WordPress Removes HHVM from Testing Infrastructure

Before the release of PHP 7 in 2015, many WordPress managed hosting companies looked to Facebook’s HHVM to provide better performance. Pagely, WP Engine, and SiteGround added HHVM hosting options in 2014 and early 2015. However, PHP 7 performance gains have been enough to preclude wider HHVM adoption.

WordPress core developer John Blackbourn announced yesterday that the project has removed HHVM support in the Travis test suite after April 2017 stats showed a mere several dozen WordPress websites running on HHVM. WordPress never officially supported HHVM but Scott Taylor made many improvements to core for better HHVM compatibility three years ago. Blackbourn clarified on Slack that WordPress is not removing this support but rather will no longer include HHVM in its testing infrastructure.

“Support for HHVM itself hasn’t been dropped, but support for testing WordPress on HHVM has been dropped,” Blackbourn said. “HHVM usage is so minuscule (literally in the dozens according to update stats) that we can’t warrant the time needed to ensure the test infrastructure works.”

The change isn’t likely to affect too many developers, but it’s an important milestone that signifies how well PHP 7 has been performing for sites that have switched. Blackbourn suggests those running WordPress on HHVM should consider switching to PHP 7+, as it is “far more widely supported and tested, and offers all of the memory and performance benefits that HHVM pushed forward.”

The open source MongoDB project also announced yesterday that it will no longer be supporting its HHVM driver, saying it no longer makes good use of contributors’ engineering time.

“At the start of 2015 we began work on an HHVM driver for MongoDB, as part of our project to renew our PHP driver,” Derick Rethans, MongoDB engineer and author of Xdebug, said. “Back then, HHVM was in its ascendancy and outperforming PHP 5.6 two to one. With such a huge performance difference it was reasonable to assume that many users would be switching over…With PHP 7 released, we saw very little use of the HHVM driver for MongoDB.”

These announcements may be the start of more open source projects giving HHVM compatibility a lower priority. On the ticket for removing HHVM from the test matrix on Travis, John Blackbourn thanked HHVM for its importance in helping move PHP forward.

“The PHP world owes a lot to HHVM for helping it push it forward,” Blackbourn said. “Without HHVM, maybe we wouldn’t have seen such incredible performance gains in PHP 7.”

7 Comments


  1. “The PHP world owes a lot to HHVM for helping it push it forward,” Blackbourn said. “Without HHVM, maybe we wouldn’t have seen such incredible performance gains in PHP 7.”

    While true, it is a damn shame that PHP has not adopted the many language improvements of Hack language when compared with PHP 7.x. :-(

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  2. I will stick to HHVM nonetheless.

    It includes some features that won’t be included in PHP for the forseeable future, compiled code is an example.

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  3. I think it likely that the subset of users who use HHVM are the same ones that forgo the traditional core update processes and rely on tools like Git/Composer. Meaning their usage data does not get sent to wp.org servers. I can’t think of any other reason usage would truly be in the “dozens”.

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    1. Exactly, especially when you make use of the compilation feature I mentioned above.

      Also, HHVM has 14560 stars on GitHub, which would imply some solid usage.

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      1. HHVM had its moment in the sun but Facebook never added the developers to increase compatibility with the outside world. We had some big sites on HHVM and the ongoing small, niggling but site crippling bugs drove us back into the waiting and friendly arms of true open source PHP 7.

        HHVM quick rise and demise in the WordPress world is a case study in how not to take over an open source niche (benign neglect).

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      2. The main reason it didn’t stick further is that the regular hosts didn’t adopt it, only a few managed hosts launched some betas. A majority of them are still on outdated PHP versions and will never go the HHVM route.

        Regarding bugs, I encountered some of them myself that I had to accomodate but with newer versions they simply disappeared and everything works flawlessly now.

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