Whenever a major improvement happens in web technology, whenever a new framework or a language is introduced in the web development market, PHP’s death is declared immediately. I have been witnessing a recent popular belief that PHP is nearing its end due to NodeJS becoming the new “darling” of the developer community. To me, this belief is a naive statement comes from lack of knowledge on the history of programming languages since the story of PHP is the greatest survival story of the entire computer science history. Over the years, many people have declared the death of PHP against a competitor, but PHP is still there and just a few competitors are alive today. According to TIOBE index, PHP is still the 7th most used programming language in January 2024. And the change compared to past year is positive.
Majority of PHP’s competitors are not even familiar for new generations today, only a few competitor survived without stepping PHP’s toes. In this blog post, we will have a dive deep in the history of PHP, and how unbeatable it is.
Perl: The Text Processing Powerhouse
Perl, often referred to as the “Swiss Army chainsaw” of scripting languages, enjoyed significant popularity in the early days of web development. It was famous for its exceptional text processing capabilities. The principle of “there’s more than one way to do it” also made it the first choice for many web developers. However, as the web evolved, the demands of web development changed. Perl’s difficult to understand syntax and the rise of more modern web-oriented languages led to its gradual decline in the domain of web development. However, it couldn’t escape from its destiny and it has been the first victim of PHP. Today, everything about Perl is in simple past tense and it is a niche language which almost nobody remembers.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, ColdFusion had seen a special attraction from web developers. It was designed to be a rapid web application development platform. With its tag-based language, integration capabilities, simplified database access, file manipulation, ColdFusion became a preferred choice for numerous developers. It created a significant community. However, as open-source alternatives like PHP grew and got better, ColdFusion (which wasn’t free) had a hard time keeping up. Even though it is still around today under the umbrella of Adobe, most people view it as an retro tech rather than a considerable choice. As a result, ColdFusion had also been far from being a competitor against PHP.
Youth don’t remember, before ASP.NET, there was ASP often referred to as Classic ASP. It was launched in the late ’90s by Microsoft. It was one of the early server-side scripting environments that ran on the Windows platform. Offering a mix of VBScript and JScript, Classic ASP allowed developers to dynamically generate HTML pages with content from databases like MS Access and SQL Server due to its native support. Its integration with the IIS Web Server made it a popular choice for many early web applications. It has been the strongest challenger to PHP, and there was a popular belief that ASP will defeat PHP since Microsoft was backing it. However, Classic ASP was overshadowed with the arrival of ASP.NET. Corporate users shifted to ASP.NET and freeware usage is quickly absorbed by PHP. While it played a leading role and jeopardised PHP’s throne once upon a time, very few remembering it today.
When Microsoft introduced ASP.NET, many people noticed it because of the big name behind it. It combined Microsoft’s strong .NET system with web tools. This was great for corporate companies that already used a lot of Microsoft ecosystem. Even though some didn’t like how it focused so much on Windows, it worked really well with Windows Services. Over time, ASP.NET changed and improved with newer versions like ASP.NET Core working on different platforms including Linux. Today, many people (including myself) still use and like it but there is a decline from its first form of usage (known as .NET Framework) and it has been gaining a new form and identity under .NET Core framework. However, it has never actually stepped on PHP’s toe, it danced on a different stage. In short, when ASP.NET was born and took over ASP as we mentioned above, it became popular as expected but it survived in a different area and got almost nothing from PHP’s share. It has competed mainly with Java. Maybe this made ASP.NET to get sheltered from the curse of competing with PHP.
Java Server Pages, or JSP, was the business world’s way to make web content lively. Using Java’s strong features, JSP was made to work smoothly with Java apps, linking web pages to deeper systems. But JSP had its own problems. It had a complicated way of writing and it was hard to learn because of all the things associated with Java. This made it less appealing to developers wanting faster web solutions. While a few companies still use JSP, it didn’t become as popular as it hoped. Being competitor of PHP was nothing but a dream. So, just another competitor crossed out!
Python is famous for being easy to read and use. It became a name in web because of the tools called Django. Django gives developers everything they need to create web apps quickly. Python is used a lot in other areas too, like data science and machine learning. But with Django, it’s always talked about for web design and Django’s name was mentioned as a competitor against PHP, for a short while. The same curse finding PHP’s competitor also put it down. Today, Django still has a considerable usage thanks to regular updates and a strong fan base. However, even with their success, they haven’t got closer to PHP in popularity.
Ruby on Rails
Ruby got famous for web work because of Rails, or Ruby on Rails. Lots of new companies used Rails because it was quick. Even though other tools have become popular, Rails still has many fans and is used by many developers. Yet, in the bigger picture, it hasn’t even come closer to PHP.
Scala with Play Framework
Scala mixed object-oriented and functional programming and became a strong alternative to or wallet sharer with Java. The Play Framework made Scala even better for web work by focusing on fast, simultaneous tasks. Although it’s powerful, Scala and Play are harder to learn than PHP. This makes them loved in certain areas but not as popular overall.
Flask is another web tool from Python, different from Django’s do-it-all style. With Flask, developers start small and add more as needed. It’s great for simpler web apps or quick online tasks. While it’s growing in use, it hasn’t reached even the same league as PHP in terms of popularity.
NodeJS, Just Another Challenger
Suleyman Cabir Ataman, PhD