FortRabbit Puts Faith in Oft-Maligned PHP

By Conor Rushby |

PHP, as a programming language, has often come in for flak. There are security issues, as well as the frequent complaint that it’s a spaghetti language. But FortRabbit – a PHP cloud hosting platform – is hoping to ride a recent renaissance in the code, to appeal to the bootstrapped, as well as startups and enterprises.

FortRabbit, itself bootstrapped, allows users to build and store their code and apps on the platform, as well as keep tabs on projects in real time through a variety of statistics. Up to a point the service is also free, with different packages available for varying degrees of space and services required.

It works like this: FortRabbit buys a slice of cloud platform from Amazon Web Services, and then resells it in smaller chunks. It has built a framework on top of that big slice which users can effectively code inside and build up their projects. Within this ‘nursery’ there are a number of features to help users oversee their projects, ,including a Web control panel, performance metrics, native PHP composer integration, a read-write file system and the ability to scale up your apps without adjusting your code.

Different user packages reflect how far along your project is – bootstrappers and enterprises have free access to start coding, albeit with limited PHP processes and resources. Startup and enterprise packages, which start at €15 a month, enjoy more services. Apps from elsewhere can also be moved to FortRabbit, while developers are encouraged to keep up with their coding with idle projects being frozen for 48 hours – after which work can resume.

Schoolboy Errors

Launched two weeks ago, FortRabbit’s co-founders are Ulrich Kautz, the technical lead, Oliver Stark the coder, and Frank Lämmer in charge of concept and design – all of whom are PHP enthusiasts.

Lukhas said: “One reason for the bad reputation of PHP is that people used to go to the Internet, copy and paste code onto their website – which was probably written by some schoolboy – so everyone had the same open arrows, it was a mess.”

FortRabbit however uses Composer, a dependency manager which allows you to declare the dependent libraries your project needs, and which then downloads for you the relevant – and trustworthy – code.

It’s this modern programming approach which the team see as evidence for a renaissance in PHP at the moment, but their other agenda is helping out startups. Frank said: “We’re bootstrapped ourselves, but through our platform we hope to nurture bootstrapped developers.”

Giving those just starting out a leg-up is a great idea, but there are quite a few cloud hosting platforms out there already. Heroku were among the on the scene in the US in 2007, although it hosts Ruby, Node.js, Clojure, Java, Python, and Scala. Otherwise in the US, there is also App Fog for PHP hosting among many others.

Frank reckons it makes sense to build your app on a European platform, due to issues of data latency, legal contracts and billing issues. However, on this side of the pond there is also a fair amount of cloud hosting going on. Among many, cloudControl of Berlin specialises in PHP too, as does Relbit which has a data centre in the Czech Republic.

Of all these platforms cloudControl and App Fog both offer free services up until a point as well – just like FortRabbit, while the cost of Heroku and Relbit for developers increases with usage.

The team at FortRabbit aren’t daunted by the competition – they’re taking this as proof as concept and are instead billing their site as for “sophisticated developers.” This translates into allowing users to retain established standards like SFTP and SSH (computing communication protocols) while making use of composer and PHP 5.4 – the latest version out there. This is also without the hassle of having to waste time configuring servers, or load balancers, clusters, and multi-stage deployments.

As it stands, they have been delighted with the strongly international response to the free service – however bootstrapped FortRabbit may end up rabbit pie if projects fail to grow and businesses don’t sign up.