PHP: Powerful, Hot, and Painless ProgrammingGuest_Blogger | Mar 16, 2009
There's no questioning the popularity of PHP technologies on the Web. After all, PHP, aka "Personal Home Page" (yeah, we didn't know that, either), is sitting pretty at the number 2 spot on the Elance Online Work Index Top 100 list. But what exactly makes it one of the most sought after programming skills by businesses today? This month, we've brought in Jeffrey McManus, CEO of Platform Associates, to give us some insight.
In the past few years, PHP has emerged as one of the A-list programming languages, taking its place alongside Java and the .NET Framework as one of the most popular languages for developing web sites. In fact, PHP is currently used to create some of the highest volume web sites in the world, including Yahoo!, Facebook, and many others.
A big reason for PHP's popularity is its ease of use, unique suitability to the web development use case, and good performance. Because PHP's core libraries are written in C++, PHP developers can enjoy the productivity associated with a scripting language while taking advantage of the performance benefits of a compiled language.
Another big factor in PHP's popularity is its ubiquity. It's available on every major web server and on every modern server operating system. As an open-source technology, PHP has been historically associated with open-source platforms (specifically the Linux operating system and the Apache web server), although PHP runs well on Windows as well. Microsoft even provides a Web Application Installer product that makes it easy to install PHP on Windows. You can also use this tool to install popular software written in PHP, such as the blogging software WordPress and the content publishing system Drupal. Both of these packages are also free and open-source, which means that if you're courageous, you can view and even modify the source code to fit your requirements.
That said, setting up PHP on a Linux distribution such as Ubuntu is even more straightforward than on Windows. When we do a PHP programming project for a client, we can typically set up and configure a development web server running PHP in 10 minutes or so. This translates into a huge productivity benefit since we can easily start coding right away without having to fiddle with installer disks, license keys, and multiple reboots. (For us, the extra few dollars you'd spend on a Windows server license doesn't even factor into it. This is more about conserving that more valuable and costly resource — our developers' time.)
PHP also provides a number of productivity features for web developers that make it ideal for web development. For example, it's easy to embed PHP code into an HTML document to easily add dynamic features to a web page. And many features that web developers need every day, such as encryption, graphics manipulation, file handling, and database access, are available out of the box.
Another reason for PHP's popularity is community support and information. There is a wealth of articles and blog posts online covering PHP programming; it's not difficult to get an answer to a PHP programming question with a simple web search. Because of the strong community support for PHP development, it's not difficult to find developers who are proficient in the language. This is particularly true internationally, where we first began to see a sharp uptick in PHP usage five years ago.
Because of its utility, ubiquity and low cost, we utilize PHP exclusively for new programming projects at Platform Associates. For simple content sites, we've used Drupal for sites like the LogLogic developer portal we developed last summer; we also use Drupal for our corporate site. For certain types of content-driven web sites, we see a significant reduction in cost through the use of free frameworks such as Drupal and Wordpress.
It's clear that PHP has reached a tipping point in terms of popularity among developers and will continue to remain popular for the foreseeable future. In late 2008, the French developer portal Nexen.net did a survey of public web servers and found that about a third of all servers on the web were running PHP. A 2007 Netcraft site survey indicated that PHP was running on more than 20 million unique domains on the public internet (with many more likely running on intranets behind the firewall). More recently, the March 2009 TIOBE Software Community Index (a survey of programming language popularity based on search engine statistics) recently ranked PHP fourth among all programming languages.
Sure, we could go on and on about the benefits of PHP or how prevalent it is in the world today, but the one main takeaway is this: PHP is one of the most popular programming languages on the web today, and it doesn't look like that will be changing anytime in the near future.
Jeffrey McManus has spent nearly a decade as a consultant, developer, and writer. He has managed platform businesses and developer relations for two iconic internet businesses, eBay and Yahoo!. He was eBay's first technology evangelist and led eBay's platform evangelism team from 2003 to 2005 when eBay was opening its web services platform to third parties. He also championed new technologies within the company, such as corporate blogging, RSS, wikis and open source, creating eBay's first open source developer community.