Yahoo Goes PHP in Open Source Embrace

Mega portal Yahoo has switched to the PHP scripting
language for its back-end programming, a decision that’s sure to bring smiles
to the faces of open-source advocates.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo is undergoing a switch from a proprietary
system written in C/C++ to PHP for its backend scripting, according to a company engineer in a case study presented this week at the PHPCon 2002 conference.

Michael Radwin, who is co-leading the PHP crusade at Yahoo, told the
conference that Yahoo’s size and complicate server-side software made the
switch to PHP a no-brainer, pointing to the huge savings cost associated
with migrating to an open-source platform.

He said Yahoo, which serves more than 1.5 billion page views a day, had
already adopted open-source software like Perl , Apache
and FreeBSD to run its 74 Web properties,
which includes 25 international sites.

Back in 1994, when Yahoo was launched, Radwin said free technologies like
PHP did not scale and were considered too “immature” to run large, complex
destinations. However, the growth of the open-source movement has spurred a
change in thinking because languages like PHP aid performance and
integration, he explained.

The Apache-backed PHP project, which was created in 1995 by Rasmus Lerdorf,
has seen startling usage growth
since 1999 and its adoption by a high-profile Web property like Yahoo has
sent tongues wagging in the developer community.

Because PHP is embedded within tags, code writers can jump between HTML
and PHP (similar to ASP and Cold Fusion) instead of having to
rely on heavy amounts of code to output HTML. PHP is shipped standard with
a number of Web servers, including RedHat Linux.

Radwin, who has worked as a Yahoo engineer since 1998, said proprietary
scripting language became a “pain in the neck to maintain and use” and was
difficult to integrate with third-party software. He said coding in C++
was too cumbersome and prone to buffer overflows, making it a
security risk for Yahoo.

Yahoo, which has felt the financial crunch from the online advertising
recession and has been dabbling with paid services to stem the flow of red
ink, said cost savings drove the PHP migration plan.

“Yahoo is a cheap company. (We) can’t afford to waste engineering resources
(on proprietary coding),” Radwin said, adding that the company first moved
to embrace open-source technology back in 1996 when it replaced the Filo
server with Apache. Since then, the company has moved some of its database
management from Oracle to the open-source MySQL.

“Server-side languages is the natural next step,” Radwin told the
conference, touting improved features, performance and integration within
PHP. Yahoo chose PHP ahead of alternatives like Perl, ASP or Cold Fusion
mostly because it was designed for server side Web scripting and because of
the large, open-source developer community that has helped improve the
integration and training of software engineers.

He said “simple and clear syntax” in the PHP language fit perfectly with
Yahoo’s plans, adding that tests done by the portal were very successful.

Yahoo has already started using PHP for new properties, like the remember.yahoo.com site which was created
as a September 11 tribute. Other early adopters of PHP at Yahoo included
the PayDirect Site, the Classifieds – “Express” premium service, the
personalized Yahoo News feature and almost the entire Yahoo Travel site.

Radwin said the migration of existing sites would be slow and gradual.
“We have no plans to rewrite the entire site,” he said. Yahoo would spend
the coming months mixing PHP, Apache DSOs, yScript1 and yScript2 pages, he
said.

While the Yahoo move is sure to win friends within the open source
community, industry watchers worry the cost to migrate everything to PHP
could be prohibitive.

Yahoo officials could not be reached to comment on the overall cost of the
migration but some analysts are estimating the cost to run into millions of
dollars.

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