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PHP was first created in 1994. In the context of tech, 1994 may as well be 1894. Several other programming languages have popped up since PHP and gained favor with developers everywhere. It’s reasonable many would question why PHP is still in use—but they shouldn’t.

These days, PHP is still largely used in web development. It’s served as a major component in some of the web’s biggest platforms, including WordPress and Drupal. Developers have praised it for ease of use, although the TIOBE Index (which ranks programming languages by popularity) has damned it for “security holes.” Many pundits and analysts have predicted PHP’s demise over the years, and yet it manages to stick to a fairly high place on many programming-language rankings; for example, it’s in fourth place on analyst firm RedMonk’s latest breakdown

What’s one reason for the persistence of PHP? The longer a language sticks around, the more legacy code it generates. And that, in turn, persuades both individual developers and companies to keep using it. Age has its advantages, in other words. We spoke to some die-hard users to find out what they love about it, and why the rest of the world should consider using PHP instead of railing against it.

PHP Is Improving

Vadim Belsky, Head of Web Development at ScienceSoft, said the “large, passionate community” surrounding PHP is a major draw. The language’s “new yearly releases” keep this community engaged. 

Reuben Yonatan, Founder and CEO of GetVoIP, agrees. “PHP is still a great language because every year, the language improves. That dedication to improvement will give it longevity. A while ago, web developers complained that compared to JavaScript and other web technologies, PHP was slow. The response was the release of PHP 7, which solved the speed issues.”

New versions are still released, Yonatan added: “As of July, PHP 7.4.8 is the most stable release. PHP gets a bad rap because developers/experts will look around, come across a site with numerous security bugs, and conclude it is PHP's fault. No.”

It’s not just the language that’s evolving, Belsky noted. “The PHP ecosystem is actively evolving and improving. There is a huge number of ready-made solutions (frameworks (Symfony, CodeIgniter, Laravel, Laminas, Yii, Cake, Code Igniter) with a large ecosystem of packages, products, services; plugins and libraries, integrations).”

“PHP is getting better with each iteration,” Deepu Prakash, SVP of Process, and Technology Innovation at Fingent, told Dice. “PHP 7.4 is leaps and bounds better than PHP 7.3, and with 8.0 expected to be released in November, it’s only going to get better as it boasts the new Just In Time compilation (JIT) and a slew of other features.”

Plain and Simple: WordPress

Perry Toone of thexyz.com told Dice: “Most websites use WordPress, which is built on PHP.” 

Jonathon Wright, Co-Founder of The QA Lead, added that the language "is here to stay, and it is still a great language because it is excellent at what it does—web development.

Wright continued: “[It] might not be a versatile language, but in its area of specialization, it is king.” Among the reasons for developers to consider it: efficient management of large databases, along with seamless file processing, arrays, and robust error handling. “The language is also flexible, scalable and customizable. It is no coincidence that it powers over 80 percent of the internet. Neither is it a coincidence that some of the biggest websites and platforms, such as WP and Drupal, use the language.”

Those with content-first websites will undoubtedly lean towards WordPress as their development platform of choice. Like PHP, WordPress has a slew of competitors all aiming to dethrone it; yet both remain widely used and well-known building blocks of the web. Longevity has paid off.

The Language is Easy to Learn

Prakash, like most web developers, started off with PHP back in the day: “This wasn’t because there weren’t other languages out there. Though JavaScript wasn’t a big thing back then, there were other server-side languages and technologies available.” But PHP was easy to pick up.

With PHP and MySQL, on the other hand, “you could build a working dynamic webpage with a database in a couple of days,” Prakash continued. “Now it’s 2020 and PHP has stayed the same. It’s still one of the easiest languages to learn. JavaScript could be easy to learn, depending on the framework you choose, but PHP is easy to learn from scratch with no prior knowledge required.”

Bryan Osima, CEO of Uvietech Software Solutions Inc., said the language is "still incredibly powerful in all the things it can accomplish in the area web software development.”

PHP is the Web

Shawn Powers, CBT Nuggets Trainer, believes that PHP is still relevant to modern developers. “[It] might seem like the old way of doing things, but if you want a language with the power and simplicity of a shell script, but the fancy web UI of more modern languages with their fancy web frameworks—it's hard to beat good old PHP,” he said. “I've used it for years to make simple apps that solve a problem, and for robust applications that monitor and interact with thousands of systems.”

Prakash highlights an important (but overlooked) aspect of PHP: It’s a lot like other web-first languages with rich framework ecosystems. We tend to think of the language as a limited monolith language we have to suffer, but it’s not. Seasoned developers might hate the tangled PHP code within their own companies, and of course it’s easy for anyone to potentially write bad code—but that’s the case with many languages.

“But now you don’t really have to work with raw PHP code thanks to frameworks,” Prakash said. “Like with Node.js where you might use Express, you could work with many frameworks for PHP as well. Using such frameworks gives you the best of both worlds wherein you’ll be working with PHP, but the schema and syntax the frameworks force on you will ultimately result in cleaner code."

PHP is an Employable Skill

“As an employer, one of the great things about PHP is that, when I’m recruiting, there’s a good chance that most candidates will already be hugely familiar with PHP, which saves time and money on training,” said Jacek Zmudzinski of Future Processing, while mentioning a secondary factor that makes knowing the language attractive to employers: “PHP facilitates HTML programming much easier than any other language, which means that switching from HTML to PHP is child’s play.”

Conclusion: This Language is Here to Stay

The view of PHP as a stodgy, old, useless relic of days long gone may be a reflection of the pace at which tech moves, broadly speaking. It’s the same argument that people make about other older languages, such as C++, which are similarly foundational to tech as we know it.

Many believe that the language is relevant, useful, compiles quickly, continues to evolve, and is useful for front- and back-end development. The language has deep roots in tech and continues to flower; that alone should make it a language to pay attention to.