Celebrating 20 Years of PHP

Twenty years ago today, Rasmus Lerdorf released Personal Home Page Tools (PHP Tools) version 1.0 to the world.

This is what Ben Ramsey tells us in his blog post celebrating 20 years of PHP.

Anyone who has talked to Rasmus knows that its popularity and success were all entirely accidental, and that he never planned for it to take over the world.

Except… it wasn’t really an accident was it?

Ben suggests that we all write about our own first encounters with PHP — I saw it on a Simpsons website, bought a book, pre-PHP 4.0, read three chapters, hacked on stuff, the rest is history — but I’d like to do something a little different. I want to tell our story.

As Erika Heidi points out in her blog post PHP powers about 80% of the web. Much of that (~25%1) is WordPress, including this blog.

That didn’t happen overnight, or accidentally. There were several factors that helped though:

  • PHP was easy to learn
  • mod_php made Apache2 integration fast, and easy
  • The MySQL extension made database access and use, fast, and easy3

The creation of great4 off-the-shelf software, like phpNuke, phpBB, phpMyAdmin, and the aforementioned WordPress, meant that end-users started to use PHP without even really understanding what it was… but they sure made a lot of software!

Even still, none of this was accidental, it was the result on a lot of hard work, by many thousands of people.

During my research for my talk, Open Source, Love, and Social Responsibility, I put together some numbers:

  • PHP is 1.5 million lines of code
  • Apache is 533,000 lines of code
  • MySQL is 3.4 million lines of code

All in all, a standard LAMP stack, those four little letters, amount to over sixty-nine and a half million (69,500,000) lines of code, which, more importantly were contributed by over 4800 people.

These days our skills as a community have risen dramatically since the days of phpNuke, we have amazing tools like composer, and PHPUnit. Four of the top ten websites are written in PHP.

Every single person who has used PHP, contributed to an open source PHP project, contributed to PHP, the docs, or even “just” been part of the community conversation: We are all responsible for this success.

So, think back, pat yourself on the back, and lets make things even better.


If you’re interested in more PHP history, check out my blog posts on the history of PHAR files and ten years of PHP 5.0.0.

  1. That is, ~25% of the 80%, or ~20% of the web. 
  2. Yes, I know, it’s technically Apache httpd, deal with it. 
  3. Fast, easy, and insecure. Thank goodness for PHP 7: bye bye ext/mysql
  4. For the time. Our understanding of great software wasn’t itself very great in the 90’s.