PHP Here and Now

Updated on March 20, 2020
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Kevin is a Software Developer with 20 years experience designing and building business intelligence and system integration solutions.

The death of PHP is needless to say as it is just ain’t so. PHP, either directly or through a CMS like WordPress, Drupal or Joomla, is the programming backbone of nearly 80% of all websites according to w3techs.com.

Here are some hard facts:

Three of the top five CMS’ are written in PHP. In fact, according to w3techs.com, WordPress and WooCommerce, both of which are written in PHP are the fastest growing in the CMS category overall.

 
 
usage
% change
market
% change
 
 
 
Since 1/1/20
share
Since 1/1/20
1
WordPress
35.70%
0.30%
62.50%
0.40%
2
Joomla
2.60%
 
4.50%
-0.10%
3
Shopify
2.00%
0.10%
3.60%
0.20%
4
Drupal
1.70%
 
2.90%
-0.10%
5
Squarespace
1.50%
 
2.60%
-0.10%
 
 
 
 
 
 

In terms of programming languages in websites, PHP remains the number programming language and the language continues to grow.

 
 
usage
change since
 
 
 
1-Jan-20
1
PHP
79.00%
0.10%
2
ASP.NET
10.60%
 
3
Java
3.40%
-0.30%
4
Ruby
3.20%
0.20%
5
static files
1.80%
 

There has been a lot of noise on the Internet about PHP’s demise of late. But it is only noise. We can’t simply give into the noise and jump from one technology stack to another. I was recently working at a company where we were considering switching from PHP to another language like JS/Node, or .Net. or Ruby. We were trying to assess the technology trends using resources on the web and everyone from the CIO to the developers had their opinion on this which technology to use. We finally reached out to Gartner to help us with this analysis and recommendation. Their data showed us that PHP was still a healthy and viable technology in the market and was widely used for both external and internal application development across many industries and company size. PHP is a mature technology that continues to evolve with the technological trends and at current levels of use, the language would continue to be viable for another 10 to 15 years considering all factors as listed above.

They did say that we needed to consider all facts before determining the choice of technology going forward like in-house or outsourced support for existing applications. What benefit were we trying to attain or what problem were we trying to solve by switching from tech to another. In the end, we remained with PHP but added JS/Node and other frameworks. More on this later.

To illustrate this point I was working as a software developer at retail company that had about 1000 stores in Canada, the US and Europe where the CFO asked me to do a TCO or Total Cost of Ownership of all software applications written in Lotus Notes (bare with me here for a second). He told me that I should consider not only software licenses and labor/hours and benefits, but also infrastructure equipment and installation, support services, building assets, electricity, disaster services, insurance, and depreciation, etc. I went about my task diligently compiling all the available data that I could find and using estimates where necessary. The purpose was to determine asset value of these applications to the company and depreciation. The new CIO at that company was trying to get the company to drop and replace Lotus Notes in favor of Microsoft stack including .Net, Exchange/Outlook and SQL Server. I am not stacking against the other here.

The total value of those applications amounted to over $5 million at the time. This represented a sizable investment and assets on the books for this company. The CIO’s objective to dump Lotus Notes for Microsoft technology stack was shelved as a result as there was not justifiable reason to get rid of Lotus Notes and the applications that were written and hosted on this technology since these applications were continuing to evolve with the business needs and the technology also for the most part. Lotus Notes was eventually replaced with another technology based on business requirements and technologically advances and other market forces.

The moral of this story is that applications writing in PHP represent a sizable investment for many companies that these companies cannot justify writing off these investment on a whim just because of some noise in the market or a personal preferences of a manager, director or CIO unless the depreciation of that asset and business needs that that application that suppose to fulfill not longer exists.

An architectural shift in the market

For most of its existence PHP has been a full stack web application platform much like Java and .Net as well as Ruby. As websites and applications became more sophisticated and design patterns become de force, new technological trends evolved the web application architecture. The era of the Frameworks was born to benefit from these trends like the MVC, MVP and MVVM design patterns and rapid application development (RAD). Extreme programming and Agile also added pressure in this rapidly evolving environment.

While frameworks like Laravel, CakePHP, Zend and CodeIgniter to name a few were created to cater to these market forces and technological trends, there has been equal advances in the front-end with the rapid evolution of JavaScript and Node.js and the never-ending evolution of libraries and frameworks that pop up seemingly each day. As such, there has been shift in web architecture which has pushed PHP to the back-end and JavaScript to the front end. This is a natural evolution.

Even WordPress has shifted to fully embrace this changing architecture by using JavaScript/Node.js as the front-end while interfacing with WordPress’s back-end PHP APIs.

Continued Technological Landscape

The challenge for PHP going forward will be to embrace the continued changing architecture to support PWA, native cloud applications, IoT, Serverless and SPAs. But without question, PHP will be there if its core developers continue to evolve the language towards these trends. I will explore these changing technological trends and how PHP fits in with them in my next article.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Kevin Languedoc

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