PHP, one of the most popular programming languages, was created more than 20 years ago. Developers find it one of the most powerful and reliable solutions, as well as the core technology for building comprehensive digital software. Some people say that PHP has been recently losing its popularity in favour of more recent languages. Is it true? Let’s explain how PHP is used now and why it remains popular. We’ll also compare it with other competitive development tools.
What is the PHP language and who uses it?
PHP is an open-source scripting language used for web development. The name of the language stands for Hypertext Preprocessor (initially, it stood for Personal Homepage). The language is server-side. Simply speaking, solutions written on PHP run on web servers. They don’t depend on the web browser. The first version of the language was launched in 1995 (it was created a year before by Rasmus Lerdorf who wanted to use a set of Perl scripts to monitor traffic on his website) and now it’s on version 8 released in November 2020.
Today, PHP is the most widely used open-source and general-purpose server-side scripting language. It is used by approximately 80% of websites worldwide. It runs on the Zend engine, (the most common implementation). The language is mostly used for making web servers. PHP can do anything related to server-side scripting (the backend of the website). It can:
- receive data from forms,
- generate dynamic page content,
- create sessions,
- send and receive cookies,
- and much more.
The popular websites that use PHP:
- Facebook, Slack, and other tech giants.
- CMS solutions like WordPress or Drupal.
- E-commerce platforms like Magento.
- Web hosting platforms like BlueHost or Whogohost.
- Other websites like Wikipedia built in PHP, or MailChimp.
PHP usage today
PHP is still pretty much relevant as of now. Even though PHP’s popularity has been slowing down in the last few years, it’s still one of the most popular languages for backend development. This is mainly because of WordPress and Shopify. These two platforms constitute approximately 45% of all websites today. According to statistics, roughly 244 million websites ran PHP at the end of 2021. PHP is very versatile. It is widely used for website development. It can combine with other programming languages smoothly. It has many available libraries and frameworks that extend PHP’s capabilities even further. You can use PHP on all major operating systems including macOS, Linux, Microsoft Windows, many Unix variants, and RISC OS. Moreover, the language has support for most of the web servers today. The three main areas where PHP scripts are used are:
- server-side scripting (the most traditional target field for the language),
- command-line scripting,
- writing desktop applications.
As already mentioned, the most famous examples of software written on PHP are WordPress and Facebook. WordPress is the most popular CMS on the net (it allows you to build blogs, photo galleries, online stores, news portals, etc.). On the other hand, Facebook is the most popular social network.
The main advantages of PHP
Let’s dive deeper into the main benefits of using PHP for web development:
- It’s open-source and has a large community. Therefore, developers can learn faster and implement the latest solutions as early as possible.
- PHP is perfectly scalable which is great if you are looking forward to the project’s growth and you expect your project to scale quickly. You can easily extend your PHP-based website by adding more servers whenever you need them.
- The language is cost-efficient. You don’t need any additional expensive software to work with. Also, you don’t need any extra licenses or fees.
- It offers high speed. The latest PHP versions utilize memory well enough to optimize program execution speed. This reduced response time significantly.
- PHP allows custom development. PHP’s wide use and pre-written code in composer libraries make developing digital software much easier. Combining the language with another great technology like JavaScrip allows you to smoothly and seamlessly build highly functional and attractive websites fully tailored to the client’s needs.
- PHP is cross-platform. This results in the platform-independency. You don’t need a particular operating system to use it because the language runs anywhere.
- It has extensive, high-quality documentation. No language has so many tutorials, manuals, and other materials available. The documentation makes the development process much easier and faster. Moreover, plentiful documentation provides help and a source of inspiration when needed.
- Impressive selection of databases. PHP allows connections to almost any type of database. Of course, MySQL is the most common, but PHP is also compatible with MySQL, SQLite, PostgreSQL, etc. The language can be even used with Redis, MongoDB, ElasticSearch, and other non-relational databases.
- PHP is perfectly compatible with HTML and with cloud services.
- Finally, it’s flexible which makes it possible to combine with many other programming languages.
Are there any disadvantages of PHP?
Are there any cons, then? Of course, PHP, like everything, also has disadvantages. There are three main drawbacks:
- Sometimes, there are security problems. The main reason is the open-source nature of the language. It makes the language vulnerable, and developers with malicious intent may use vulnerabilities.
- Lack of specialized libraries. Of course, PHP has an extensive set of libraries, but it cannot compete with e.g., Python in developing web apps empowered by machine learning.
- The language doesn’t allow change or modification in the core behaviour of online applications.
PHP vs. Python and Ruby
PHP is often compared with Ruby and Python. Python still trails far behind PHP in web development, however, it’s more flexible and easier to learn than PHP. For now, it doesn’t yet offer the same level of database connectivity and support as PHP. Also, it has fewer frameworks to support rapid development. On the other hand, Ruby is famous for its elegant syntax and impressive performance. However, it’s far more difficult to learn than PHP and it doesn’t offer the same extensive community support. The language you choose should then depend on the project you want to build and the features you want to prioritize.