When most people think of PHP they think Zend, but did you know that Zend isn’t the only company that makes a PHP engine? There are many competing compilers and interpreters for PHP, each with their own slightly different take on the PHP language.
HipHop takes normal PHP code and transforms it into C++, which is then compiled in machine code. Code compiled by HipHop runs significantly faster than normal PHP run with the Zend Engine.
It has its disadvantages though. HipHop is only capable of transforming a subset of the PHP language. Some important (and some may say evil) features, such as eval, have been removed to make it possible to transform from PHP to C++. It also has a few other limitations, such as only supporting PHP 5.2 and 64-bit operating systems.
WebSphere sMash is a Java implementation of a PHP runtime environment. The PHP code is compiled into Java bytecode which runs on the Java Virtual Machine. The major benefit of running things in Java is that it is portable to more operating systems and allows you to use things like database connection pooling.
While it does support more PHP functionality than HipHop, it is still missing some features. However, it is capable of running a few major open source packages out of the box, including SugarCRM, Mediawiki, and WordPress.
Quercus is another Java implementation of a PHP runtime environment.It too allows you to use Java features like connection pooling, and supports major open source packages like MediaWiki and WordPress.
The paid version allows you to pre-compile your PHP scripts, which allows them to run super-fast. Unfortunately, this is cost-prohibitive for users that have more than 1 CPU in their server (like me) or plan on having more than 1 CPU in the future (most anyone with a vaguely popular website).
Phalanger is a strange creature. It is sort of like PHP.NET. It takes your normal PHP code and compiles it into MSIL, which can then be run by .NET or Mono. The major advantage to using Phalanger is that it makes it possible to access .NET classes in PHP (for example, VB.NET or C#).
Thanks to Mono, .NET isn’t limited to Windows. This means you can write Gtk applications in PHP. I hope to have something released in the near future that uses Phalanger.