Today marks the 28th anniversary of the first release of PHP. To recognize its contribution to the modern web, we explored the history of the language, its key features, current popularity and even some of the tech giants relying on the language... So, let's take a look at what we found out. :)
PHP is a general-purpose scripting language that can be used to build websites, apps, customer relationship management systems and much more. It was created by the Danish-Canadian programmer Rasmus Lerdorf in 1993 and it was released in 1995.
Typically, the PHP code is processed on a web server by a PHP interpreter implemented as a module, a daemon or as a Common Gateway Interface (CGI) executable. On a web server, the result of the interpreted and executed PHP code would form the whole or part of the HTTP response. In addition, the language can be used for many development tasks outside the web context, such as standalone graphical applications. The PHP code can also be executed directly from the command line.
The language stands for “PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor” and it was initially called “Personal Home Page”. The acronym has evolved as the language developed since its launch to be a more accurate reflection of its true nature.
As of January 2013, PHP was used in more than 240 million websites and was installed on 2.1 million web servers. As of March 2021, it was used as the server-side programming language in 79.1% of the websites and PHP 7 was the most used version of the language by about 50.3% of the websites on the Internet.
Since its release, there have been 8 versions of PHP, with version 8.1 currently being a popular choice among those using the language on their websites. An interesting fact is that on 26 November 2021, the JetBrains blog announced the creation of the PHP Foundation, which will sponsor the design and development of PHP.
The May 2023 TIOBE Index ranks PHP as the 8th most popular programming language currently available, whilst the 2022 Stack Overflow’s research has it ranked 13th. W3Techs reports that as of January 2023, PHP is used by 77.8% of all the websites whose server-side programming language we know.
What is PHP used for?
PHP is mostly focused on server-side scripting, so it can do everything a CGI program can do, such as collecting data, generating dynamic page content or sending and receiving cookies. In addition, PHP is at the foundation of popular web applications and content management systems such as WordPress, Wiki, Drupal and Magento. It's notable that even Facebook in its early versions was written in PHP. However, its flexibility and wide range of applications make PHP a powerful tool for developers in a variety of web development projects.
Here are three main areas where it thrives.
- Server-side scripting
The PHP’s main strength is the server-side script. The running of a web server with PHP installed allows the output of PHP programs to be accessed through a web browser. And to get cracking with PHP server-side scripting you’ll need to have a PHP parser, web server and web browser.
- Command-line scripting
The command line scripts are perfect for scripts that are created using cron (on *nix or Linux) or Task Scheduler (Windows). And it's great for simple word processing.
- Writing desktop applications
PHP is probably not the very best programming language to use to create desktop apps with a graphical user interface, but for the advanced web developer, it provides more options than its competitors.
PHP is compatible with a wide range of operating systems, including Linux, various Unix variants (such as HP-UX, Solaris, and OpenBSD), Microsoft Windows, macOS, RISC OS and others. It also provides support for the most popular web servers, such as Apache, IIS, lighttpd, and nginx. PHP can be utilized either as a module or as a CGI processor within these web servers.
In addition, to its main use for web development, PHP offers a range of additional capabilities. For example, it excels at handling form data, encrypting user information, and managing cookies. One of PHP's notable strengths is its compatibility with major operating systems, allowing developers to code regardless of the technology they are using.
How to use PHP?
If you want to program effectively in PHP, you need three basic components:
- PHP Parser: The parser is responsible for analysing the PHP code. It takes the code and transforms it into a syntax tree, which is a structured representation of the code that machines can understand more easily.
- Web Server: A web server is required to execute the PHP files and generate web pages. The server processes the PHP code and produces the corresponding output that can be displayed in a web browser.
- Web Browser: A web browser is required in order to reproduce the PHP pages generated by the web server. The browser allows interacting with and navigating the PHP-based web content just like every other web page.
Who uses PHP?
The language is often used for Web content management systems like MediaWiki, WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Moodle, eZ Publish, eZ Platform and SilverStripe. Even though PHP has been around for a long time, it is still used by some of the world's most well-known organizations and websites such as Facebook, Wikipedia, WordPress, Etsy and Slack.