Journey to Web Dominance: Tracing the Evolution of the PHP Language

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Charting the Progression of the PHP Programming Language
Charting the Progression of the PHP Programming Language

At almost 30 years old, PHP has maintained its popularity over the years and continues to be a widely-used programming language for web development, powering a significant portion of the websites on the internet. Relying on community-driven development and regular updates, PHP has managed to maintain its relevance despite the ever-evolving landscape of web technologies. 

As of December 2023, the PHP language is the web’s most widely-used server-side programming language. By being a top-choice for programmers and web developers around the world, 76.6% of all websites rely on its coding in one way or another.  

Its widespread adoption is based on the fact that most content management systems (CMS) are written in PHP. WordPress, for example, one of the world’s most popular and widely used CMS platforms, has its core primarily written in PHP.

In this article, Bocasay, our offshore IT agency based in Vietnam, explores the inspiring journey of PHP, from its humble beginning in the mid-1990’s, all the way to its web dominance in 2024.

Key Milestones in the History of the PHP Language

Creation (1994-1995)

PHP was originally created by the Danish-Canadian programmer Rasmus Lerdorf in 1994, as a set of Common Gateway Interface (CGI) binaries written in the C programming language. Developed to manage his personal website, PHP was initially an abbreviation of ‘Personal Home Page’ and not intended to be a new programming language.

Personal Home Page Tools (1995)

In 1995, Lerdorf released the source code for his personal homepage tools (PHP Tools). In addition to the ability to embed HTML, these tools included scripts for forms and databases, laying the foundation for PHP’s development, and sharing the basic functionality that PHP offers today for the first time.

PHP / FI (1995-1997)

Zeev Suraski and Andi Gutmans, two Israeli developers, rewrote the original PHP/FI (Personal Home Page/Forms Interpreter) in 1997, introducing a more robust and flexible codebase. PHP now included a C-written parser, significantly improving efficiency and enabling the language to be deployed within more complex web development. The name of the language was also changed to the recursive acronym ‘PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor’.

PHP 3 (1997-1998)

The next major version, PHP 3, was released in 1998. This version added support for object-oriented programming and more databases, extended functionality and improved performance. PHP 3 offered cross-platform compatibility and gained popularity for its simplicity and ease of use, as well as its ability to create dynamic web pages.

PHP 4 (2000)

PHP 4, released in May 2000, marked a significant leap in functionality and performance. It introduced the Zend Engine, an execution engine for PHP, developed by Zeev Suraski and Andi Gutmans. PHP 4 continued to solidify PHP’s position as a leading server-side scripting language for web development.

PHP 5 (2004)

Delivering major improvements, PHP 5 was released in July of 2004. This version first introduced object-oriented programming features such as classes and interfaces. It also included the integration of Zend Engine 2, which further enhanced performance and scalability. PHP 5 introduced native support for exception handling, allowing developers to manage and catch runtime errors more efficiently.

 Abandoned Development of PHP 6 (2005-2014)

After receiving critical reviews for lacking native Unicode support at the core language level, plans for PHP 6 were initiated to include native support for Unicode. However, the project ended up facing challenges and was eventually abandoned due to technical and community issues. The Unicode support was later incorporated in subsequent PHP versions.

PHP 7 (2015)

PHP 7, released in December of 2015, brought significant improvements in terms of language performance and reduced memory consumption. The Zend Engine 3 was introduced, making PHP 7 considerably faster than its predecessors. The performance improvements and new features introduced in PHP 7 made it a highly anticipated and well-received release, gaining wide adoption within the PHP community.

PHP 8 (2020)

Released in November 2020, PHP 8 introduced numerous new features and improvements. Some of the notable additions include the Just-In-Time (JIT) compiler, union types, named arguments and an overall more consistent behavior. PHP 8 continued the trend of enhancing the language with features that improve performance, code readability and developer productivity.

Web Development in PHP: The Current Facts

While PHP faces competition from other server-side scripting languages and frameworks, it remains a relevant and widely adopted technology in the web development landscape. Its ease of use, extensive community support and the availability of numerous libraries and frameworks make it a pragmatic choice for a variety of projects, particularly when rapid development and a large developer ecosystem are essential considerations. Here’s how PHP is used today, and the types of projects that can benefit from it:

▣ Web Applications and Websites: Popular content management systems (CMS) like WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are built with PHP, allowing users to create and manage website content easily.

▣ E-Commerce Platforms: PHP’s ability to interact with databases and handle user sessions makes it well-suited for building robust and scalable e-commerce solutions.

▣ Social Media Platforms: PHP is used in the development of social media platforms and community-driven websites, handling user authentication, user profiles and facilitating user interactions.

▣ Custom Web Applications: With PHP, you can build custom web applications tailored to specific business needs. It allows developers to create dynamic and data-driven applications, such as customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

▣ API Development: PHP can be used to develop web services and APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). It is well-suited for building the backend of RESTful APIs, allowing different applications to communicate with each other.

▣ Server-Side Scripting: PHP remains a popular choice for server-side scripting. It can process form data, handle file uploads, interact with databases, and perform various server-side tasks to generate dynamic web content.

▣ Real-Time Applications: PHP can be used in conjunction with other technologies to develop real-time applications, such as chat applications or live updates in web applications.

▣ Educational Projects: PHP is often used as a language for educational purposes due to its simplicity and ease of learning. Many introductory web development courses and tutorials use PHP to teach fundamental concepts.

▣ Cross-Platform Development: PHP applications can run on various operating systems, making it a cross-platform solution. This flexibility allows developers to deploy PHP applications on different web servers.

▣ Database Integration: PHP has strong support for interacting with databases, making it suitable for projects that require database-driven functionalities. It can work with MySQL, PostgreSQL, SQLite, and other database management systems.

Looking for a partner in cutting-edge web development for your company? Get in touch with Bocasay to find out how our dedicated teams of developers can help with your next project.

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