Making the case for PHP

One of the biggest decisions you can make for any project is the environment it which the project will be written.

Most developers mistake the word environment for the word “technology” or “software”. For example, you develop in a “JSP environment”, or a “LAMP environment”. This is a crucial mistake that is made time and time again, and unfortunately, it hurts companies because the decision makers either make the same mistake, or they listen to those making the mistake.

I’ve said numerous times, that you can use any language to do anything. Yes, there are practical limits, using C to write a dynamic website isn’t a great idea, nor is using PHP for password cracking. Each language has it’s own strengths and weaknesses; good developers however, know what these are and work with their strengths and work around their weaknesses. This post isn’t going to focus much on languages; I figure everybody reading has already chosen PHP and knows why.

What I will say is this: Ruby, Python, PHP, Perl, Java and .NET all bring the same capabilities to the table (some things are easier in some, and some more difficult in others). You can create any solution you want in each of these languages, in an efficient, well thought out, well developed way. Yahoo! could be written in Python. How do we know this? because Google uses it. Microsoft uses .NET for it’s web presence, and while you might not like to use it, it still stands up to more stress than most of the websites on the internet.

With this in mind, I then would say that the language capabilities themselves, are the least important factor in choosing your environment.

This then brings me neatly to what else that environment encompasses. These, to me, fall into three categories. People, knowledge and penetration.

Access to People

To put it bluntly, if you can’t find the people to write your code, you’re screwed. While you may know what you’re doing, and you have enough people now: your team will need to grow. If you can’t find people around you to hire, then what?

There are estimates that for every 100 PHP developers, there are 42 Perl developers, there are 12 Python developers and 4 Ruby developers. (see: here)

Some will say that this is because there is a lot of bad PHP developers. I will agree to a point, but that point is that there are just so damn many, that there are still more great developers to pick from than with other languages.

Access to Knowledge

While this one is more subjective, I believe that the sheer number of PHP developers generate far more useful knowledge from which to learn, cherry pick ideas and utilize them. Add to that the extensive number of books, and our excellent php|architect magazine; as well as the training and teachings provided by MTA, Zend and ibuildings, we have more going for us than most every other language with, I think, the exception of Java in terms of professionally backed learning.

Market Penetration

Simply put, the availability of PHP as a platform is there from the cheapest virtualhost, to the most expensive dedicated systems. It has gained wide acceptance from smaller companies, because it is cheap and reliable, and from enterprise companies such as IBM, Oracle and even Microsoft because they see that the ability is there for PHP to operate in that space and a huge number of developers willing to make that happen.


No other language can claim this trifecta, sure, there are a lot of .NET and Java developers, but a lot that goes on happens behind closed doors in big enterprises, and the knowledge is not shared. And while this isn’t true of Python, or Ruby, they lack in numbers and knowledge comparatively. This is why I choose PHP.

– Davey

  • Sherif Mansour
    Posted June 6, 2009 1:52 am 0Likes

    Great write-up. I had to go through something similar in an organisation recently – PHP vs Java. Agree on your comments its not “vs”. You made some good points there.

    There other point I’d like to bring to the table is something I like to call “the right technology for the right solution”.

    If you were going to build an application with an estimated 500 rows – why would you use Oracle? Its a bloated solution that might be “overkill for what you need”. You might use something like MySQL or even SQLite.

    The same thoughts apply to the application layer. Java – powerful – very much so. But if i wanted a simple application to display the results of a table, I might use a scripting language, like PHP/Python. If I wanted to build an application that needed to be multi-threaded, I’d use Java.

    So its not just because there are lots of developers in PHP (or whatever it might be), It’s also making sure we use the right technology for the right solution.


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  • Tibo Beijen
    Posted June 11, 2009 6:04 am 0Likes

    The open culture of the PHP community is highly appreciated by the community itself but my feeling is that a great part of the enterprise level businesses are a bit more conservative.

    They tend to stick to .NET or java because of partnerships with companies like Microsoft and IBM and the of course the ‘certification circus’. As I’ve seen it described elsewhere: It’s a ‘different eco-system’. For PHP there is just less black-on-white ‘proof of quaility’ (note the quotes) to judge possible suppliers and employees by.

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