WP Engine announced in December 2015 that they have now made it possible for their customers to test their code against PHP 7 and compare these tests against PHP 5 and HHVM. PHP 7 promises to deliver massive performance and speed increases up to double than previous versions of PHP.
Editor's note: This post is part of a series focusing on the main changes and improvements made at WP Engine throughout 2015.
At WP Engine Labs, the company has already added the ability to test PHP 7 in Mercury Vagrant (HGV) 1.5. Mercury Vagrant already lets you quickly create a local development environment and test PHP against HHVM, which was introduced in version 1.4.
The Mercury Vagrant (HGV) 1.5 includes a new toggle feature in WP Admin that empowers you to test simultaneously and compare PHP 7, PHP 5, and HHVM: customers just use the drop down menu in the browser to switch between the PHP versions and HHVM.
WP Engine Introduces New HGV Speed Testing
Customers can use the new HGV features to prepare their WordPress websites for PHP 7, which will be available on the WordPress platform soon. HGV is a development environment that helps assist customers with more advanced WordPress and HHVM developments. HGV remains a bit intimidating for some new developers who are in the middle of their learning process. As a result, the Labs team at WP Engine decided to make it easier to use to aid in its adoption.
While HGV is not a direct speed comparison to production level servers, it gives them insight into the code functionality and performance of their websites. It can also provide them with an opportunity to take advantage of the many debugging tools that are included in HGV to ensure code compatibility against PHP 7 now that it has reached general availability.
WP Engine has always seen WP Engine Labs as the innovation side of their business. They use it to strive to provide new ways for the open source community to experiment and test various ideas and develop them for their customers.
WP Engine Conducted Tests on HHVM and PHP 7
Though many tests suggested that HHVM and PHP 7 had been neck and neck when it came to the number of hits that they were able to handle, WP Engine thought that they saw some more impressive results from PHP 7. You can see the difference between HHVM and PHP 7 here, in the two graphs below:
While HHVM (4.7x faster) presents a fairly significant bump in the number of raw hits that it can handle, PHP 7 (6.6x faster) still edges it out in pure performance; this means that once we’re ready to make PHP 7 widely available, most customers will be able to see serious performance gain. Customers will see these gains without having to do much more than make sure that their plugins, themes and core install are up to date. For further commentary on the differences between PHP 5.6, PHP 7 and HHVM you can check out this more detailed article.
Mercury Vagrant only available to Enterprise Customers
Many customers will be wondering whether Mercury Vagrant is available to all WP Engine customers, or whether they need to get an enterprise plan. We reached out to WP Engine for comment, and their team said that it isn’t currently: they are rolling out the Mercury Vagrant plan to enterprise customers, so it is not yet available to standard clients. PHP7 is also only available to enterprise customers, but they have indicated to us that bringing it to all clients is a key focus for the future. In the meantime, many other hosts such as TMDHosting and SiteGround are among just a few now who now offer PHP7 as standard.
HHVM has always been the open source PHP execution engine created by Facebook to make its infrastructure more efficient. WordPress managed hosts such as WP Engine, Pagely and SiteGround then added HHVM hosting options within the last year to cater customers who required better PHP performance.
For those customers who already have HGV, they can simply follow the update instructions to start using version 1.5 now.