PHP vs. JavaScript: How to Choose a Backend for Your Project

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For most people familiar with web development, PHP and JavaScript are bare essentials. If you ask most web developers about their first association with backend and frontend programming languages, with high probability you will hear about PHP and JavaScript accordingly. They are two pillars of web development, forming the basis for millions of websites worldwide for over 20 years. Such popular websites as Wikipedia, Facebook, and Yahoo used this combination: PHP for backend programming and JavaScript for frontend. If they have been working in tandem so efficiently for a long time, how did it happen that they began to be compared? Why has PHP vs. JavaScript become a source of debate?

In the article, we’re going to answer these questions. We will look at these programming languages from different angles and find in which cases you should pay attention to each of them.

  1. PHP or JavaScript for Web Development
  2. Brief Overview of the Languages
  3. How Often They Were Used in 2020
  4. Performance Comparison
  5. Benchmark Tests
  6. Is Fullstack a Real Advantage?
  7. JS is a Better Choice for Backend if… 
  8. PHP is a Better Choice for Backend if…
  9. Summary

PHP or JavaScript for Web Development

In our opinion, the direct comparison of PHP and JavaScript (JS) is not inappropriate. It’s like comparing a potato with a tomato. Both of them are vegetables, both are tasty and used for cooking soup, but it’s unlikely you will substitute one for another in a dish. However, debates about PHP vs. JavaScript are not baseless. These programming languages have an area for competition after all, and this lies in backend development. How can JavaScript, considered the most spread client-side programming language worldwide, compete with PHP, the most popular server-side scripting language? Before answering this question, let’s see what each of these languages are and their pros and cons against each other.

PHP vs. JS: Brief Overview of the Languages

 

PHP

JavaScript

Brief Overview

Backend programming language

Full-stack programming language

Universality

Both cross-platform

Community

Extremely large

Best suit for 

– Any type of website

– Especially good for eCommerce, blogs, education platforms, company’s websites 

– Any type of website

– Perfectly suits highly loaded and visited websites

– When the constant connection is required: chats, real-time notification

Top-talent availability

Many high-quality experts

Database

MySQL, Oracle, PostgreSQL, MariaDB

MySQL, PostgreSQL, MongoDB, SQLite

Development speed

Equal

Extensibility

High

 

JavaScript

Appearing in 1995, JavaScript, whose initial name was LiveScript for a month, was created as an instrument providing ability to program the behavior of dynamic web pages. If you didn’t know, web pages were static until the Mosaic web browser was released in 1993. This was the first internet browser with a graphical interface, integrating multimedia such as text and graphics. Hence, JS was behind what we call now frontend development. Currently, each browser has an integrated engine for executing JS code. All these engines comply with the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA) standards.

Even though it’s primarily considered a client-side scripting language, JS is a full-stack programming language by design. In 2020, it was the most commonly used programming language, according to the annual Stackoverflow developer survey results. Developers use it for creating dynamic web pages, web and mobile applications, games, and server-side scripting. All of this is possible through numerous frameworks.php vs javascript comparison

JS Frameworks for Server Scripting

For backend web development, JS has a separate runtime environment called Node.js, allowing developers to execute JS scripts without using the browser. Node.JS is an open-source platform, becoming a basis for many different server scripting frameworks on JS. The most popular of them are Express.js, Meteor.js, Koa.js, Sails.js, Hapi.js, and Nest.js. These frameworks are powerful and flexible tools that have some advantages for solving particular issues, such as websites where a constant client-server connection is essential. Node.js is successfully used in Netflix, Paypal, Uber, Trello, eBay, and Medium.

PHP

PHP is an open-source programming language embedded in HTML, founded in 1994. For 26 years, the language made a long way from PHP 1 to PHP 8, which was announced last year. It established itself as a simple and, at the same time, efficient scripting language with a decent security level. Detractors often said that PHP was already obsolete, and such powerful technology as JS, Python, or Ruby would push it out of the market. Despite all of this, elePHPant continues to march ahead confidently and will not leave web servers worldwide.

Based on PHP, numerous content management systems, template engines, and frameworks have been developed. Among them are such big CMS names as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, OpenCart, PyroCMS, and Magento. PHP is firmly entrenched in the eCommerce industry, and it’s unlikely that somebody or something will shake its position soon. As for frameworks: Laravel, Symfony, CodeIgniter, Phalcon, Aura are all PHP frameworks. The language also integrates with all popular databases like PostgreSQL, Oracle, Sybase, and MySQL.

PHP vs. JavaScript: How Often They Were Used in 2020

JS is much more prevalent in developers’ environments than PHP, but let’s see which one is frequently used for backend scripting in web development. According to w3techs, PHP is used by 79.1% of all websites. It’s used nine times more frequently than ASP.NET with the second-highest rate of 9.2%. JS, in turn, is only in 8th place with a modest 1.2%. php vs javascript comparisonIt is worth noting that this statistic doesn’t mean then PHP is better than others in all aspects. The reason for such a giant gap between the leader and its competitors is the historical development path of web technologies. PHP was one of the pioneer backend languages, and it dealt with its tasks well, so web developers didn’t use anything else up to a certain point in time.

php vs javascript comparison

 

This diagram shows us comparing the five most popular server-side programming languages in popularity and traffic simultaneously. As in the previous one, PHP looks like a jack of all trades and the most popular technology. However, when it comes to high-load traffic websites, it loses leadership.

Along with technical progress growing, the requirements and functionality of the website grew too. In some cases, other languages solved particular tasks better than PHP. For example, Ruby allows you to create a quick time for a market solution, and Python is a better solution if a website uses machine learning or data science in its work.

We also recommend reading our post Python vs. Ruby: Which is Better for Your Project if you’re looking for server-side programming for a website.

PHP vs. JavaScript: Comparison

A traditional comparison by availability, simplicity, extensibility, and other similar characteristics doesn’t make sense. Currently, PHP and JS are approximately identical in terms of maintainability, development speed, community, and ecosystems built around them.

PHP vs JavaScript Performance

It’s believed that, when comparing PHP vs. JavaScript performance, the latter is faster because of the Node.js working principle. PHP servers create a new process for each request that comes from users. It’s a reliable and straightforward input-output (I/O) method. However, if your web server needs to process 15-20k requests concurrently, it will be mayhem for the website and its visitors. Also, this makes a website highly vulnerable to DDOS attacks.

php vs javascript comparison

JS, namely Node.js, uses another I/O model, known as non-blocking I/O. JS, in contrast to PHP, always has one active thread. All requests are queued, and once the server finishes processing one I/O request, it immediately takes on the next in a queue without waiting for any action from the client’s side. As practice shows, such an algorithm of query processing is fast and efficient; thus, JS demonstrates higher performance and throughput than PHP ceteris paribus. However, far from all websites need this. An interesting fact is that node-based tools were created on PHP too, but they couldn’t compete with the extremely popular and efficient Node.js.

php vs javascript comparison

Benchmark Tests

Program

Processing time (sec)

PHP

Node.js

Regex-redux

1.73

4.76

Pidigits

0.91

1.16

k-nucleotide

20.15

15.48

Binary-trees

18.64

7.34

Reverse-complement

7.06

2.12

Spectral-norm

7.51

1.84

Fannkuch-redux

63.18

11.89

Mandelbrot

24.89

4.03

n-body

71.75

8.36

Fasta

22.82

2.02

 

According to tests conducted by Benchmarks.games, Node.js was faster than PHP in executing 8 programs from 10. It’s worth mentioning that they use the fastest programs for tests, and the results of both languages in the real environment can differ.

PHP or JavaScript for Web Development: Is Fullstack a Real Advantage?

One of the main advantages, which is often attributed to JS in the PHP vs. JS battle, is full-stack developers. Theoretically, it is always better when the frontend and backend use the same codebase, but practically, a combination of JS and PHP is time-honored and doesn’t have significant weaknesses.

On the other hand, full-stack developers usually cost more. Moreover, experienced web developers become full-stack experts anyway. It’s unlikely you will approach a developer who has the only PHP in his arsenal. For example, many PHP engineers in NIX also have VueJS, React, Angular, and Go expertise. Such a wide expertise range allows experts to understand each technology’s pros and cons better and choose each project’s optimal language or work on complex enterprise projects that usually employ plenty of different technologies.

JS is Better Choice for Backend if…

JS is a better choice for the backend if a continuous connection between users and the server is crucial for your system. This can be a streaming service, dynamic single-page apps, chats, systems with real-time notification, and data updates. JS perfectly suits highly loaded and visited websites, and If the project already used such technologies:

  • Frontend:
    Ember.js, Angular JS, ReactJS, jQuery, Backbone.js, VueJS
  • Backend:
    MongoDB, Node.js, Express.js, Meteor.js, Koa.js, Sails.js, Hapi.js, and other JS-based frameworks

PHP is Better Choice for Backend if…

PHP is an excellent cover for all backend needs of eCommerce solutions, especially for WordPress, Magento, OpenCart, Drupal, Joomla, and PyroCMS. If you will use database management systems such as MySQL, Sybase, Oracle, Postgresql, and MariaDB, PHP is preferred.

Summary

PHP and JavaScript are both perfect technologies for backend web development. The languages are matured, they don’t have a lack of top-talented engineers, and both have a massive amount of frameworks and additional tools. In general, there are no websites you can develop on PHP and not develop with JS. Often the most choice criteria are accessibility of workforce resources and purpose of the future website. Anyway, the best solution is to get consulting of experienced engineers capable of selecting the optimal tech stack, given all features and peculiarities of the project.

If you have questions or need more information, you can view our web development services or contact our experts here.