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Backend development is one of the most sought-after skill today. Almost any new business/startup needs a website and a mobile app – both of which connect to a server in the backend. Therefore, backend developers are high in demand in the market and companies are willing to throw large sums of money to developers who can manage the backend well.
Many programming languages that are being used for backend development are emerging in the market:
- Python: Python is one of the most popular choices of backend programming. It is relatively new and has enormous library support.
- PHP: PHP has been in the market for a long time and it is widely used even today. Facebook, for instance, has its substantial backend developed in PHP in initial days.
- Ruby: Ruby on Rails is one of the most popular web development frameworks and currently tons of startups use it.
- Dot NET: Though it is quite old, many legacy applications still use it as the backend.
For new developers, it is always a matter of confusion – which backend framework to learn? With so many new programming languages which offer so many features, libraries, and frameworks, how does one actually decide on which web framework to learn? In this blog post, we will try to compare 2 of the most popular backend programming languages – Python and PHP. We will try to cover various aspects and see which one of them wins.
Before we do the comparison, let us first list the points of comparison which significantly will affect our choice of web framework:
- Ease of learning: this is arguably one of the most important parameters to decide which web framework is to be used. If the programming language is difficult to learn, there is no point spending time on it. Today, developer time is more important than execution time for all practical purposes.
- Community support: let us face it – we all struggle with bugs, we all face issues while writing programs and we all look for support online at StackOverflow and other forums. If a particular programming language isn’t well known and there is little community support available, it is better to stay away from it.
- Documentation: just like community support, it is essential that the programming language/framework has sufficient documentation available for the developers to learn and understand the nuances.
- Pricing: some tools/frameworks aren’t free. It might significantly affect the choice of an organization that is low on budget. Generally speaking, a large number of tech companies prefer to use open-source tools and frameworks rather than using paid systems. However, enterprises like banks, insurance companies, etc. prefer to use paid systems.
- Library support: if the programming language is widely used, there will be more developers who will be developing libraries for the particular language. As a result, development becomes even easier.
- Speed: server-side applications may require high tolerance capacity as well as low latency. Therefore it is important to see which language is faster in terms of execution time.
- Choice of web frameworks: it is important that the programming language provides well-designed web development frameworks that are easy-to-use and develop powerful applications.
- Debugging: the choice of programming language should also depend on the available debugging tools available for the language. Lack of good debugging tools means that the developers are going to spend more time in debugging which essentially isn’t the most productive use of time.
PHP vs Python Performance Comparison
Now let us get to each of the above factors and see how Python and PHP compare with each other.
Ease of Learning
Without any doubt, Python is much easier to learn. Python is a general-purpose programming language, and it can be picked up very quickly. In fact, Python is so simple to pick up that most programming courses for beginners now use Python programming language to teach fundamentals of programming. Python programs are much shorter and easy-to-write as compared to other programming languages and as a consequence, it has become a preferred choice for a lot of applications. The syntax is much simpler and the code is extremely readable as compared to the same code written in other programming languages.
PHP, on the other hand, wasn’t meant to be a general-purpose language. It was designed specifically for web applications which are definitely more sophisticated than simple, stand-alone programs. As a result, learning PHP has been seen to take more time as compared to learning Python.
Time taken to learn a programming language should be one of the most important factors in choosing which language to pick. For beginners, Python is much easier. PHP, on the other hand, can be a bit tough for novice programmers. PHP was designed to create simple personal pages but off late it has grown in complexity. The PHP developer community is trying hard to provide a lot of support for new programmers. However, as mentioned above, Python wins here by a significant margin owing to the inherent simplicity of the language. The syntaxes and the constructs in Python are amazingly simple to grasp.
Python and PHP, both have excellent community support. PHP has been in the market for quite a while, particularly for developing web applications. As a result, there is a huge community of PHP developers which is ready to provide support.
Python matches closely here with PHP. There are loads of Python developers in the market who are continuously developing Python applications. As a result, community support is outstanding. Python and PHP are both close here with none of them being a clear winner.
Python became popular when Google started using it for some of the popular Google apps like YouTube. Many powerful startups like Instagram, Pinterest, and Reddit use Python-based web applications. Having said that, it must be noted that the world’s largest social network – Facebook has been written using PHP as the primary backend.
Extensive documentation is available for both the programming languages. There are innumerable websites, forums, discussion boards that provide excellent tutorials on how to develop applications using Python or PHP. Competition is stiff here and just like community support, there isn’t really a clear winner. Both languages are equally good in terms of documentation availability.
Python and PHP are both completely free and open source. Both win here as well. In fact, both Python and PHP here win significantly over other paid web frameworks.
Now, this is one point where Python significantly beats PHP. Python has exceptionally well-developed library support for almost all types of applications. PHP lags in this aspect wrt to Python, but Packagist (PHP packages repository) is a strong backbone holding PHP. These days, for instance, a lot of startups and even large organizations are developing Machine Learning backed web applications. Python provides some excellent Machine Learning libraries like TensorFlow, Keras, Theano, Scikit Learn, etc. These libraries are fast, easy-to-use and most importantly, they integrate brilliantly with the web framework. As a result, developing such type of applications using Python is far simpler as compared to almost any other programming language.
PHP 5.x versions were quite slow, taking a lot of time in execution. However, the new release PHP 7.x is extremely fast, almost 3 times faster than a typical Python program. Speed often becomes an important factor in performance critical applications. For instance, in a core banking system that gets a million hits on a daily basis, a delay of 3 times might create a significant impact on the overall system performance. Therefore, talking about speed, PHP wins by a significant margin over Python.
However, it has to be noted that for most simple applications, the scale is quite low and so, there is not much of a noticeable time lag. For instance, for all practical purposes, 10 milliseconds is not much different from 30 milliseconds given that the application isn’t latency critical.
Choice of Web Frameworks
The most commonly used Python-based web frameworks are Django, Flask, Pylons, Pyramid, etc. On the other hand, the most used PHP based web frameworks are Codeigniter, Zend, Laravel, Symfony, etc.
Django is known to be extremely fast, scalable, secure and easy-to-use. It is quite robust and powerful and is used widely in a large number of applications. Similarly, Codeigniter and Laravel are very widely used in the market and almost all PHP applications today use one of the above 2 frameworks.
Python and PHP are both quite close on this point given that both provide equally good choices. New developers, however, enjoy using Django given that the development time in Django is quite low and it is easy to set up.
Python provides a powerful debugger called PDB (Python Debugger). PDB is well documented and is easy to use, even for the beginners. PHP, on the other hand, provides XDebug package for debugging. Both PDB and XDebug provide the most commonly used debugging features – breakpoints, stacks, path mapping, etc. Both Python and PHP are similar here, and none is a clear winner.
To summarize, for most points, both Python and PHP are similar to each other. For others, Python is better than PHP. Python seems to be a winner over PHP. Here is what we would recommend:
- If you are an experienced PHP programmer, stick to PHP since you already know it in and out.
- If you are an intermediate programmer, you might want to learn Python and shift to it for better job opportunities.
- If you are a novice programmer who wants to learn backend development, start learning Python and eventually move to Python-based frameworks.