PHP vs Python – which is best? Cross-comparison in 2021
Thinking of building your new web-app but can’t decide to build it on PHP or Python? Perhaps you’re a fledgling developer wanting to enter the wonderful world of web development? Or a Product Owner who desperately wants to find the best solution for his project.
Regardless of what brought you here, we’re incredibly happy to have you, want some tea?
This isn’t our first foray into discussing programming languages:
We’ve spoken about the extensive history of various languages and how and when they appeared.
We touched upon the statistics of which server-side programming language you should choose.
And we even tallied up the top 10 programming languages as of 2020, looking at their pro’s and con’s.
On today’s agenda however, we’ll be looking at two noteworthy programming language giants.
PHP vs Python – what makes them tick, what are the advantages and disadvantages you might meet and how to best utilise each in what scenario.
Afterall, making the right choice is paramount to your success! You want to have the best, scalable, dependable, secure, and high-performing toys (apps) to compete on the market these days!
So, without further ado, let’s meet the stars of today’s show!
What is Python?
Python is an object oriented, interpreted, high-level programming language developed and released in 1991 by a Dutch programmer by the name of Guido van Rossum.
This language is wildly known as a beginner friendly, robust, self-sufficient all-round programming language. Main philosophy being code readability, significant use of indentation and dynamic semantics.
One of the mottos of this language and some even refer to it simply as “batteries included” language; In programming circles, this means that python has a massive collection of various libraries or useful modules. Essentially it comes packaged with everything you need for full usability.
Python Advantages and Features:
The biggest draw of Python and its advantage is the ability to use object encapsulation, classes, construct and deconstruct etc. Think of this as “reusable code” or code blueprints for bigger software structures.
Open-source and Free
It goes without saying that this platform is wildly used across the world, has massive support from GitHub and StackOverflow among other places, and its completely free!
Plain English and Math
One of the main lures of Python for developers is its relatively simple syntax and using plain understandable language and math. This makes the language accessible to a wider range of specialists.
Python executes code logically from top to bottom, one line at a time, much like Java or C++. Hence, no need for compilation and thus the QAs’ job in debugging is much easier!
Python interpreter does type checking only as code runs, and the type of a variable is allowed to change if needed. There is no need to specify the variable type like int, char, long, double, etc.
Modular in nature
Originally conceived in mind to use various modules and libraries, removing the need to create code from scratch. Use standard library packaged or download a specific one and use out of the box for functionality like unit-testing, image manipulation, expressions etc.
Core of the matter is that if you want something done, there’s probably a library for that already!
General Purpose or All-rounder
Python is wildly considered among the best options when it comes to web development, front and back-end. It achieves this by use of various support frameworks and micro-frameworks like Django (CMS), Pyramid, Flask, Bottle and others.
This means that regardless of your needs or goals, python can be the tool for you or your enterprise.
Obviously, code integrity matters, thus having most if not all your architecture built upon a single language, has massive benefits in scalability, security and performance.
Machine Learning (ML) and AI
Hey, like it or not, but artificial intelligence is the future, and python walks hand in hand with this future. Just look how much ML has grown in the past couple of years.
Through its various modules and libraries like Scipy, PyML, Numpy, PyBrain (and many more) and also its flexibility, relative simplicity of syntax and other features python has gathered a huge community of radically unique skill-sets, specialists and tools. This enables it to pave the way to its leading role for complex algorithms and AI.
What is PHP?
Aside from the adorable elePHPant mascot, “Hypertext Preprocessor” (PHP), is an open-source scripting and general use programming language created by a Danish-Canadian developer by the name of Rasmus Ledorf in 1994.
Though originally it was called Personal Home Page Tools (PHP Tools) it eventually became known as just PHP.
PHP is wildly known as a server-side scripting language used in web development primarily. So much so that according to W3Techs report – 8 websites out of 10 (79.1%) you visit today are using PHP for their server-side needs.
Sounds impressive, well one caveat is that the majority of those servers use version 7.0 of PHP and some even older, and much like any other programming language, PHP is evolving. Current version of PHP is 8.0.8 as of the release of this article.
What this means is that most of those servers have stopped receiving active support and security updates. And as we’ve said many times before, security is among the main things you have to worry about going into the next decade.
PHP Advantages and Features
Open-source and Free
Same as Python, PHP is completely free and available for use right of the bat, and it has a respectably big community support it both on GitHub and StackOverflow, though not nearly as big as the python one.
Easy to learn, hard to master
Comparatively speaking of course, it is generally accepted among veterans that PHP is far easier to understand and use for beginners in comparison to for instance Java or JS.
C like syntax
Being based on primarily C, it uses the same structure and logic, hence its quite easy to understand for even beginners with some basic understand of how code works.
Admittedly it has its own peculiarities…
PHP is likewise based on object-oriented features much like Python, it has access data encapsulation, inheritances, and other class-specific behaviours.
If you want to find out more about Object Oriented Programming (OOP), here’s a succinct explanation.
Yet again, much like Python, PHP reads its code line by line, in a logical manner, this helps in debugging and overall structure.
Direct Database integration
PHP comes bundled up with most if not all popular Database structures like Oracle, PostgreSQL, MySQL, and many others. Setting up a database is a breeze.
Unlike many other programming languages, PHP is defined as loosely-typed language. This means that it does not require the type to be defined while declaring the variable, to create variables of different types.
Efficient and Performant
PHP Script is known to show highest speeds among its competitors, especially when compared to JSP, Perl or ASP.Net.
It is possible that the best thing PHP is known for is its performance. And if you’re “in-the-know” you’ll easily recognize how important this factor is, especially so for SEO.
Though understand, this is a relatively recent development, for as many professionals will tell you, PHP 5.x was known for… sluggishness.
However, since 7.x and onwards, some claim it runs three times faster than even Python.
Real time monitoring
PHP has a very neat feature of logging any and all user activity and keeping track of any changes, as well as CPU and memory usage, all bundled up.
This ultimately makes the process of debugging your code so much easier.
Scenario comparisons – PHP vs Python
As you’ve probably noticed that both languages while truly diverse, claim to supply most of the same benefits, and some even claiming to outdo each other. So, let’s see how really compare when faced with most important aspects of web-development.
Performance and Speed
We’ve harped aplenty on how speed is among the leading factors when it comes to landing you on that sweet first page of google. And it’s done for good reason as well for as many as 79% of average users answered on a survey that they will not re-visit a website that takes too long to load.
Though PHP 5.0 and lower showed consistently poorer results in load times and processing power, with the release of 7.0 and Zen Engine 3.0 everything changed.
Most professionals regardless of their “alignment” in this topic, will acknowledge that PHP is times faster for any and all operations than Python.
Don’t trust us? Fine, but check out these benchmarks of Python 3 vs PHP.
Of course, keep in mind that well developed programs will always perform better than poorly made ones, regardless of what you base it in.
PHP is the definite winner when it comes to speed.
Open-Source support / Libraries
Both contestants claim to have vast stores of pre-made and released libraries and modules.
Developers use libraries we frameworks to help them create their apps so much faster. Why write something from scratch when someone has already done it? And more importantly has thought of bugs you’re yet to encounter.
Libraries help not only developers, but project owners as well, as they can cut time, testing and costs significantly when it comes to developing your web-app.
With the release of PHP 7.0, they created something called “Composer” which is essentially a general dependency manager which alongside Packagist integration, can support all your package’s needs.
Number of Packages as of writing this article.
However, Composer even if release and on version 2.1.5 it is still relatively new, and thus can lead to problems.
Python on the other hand, has a ton of diverse full-fledged libraries, web frameworks, 3rd party tools and a massive community support that dwarfs that of PHP by a longshot.
With Python package manager (PIP) and a library of almost 5 million files, 320k projects and more than half a million users, any problems that are encountered during production, are relatively swift to find a solution from the outside.
All this leads to swifter development times, debugging, and lesser costs incurred during maintenance.
Not to mention the growing trend and need for machine learning and artificial intelligence integration which Python easily accommodates with its own huge ML libraries such as TensorFlow, Keras, Theano, PyML and dozen more.
If you’re looking into the future with your app, Python is the clear winner and dominates this category.
If by some reason, you do not want to rely on micro-services and container-based architecture (*gasp*); first reconsider; second – we need to talk about environment management.
Without using some sort of segregation via containers, you must do it manually and take head of library versions, accesses, and permissions of various parts of your app.
Python comes equipped with the robust Virtualenv library, that even comes integrated as a standard library under venv module. It comes with all the bells and whistles you might want, from full version control of your various packages, segregated parts of your app and switching those on the fly.
With a proud history dating as far back as 2011 (v 1.6.1), it is wildly known and celebrated around the development circles. And its fully supported and updated today.
PHP on the other hand offers us virtPHP, a discontinued and archived environment manager that even PHP creators recommend against using. Just use a container, ok?
Python is the undisputed winner of this category.
Scalability and MySQL
Any application, be that mobile or webapp must plan for the future, if you build a house a strong and sturdy foundation is important. A Foundation to build upon and grown.
With growing influx of users, comes the need to accommodate and meet their demands, hence scale your app. However, business world is a fickle mistress and thus when building an app, make sure you can scale it down accordingly if need be.
Both Python and PHP offer great libraries and frameworks and arguably meet this need equally.
PHP offers effortless connection to MySQL right off the bat, however rudimentary knowledge of SQL is a must in this case.
Python on the other hand has a slight edge with its aforementioned ML and AI support coupled with the ability to manipulate MySQL without even delving into it with amazing tools like Django or SQLAlchemy.
Whether you want to integrate machine learning algorithms with your app or decouple it into parts, Django is an amazing tool for this and much more!
Interestingly, Facebook uses a heavily modified (almost unrecognizable) version of PHP they call HHVM, and for their Instagram needs support millions of users they use the Django Framework in conjunction with Python.
Still, Python simply adapts to new trends far quicker than its counterpart. So, the winning point of this category goes to Python!
The scourge of the 21st century, the plague upon the world, and we’re not talking about COVID-19 but the widespread of cybercrime which will cost up to 10.5 $ billion to us all by 2025.
Hence choosing the right option when it comes to security is bound to save you from loads of headaches and substantial money loss. Lucky for you, aside from supplementary tools like Django, both Python and PHP rank highest with least number of security vulnerabilities according to a study performed by WhiteSource end of 2020.
Though, both being open-source and thus available for hackers to examine, we’d still suggest going with python for its wider selection of tools.
Because both our options are open-source and completely free, it’s somewhat difficult to calculate initial costs.
However, take into consideration time to market and debugging times as well as the tendency of many developer firms to hire extra hands at the last minute of development cycle – the language with widest community support and friendliness gets the win, and that is again Python.
Web-App vs Mobile App
Even though PHP is considered a general-purpose code it is simply unsuitable for mobile application development. It is technically possible to use frameworks to convert your web-app into a mobile one with for instance Laravel, but there are a ton of drawbacks to this solution, simply said PHP is not ideal for mobile app development.
And if you decide to go with PHP to develop your web-app, later on you might consider adding a mobile application into the mix, and here you’ll meet extra costs in either full transition or some sort of a workaround which is never the best option.
Just go with Python and the process of developing your future mobile app will be so much smoother in the long run.
For a better explanation of what is Big Data, we’ve written a whole series of articles on the subject.
Suffice to say that there is a good reason why many Big Data specialists go for Python almost completely dismissing any other option. PHP is better when it comes to performance, but that is overseeing relatively small chunks of information. Anything truly big, gets bogged down quickly in PHP.
Python is simply a far superior choice when it comes to dealing with many calculations, scientific analysis, statistics and real-time gaming.
Largely due to the general structure and syntax of the language which is clear and concise and most important – it’s English!
It can also function as both the control language for driving your application and as a glue language for combining any data analytics library you might need, even if it is in another language.
As we’ve mentioned before, due to its simpler syntax it can leverage a larger pool of Big Data scientists, which in turn will lead to larger pool of knowledge and in turn lead to more scientists etc. A perpetual cycle of sorts.
Error! Requires more data! In reality, it’s still extremely hard to say which one is irrevocably superior – we whole heartedly consider it to be Python but…
Understand that veteran developers will always have their personal preferences and opinions built upon years of experience. However, with this come biases and wilful disregard for pitfalls or outright flaws of one system or another.
And we’re no better, hence we highly recommend that you continue researching this topic and if all fails contact your nearest web-developer company for some more in-depth analysis on which language you should stick to!
And with that we bid you au revoir, but before you go, tell us what programming language do you prefer when it comes to developing small- or large-scale applications?
Stay classy business and tech nerds!