What’s So Great About PHP?

You may be attracted to PHP because it’s free, because it’s easy to learn, or because your boss told you that you need to start working on a PHP project next week. Since you’re going to use PHP, you need to know a little bit about what makes it special. The next time someone asks you “What’s so great about PHP?” use this section as the basis for your answer.

1. PHP Is Free (as in Money)

You don’t have to pay anyone to use PHP. Whether you run the PHP engine on a beat-up 10-year-old PC in your basement or in a room full of million-dollar “enterprise-class” servers, there are no licensing fees, support fees, maintenance fees, upgrade fees, or any other kind of charge.

OS X and most Linux distributions come with PHP already installed. If yours doesn’t, or you are using another operating system such as Windows, you can download PHP from http://www.php.net. Appendix A has detailed instructions on how to install PHP.

2. PHP Is Free (as in Speech)

As an open source project, PHP makes its innards available for anyone to inspect. If it doesn’t do what you want, or you’re just curious about why a feature works the way it does, you can poke around in the guts of the PHP engine (written in the C program­ming language) to see what’s what. Even if you don’t have the technical expertise to do that, you can get someone who does to do the investigating for you. Most people can’t fix their own cars, but it’s nice to be able to take your car to a mechanic who can pop open the hood and fix it.

3. PHP Is Cross-Platform

You can use PHP with a web server computer that runs Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and many other versions of Unix. Plus, if you switch web server operating systems, you generally don’t have to change any of your PHP programs. Just copy them from your Windows server to your Unix server, and they will still work.

While Apache is the most popular web server program used with PHP, you can also use nginx, Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS), or any other web server that supports the CGI standard. PHP also works with a large number of databases, including MySQL, PostgreSQL, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, SQLite, Redis, and MongoDB.

If all the acronyms in the last paragraph freak you out, don’t worry. It boils down to this: whatever system you’re using, PHP probably runs on it just fine and works with whatever database you are already using.

4. PHP Is Widely Used

PHP is used on more than 200 million different websites, from countless tiny per­sonal home pages to giants like Facebook, Wikipedia, Tumblr, Slack, and Yahoo. There are many books, magazines, and websites devoted to teaching PHP and explor­ing what you can do with it. There are companies that provide support and training for PHP. In short, if you are a PHP user, you are not alone.

5. PHP Hides Its Complexity

You can build powerful ecommerce engines in PHP that handle millions of custom­ers. You can also build a small site that automatically maintains links to a changing list of articles or press releases. When you’re using PHP for a simpler project, it doesn’t get in your way with concerns that are only relevant in a massive system. When you need advanced features such as caching, custom libraries, or dynamic image generation, they are available. If you don’t need them, you don’t have to worry about them. You can just focus on the basics of handling user input and displaying output.

6. PHP Is Built for Web Programming

Unlike most other programming languages, PHP was created from the ground up for generating web pages. This means that common web programming tasks, such as accessing form submissions and talking to a database, are often easier in PHP. PHP comes with the capability to format HTML, manipulate dates and times, and manage web cookies—tasks that are often available only via add-on libraries in other pro­gramming languages.

Source: Sklar David (2016), Learning PHP: A Gentle Introduction to the Web’s Most Popular Language, O’Reilly Media; 1st edition.

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