PHP is a common open-source scripting language popular for web applications. Although it originally stood for “personal home page,” PHP is now a recursive acronym for “hypertext preprocessor” — but chances are you’ll never hear that name again.
In its simplest form, PHP is a server-side scripting language that is embedded in HTML. PHP allows web developers to create dynamic content and to interact with databases. PHP is known for its simplicity, speed, and flexibility — features which have made it a cornerstone in the web development world.
PHP is used by 79.1% of all websites with known server-side programming, and its use has been on the rise in the last decade, up from 72% in 2010. PHP is used on some of the largest web properties and platforms including Facebook, Wikipedia, WordPress, and Zoom.
PHP: A Primer
Like any other scripting language, PHP is fundamentally the tool you use both to connect to your database to get information and to hand that information over to your web server to be displayed in HTML. But there are many aspects of PHP that set it apart from other languages.
In a nutshell, PHP is:
- A Scripting Language – Scripting languages are interpreted by another program at runtime (no need for compilation). Scripting languages can either be interpreted server-side or client-side (in the browser).
- Server-Side – PHP is a server-side scripting language, processed by a PHP interpreter on a web server; the result (the output) is sent to the web browser as plain HTML.
- Open-Source – PHP is freely available to download and use.
- Object-Oriented – Object-Oriented Programming (OOP) leverages the concept of “objects” to contain data and functions to help build more complex, reusable web applications. OOP was added to PHP5.
- Fast – PHP uses its own memory, minimizing server workload and increasing performance. PHP can be up to 382% faster than Python and 195% faster than Ruby.
- Simple – The PHP syntax is easily understood and learned, whether you’re building from scratch or leveraging existing frameworks or add-ons.
- Well Supported – PHP supports all leading databases (MySQL, SQLite, ODBC), is compatible with most servers (Apache, IIS, etc), is portable across all platforms (Windows, Mac OS, Linux, etc), and can be further supported by PHP frameworks (Laravel, CodeIgniter, Symfony) and many well-stocked and vetted libraries.
PHP is a loosely-typed language that uses a total of eight data types used to construct variables (which store data of different types). Unlike other programming languages, PHP is quite relaxed when it comes to variables, evaluating and guessing the data type. All variables have a dollar sign ($) to start, but can be named anything that begins with a letter.
Unlike many programming languages, PHP variables are neither “strong” nor “weak” to begin with. Rather, PHP is dynamic and can use both strong or weakly typed variables, denoting how strictly or loosely the conversion happens.
What is PHP Used For?
PHP can be used to develop dynamic and interactive web pages, applications, and eCommerce platforms. PHP is well suited to a variety of web tasks, from generating dynamic web pages, sending emails and collecting web forms to sending and receiving cookies. Going further, as PHP can store, delete, and modify information in a database, it becomes a strong foundation for creating web applications including content management systems (CMS), custom online databases, eCommerce websites, gaming applications, and community portals.
Let’s take a look at some examples of PHP in action.
Facebook uses their own version of PHP called HipHop Virtual Machine (HHVM), the net result of which has been a trickle-down of updates into PHP itself. Facebook has 2.45 billion monthly active users. Talk about scaling!
In terms of updates, nothing sees more action than Wikipedia. Developed at a rate of 1.9 edits per second and 594 new articles per day, Wikipedia is built on the stability and scalability of — you guessed it, PHP!
Mailchimp owns a whopping 60.51% of the email industry, supporting over 12 million customers — all on a PHP backbone.
The Yahoo search engine and news portal made the choice to switch to PHP in 2002, moving from a proprietary C/C++ system to the open-sourced PHP to reduce costs and support scaling. Yahoo continues to serve around 700 million people per month.
Canva has exploded in growth in the past several years, supporting an easy-to-use photo editor with templates for creating web or print graphics. 10 million users in 179 countries now use the popular design platform.
Slack has been very public in its choice to use PHP for its server-side application logic. And Slack is much more than just a web property — it’s a full communication platform, recently bought out by Salesforce for $27.7 billion.
What Content Management Systems Use PHP?
A content management system (CMS) is an online software application that helps other users create and manage digital content without specialized knowledge. The most common example of a CMS is a system that allows you to make and manage your own website without the knowledge of HTML. Other CMS’ focus on asset management such as online photo albums or document sharing.
Most CMS today use PHP, including WordPress, Drupal, Magento, Joomla and many other popular platforms. Acting as a PHP framework, developers can take advantage of these CMS platforms and add-ons to build cost effective websites and eCommerce platforms.
WordPress is probably the most well-known PHP CMS, accounting for 76.4% of the CMS market and hosting 75 million active websites. WordPress is endlessly adaptable, hosting websites that range in complexity from the common blog to large eCommerce stores. Here are some popular brands who use WordPress:
The New Yorker
The White House
The Walt Disney
Drupal is an open-source CMS framework written in PHP and favored as the backbone to many eCommerce platforms. Some of the top Drupal websites include:
What does this mean for you?
As a web-owner, if you have a site powered by one of those platforms, PHP developers can work with you to expand your website, delivering the personalized experience you want for your customers.
PHP and the LAMP Stack
A “LAMP” stack is a group of open-source software that can be installed together — a service bundle, as it were, with PHP often plugged in as a key component. The LAMP stack includes:
(L) Linux, the operating system
(A) Apache, the web server
(M) MySQL, the database
(P) PHP, your programming language (includes some installation)
Why Choose PHP?
While PHP is an older programming language lacking some of the features of newer programming languages, it has continued to evolve. With that evolution comes a level of maturity: PHP is well-documented, well-supported, and easy to use.
PHP developers have access to rich frameworks, databases, and libraries to support their work, with the flexibility to set up on any Linux, Windows, or Unix OS. Most web hosting providers offer PHP, and, when it comes to cost, PHP often comes out ahead in both development time as well as overall cost to run and maintain. As an efficient language, PHP is able to deliver on the high performance times demanded by today’s consumers.
During your product development planning, PHP often comes out ahead because it is well documented in APIs. Your PHP-based website can easily be integrated with all CMS programs and add-ons to create dynamic, interactive, feature rich experiences.
You should choose PHP for your website, eCommerce marketplace, or application if you want a language that is:
- Easy to Maintain
- Easy to Find Developers
With every new release, PHP gets faster than before. The most recent release, PHP 8.0, includes a just-in-time (JIT) compiler that already tops previous performance gains in all of the 7.x releases.
PHP Application Development
PHP is a very friendly language, so there are many developers out there who can get you up and running. There are also many great PHP frameworks (Symfony, Laravel, Aura, CodeIgnitor) and CMS platforms (Drupal, WordPress) that you can leverage in your PHP web application development. Unfortunately, much of the “dislike” of PHP comes from the overabundance of bad code out there.
Do not judge PHP by its worst practitioners.
Because your customers demand and deserve a fast, intuitive, feature-rich experience, you need a PHP development partner you can trust. Net Solutions has over 20 years experience in PHP Application Development. Our experienced team of core PHP and CMS specialists have designed and delivered customized websites, eCommerce stores, apps, and portals that help businesses scale fast and stay future-proof.
Whether you are looking for a new PHP application or a partner who can help you maintain / perform security updates on an existing platform, we’re here to help.