PHP (originally an abbreviation of Personal Home Page) is a server side scripting language. It’s especially suitable for web development and can be embedded into HTML, but is also used as a general purpose programming language. It was created in 1994 by Rasmus Lerdorf, and has seen widespread usage all around the web since then.
Nowadays, many people who claim to be ‘in the know’ say that PHP is no longer relevant. Some even say that with competitors as powerful and dynamic as Node.js and Python, PHP will be completely obsolete in the not so distant future. We disagree. Here’s why.
It’s Still Everywhere
There’s no denying that PHP has some pretty stiff competition. Node.js is regularly cited as its closest rival, although the two are aimed at very different markets. In 2015 it was announced that WordPress would move from PHP to the Node, which caused many tech bloggers to herald the end of the former. But there’s one fact these experts forgot about:
PHP still comprises more than 80% of the websites on the Internet.
Among these websites are some of the biggest in the world, including Wikipedia, Flickr, Tumblr, and even Facebook (more on that later). That means that after 23 years of being in existence, PHP is still one of the most popular server-side languages in use. That’s not something that will change overnight, or even over a few years. If we take away the websites that use a CMS, which use pre-built solutions developed in PHP – the figure still stands at 54.3% (according to Crew.co). Admittedly that takes away a good chunk of the market share, but not the majority. PHP isn’t going to be wiped out just yet.
It’s Still Improving
Up until 2014, PHP evolved without a written formal specification or standard. In the last couple of years, that’s all changed. Version 7.1 was scheduled for release in 2016 and plenty of developers assumed it would be a minor release with a few bug fixes. They were wrong. PHP 7.1 offered some major important improvement, including a new return type (void), Multi Catch Exception Handling and a super fast speed.
This latest version and its widespread praise from the wider PHP community is a sure sign that this ‘past it’ language has stabilised, matured, and has a positive future. Although there are still more improvements to come, 7.1 is a big step in the right direction and gives PHP a new edge to compete with the new(er) kids on the block. Combine that with the wealth of documentation and support out there for PHP, the loyal community of developers, and the better frameworks and tooling available for PHP, and it’s obvious that this language still has plenty of fuel in the engine.
It’s Still Popular
WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are still some of the most popular content management systems (CMS) in the world. As long as they’re still around PHP will stay relevant and, by default if nothing else, popular. There is also a plethora of free and ever-growing web applications that can be used in conjunction with PHP to make life a hell of a lot simpler for the busy programmer. It’s easy to make applications of any size and scope, and there’s support for pretty much any problem that can possibly occur. What’s not to love?
Add to that the fact that PHP is actually pretty easy to learn – and did we mention super fast to use? – and the language’s popularity is all but guaranteed. This comes with some conditions however, because the language still has some issues that need fixing. Among them is the lack of structure and syntax which some (especially new) programmers find difficult to work with once the basics are grasped – and which leads to lots of convoluted or downright lazy coding that could be avoided. Lack of security is also regularly criticised, but if the latest version is anything to go by this is finally getting addressed. Nonetheless, watch this space.
It Could Be Getting a Makeover
That is, a bigger makeover than version 7.1 gave. PHP definitely isn’t on the way out, it’s merely shifting into something better and even more versatile than before. Developers have shown a clear commitment to improving PHP, and it’s proven to be better than any other language for developing moderately sized websites on the fly. So there’s still plenty that can and will be done.
But leaving that aside, there’s something interesting going on with one of PHP’s biggest fans; Facebook. Last year ‘the’ social network created a PHP-derived language called Hack that is currently powering the entirely of Facebook (you don’t need us to tell you how big of a deal that is). Time will tell how Hack will develop outside of Facebook, but there’s a possibility that PHP and Hack could eventually become interchangeable. One thing’s for sure; PHP may be transforming, but it’s definitely not irrelevant.