passion, so please, follow the example of the FIG members: be civil and constructive. I reserve the right to police comments according to my own whims. ;-)

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