What is PHP?
PHP is a multipurpose scripting programming language that is largely used for creating websites. The PHP group is responsible for creating the PHP reference implementation. Initially, PHP stood for Personal Home Page. However, over the years, the abbreviation has changed to a recursive initialism, i.e., PHP: Hypertext Preprocess.
Whenever a user types in a URL or opens a website, the web browser sends an HTTP request to the web server where the web address is located. The web server receives the request, processes it, and then responds with an HTML document. With this, the client is the web browser, while the web server is primarily the server. The function of PHP here is to run on the webserver to process the client’s request and then respond with an HTML document.
Zend Engine currently powers the PHP interpreter, open-source software under the PHP Licence. PHP tends to be deployed on most web servers through various operating systems and platforms.
Is PHP a programming language?
Prior to responding to the query “Is PHP a programming language?”, it is necessary to know what a programming language is.
Computers cannot work on their own. They need instructions to carry out the desired functions. A programming language is a computer language used by programmers to develop various software programs and scripts and give the computers the instructions to execute certain functions.
Considering that, it can be said without any ambiguity that PHP is, in fact, a programming language. Majorly, PHP serves the function of web development. This tendency of PHP is put to good use by developers around the globe that more than 75% of all the websites on the internet use PHP as a server-side programming language.
When it comes to programming languages, there are two types.
- The domain-specific languages are used to perform specific functions within specific application domains. The prime example of domain-specific languages is SQL. SQL mainly queries data from relational databases and can not be used to create, implement or program to perform other functions.
- On the contrary, the general-purpose scripting language can perform various functions. PHP is a general-purpose programming language because, apart from web development, the scripting language is integrated with various databases like Oracle, Postgre SQL, Informix etc.
Rasmus Lerdorf wrote numerous Common Gateway Interface (CGI) programs in C language in 1994. Unbeknownst to him, the action started the development of PHP since these programs were used to maintain his personal homepage.
Without any intention of creating a programming language, Lerdorf continued adding logical steps to the programs, and in 1995, Personal Home Page (PHP) Tools version 1.0 was released. The basic functionality of PHP has almost remained the same throughout these years, but the first version was a lot simpler, limited and much less consistent.
The inconsistency in naming the functions and ordering the parameters is due to the organic development of PHP as a programming language. Since it was not intended to be one, additions were made, and function names were allotted to match the lower libraries.
PHP 3 and 4
Andy Gutmans and Zeev Suraski formed the basis of PHP 3. The name was changed into a recursive acronym PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor, followed by public testing; the newer version was eventually launched in 1998.
PHP 4 was released in 2000, and by 2008, the version had reached 4.4.9 before putting an end to further developments or security updates.
PHP 5 was released in 2004, powered by Zend Engine. In addition to the primary functions of PHP, the newer version supported new features with improved object-oriented programming. Certain other performance enhancement features were added, and inevitably, this version became the only stable version under development.
PHP 6 and Unicode
PHP started gaining immense recognition and applicability over the internet by this time. However, the users criticized it for lacking native Unicode support at the fundamental core level. Consequently, the International Components for Unicode (ICU) library was embedded throughout the language internally.
The initiation of Unicode support was a massive change for the pre-existing version. Therefore, it was decided that the language would now be released as version 6.0. Unfortunately, different factors contributed to the failure of the launch, which delayed the project indefinitely. Simultaneously, the developers launched PHP 5.3 and 5.4 integrated with various non-Unicode features of PHP 6.0.
PHP 7 was released in 2014 and 2015. The terminology received abundant backlash since PHP 6 was never officially released, and internal developers debated whether the name should be PHP 6. Nevertheless, PHP 7 was the name chosen after voting.
The framework of PHP 7 was based on organic development throughout the years. What’s different was the inclusion of phpng (PHP next generation).
PHP 7 was fueled by major changes that optimized PHP performance manifold times for the better. Additionally, several new features were implemented.
PHP was formally released in 2020. The features include:
- Syntax changes and additions
- Just-in-time compilation
- Addition of the match expression
- Type changes and addition
- Standard library changes and addition
What can PHP do?
After determining whether PHP is a programming language, it is time to look into the functions PHP can perform as a programming language. PHP is a general-purpose programming language meaning that it can perform a variety of different functions and can be used effectively in different scenarios.
PHP can effortlessly perform system functions. From within the files on a system, PHP can create, open, read, write, and close the files.
PHP can gather data through different sources. Precisely, it can collect data from within the files and also save data in a file. Not only does it help in sending data through email, but it also returns data to the respective user.
All elements from within the databases can be modified, deleted, or added through PHP.
PHP is majorly used for web development. Its functions and other elements within the language enable for development of dynamic websites and web applications. Consequent to its functions of server-side scripting, around 78% of all the websites on the internet use PHP.
PHP can also be used for administrative purposes. Running the script from the command line enables the user to perform administrative tasks, generate pdf files, send emails, encrypt data, restrict and grant access to users and much more.
Advantages of PHP
There are numerous other server-scripting and general-purpose programming languages. Why do people prefer PHP over other programming languages to develop websites and web applications? The answer is quite simple. PHP offers users a wide range of advantages, making it the go-to language for web servers. There are numerous benefits associated with this particular programming language which are:
Open Source: PHP is free-to-use. The original code is available for all the users who want to build upon it. Laravel is one of PHP’s frameworks garnering immense usage throughout the years consequent to its being open source.
Cross-platform: PHP has many users because it virtually runs on any platform, irrespective of the operating system. Users of Mac, Windows, Linux etc., can develop through PHP.
Easier to Learn: Compared to other programming languages, PHP is one of the simplest. People with a little programming language can learn PHP easily, as it best suits beginners.
Different databases: PHP integrates with any database, both non-relational and relational.
Supportive Community: The online community of PHP is highly supportive. The content shared helps developers in any situation.
Users of PHP
The stats are evidence that more than three-quarters of the websites on the internet use PHP and its features to create unique websites. Within those numbers, established websites also secure a position as users of PHP. These include:
Wikipedia: The biggest source of information on the internet, Wikipedia, has been entirely built on PHP since its beginning.
Facebook: The world’s leading social media platform, Facebook, also runs on PHP. However, Facebook also gave back to the PHP community by implementing Hip Hop for PHP.
Content Management Systems (CMSs): WordPress is the world’s largest content management system. Over 455 million websites use WordPress, which is entirely built upon PHP. Similar content management systems like Joomla, Drupal, and Magento also run on PHP. Similarly, leading online marketplaces like Shopify also run on PHP.
Web Hosting Platforms: Numerous leading web hosting platforms like Whogohost, Siteground, and Bluehost is also built on and run on PHP.
How is PHP different from other programming languages?
After answering “Is PHP a programming language?”, you will understand the broadness of this topic. In this sense, developer and user preferences are very individualized. Some prefer one programming language over others for subjective reasons. Objectively, the innumerable benefits PHP provide its users give it an edge over other programming language. First, the faster approach through the simplicity of coding makes PHP a better option than other programming languages.
It is open source, which gives developers more interactivity. The online community is highly supportive, and there is a solution for any problem the developer might encounter online. Moreover, PHP provides users with easy integration with web applications, with many different open source frameworks for virtually any development.
Though the general motive for using the programming languages might be the same, PHP differs from other languages in the following ways.
Users of C++ consider the language to have generic and object-oriented programming features. Another facility provided by C++ is low-level memory manipulation. C++ can be regarded as the fastest programming language if optimized because it compiles directly to the machine’s native code. Developers favour C++ because of its control over memory allocation and performance. On the contrary, PHP is fast and flexible, running more than three-quarters of the websites on the internet. Similarly, developers favour PHP because of the large and supportive community, the open-source nature, and easy deployment.
In particular, Java is primarily an object-oriented programming language. On the other hand, typically, PHP is a server-side scripting language. The virtual machine platform Java allows developers to create compiled programs that have the potential to run on nearly all platforms. Java runs smoothly on the promise of “Write Once, Run Anywhere.” On the contrary, PHP is mainly focused on web development. It differs from Java based on the client-side language, i.e., HTML.
While Python is also a general-purpose scripting language, the difference occurs in the number of frameworks. PHP has more frameworks than Python. Considering the speed, Python is faster than PHP thanks to its efficient use of a Just-in-time compiler. While both have a great online community, there is a difference in the security of both languages. PHP has had a horrible security history compared to Python, inhibiting security features so well that even certain United States governmental agencies use Python as their hacking tool.
There are numerous differences between PHP and C. While PHP only has two data types, i.e. Integer and Double, C has Primary data types such as void, char, float, int, double, etc. and Derived Data types like union, array, structure, and pointer. Moreover, there is no need for a structure type in PHP while a structure type exists in C. The availability and the need for prototypes mark another difference. In C, before implementation, it is necessary to declare the function; thus, a prototype is needed. PHP has no such compulsion, so a prototype is unnecessary. While PHP is a server-side programming language, C is a procedural programming language.
The decline of PHP
Certain people speculate that PHP is dying, which is not entirely true. Though there is a decline in its usage, over three-quarters of the web uses PHP. However, the numbers are decreasing, and here’s how: In 1994, PHP was the third most used programming language, while in 2022, it is the tenth most widely used programming language based on popularity.
There are various reasons for that. First, in 2019, the National Vulnerability Database listed various vulnerabilities, of which 11% were associated with PHP. Similarly, in full retrospect, over 30% of all the vulnerabilities ever listed were linked to PHP.
Non-frequent core libraries and many technical security flaws put the credibility of PHP at risk of potential future collapse. Moreover, while other programming languages have introduced taint checking for detecting the lack of input validation, such a feature is unavailable for PHP. However, internal developers state that it is under development.
Moreover, there is a vulnerability in the potential runtime settings in PHP. That is because the developers have no option to disable PHP execution for the directory storing the uploaded files. Such can result in an unwanted execution of malicious code within the uploaded files.
In a shared web hosting environment, the dynamic loading of PHP extension can also raise security issues.
Furthermore, there is an inconsistency when it comes to using PHP. The lack of equivalency in the framework’s behaviour followed by performance and features is a huge disadvantage for PHP.
Similarly, the lack of many debugging tools and the inability to efficiently handle errors puts PHP at risk of being a dead programming language in the years to come if the issues are not resolved. Subsequently, the more features one uses in PHP, the poorer online performance.
All of the above-stated disadvantages are significantly contributing to the downfall of PHP.