Is PHP still relevant?

Recently I began wondering if PHP was still a relevant language, considering that so much focus is on mobile and that would point towards Java and Objective C.  Also, I’ve recently begun investing a lot of time into learning the Yii 2 PHP framework, which I think is awesome.  Now awesome might not be considered a technical term, but I have to tell you, I don’t mind expressing my passion for something.  I’m a human first, engineer second.

I’m always looking to expand my education and the lack of new books on PHP worried me.  Was I wasting my precious time on a dead language?  It’s only when I looked for material on PHP frameworks, that I found a bunch of titles.  There were certainly a lot of Laravel books.  One thing that impressed me about Laravel is that they really tried to impement the ideas expressed in Robert C. Martin’s book, Clean Code.  Laravel has lots of pretty, semantically pleasing code.  So I played around with Laravel, but I didn’t feel it was quite at the level of Yii, and I just happened to be researching this when Yii 2 Beta came out.  I tried Yii 2 beta and fell in love with it, especially the advanced application template.  It gets you up and running with a mobile first Bootstrap impelmentation, with a working user registration model for both frontend and backend, right out of the box.

Books on Yii 2 are as of this writing, not out yet, but they are coming.  I think they will help usher in a new generation of PHP programmers who will take it to new a new level.  Applications will be built faster, with a more robust and extensible infrastructure.  As of this writing the general release for Yii 2 is about 30 days away.

So there is a lot to be excited about, but getitng back to the original question here, “Is PHP still relevant?”, I can’t help but wonder if it will be overshadowed, either by another language such as Ruby or by a mass migration off the web via mobile.  Of course the Internet wouldn’t disappear, but I could imagine websites as we know them being a relic of the past.

Anyway, I did some searching on Google and found this article on PHP which states that Google has determined that PHP is used on 75% of all websites.  If true, that is certainly a compelling and calming statistic. PHP is widely adopted and used, even if it is not always the flavor of the month.

PHP  does seem to have a lot of haters, and people who are into other languages such as Ruby are not shy about voicing negative opinions about PHP.  A lot of the complaints about PHP seem to be rooted in ideas about what a language should be.  It reminds me of the idealism I found in the Clean Code book.

Now I’m the first to admit, I’m not qualified enough in Java to review that book.  My only exposure to Java is a single book I read on it by Richard M. Reese, when I was recovering from Gall Bladder surgery.  Out with the gall bladder, in with Java.

Anway, I couldn’t help be impressed by the robustness of Java and how its best practices imply a strong architecture that guides a developer into following best practices.  That’s the good news.  On the other hand, it was my impression, from standing at the foot of the mountain, that it would take far more programming hours to do something in Java than it would in PHP.

Also, if PHP programmers tried to follow Clean Code principles too literally, they would bloat their code base with an unmanageable number of files.  I mean unmanageable from a server standpoint, that much PHP would bog down the server. You could have extremely clean code and extremely bad server performance.  Laravel for example, suffers from exactly these kind of problems.

You can solve those problems easily if you have enough money to throw at it.  You can hire teams of Java developers who can build an elegant archictecture that supports maximum code reuse and extensibilty, if I can be so bold as to use that phrase.  Or you could throw server resources at the problems and just feed the beast.  The thing is, doing so will cost you a fortune, and most companies don’t operate with those kinds of budgets.

PHP is a low-cost alternative to that.  So please don’t sneer at it, Mr. Investor, when a start-up tells you they are using PHP. The language, while not as robust as Java, has evolved, and become more object oriented in 5.4 than in previous versions, with namespaces, traits etc.  Frameworks like Yii 2, which use PHP 5.4 and above, can help you do amazing things in a rapid development environment, with templating and code generation.

So here I am making the case for PHP, but I don’t really need to.  The google stats speak for themselves.  Wise, pragmatic programmers already know that PHP is still very relevant.  This doesn’t say anything negative about other languages or frameworks.  They all have their strong points.  Liking one language is not a good reason to hate another.

And finally, looking into the crystal ball for the future, I will address the mobile issue.  I think we will see more cross platform development, like Zend is doing with their Zend Studio product, which I should note, I do not use, so this is not an endorsement.  But I do find interesting that you can build a front-end mobile app and have it be directly connected to your servers and your web architecture.

When I checked it out, I didn’t love the Zend PHP Framework, I didn’t find it intuitive or easy to use, so I’m not really following their IDE.  But I do think we will see more products like this in the future and ultimately, PHP will be supported.  After all, 75% adoption on the web is too much to ignore.

Vote in the poll at the top of the page about whether or not PHP is still relevant and let us know what you think.


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