It's been a decade since articles claiming that PHP is dead began to appear on the web. It's funny because the scripts based on it are still used today by 78.1% of all the websites whose server-side programming language we know. What is the conclusion of this? Well, articles about the death of PHP will continue to appear but knowledge of this language will still be valuable and very important for programmers! That's why we come to you today with a condensed post about the advantages, disadvantages, changes and trends related to this programming language, which is already 26 years old and is a very important part of websites and web applications to this day.

We would not be ourselves if this article had not started with a brief historical background. In this case, we can really talk about something that has largely shaped the internet as we know it today. The origins of PHP date back to 1994, when Rasmus Lerdorf created a set of Pearl scripts. They were used to monitor user visits on his website. The mysterious acronym comes from the Personal Home Page (the abbreviation is also assigned to the Hypertext Preprocessor) and there is no need to explain where exactly this name came from. Along with the increasing traffic, the scripts got a new version written in C, supplemented with new options. A year later, due to numerous requests to share his work, Lerdorf released the first source code known as PHP Tools 1.0 to the public. In 1997, the project was completely rewritten by Israeli programmers: Zeev Suraski and Andi Gutmans, who were helped by the already well-functioning PHP community. The gentlemen worked on the eCommerce application and discovered that the then existing PHP / FI 2.0 would not meet all their needs. Once again necessity became the mother of invention. The new architecture of PHP 3.0 allowed for better performance and, additionally, modularity appeared. And so, over the following years, a team of enthusiasts improved the scripts that, from the beginning of this coding language, were available to all interested parties for free, on an open-source basis. The latest version of PHP (8.1) was released relatively recently - on November 25, 2021. We will devote a few words to it at the end of the article, but first, let's stop for a moment on the PHP phenomenon. How is it possible that this elderly old man still boasts such good health in the digital world of websites?

Why is PHP still a great programming language?

Developers love open source solutions. We can of course praise the DIY spirit and great community here, but the main advantage is that you don't have to spend money to benefit from something. PHP is a free technology, which means that you can create projects at no cost. Moreover, there are also many free frameworks (such as Laravel, Symfony or Codelgniter) and CMSs (Drupal or WordPress) that are compatible with PHP and provide developers with optimal working comfort and increasing its efficiency. The support for various platforms is also a big advantage. We will run applications using PHP on any operating system (UNIX, Linux, Windows, etc.) without fear that a different ecosystem will cause possible complications. Importantly, however, porting PHP applications between operating systems (e.g. from Windows to Linux) also involves some problems with file differences. They use different directory separators or different permission configurations. Therefore, already at the programming process stage, you should remember about appropriate implementations. 

It’s simple and clear

Even though the modern version of PHP offers a large number of functions, it can still be considered simple and clear. If you already know C/C++ or Java, mastering PHP will be much easier due to some similarities of these languages (friendly reminder: be prepared for something more difficult than Python though). The huge community is also important. Over the years of the existence of the PHP language, thousands of textbooks, tutorials and reference materials have been created, which allow you to learn new things on your own and constantly develop - regardless of the level of advancement. Well-documented technology means fewer problems with solving problems! The great popularity of PHP also translates into the wide availability of programmers with relevant competences on the labor market. On the one hand, employers have broad access to employees. On the other hand, novice developers can quickly find a company that will employ them in a junior position.

Fast and flexible

Despite its years, PHP still offers great performance in terms of website loading speed compared to other technologies. This advantage is associated not only with the comfort of use but also with better marketing potential. Yes! Fast loading times have a huge impact on the SEO ranking factor. Proper optimization allows you to position the page higher in the Google search engine. PHP also means great development flexibility. The code can be combined and integrated with popular management systems (e.g. MySQL, dBase, Inter Base, Front Base, SQLite). It is also worth noting that PHP scripts are also effective in combining with other programming languages or markup languages including HTML, which it perfectly complements. This language is also supported by all popular internet browsers. The popular standard is always greater versatility and less chance that something will not work for some users.

Nobody’s perfect

However, the stories that PHP will be slowly dying did not come from anywhere. We cannot ignore the disadvantages of this programming language. These are associated not only with certain limitations but also with the emergence of newer technologies on the market. A huge community is not enough when friendlier technologies appear on the horizon. Developers who are just starting their careers in the industry often prefer to choose an easier programming language that works just as well in web apps. Time will tell if the newcomers' tendency to avoid PHP will lead to fewer developers specializing in this language on the market.

Security problems

Unfortunately, open-source availability has a dark side. Anyone can look at ASCII text files, which significantly lowers the security level. In the case of websites and applications based on PHP, it is much easier to leak the source code as well as attacks such as: XSS, session hacking and SQL injection. Internet criminals are still playing a game of endless patching and breaching with developers. If there are functions or expressions used in old PHP versions that are obsolete in your code, the risk of an attack increases dramatically! This is why it is so important to keep your code components up to date.

Issues with performance and bugs

Errors in the code are nothing new for programmers who have to face smaller or larger challenges almost every day. Unfortunately, PHP doesn't have the best reputation for fighting bugs. Despite its age, the language has never had any decent internal debugging tools. In this field, competing programming languages definitely win. It is worth noting, however, that an external tool can provide a simple solution to this problem. Xdebug works great here, as it is just as functional as, for example, the debugging tool built into Python. The last disadvantage worth mentioning here, and which developers often pay attention to, is poor performance. The use of more features based on PHP, unfortunately, can reduce the loading speed of the page. That is why this language is not recommended for creators of very complex websites full of content.

PHP: Dead or alive?

Despite the disadvantages mentioned in the previous paragraph, we hope this article makes it clear: it is definitely too early to announce the death of PHP. This coding language is years old, but remember that it is still being developed and modernized. 8 out of 10 existing websites use PHP! This means that programmers who know it will still be needed even if its popularity decreases from year to year. Of course, when looking at competing programming languages, which are often easier to learn, you can expect PHP costs to increase. If new entrants avoid learning the language, it will become more expensive to use the services of PHP experts. In addition to the profitability of projects, the technology race is also important. PHP would have to accelerate significantly in terms of development in order to catch up with the competition in categories such as machine learning, for example. The coming years may be crucial and we will be watching PHP deal with the latest trends with great fascination. And it should be noted that a lot is already happening.

The latest trends in the use of PHP

Where is PHP used most today? Zend by Performance conducted a survey this year in which there was a question about which type of application or system programmers are currently developing with PHP. The analysis shows that the use of this technology for API development has been increasing recently. This type of use of PHP was indicated by 41% of respondents. APIs are used in devices related to the Internet of Things, B2B integrations as well as to create dynamic content for web applications and mobile applications. Internal business applications were next in the ranking (23% of responses). In this case, flexibility and the speed of PHP development counts above all, so that the business requirements can be quickly adapted. CMS systems (13%) and eCommerce (9%) were also among the respondents' answers.

What’s new in PHP 8.1 

Each subsequent version of PHP brings new features and improvements. Developers responsible for project development are also eliminating legacy technological solutions and introducing limitations related to outdated options. PHP 8.1 is the latest version that was released almost a year after PHP 8.0. It may not be such an extensive update as the one from 2020, but once again the developers have received a set of new functions that make work easier and extend the possibilities of working with PHP. The most important ones include support for explicit octal integer literal notation, Fibers, Enumerations, Intersection Types, never return type, first-class collab syntax and read-only properties.

We hope that the knowledge you have gained here will help you make the right decisions related to the choice of technologies necessary for the optimal functioning of your website or application. If you need help or advice, use the support of our experts who will thoroughly analyze your project and choose the right solutions for it, ensuring functionality and modernity!