Python vs PHP: The beginner’s guide for choosing the first programming language
11 July 2018
Python and PHP are two of the most popular programming languages currently used for web development. And while they both come with certain advantages and disadvantages, over the last couple of years, more and more people have been choosing Python over PHP.
When thinking about whether to pick PHP or Python, there isn’t just one correct answer. It all boils down to the type of project you are working on and to your own preferences and goals. That being said, to be able to choose the programming language that best fits your needs, you need to be familiar with both of them.
For a long period of time, PHP has been the most popular programming language used in web development. In fact, over 80% of the modern websites are based on it. However, the trends and the technologies are constantly changing so it might not stay that way for much longer.
It all started back in 1994 when Rasmus Lerdorf wrote several Common Gateway Interface (CGI) programs in C, then extended them to communicate with databases and work with web forms, and called this implementation PHP (Personal Home Page).
So what is PHP used for? Well, other developers recognized the potential behind Lerdorf’s idea almost immediately and since then, PHP has been used for development of all kinds of websites.
Is PHP a programming language? Even though it wasn’t initially intended to be a programming language, it soon turned to out to be just the thing web developers have been waiting for.
Python was created by Guido van Rossum and first released in 1991. Unlike PHP, it was intended to be a high-level programming language for general-purpose programming from the very start.
However, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that Python gained huge popularity among web developers with the introduction of Python 2.0. That being said, since Python never went completely mainstream, mostly because it is a full stack programming language, irrelative of web development.
Today, less than 1% of all modern websites are created and managed with Python. But is Python worth learning? Oh yes, it is.
PHP vs Python: the Similarities
It might seem strange to talk about Python vs PHP since the two languages were created for completely different things. But even though there are many differences between the two, you would be surprised how many similarities there are as well.
Let’s take a look at some things that the two languages have in common:
- Both PHP and Python are easy to learn (compared to C++, Perl, and others);
- Both languages are accompanied by extensive and detailed documentation;
- Both languages are open source and can be updated and advanced by users with the purpose of improvement;
- Wide and friendly developer communities facilitate the process of learning and working with PHP and Python;
- Portability and versatility: both languages have IDEs for all the major operating systems.
Python or PHP?
So let’s try and compare PHP to Python in a little Python vs PHP debate. Both Python and PHP can serve your purpose so it all comes down to your specific needs and goals. Since there isn’t a simple right or wrong answer, the question which one of these two languages to use for web development has been a matter of an important discussion in the developing world.
This question could be particularly important for you if you are a beginner developer. There are many things to consider in that situation; from the learning curve to the budget you have at disposal.
Both these languages are very popular; in fact, they are the 2 most popular programming languages at this point and they have been holding that position for quite a long time.
While the experienced developer already pretty much know their preferences and style, the beginners can find themselves in quite a pickle when picking the new programming language.
Not only do they have to understand the basic of programming, but they also need to know how to implement all those little details in the language of their choice. In addition to that, they have to master syntax which is often one of the hardest things to learn in the beginnings of one’s developer career.
Another problem the beginners often face is the bias of the seasoned developers. You have seen that situation before with the users who get attached to a certain product and the way it works.
Just like Canon fans believe Canon is better than Nikon; just like Mac fans think Windows will never be just as good, if you ask an experienced PHP developer what they think about other programming languages, they will tell you there is nothing better than PHP. And, of course, the same goes for the seasoned Python users.
That being said, if you truly want to know which programming language fits you best, you will have to try it for yourself. There are certain discussion centers we can go through to help you select your first programming language.
Like we said before, both of these languages are very popular among the web developers. That being said, PHP overwhelmingly dominates the internet with more than 80% market share.
Some of the world’s most popular websites are powered by PHP, including Wikipedia, Yahoo, Tumblr, Flickr etc. Facebook also started completely powered by PHP but then transitioned to PHP framework that incorporates all the features that the Facebook developers need for platform and app development.
However, Python got its own share of popularity when Google decided to use it for powering some of its most popular projects. YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, and Spotify followed.
So there is no way of determining which language is more popular among the web giants. When talking about popularity, Python vs PHP are neck and neck.
Available Frameworks and CMS
Frameworks are great for developers who don’t want to build every single detail of an app from scratch. They are “pre-made” lines of code that allow you to create an app on top of a standard structure of application software.
PHP development gets much easier when you use one of the many frameworks available. Most popular PHP frameworks include Laravel and Symfony, as well as other cool frameworks maintained by the enthusiastic community.
So when talking about frameworks, PHP developing might be slightly easier in that aspect than Python. While there are some pretty great Python frameworks that perform the same function as for PHP frameworks, the selection is a bit limited.
Python does offer a several Django powered CMS but we still have to say that in this segment, PHP is our winner.
So when talking Python vs PHP in the context of frameworks and CMS, we have to say that PHP can be considered better.
Should I learn PHP? Is PHP hard to learn? What is Python learning curve?
Those are some of the most popular questions we face when talking about learning a new programming language which, in this case, means becoming fluent in the syntax and designing the functional code.
We have to say that in this case, Python has a slight edge over PHP.
The thing is that Python code is more readable which makes it easier to understand for beginners as well as for the experienced developers. With PHP, the newbies often find themselves a bit lost and it takes a while to understand everything.
While Python is very forgiving of mistakes in formatting and the code does not break when minor mistakes occur, PHP leaves no room for mistakes.
For an absolute beginner who wants to learn the fundamentals of programming, Python would be easier and possibly an even better option.
On the other hand, the PHP community has proven itself very helpful with a number of courses and tutorials that make the learning process at least a little bit easier. Which brings us to our next discussion point – community support.
Both PHP and Python have great community support which can be very helpful not only for the beginners but for all users.
Both these languages have been around for quite a while and the community has been steadily growing. There are loads of PHP and Python developers which makes the support truly outstanding.
Just like with the community support, it is impossible to determine which programming language is the winner when it comes to the documentation.
Both PHP and Python come with numerous websites, forums, discussion boards, great tutorials etc. Whenever you encounter an issue, you are guaranteed to find the solution if you search for it.
Both Python and PHP are open source and entirely free of charge. We have to say that they are a lot better than some of the paid web frameworks out there.
While the score is tied with documentation and community support, the library support is one aspect where Python significantly beats PHP.
Python library support for all types of apps is amazing and, unfortunately for PHP users, PHP doesn’t come even close to Python in this aspect.
Excellent Machine Learning libraries like TensorFlow, Keras, Theano, Scikit Learn, etc. are just some of the great libraries Python offers. All of them are easy to use, fast, and they integrate perfectly with the web framework. Thanks to that, app development with Python gets even easier.
Speed is an important factor and it can really affect performance critical apps. To keep things simple, when it comes to apps, faster is ALWAYS better.
With that in mind, Python, unfortunately, comes nowhere near PHP’s speed. PHP 5.x versions were quite slow, taking a lot of time in execution. However, the new release PHP 7.x is extremely fast, almost 3 times faster than a typical Python program. That, indeed, makes a very big difference.
However, we have to all that for the simple applications, it doesn’t really matter because the scale is to low the lag is mostly unnoticeable.
Both Python and PHP provide pretty great debugging features that are well-documented and easy to use. Python comes with PDB (Python Debugger) while PHP provides Atom package for debugging. They are quite similar and both get the job done.
We have to say that there is no clear winner when it comes to debugging.
PHP or Python: What to choose?
Now that we have been over the most important discussion points in the debate about PHP vs Python, we can clearly see that the score is tied.
To summarize, both PHP and Python have their advantages and disadvantages but they will both help you get the job done. However, if we put ourselves in the beginner’s shoes, we would give a slight advantage to Python.
Let’s take a look at some of the key points to keep in mind when choosing the programming language:
- If you are a seasoned developer and already know how to use PHP, stick to it; the worst part is over
- If you are an intermediate programmer, you might want to learn Python and shift to it for better job opportunities.
- If you are a novice programmer who wants to learn backend development, start learning Python and eventually move to Python-based frameworks.
Keep in mind that despite the differences these two languages have, they also have a lot of similarities and it is very hard to tell which one is better than the other and why.
They are both convenient, have great community support, useful libraries, detailed documentation, and they are both completely free of charge.
So since you have to choose one, we would say it all comes down to the purpose of the development and your own skills.
If you are a newbie, Python would probably be a better option for you simply because PHP has a much steeper learning curve. On the other hand, if you don’t mind spending more time learning it, it would be best if you knew how to use both.
If you need to create simple web apps and working sites, PHP is the best solution. If, on the other hand, your goal is to develop a complex flexible product, you should probably go with Python.
If you are thinking about mobile development, take into consideration that Python is not limited to web development capabilities, which make it more versatile than PHP.
At the end of the day, the best thing to do would be to give both of them a chance and see how it goes.
Ending thoughts on Python vs PHP
Choosing your first programming language is an important decision that will have a big impact on your career in web development. The good and the bad news at the same time is that there is no right answer for you.
Both PHP and Python are amazing open source programming languages that will help you get the job done. They both have a lot of advantages and disadvantages and it all boils down to your personal preference and the type of project you are working on.
Give a chance to both of them and see how it goes.
If you enjoyed reading this article on Python vs PHP, you should check out this one about best IDE for web development.
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