PHP vs JavaScript: Which Language Is Right for You?

PHP vs. JavaScript: Key Difference Between Two Languages

If you’re embarking on a web development project, you’ll likely run into the age-old debate between PHP and JavaScript — “JavaScript is a front-end language, and PHP is for the back end.”

So, is it fair to compare a “front-end” language with a “back-end” language? NO.

That being said, let’s put the front-end capabilities of JavaScript aside and focus on its back-end abilities.

JavaScript’s back-end capabilities are achieved through Node.js, which allows JavaScript to be used as a server-side programming language. Node.js is a powerful framework that enables developers to build scalable, high-performance, and real-time dynamic web applications.

So, let’s dive into PHP and JavaScript, explore their unique features, and understand which language is better suited for your next web development project.

 

Key Highlights

  • PHP and JavaScript are powerful programming languages, but they differ in purpose, syntax, and performance
  • Both languages have extensive ecosystems of libraries and frameworks that can help you accelerate development time and improve code quality
  • Regarding hosting, PHP hosting offers better support for back-end development, while JavaScript hosting is ideal for front-end development and serverless computing
  • The learning curve for PHP and JavaScript varies depending on your previous programming experience, but both languages have active and supportive communities
  • Ultimately, the choice between PHP and JavaScript depends on the specific requirements of your project, and understanding the key differences between the two languages can help you make an informed decision

 

What Is PHP?

PHP is an abbreviation for Hypertext Preprocessor.

Initially created in 1994 by Rasmus Lerdorf, it has grown to become one of the world’s most widely used server-side scripting languages.

As of March 2023, PHP was used by nearly 79% of all websites with a known server-side programming language, which is a testament to its popularity and versatility.

Final: PHP vs JavaScript

But, PHP is not just a language for web development. It’s also used for creating command-line scripts, desktop applications, and even mobile applications. In fact, popular content management systems like WordPress and Drupal are built using PHP, highlighting the versatility and power of this programming language.

 

What Is JavaScript?

Initially known as Mocha, it later became LiveScript before finally being christened JavaScript—a name that, despite its similarity to Java, has no direct relation to the Java programming language.

Today, JavaScript is an essential pillar of modern web development, often referred to as part of the “holy trinity” of web technologies, alongside HTML and CSS.

What makes JavaScript scripting language truly unique is its ability to breathe life into static web pages. It turns them into immersive, interactive experiences that keep users engaged and captivated.

A striking example of JavaScript’s transformative power is Google Maps. Before the advent of JavaScript, users had to click through multiple pages and wait for each one to load just to zoom or pan across a map. JavaScript’s introduction revolutionized this experience, allowing users to smoothly and seamlessly navigate maps with a simple click and drag.

But, we are going to focus on its expansion beyond the browser. With the creation of Node.js, JavaScript has transcended its original client-side limitations. It has evolved into a full-stack programming language capable of powering web servers, IoT devices, and even desktop applications.

 

Purpose and Usage

PHP

PHP was initially designed to create dynamic web pages but has evolved into a powerful server-side scripting language. Right now, it can handle a wide range of web development tasks.

Its purpose is to make creating dynamic and interactive web applications easy by providing a rich set of features and functions. Some of the most common purposes and uses of PHP include:

  1. Content Management Systems (CMS) - PHP is the backbone of popular CMS platforms like WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal.
  2. E-commerce solutions - It’s widely used for building online stores and e-commerce platforms, such as Magento, OpenCart, and WooCommerce.
  3. Database management - PHP allows developers to interact with databases like MySQL, PostgreSQL, and SQLite, facilitating data storage, retrieval, and manipulation for web applications.
  4. Web services and APIs - Used to create RESTful web services and APIs. This allows for seamless integration and communication between different systems, making it possible to create feature-rich and interconnected applications.
  5. Templating engines - Templating engines like Smarty and Twig use PHP. These engines separate the presentation layer (HTML, CSS) from the logic layer (PHP), making it easier to maintain and scale web applications.

Many popular platforms use PHP as their primary programming language.

  • WordPress
  • Facebook
  • Wikipedia
  • Yahoo!
  • Etsy
  • Slack

JavaScript

Thanks to the development of Node.js, JavaScript now has server-side capabilities.

Some popular real-world platforms that solely use JavaScript include:

  • Netflix
  • PayPal
  • LinkedIn
  • Uber
  • Slack

With the introduction of Node.js, JavaScript now has numerous capabilities and advantages for you to use in back-end development:

  1. Real-time applications - Node.js is so good for real-time applications, like chat applications, online collaboration tools, and live analytics. It can handle multiple concurrent connections and process events in real-time
  2. Event-driven and non-blocking I/O - Node.js uses an event-driven architecture and non-blocking I/O. This allows it to handle many simultaneous connections efficiently. With this, you can build scalable and high-performance applications, such as real-time communication platforms, online gaming servers, and streaming services.
  3. Package management - Node.js has a robust package manager called npm (Node Package Manager), which provides access to thousands of reusable libraries and modules.
  4. APIs and microservices - Like PHP, Node.js is well-suited for building RESTful APIs and microservices. Due to its lightweight nature, Node.js can efficiently handle many requests, making it ideal for applications that require extensive communication between different services or components.
  5. Integration with databases - Node.js can also easily integrate with various databases, such as MongoDB, MySQL, and PostgreSQL.

 

Syntax and Structure

If you’re new to programming, you’ll need to learn the syntax and structure of the language you’re working with.

For JavaScript and PHP, this means understanding the rules and conventions for writing code that’s easy to read, maintain, and debug. While the syntax and structure of these two languages are different, they share many common features and principles.

Shared syntax and structure table:

Shared Syntax and StructurePHP & JavaScript
Variables and Data TypesPHP and JavaScript support basic data types like strings, numbers, booleans, arrays, and objects.
Conditional StatementsBoth languages employ the ‘if’, ‘else if’, and ‘else’ statements to create conditional logic and support the ternary conditional operator (‘? :’).
Looping ConstructsPHP and JavaScript feature similar loop structures, including ‘for’, ‘while’, and ‘do-while’ loops, as well as the ‘for each’ loop (in PHP) and ‘for…in’ or ‘for…of’ loops (in JavaScript) for iterating over arrays and objects.
FunctionsBoth languages allow you to create and invoke functions, with support for named functions, anonymous functions, and closures.
Object-Oriented ProgrammingPHP and JavaScript support object-oriented programming (OOP) and class-based inheritance, with features such as classes, constructors, inheritance, and method overloading.
Error HandlingPHP and JavaScript provide mechanisms for handling errors, such as the ‘try’, ‘catch’, and ‘finally’ statements for exception handling and the ‘throw’ statement for raising custom exceptions.

PHP Syntax

PHP shares syntax similarities with the C programming language. So, if you have a background in these languages, you will find PHP syntax easy to understand.

Here are some interesting features of PHP Syntax:

  • PHP tags - PHP code is enclosed within special tags, <?php and ?>. These act as a signal to the server to interpret the content between these tags as PHP code. You can embed these tags within HTML files. This way, you can intersperse PHP code with HTML markup for dynamic content generation.
<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
<head>
 <title>My PHP Example</title>
</head>
<body>
<?php
 echo
 "Hello, world!";
 ?>
</body>
</html>
  • Variables - PHP variables are denoted with a dollar sign ($) followed by the variable name. Variable names are case-sensitive and must begin with a letter or an underscore.
<?php
 $name = "John Doe";
 $age  =30;
 echo
"My name is $name, and I am $age years old.";
?>
  • Control structures - Common control structures include if-else, for loops, and while loops, similar to those found in C and other C-like languages.

<?php
$temperature = 20;

 if ($temperature < 0) {
  echo "It's freezing!";
 } elseif ($temperature < 15) {
  echo "It's cold!";
 } else {
  echo "It's warm!";
 }
?>
  • Functions - You can create reusable functions, which you can call with arguments and can return values. PHP also has a vast collection of built-in functions for various tasks, such as string manipulation, array handling, and mathematical operations.

See this custom function below:

<?php 
  function greet ($name) { 
   return "Hello, $name!" ; 
 } 
  echo greet( "John Doe" ); 
?>
  • Array handling - PHP provides extensive support for arrays, including associative arrays (key-value pairs).
<?php
   $person = array ( 
   "name" => "John Doe" , 
   "age" => 30 , 
   "city" => "New York" 
 ); 
  echo "Name: " . $person[ "name" ] . "<br>" ; 
  echo "Age: " . $person[ "age" ] . "<br>" ; 
  echo "City: " . $person[ "city" ] . "<br>" ; 
?>

The examples above barely scratch the surface of what PHP can do. Read this article to get a deep view of PHP vs. JavaScript syntax.

JavaScript Syntax

One unique thing about JavaScript is its concise and intuitive syntax, which makes it easy to write, read, and debug.

Unlike many other programming languages, JavaScript requires no special software or compilers to run. Instead, it’s executed directly in the user’s browser.

Also, its syntax is relatively easy to learn and shares similarities with other C-style languages such as Java, C++, and C#.

  • Variables and Constants - In JavaScript, you use var, let, and const keywords to declare variables and constants. var is function-scoped and has been traditionally used. However, let and const, which are block-scoped, were introduced in ECMAScript 6 (ES6) to provide better control over variable scope.
var name = "John Doe" ;
let age = 30 ; 
const city = "New York" ;
  • Objects and Arrays - Javascript uses objects to store and manipulate data. JavaScript treats arrays as objects with indexed access, and both objects and arrays use similar syntax for accessing and modifying properties.

Object:

let person = {
 name:"John Doe",
 age: 30,
 city: "New York"
};

console.log("Name: " + person.name);
console.log("Age: " + person.age);
console.log("City: " + person.city);

Array:

let fruits = [ "apple" , "banana" , "cherry" ]; 

console.log( "First fruit: " + fruits[ 0 ]); 
console.log( "Second fruit: " + fruits[ 1 ]); 
console.log( "Third fruit: " + fruits[ 2 ]);
  • Functions - JavaScript also allows you to create reusable functions. You declare functions using the function keyword or arrow functions (introduced in ES6) for more concise syntax.

Performance and Speed

Final: PHP vs JavaScript

Both languages have unique strengths and weaknesses when it comes to performance and speed.

PHP is known for its fast processing speed and efficient memory usage, making it a top choice for building high-performance web applications.

On the other hand, JavaScript’s performance and speed have traditionally been hampered by its client-side execution, although the advent of server-side JavaScript has helped to overcome these limitations.

Let’s explore the performance and speed characteristics of both languages.

1. PHP

PHP was made as a server-side scripting language. Therefore, it’s able to handle server-side tasks efficiently. Its performance and speed, however, vary depending on the version being used, the server setup, and the optimization techniques you are employing.

One factor that contributes to PHP’s fast processing speed is its use of a compiled execution model.

When PHP code is executed on the server, it’s first compiled into an intermediate bytecode representation, which is then executed by the server’s runtime environment. This compilation process minimizes the overhead associated with interpreting code at runtime, resulting in faster and more efficient execution.

Some factors that affect PHP’s performance and speed include:

  • PHP version
  • OpCode caching
  • Just-In-Time (JIT) compilation
  • Web server configuration
  • Optimizing code

Overall, PHP is an excellent choice for building high-performance web applications that require efficient data processing and complex database interactions.

2. JavaScript

The asynchronous nature of JavaScript enables it to run through the entire code simultaneously without waiting for certain functions to be executed.

This enables it to deliver a low-latency experience, making it an ideal choice for streaming platforms and other applications that require real-time data processing.

JavaScript executes directly in the user’s web browser. By executing client-side, it bypasses the latency and overhead associated with server-side processing.

Node.js, a server-side implementation of JavaScript, further enhances its performance and speed by leveraging the V8 engine, constant server connections, and callback functions.

freeCodeCamp.org concludes that:
“The reliability and stability of both PHP and JavaScript are open to interpretation. But thanks to its outstanding speed, JavaScript wins a point.”

 

Libraries and Frameworks

Time is money. YES, even in web development.

Building a web application from scratch can take weeks or even months and requires significant time and resources.

In modern web development, success is determined by the speed of development along with a reusable, well-organized, and maintainable code, all the while giving importance to scalability.

—Invensis Technologies

Many developers turn to third-party libraries and frameworks to streamline the development process and accelerate time-to-market.

Both PHP and JavaScript have robust ecosystems of libraries and frameworks. These libraries and frameworks provide pre-built code and components that you can easily integrate into your web applications, saving time and reducing development costs.

PHP

PHP has a vibrant ecosystem of libraries and frameworks.

1. Laravel

Laravel follows the Model-View-Controller (MVC) architectural pattern. It also offers a clean and elegant syntax, making it a top choice for many developers when building web applications with PHP.

Final: PHP vs JavaScript

Source

Key features of Laravel include:

  • Eloquent ORM
  • Artisan Console
  • Blade templating engine
  • Dependency injection
  • Middleware and routing
  • Laravel ecosystem

 

2. Symfony

Symfony framework is highly suited for building large-scale enterprise projects. It has reusable PHP libraries and an active developer community that offers a wealth of components to accelerate the development process.

One of its key features is extensibility. It can be integrated with frameworks like eZ Publish, Drupal, and phpBB.

It’s built on a modular architecture, allowing you to use only the necessary components for a specific project.

Tip
Expert Tip: Symfony has a showcase section. This section shows how the framework has been used, inspiring you and other developers.

3. Phalcon

Phalcon is a high-performance web framework. It’s designed to be fast, efficient, and easy to use. Unlike traditional PHP frameworks written in PHP, Phalcon is written in C and compiled as a PHP extension.

Phalcon also has a rich set of features and components, including:

  • Routing
  • Templating
  • Caching
  • Object-Relational Mapping (ORM)

JavaScript

JS has front-end frameworks like React and Angular and full-stack frameworks like Meteor and Express. Let’s take a sneak peek at some of the popular ones.

1. React

React is an open-source JavaScript library developed by Facebook for building responsive, interactive user interfaces.

It focuses on a component-based architecture, allowing developers to create reusable UI components that can be easily composed to build complex interfaces.

React summary table:

TypeJavaScript Library
Primary FocusBuilding User Interfaces
ArchitectureComponent-based
RenderingVirtual DOM
Data flowUnidirectional
SyntaxJSX (JavaScript XML)
State ManagementExternal libraries (e.g., Redux, MobX)
Learning curveModerate
Community and ecosystemLarge, active community; numerous libraries and resources
Common Use CasesSingle-page applications, complex UIs, mobile applications

2. Angular

Developed by Google, what sets Angular apart from other front-end frameworks is its focus on building complex and scalable applications.

Angular uses a declarative approach to define UI components and manage application states, making it easier to reason about and test applications.

Key features of Angular:

  • Component-Based Architecture
  • Two-way data binding
  • Dependency injection
  • Directives
  • Routing
  • Form handling

3. Node.js

Node.js is a cross-platform runtime environment that enables you to execute JavaScript code outside of a web browser.

It has revolutionized server-side development by bringing JavaScript to the back end, enabling you to build scalable, high-performance web applications and APIs using a single programming language.

Features:

  • Event-driven, non-blocking I/O model - This model is well-suited for handling concurrent connections and building scalable, real-time applications, such as online games, chat applications, and collaboration tools.
  • NPM (Node Package Manager) – NPM makes installing, managing, and sharing third-party libraries and modules easy. NPM boasts one of the largest software registries, providing access to a wealth of reusable code and tools.
  • Modular architecture - Modular architecture allows you to organize your code into smaller, reusable modules. This approach encourages code reusability and maintainability.
  • Cross-platform compatibility - Node.js is compatible with various platforms, including Windows, macOS, and Linux.
  • Built-in web server - A built-in web server eliminates the need for a separate web server like Apache or Nginx. This simplifies application deployment and reduces the overall server infrastructure requirements.

Look at this Technostacks article for the best JavaScript frameworks for web development.

 

Hosting

Hosting your web application is a crucial step in the web development process.

With so many hosting providers, choosing the best one for your needs can be overwhelming. Visit HostAdvice to see our summary of the best hosting providers.

PHP Hosting

What should you look for in a PHP hosting provider? Let’s shed some light on the critical aspects to consider:

1. Support for PHP-based websites and applications

A top-tier hosting provider should be fully equipped to handle PHP-based websites and applications.

This encompasses compatibility with various PHP versions, the flexibility to switch between them as needed, and seamless integration with complementary web technologies such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

2. Access to PHP modules and extensions

To elevate the capabilities of your PHP applications, a hosting provider should grant you access to a wealth of PHP modules and extensions.

These invaluable components empower you to unlock advanced features and fine-tune your projects for optimal performance. Ascertain that your PHP hosting provider enables you to install and configure these essential elements effortlessly.

3. Compatibility with popular PHP frameworks

Is your PHP hosting provider in sync with renowned PHP frameworks like Laravel, Symfony, and CodeIgniter?

Leveraging these frameworks not only streamlines the development process for you but also lays the groundwork for building scalable, maintainable, and secure applications.

4. Options for database integration

PHP applications often rely on databases to store and manipulate data. It’s, therefore, crucial to partner with a hosting provider that supports your preferred database system and equips you with the tools and resources required for effective database management.

A dependable PHP hosting provider should facilitate flawless integration with various database management systems, such as MySQL, PostgreSQL, or SQLite.

 

Javascript Hosting

Here is what you should consider when making your decision on the hosting provider:

1. Support for client-side scripting

A top-notch JavaScript hosting provider should excel in supporting client-side scripting, providing a seamless environment for running JavaScript code in web browsers.

This entails:

  • Compatibility with various browsers
  • Efficient handling of client-side processing
  • An optimized infrastructure that caters to the unique requirements of JavaScript applications

2. Access to popular JavaScript libraries and frameworks

Which JavaScript libraries and frameworks is your provider offering?

These tools significantly enhance your projects’ functionality, user experience, and maintainability.

3. Compatibility with front-end development tools

Your hosting provider should be in harmony with a diverse range of front-end development tools, such as webpack, Babel, and Gulp.

Some hosting providers even offer specialized support for front-end development tools.

4. Options for serverless computing

Serverless computing simplifies deployment, automatically scales applications, and often reduces operational costs.

Does your hosting provider integrate with popular serverless platforms like AWS Lambda or Google Cloud Functions?

 

Learning Curve and Community Support

“Can be used on front-end/back-end”, “It’s everywhere,” and “Lots of great frameworks” are the key factors why developers consider JavaScript; whereas “Large community”, “Open source,” and “Easy deployment” are the primary reasons why PHP is favored.

StackShare

Learning a new programming language can be a daunting task.

Various factors, including your previous programming experience, community support, and the complexity of the project at hand, influence the learning curve for both languages.

Let’s dive into PHP and JavaScript learning curves and explore the community support available to developers for each language.

PHP

1. Learning Curve

PHP has a relatively gentle learning curve, making it an excellent choice for beginners entering the world of web development.

For example, its syntax is similar to C, making it accessible to those familiar with other C-style languages. Additionally, PHP’s integration with HTML allows newcomers to start writing server-side scripts quickly without learning a completely separate templating language.

Additionally, PHP has extensive documentation and an abundance of tutorials available online, further contributing to its ease of learning. With numerous resources at your fingertips, as a beginner, you can quickly grasp the basics of PHP and start building dynamic web applications in no time.

2. Community Support

PHP boasts a large and active community that has contributed to the language’s growth and development over the years.

GitHub pull requests

This community support provides several benefits to PHP developers:

  • Forums and online communities
  • Frameworks
  • Libraries and tools
  • Conferences and meetups
  • Regular updates and improvements

JavaScript

1. Learning Curve

JavaScript’s learning curve is generally considered manageable, especially for those already familiar with HTML and CSS. As a beginner-friendly language, the language introduces programming concepts in an accessible manner. Its syntax is also relatively simple.

Additionally, JavaScript boasts a wealth of online resources—from comprehensive documentation to interactive tutorials.

Websites such as Mozilla Developer Network (MDN), W3Schools, and FreeCodeCamp offer in-depth guides and practical exercises to help you grasp the fundamentals and develop your skills further.

2. Community Support

JavaScript’s immense popularity has led to the development of a strong and active community of developers.

As of 2022, the JavaScript programming language had a community of approximately 17.4 million software developers.

Number of software developers (millions)

 

Choose Wisely

Understanding the key differences between PHP and JavaScript will help you make informed decisions when selecting the right tool for your web development project.

While PHP is robust for server-side development, JavaScript has expanded beyond front-end development to server-side development with the introduction of Node.js.

When making your decision, consider factors such as performance, libraries and frameworks, hosting options, community support, and the specific requirements of your project. Both languages have unique strengths and weaknesses, and choosing the right language will depend on your project’s needs and personal preferences.

Tip
Tip: Regardless of your choice, stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in PHP and JavaScript. The web development industry is continually evolving, and keeping up with the latest trends and technologies is important.

 

Next Steps: What Now?

  • Choose the right web hosting provider.
  • Learn more about JavaScript and WordPress - If you’re using WordPress as your content management system, understanding JavaScript is crucial for enhancing your website’s functionality.
  • Explore popular PHP and JavaScript frameworks.
  • Expand your knowledge of JavaScript and PHP – Keep up with the latest trends and advancements by exploring online resources and attending web development conferences.

 

Further Reading – Useful Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

Which language should I choose for my project?

PHP is generally preferred for back-end development, while JavaScript is often used for front-end development if you want to create interactive web pages. Ultimately, the decision should be based on your project’s specific needs and each language’s strengths.

Can PHP and JavaScript be used together?

Yes, PHP and JavaScript can be used together to create full-stack applications. By combining the strengths of both languages, you can create dynamic and responsive web applications that provide a seamless user experience.

Can PHP and JavaScript run on the same server?

Yes, PHP and JavaScript can run on the same server. PHP runs on the server side, meaning it’s executed on the server before being sent to the client’s browser. Conversely, JavaScript runs on the client side and is executed directly in the user’s web browser. As long as the server is configured to support both PHP and JavaScript, they can run together on the same server to power your web applications.

Which language is better for database integration?

PHP is often considered better for database integration because of its long-standing support for databases such as MySQL, Oracle, and PostgreSQL. PHP’s integration with these databases is also supported by its frameworks and libraries. While JavaScript does have some database integration capabilities, its support is still relatively limited compared to PHP.

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