The main task on the roadmap for the development of PHP 6 was a very ambitious one of adding true Unicode character support throughout the language. The aim of this was to allow for seamless native support of multi-byte characters. Multi-byte characters are required for storing many of the world's character sets properly. The exception are the traditional Latin character sets that many Western European languages use.
The work to make a true Unicode multibyte version of PHP started around 2005, but by 2009 the project was still with no end in sight and the ambitious changes that had been required were still without agreement between various developers working on the project.
Time was passing and with no end in sight to the work involved to support Unicode, the decision was taken to start releasing improvements hallmarked for PHP version 6 into minor releases of the already released the 5.x branch of PHP. This resulted in significant additions to PHP v5.3 such as namespaces support. Version 5.4 followed a year later with further functionality that had been in the PHP 6 branch.
Meanwhile work had started to rewrite large parts of the Zend Engine within PHP and this had produced huge improvements in performance. This along with other changes then became the focus of what should be an entirely new major branch of PHP.
To clearly differentiate these changes from all the negative press online regarding the failed Unicode work in PHP 6 a poll was held by senior developers within the PHP community in mid 2014 on whether or not to jump version and skip straight to PHP version 7. The results were 58 in favour, 24 against, and so the decision was taken to jump version 6 and move straight to version 7.
Finally, on the 3rd December 2015 PHP 7.0 was released to the world, eleven and a half years after the last major release version which had been PHP 5.0, launched way back on 13th July 2004.
if you want to know more about how PHP versions are numbered, read our article explaining PHP version numbers here.
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