A Comprehensive Guide to PHP Programming: What You Need to Know


A Comprehensive Guide to PHP Programming: What You Need to Know

PHP is an open-source, server-side programming language that can be used to create websites, applications, customer relationship management systems and more. It is a widely-used general-purpose language that can be embedded into HTML. This functionality with HTML means that the PHP language has remained popular with developers as it helps to simplify HTML code.

What does PHP stand for?

PHP stands for ‘PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor’, with the original PHP within this standing for ‘Personal Home Page’. The acronym has changed as the language developed since its launch in 1994 to more accurately reflect its nature. 

Since its release, there have been 8 versions of PHP, as of 2022, with version 8.1 currently a popular choice among those using the language on their websites.

What is PHP used for? 

PHP programming can be used to create most things that a software developer needs. However, there are three main areas in which it thrives.

  1. Server-side scripting
    Server-side Script is PHP’s main strength. If you are just learning to code and want to explore server-side scripting, PHP is a great language to learn. To get cracking with PHP server-side scripting you’ll need to have a PHP parser, web server and web browser.
  2. Command-line scripting 
    Command-line scripting is ideal for scripts made using cron (Linux) or Task Scheduler (Windows). It is also great for simple text processing.
  3. Writing desktop applications
    PHP is probably not the best language to use to create desktop applications but for the advanced web developer, it provides you with many more options than its competitors.

Of course, PHP can do many other things. For example, it is excellent at collecting form data, encrypting user data and sending and receiving cookies. One of the major features of PHP that makes it so usable is that it is compatible with all major operating systems so you can code no matter what tech you are using.

How to Use PHP?

There are three major things needed to code effectively in PHP:

  1. PHP Parser: The parser takes PHP code and analyses it, outputting a respective syntax tree that puts the source into an easier to read format for machines to understand
  2. Web Server: The server is the program that will execute your PHP files to form webpages
  3. Web Browser: The browser will allow you to view the PHP page through the server, in the same way as with any other content on the web

Instructions on how to install PHP requirements can be found on the PHP website.

Advantages of PHP

PHP has endured as a popular programming language for almost three decades owing to the number of benefits it offers users and developers. The most significant of these are:

  • It is cross-platform: As mentioned above, PHP can be run on any major operating system, so you don’t have to worry about compatibility. This also means that you can work on a project team and not have to worry about members being able to access code!
  • It’s open-source: Open source means that PHP is a free programming language, so you don’t have to worry about additional costs when building your project
  • Many developers understand it: The longevity of PHP means there’s already a large community out there to support you, and a large amount of legacy code to help you get started with projects.
  • It works brilliantly with HTML: PHP can help simplify your projects and works seamlessly with this dominant programming language.
  • As a language, it is relatively easy to learn: Because of its simplicity, PHP is quicker and easier to pick up than some other alternatives. 
  • There are plenty of tools available: There are tools to help you with just about anything for PHP, from integration, code hinting, syntax highlighting and more, there is a lot of support for you.
  • It offers great load times for websites: With website performance becoming more and more tied to speed, PHP’s quick load can really help you succeed.

Declining in popularity

As a language, PHP is still relatively popular among software developers. However, it is a language in decline with so much choice now available. According to PYPL (PopularitY of Programming Language), PHP is ranked as the sixth most popular coding language in the world. The TIOBE index ranks PHP as the 10th most popular programming language currently available, whilst Stack Overflow’s research has it ranked 11th.

Who uses PHP?

Even though PHP has been around for quite some time, it is still used among some of the world’s most well-known organisations and websites. Below are just a few of the companies that use it. 

  • Facebook
  • Wikipedia
  • WordPress
  • Etsy
  • Slack

So even though it may not be ranking number one in terms of popularity anymore, learning PHP is still a useful investment for developers.

Get Started

Before you learn PHP, it is hugely beneficial to learn HTML first. HTML is taught as part of Code Institute’s Full Stack Development course, to get you well on your way to getting the most out of PHP. Code Institute also offers a free course that teaches the basics of HTML called the 5 Day Coding Challenge. Register for the free challenge now through the form below.

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