What is PHP?

What is PHP


  • PHP, a server-side scripting language, is widely used in web development since its inception in 1994.
  • It offers versatility, integrating with various databases, operating systems, and web servers.
  • Key features include server-side scripting, database compatibility, and built-in functions for web applications.
  • Despite its simplicity and cost-effectiveness, PHP faces security vulnerabilities and limited debugging tools.
  • Real-life applications include online stores, content management systems, and web-based tools.
  • Major companies like Facebook, Wikipedia, and WordPress utilize PHP in their systems.
  • Recent updates focus on enhancing error handling, security, and performance optimization.
  • PHP remains relevant in 2024 due to its ongoing development and widespread adoption in web development.

Programming has become an integral part of technological development. There are many programming languages today. But did you know one programming language 77.5% websites whose server-side programming languages we know? 

That programming language is PHP. Let’s understand what PHP is and why it is so popular among developers.

What is PHP? Definition

PHP or Hypertext Preprocessor is a popular server-side scripting language primarily used in web development. It was created by Rasmus Lerdorf in 1994. “php” is the file extension for PHP. 

It’s an open-source language. This means it is freely available for anyone to use and modify. PHP scripts are executed on the server, and the results are sent to the client’s web browser. This allows PHP to generate dynamic content on web pages, such as user authentication, form handling, and interacting with databases. 

It was initially created to manage personal web pages, but it has since evolved into a general-purpose language that is especially powerful in web development. PHP can be embedded directly into HTML code. It makes the process  to add dynamic features to web pages easy without the need for multiple programming languages.

It integrates well with various databases including MySQL, Oracle, and Microsoft SQL Server, which makes it a strong option for backend development that involves database interactions.

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Features of PHP: Why do Developers Use PHP?

You may think, we are standing in 2024, and a programming language from 1994 is still dominating the market? How?

Here are some undeniable features that makes PHP popular among developers:

  • PHP is primarily used for server-side scripting. This means scripts written in PHP are executed on the server, and the client receives the output without seeing the underlying PHP code.
  • You can use it for scripts that are run without a server or a browser, which is ideal for tasks run regularly through cron jobs or task schedulers.
  • Although not its main use, PHP can be used to develop desktop applications if you’re well-versed in the language and want to utilize advanced PHP features.
  • It operates across different operating systems, including Linux, Windows, macOS, and more. This feature makes it highly adaptable for various environments.
  • It is compatible with almost all types of web servers available today.
  • PHP has extensive support for a wide range of databases, and it’s simple to write a database-enabled web page using PHP, with various extensions or abstraction layers like PDO for database operations.
  • It handles file uploads and can manage complex data manipulation tasks, essential for building dynamic web applications.
  • It comes with many built-in functions that can handle tasks like session management, cookies, and more. It also helps in maintaining state and managing user sessions efficiently.

How to Use PHP? Sample PHP Code

We learned what PHP is and what its features are. But how to use it?

Let’s understand it with a practical example. Below is an easy PHP code snippet that performs a simple task: adding two numbers:

HTML Form: This part of the code creates a simple web form where users can enter two numbers.

<!DOCTYPE html>

<html lang=”en”>


    <meta charset=”UTF-8″>

    <title>Add Two Numbers</title>



    <form action=”add.php” method=”post”>

        <input type=”number” name=”number1″ placeholder=”Enter first number” required>

        <input type=”number” name=”number2″ placeholder=”Enter second number” required>

        <button type=”submit”>Add Numbers</button>





  • <form action=”add.php” method=”post”>: This line tells the browser that when the form is submitted, send the data to a file named add.php using the POST method.
  • <input type=”number”>: These lines are for user input, allowing only numbers to be entered.
  • <button type=”submit”>: A button for the user to click to submit the form.

PHP Script (add.php): This script processes the input from the form.



    // Collect and clean input data

    $number1 = filter_input(INPUT_POST, ‘number1’, FILTER_SANITIZE_NUMBER_INT);

    $number2 = filter_input(INPUT_POST, ‘number2’, FILTER_SANITIZE_NUMBER_INT);

    // Calculate the sum

    $sum = $number1 + $number2;

    // Output the result

    echo “The sum of ” . $number1 . ” and ” . $number2 . ” is ” . $sum;




  • if ($_SERVER[“REQUEST_METHOD”] == “POST”): This line checks if the form has been submitted using POST.
  • filter_input(INPUT_POST, ‘number1’, FILTER_SANITIZE_NUMBER_INT): This function gets the input value from the form, ensuring it’s treated as an integer. It helps prevent unwanted or harmful data from being processed.
  • $sum = $number1 + $number2;: This line adds the two numbers together.
  • echo: This PHP function outputs the sum to the browser.

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How to Use This Code?

  • Save the HTML code in a file named index.html.
  • Save the PHP code in a file named add.php in the same directory as your index.html.
  • Use a server that can run PHP code, like XAMPP, WAMP, or a live server.
  • Open the index.html in your browser, enter numbers, and submit the form to see the result displayed by add.php.

Pros and Cons of PHP

Pros of PHPCons of PHP
Open Source and Cost-EffectiveSecurity Issues
Easy to LearnPoor Error Handling
FlexibilityNot Suitable for Large Applications
Fast Processing SpeedFramework Limitations
Extensive Library SupportRequires Additional Learning of Frameworks

Pros of PHP

  • PHP is free to use, which reduces the initial costs of web development​.
  • It is known for its simplicity. PHP is straightforward to learn, especially for those with a background in C programming. This can speed up the learning curve for new developers​.
  • Further, it is highly flexible. That’s why it is often used in combination with various other programming languages. It supports a wide range of databases and is compatible with almost all servers used today​.
  • PHP is noted for its fast processing speed, which can be particularly beneficial on sites with slow Internet connections​.
  • It offers extensive library support, which provides developers with a multitude of functions to perform tasks related to graphics, XML, encryption, etc​.

Cons of PHP

  • The open-source nature of PHP makes it less secure. Since its code is easily accessible, it can be susceptible to various security threats like SQL injections and cross-site scripting​.
  • It has limited debugging tools, which makes it challenging to identify and fix errors effectively​.
  • It’s not the best fit for very large applications or for applications that require complex or high-end performance features. PHP can struggle with a high number of simultaneous connections or extensive processing tasks​.
  • PHP frameworks can also be restrictive and not as efficient as those available for other languages. They may not be suitable for highly specialized or complex applications​​.
  • To use PHP effectively, especially its advanced features, developers may need to learn additional frameworks. This can add to the complexity and time required to master the language​.

What Does PHP Do? Use Cases of PHP

PHP is primarily used for developing dynamic and interactive websites. But is that all? Here are some more real life use cases of PHP:

  • PHP can be used to build online stores. For instance, PHP scripts can manage user interactions on shopping sites, handling tasks such as displaying products, managing shopping carts, and processing orders. This includes connecting to a database to retrieve product listings or updating a user’s order details.
  • Another use case is in content management systems (CMS) like WordPress, which is largely based on PHP. Here, PHP is used to create and manage digital content, and it allows for functionalities such as adding or editing posts, user management, and theme customization.
  • It is also used in web-based applications such as ticket booking systems for movie theaters. These systems use PHP to offer functionalities like choosing seats, selecting showtimes, and making online payments. PHP scripts ensure that the data flow—from user input through the server and back to the user’s screen—is handled efficiently, maintaining the session information and user choices across different pages.
  • Moreover, PHP is used in educational tools and platforms. For example, PHP scripts can manage user authentication, course content delivery, and tracking student progress in online learning platforms.

Let’s have a look at some leading companies that are using PHP and how they are doing it:

  • Facebook: Initially, Facebook heavily relied on PHP to serve billions of web requests. They created a compiler named HipHop for PHP, which transforms PHP scripts into C++ to improve performance. Although Facebook has diversified its technology stack over time, PHP’s influence in the early and formative stages of Facebook’s architecture was significant.
  • Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia that anyone can edit, uses PHP primarily because it is powered by the MediaWiki software, which is written in PHP. MediaWiki handles all content management tasks such as page rendering, user authentication, and database operations.
  • WordPress: This is perhaps one of the most famous examples of PHP in action. WordPress is a powerful content management system that powers a significant percentage of the world’s websites. It allows users to create and manage their websites through PHP-based plugins and themes.
  • MailChimp: Known for its email marketing services, MailChimp uses PHP to manage user interactions, data storage, and campaign management effectively. PHP’s role in MailChimp involves handling form submissions, user authentication, and other server-side functions.
  • Slack: Although known for its client-side applications, Slack’s server-side backend does include PHP for certain operations. PHP aids in processing some of the interactive features and integrations that Slack offers in its messaging platform.
  • Etsy: The online marketplace for handmade goods and vintage items uses PHP to manage its user transactions, product listings, and seller interfaces. PHP provides the necessary functions for database queries and page rendering.
  • Baidu: A major Chinese search engine, Baidu uses PHP for server-side scripting to deliver search results efficiently. PHP scripts handle queries, index updates, and result formatting.

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Latest Updates in PHP

PHP is constantly upgrading to keep up with the market trends. Here are some latest updates in PHP that helps it to enhance its utility:

  • Improved Error Handling: The newer versions of PHP have enhanced error handling mechanisms that allow developers to more easily detect and resolve issues. This includes comprehensive error messages and improved debugging tools.
  • Typed Properties and Better Syntax: PHP now supports typed properties, which enforce type declarations in class properties, ensuring that the data conforms to expected types. This makes the code more robust and less prone to bugs. Additionally, PHP’s syntax has seen improvements making it more concise and easier to understand.
  • Security Enhancements: PHP has introduced attributes like #[\SensitiveParameter] to improve security by redacting sensitive information from error logs and debug output. This is particularly useful for functions handling passwords or other private data.
  • Performance Optimization: The language has been optimized to execute code faster and more efficiently. This includes improvements in the just-in-time compilation that PHP introduced in version 8.
  • Better Integration with Modern Technologies: PHP ensures better compatibility with various modern databases and third-party libraries, which helps maintain smooth integration across different platforms and services.
  • Object-Oriented Programming (OOP) Enhancements: PHP’s support for object-oriented programming has been significantly improved, with features that allow for more robust class hierarchies, better data encapsulation, and increased code reusability.
  • New Functions and Classes: Each new release of PHP typically includes additional functions and classes that extend its capabilities. For example, PHP 8.2 introduced functions such as ini_parse_quantity for parsing INI size values and openssl_cipher_key_length for determining key lengths in cryptographic operations.
  • PHP 8.3 and 8.4: Launched on November 23, 2023, PHP 8.3 introduces significant improvements. These include typed class constants for enhanced type safety, dynamic access to class constants and enum members, a JSON validation function for verifying JSON data, upgrades to the Random Extension with new methods, the addition of the #[\Override] Attribute to ensure accurate method implementation, and enhancements to PHP CLI Lint. PHP 8.4 is expected to release in November 2024.


As we move through 2024, PHP remains a crucial player in web development, despite the emergence of newer programming languages. The latest advancements ensure that PHP remains relevant and widely used. The language’s simplicity and robust community support further secure its place as a preferred choice for many developers around the world. PHP offers a robust platform for building versatile and efficient web applications.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is PHP?

  • PHP stands for Hypertext Preprocessor, a server-side scripting language used primarily for web development.
  • It enables the creation of dynamic web pages by generating content on the server before sending it to the client’s web browser.
  • PHP files typically have a “.php” extension and can be embedded directly into HTML code.

What is PHP used for?

  • PHP is primarily used for server-side scripting in web development.
  • It enables the creation of dynamic web pages and interactive web applications.
  • Common applications include content management systems, e-commerce websites, and online forms.

How do I start learning PHP?

  • Begin by understanding basic HTML and CSS, as PHP is often integrated into HTML code.
  • Utilize online resources such as tutorials, documentation, and interactive coding platforms.
  • Practice writing simple PHP scripts to grasp fundamental concepts like variables, functions, and control structures.

Is PHP free to use?

  • Yes, PHP is an open-source language, meaning it is freely available for anyone to use, modify, and distribute.
  • There are no licensing fees associated with PHP, making it cost-effective for web development projects.
  • However, hosting a PHP website may incur hosting fees depending on the hosting provider.

What are the advantages of using PHP?

  • PHP offers simplicity and ease of learning, especially for beginners.
  • It provides flexibility, compatibility with various databases, and support for different operating systems.
  • PHP boasts fast processing speed, extensive library support, and a large community for assistance and resources.