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Is PHP A Dying Language in 2019? The Future of PHP

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Megan McGuirk
Executive PHP Specialist

By the end of this article, you’ll finally have an answer to the question:

Is PHP a dead language in 2019?

Short answer: absolutely not.

Twitter didn't think so either:

We recently held a webinar and spoke to two PHP experts about this exact topic. Henrik Lowack, CTO at Amorana, and Johannes Rebhan, Head of Development at Koch Kommunikation both gave us their views on PHP as a language (you can view that webinar here).

The current state of PHP, core skills for PHP developers, the biggest benefits of PHP and why JavaScript is seen in a different light were all touched on by Henrik and Johannes.

This is actionable information that you can use to grow your team or further your career TODAY.

Let’s get into it.


So, is PHP A dying language?

This is a question that I get asked often, and it is frequently asked at our events and on our webinars.

As I said right at the start of this article, the short answer is no.

A better question to ask might be “Is PHP outdated?” or “What’s the future of PHP?”

Because w3techs.com reported that "PHP is used by 79.0% of all the websites whose server-side programming language we know."

79% doesn’t sound like a dead language to me at all. It’s important to note though, that 79% of websites isn’t the same as 79% of the web (CMS sites may alter these results).

The historical trend of PHP is also a great indicator of whether PHP is dead:

Percentage of websites using PHP

I think the image speaks for itself.

Usage of PHP websites has dipped slightly from 80% to about 79% in a year - maybe this is a sign of things to come, but at the moment it's too early to tell.

And as if that wasn't enough.

The number of PHP developers applying to jobs on our website has seen a steady increase over the past 5 years (by the way, you can view our PHP vacancies here):

Number of PHP developers applying to jobs

So developers are at least keen to learn the language and want to work with it.

This directly correlates to the fact that PHP salaries have become less competitive recently, with a 4.6% reduction in the average salary from 2017 to 2018 (this information is taken from our Market Updates, which you can download here).

“There seems to be a major shift in web technologies at the moment, where everything is moving to the client side like React and JavaScript systems.” says Henrik, “PHP is moving back to its service because it’s not that agile regarding the user interface.”

The question "Is PHP dying?" might keep coming up because of the hype around new technologies.

“PHP dying might also be a misconception. Node.js and JavaScript are all the hype at the moment” says Johannes, “They pushed many languages to the background. Even Java got a bad rap for the last 10 years, but it’s still going strong today - the same will be true for PHP. Just because one language is the focus of a group of developers with a high rank on GitHub, doesn’t mean all other languages are dead or dying.”

The hype around other languages may push PHP to the back of people’s minds.

Facebook, Wikipedia, WordPress and Pinterest all use PHP.

So can it really be dying?

No doubt that PHP can get overshadowed by Python and JavaScript at times, but there’s still a huge demand for PHP developers (even though the number of PHP vacancies that our clients have submitted to us has steadily gone down over the past 5 years).

This means that there are a lot of talented PHP developers out there, with fewer jobs to apply to:

PHP vacancies across Europe

The data tells us that businesses are using it less, but this hasn't stopped the demand from candidates to continue working with it. There is clearly something here which developers love. 

If freelance web development is something you’re interested in, then PHP is a great language to learn. There are over 75 million websites running WordPress, and somebody needs to build those custom plugins and provide technical support.

Hackr.io listed it as #8 programming language to learn in 2019 and Fullstackacademy.com listed is as #6 programming language to learn in 2019.

That’s a pretty strong case for PHP.

The future of the frontend side of web development is also uncertain due to advances in the artificial intelligence industry.

We have an article which discusses when will artificial intelligence replace web development and frontend developers, which you can read here.

Anyway:

We know that developers and some huge companies are still using PHP, so the question is:


What are the biggest benefits of PHP?

We’ve concluded that calling PHP a dead language is probably a bit premature. A lot of people are still using it, and some major companies have committed to using it for the foreseeable future.

So why is that the case? Why do so many people swear by this language and what it can produce?

“One of the biggest benefits is that it is readily available almost everywhere. If you are working a small project on some hosting or a server and you say you need a language, PHP is always an option. Integrate it with a web browser and you can just start.” says Henrik.

PHP has been around a long time, and this has made it very accessible no matter what project you’re working on.

“One of the strong points of PHP is that it has so many mature systems that you can use as a company - especially as a company.” Says Johannes. “You need to have systems that you can rely on and you can only rely on stuff that has matured. If you use 0.1 software, then you put your company at such a high risk. In three years’ time (if you still work at the company), you’ll see issues which could have been avoided by using a matured system”.

I also spoke to Matt Kingshot (@mattkingshott) who is the head of development at a small startup, Alphametric.

Alphametric homepage

They recently launched their first SaaS, Pulse, a developer-focused server and site monitoring tool.

All their apps use Laravel for its simplicity and ability to build applications quickly. The rest of their stack is fairly traditional - MySQL, Redis, Vue and TailwindCSS.

"I don’t actually write PHP on its own, as all development is undertaken using Laravel. I think the main benefit is speed, but the comprehensive ecosystem, continual development and focus on easy testing also make it very attractive." Says Matt.

You can view his latest SaaS herepulse.alphametric.co/

So with all that being said:


Why is JavaScript compared to it so often?

Again, this comes back to the “hype” around certain technologies. For whatever reason, the technology industry loves to pit programmes and languages against each other (when there’s no real reason to).

“I think JavaScript is seen a much more favourable light compared to PHP because it is coming from the Frontend. There are so many more Frontend developers than backend developers, and most of the Frontend guys are more graphical in how they work.” says Johannes.

“Many of the people comparing these languages are younger programmers and that makes their choice of language seem much more hip and more agile. If you look at JavaScript from a language design perspective, it’s quite an ugly language. It has so many type problems, it’s so unreliable in cases and it sometimes behaves so erratically and weird.”

The following diagram tells us a lot about where PHP is compared to its competitors. It shows the market position of PHP in terms of popularity and traffic.

PHP compared to competitors

JavaScript also uses a small amount of processor memory, which can be very attractive to young developers who are on a tight hardware budget. No other language can really rival that at this moment in time.

You might be wondering:


How to stay relevant in the PHP market? (and what companies want to see)

To stay relevant, the simple answer is you have to keep learning and keep evolving with the technology.

But this is true for everything concerning technology. It moves at such a fast pace that you can get left in the dust if you don’t move quick enough.

Makes sense, right?

It’s also important to understand what path you want to take as a developer, and if the path of PHP is something you want to travel.

There is a lot of demand in the market for CMS skills like Drupal, Magento or TYPO3 – so people who become proficient in these areas are in high demand but short supply.

Learning these skills can be a great way of negotiating the salary you deserve and working for the best companies around.

Henrik told us “I think PHP will go much more into the server side, so if you really want to develop backend logic and business logic, PHP will be a great language and so you can just move forward with the language. Although you have to go with really approved patterns, the code has to be robust with good exception handling and such.”

Johannes explained to us what he looks for when hiring developers at Koch Kommunikation.

“We always want developers that know both PHP and TYPO3 (we’re a very specialized company). Our core tech should be at least familiar with the person we’re hiring - otherwise, we spend a lot of resources to build that employee up. We always assist our employees with their personal growth, but we have a lot of pressure on our projects that we rarely have the leeway to invest a lot of time building people up. We need at least someone who can hit the ground running in some way, that is really valuable to us.”

“We can then take him along and build him up and give him the experience that he needs, but if you want to work at least in our agency, you should be at least familiar with the TYPO3 system, with the backend of the framework. And then we can take you on the journey of your life.”

On the back of this, there is one thing that companies see as very desirable when hiring developers:

CLEAN CODE.

Clean coding quote

There’s very much a consensus of ‘we don’t care how you do it, as long as we can read your code and see how it was done’. It's important to have solid documentation and commitment to good code that others can understand over ‘fancy code for the sake of being fancy’.

That's not all:

PHP 7 is definitely the most popular version and desirable for companies hiring developers, so ensure you're working with this version to give yourself the best chance of landing that dream job.

Frameworks are definitely important, but if someone has a solid understanding of PHP behind the frameworks, it's much easier for a company to take them on and teach them the right framework.

Another trend I've seen in companies hiring developers is:

Full-Stack.

Someone who can jump into some client side work is always desirable (this is mostly JavaScript).

In terms of language, PHP companies in Switzerland still very much want German speakers (as opposed to JavaScript where there seems to be a lot more flexibility for English speakers).

I hope you got a ton of value from this article; whether you're looking at building your team, or looking for a new role (or just learning more about PHP).

I'd love to hear where you think the future of PHP lies and what projects you're currently working on. Connect with me on LinkedIn and let me know!


WATCH OUR "IS PHP A DEAD LANGUAGE IN 2019?" WEBINAR HERE: