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What Is PHP? Find Out Its Purpose and the Main Features

Reading time 4 min
Published Apr 4, 2019
Updated Oct 2, 2019

Let's begin our PHP introduction with the fundamentals: what is PHP? It is an open-sourced, general-purpose programming language. PHP is especially useful in web development, and mainly working with the server.

In other words, it is meant for handling the back-end. Because of this reason, PHP gets executed in the server, and the user only sees plain HTML on the front-end.

As you might have guessed, code written in PHP is meant almost exclusively for the server. It can load data and put it into the HTML DOM, but it does not have as much control as, for example, JavaScript. It can, however, connect to various databases, start sessions, apply scripts to HTML content, and perform many other tasks.

If you asked what is PHP used for, you would hear a bunch of very famous names: due to its flexibility and efficiency, PHP these days is a base of the biggest networks and web systems in the world.

Another question that might nag someone who's just warming up to PHP basics is what does PHP stand for. When Rasmus Lerdorf created it in 1994, it originally meant Personal Home Page. However, as time flew, the language evolved, and so did the name. These days it is understood as PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor.

What Is PHP: Main Tips

  • PHP is a server-side coding language. Its functionality lets you create dynamic webpages.
  • PHP is free, powerful and efficient. These are main advantages over its competitors (such as Microsoft ASP).
  • Before learning PHP, you should first gain at least a basic knowledge of HTML and CSS.
  • This post will provide you with some useful PHP basics and tutorials to get you started.

PHP File Explained

To write PHP code, you need to save it in a file with suffix the .php. While it has a different suffix, it works as a basic HTML file as well. The PHP file is a combination of HTML, PHP, JavaScript scripts, and plain text.

If you were to inspect a loaded document, you would not find any trace of PHP language. This result occurs because PHP is executed on the server, and only the resulting HTML content is shown on the browser.

Details on Functionality

While PHP language is universal overall, it is best suited for web development. There are multiple ways of using PHP when it comes to creating web applications.

What is PHP used for? Well, you can:

  • Create dynamic content.
  • Create, open, write, read, delete, and close files on the server.
  • Collect data from forms.
  • Receive and send cookies.
  • Add and modify database information.
  • Perform data encryption.
  • Output not only HTML, but also PDF, Flash, XML files or any other text.

Basic PHP Example

To see how a simple script written in PHP language could look like, view the example below:

Example
<?php 
   echo "This is a very simple php example.";   
?>

Advantages

There are, of course, many advantages to using PHP overall as well. We present some of them, but there many more as the language has a lot to offer:

  • PHP is a server-side language that is easy to learn, but very efficient to use.
  • PHP runs on multiple platforms (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Unix, etc.). Therefore it's portable and convenient to use.
  • PHP can connect to almost every server (IIS, Apache, etc.) and many databases.
  • PHP is free and open source. It also has a huge user base, so it's easy to find answers to any question that might arise while using PHP.

Learning PHP has a lot of steps. We have compiled a little list of lessons. Dedicate some time to read these tutorials carefully, and the base of knowledge you gain will make feel much stronger when beginning your coding journey:

What Is PHP: Summary

  • PHP is used for creating dynamic websites and platforms. It is a server-side language.
  • PHP use is completely free, as well as more powerful and efficient than its competitors (like Microsoft ASP).
  • PHP language is considered advanced programming, so first make sure you have some knowledge of HTML and CSS.