What makes PHP simple and powerful at the same time?

It’s easy to underestimate the role of PHP in today’s internet-centric world. 

It is thought that this programming language, which originally was an acronym for “Personal Home Page”, is used by around 80% of the world’s websites.

What makes PHP simple and powerful at the same time?

Facebook is perhaps the most prominent example of a PHP-centric website, but the list of major internet players that have embraced this programming language reads like a who is who of the internet: Wikipedia, Twitter, Wordpress...to name just a few sites that have been championing it.

PHP’s common and well understood open source framework counts on a huge, global, community of developers, which results also in a very dynamic environment, and one which is regularly updated to make it more robust, performing and versatile.

The latest of these upgrades arrived in late 2020 in the form of PHP 8.0.

In addition to enhanced security, PHP 8.0. includes some useful features, such as the so-called “Just in Time compiling” (JIT).

What is “Just in Time compiling”?

PHP is a script language, which means it is human-readable. Before it can be run on a machine it needs to go through a procedure called “compilation” that converts it into machine readable code, whose commands can be executed by a computer.

Just in Time compiling is, basically, a method to streamline the transmission of instructions in real time, from human-readable PHP code to machine-readable commands, making this whole process way faster than it used to be in previous PHP iterations.

The Popularity & Advantages.

Its popularity is also one PHP’s strengths. There is a huge community of programmers who can resort to a comprehensive set of libraries and code repositories that facilitate the reuse of batches of code to accelerate the implementation of coding projects.

One of these resources, for example, is Symfony, a web application framework and a set of reusable PHP libraries which have been downloaded several billion times. The many adaptable and customizable components available on Symfony have been used by the developers of many popular websites.

One of the main uses of PHP is in the creation of dynamic websites that facilitate the interaction with the user. For example, by using server-side scripting, you can collect information from your website users, either through the use of forms or cookies, and then serve them dynamic content that is customized to their preferences or user profile.

This makes of PHP a particular favourite to build digital platforms that have some social or community element, with e-learning being one of these uses, as we shall soon see.

Another advantage of PHP is that it is compatible with pretty much all operating systems and all major database software. Add to this the fact that it is a relatively straightforward language that can be mastered relatively fast and it may seem it is all smooth sailing. But, there are still a few things that one must pay attention to, particularly when we are talking about large, complex projects that are expected to be upgraded over time.

Its relative simplicity is another reason PHP is appreciated by many programmers and this has positive derivatives in many fronts.

For example, when 1PT was asked to build a digital learning about 10 years ago, PHP was our language of choice. This was due not only to the possibilities it offers for two-way interaction and customization, but also because, at the time, our customer, which was a startup, required a straightforward solution that made it possible to prototype things quickly and frequently.

The project has grown considerably since then, with the team assigned to it growing from 3 to 20 people (the majority PHP developers) and it even underwent a massive migration between cloud providers, but PHP has remained the backbone of the platform all this time.

PHP also was the ideal tool to overcome another challenge that this particular assignment presented to our programmers.

This being a digital education site that was expected to have users all over the world, it had to cater to a broad diversity of user profiles and settings.

If you don’t know which sort of hardware, operating system or internet access your users in different parts of the world are going to have access to, PHP provides a straightforward browser-based platform and all these concerns become secondary.

If we had had to create and test a version of our software for each of them, the complexity and cost of the project would have skyrocketed.

The PHP-based platform design even made possible for students in places where internet access is unreliable or restricted to complete some tasks offline, for example tests or homework, and sync at a later time when they have internet access.

Ease of use and simplicity does not mean improvisation, though.

In fact, the very dynamism of PHP, with its constant upgrades, means also that it is common for website owners to find themselves stuck with suboptimal older versions. This may not seem like a big deal in the short term, but if the system architecture has not been designed from its foundations or updates have been regularly neglected, it may be way more difficult and complex to upgrade to new versions when you have the need to scale up your site.

It is advisable to take a strategic approach to PHP projects, taking into account long term scalability and the life cycle of each of the language’s iterations. At 1PT we have experience designing and executing large scale PHP projects and we are ready to share our insights and experience with you.

It’s not just the fact that, in the words of famous Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen:

“Software is eating the world”

Marc Andreessen

...but also that its appetite can’t hardly be sated. The days when you had the luxury of running software development cycles that stretched for days, weeks, or even months, are truly over.

The good news is that a well streamlined software development cycle can also be a source of competitive advantage.

Those firms that can count on a proficient team that is well versed in DevOps methodology can be reasonably confident to stay ahead of the pack. Simply applying some of the best DevOps practices that are out there in the industry can go a long way.

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