That’s no wonder a lot of coding beginners can’t wrap their heads around which language to choose – PHP or Python. Both of them have been among the top ten programming languages for more than a few years now. Over the years, there have been plenty resources developed to make learning both languages easier – you'll find hundreds, even thousands of courses on websites like DataCamp, Udacity, and edX.
Having been around for quite some time now, they both also have significant user bases. This can be immensely handy in those first steps of learning. In this detailed PHP vs. Python comparison, we’re going to explain the similarities and differences between the two.
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Who came first: a python or an elephant?
If we look at the history of PHP vs. Python, you will notice Python has been around for longer. While the Python we know today (Python 3.0) was released in 2008, its first version was finished in 1994, and Guido van Rossum (who stayed in the Python lead developer’s throne until 2018!) began working on it in the late 1980s. By then, he already had some experience in implementing the ABC language and also working in the Amoeba distributed operating system group. Thinking of all the issues he experienced and all the possibilities to make it better, van Rossum came up with an idea to create a scripting language with an ABC-like syntax but also access to Amoeba (not Amoeba-specific, though).
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Unlike a lot of coding languages, Python has a somewhat random name: it has nothing to do with its functionalities or purpose of usage. The name Python came from the comic series Monty Python’s Flying Circus, scripts of which van Rossum was reading at the time of development. The current logo of the language does feature a pair of snakes, but the truth is, the creator was very reluctant to use the actual python for a mascot for a rather long time.
Now, the story of PHP is a bit different. In 1994, Rasmus Lerdorf used C programming language to create a simple set of tools to help him track visit history of his resume that he had posted online. In time, he added more functionalities. As the set seemed rather attractive to other developers too, Lerdorf released the source code to the public in 1995.
Since then, the code has been rewritten and polished multiple times. By 1998, it was already an independent programming language. In the same year, Vincent Pontier noticed that the letters PHP resemble a side view of an elephant. That’s how a mascot with a clever name ElePHPant was born. The latest version called PHP 7 has been released in 2015.
A syntax comparison: Python vs. PHP
The biggest difference you will notice straight away when comparing PHP vs. Python lies in their syntax, and this is actually where Python wins by a large margin.
In 1999, software engineer Tim Peters wrote The Zen of Python – a list of nineteen fundamental principles for writing programs. Naturally, these have influenced Python immensely, and more than one of them points to simplicity: ‘Simple is better than complex. Complex is better than complicated. Flat is better than nested. Sparse is better than dense. Readability counts. There should be one – and preferably only one – obvious way to do it.’ These principles, crucial for any general-purpose language, are apparent in the Python syntax as well: it is extremely simple, clean and readable. For this reason, it is often what programming teachers start with at schools. Python also has a clear and concise style guide called PEP8.
The team of PHP, however, never had a general-purpose programming language in mind. It is a server-side language with the main goal of creating web applications, which are usually much more complex, compared to independent programs. In addition to that, it was influenced by a lot of other languages (Java, Perl, C, C++, and a few others), so there’s no single familiar pattern. What this results in is a complicated syntax system that isn’t too beginner-friendly either. According to various coder forums and blogs, a lot of programmers find it inconsistent and unpredictable as well.
One of the most important things to consider when choosing the right programming language for you is your ultimate goal. While both Python and PHP are great languages, one of them will always have a slight edge over the other in specific cases.
Developers all around the world use PHP to build websites and web-based systems, including but not limited to distant learning services, intranet or helpdesks. PHP also has the advantage of having unmatched integration with various databases – because of this, it is a great option for content managers and e-commerce websites. You can also use PHP to create desktop applications. However, it falls short in mobile development: pretty much all you can do is create a mobile-friendly website to be used instead of an actual application.
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Python is mostly used for web development as well. Just like PHP, it is not an option for mobile developers – if that’s your main goal, we’d advise you to look into Java instead. Python is fine for desktop applications too. However, this is where the similarities stop: Python is actually a lot more universal than PHP, especially when you consider its ever-growing list of frameworks and libraries (more on those later).
In recent years, developers tend to use Python more and more in data science, machine learning and other AI technologies. Machine learning is making a system offer predictions based on the previously handled data. For example, how do music streaming services create personal playlists for their users? Basically, the system learns what they have listened to previously, what they skipped and what they liked, and bases future predictions on that.
Wider possibilities: libraries and frameworks
When we’re comparing PHP vs. Python, we have to remember they are rarely even used alone. You can do it, of course, but why work harder when you can work smarter? Both PHP and Python have a great selection of frameworks and libraries available. This helps you simplify your daily tasks and opens up a whole new range of functionalities. Not only do they help you develop faster, but they also usually offer easier maintenance.
The best-known Python frameworks are Django and Flask. Due to its fast performance, guaranteed security, and simple usage, Django would probably win the duel. It works across a range of different platforms and most databases, so you can use it for projects of any size. Websites with traffic as heavy as The Washington Post use it for their platforms. Flask is a few years younger, however, it also ranks high due to great developer tools and a wide range of extensions available.
Frameworks can seem complicated to figure out at first. However, that's far from the case. Data science learning platforms such as DataCamp offer various courses to help you navigate frameworks and learn how to use them efficiently in your personal projects. You can learn more about how to use Python and its frameworks in our guide here.
As for PHP frameworks, there are two most famous names as well: Laravel and Symfony. The former simplifies exception handling, mail integration, and task management. Plus, it comes with a great system for authentication and authorization. Symfony, on the other hand, is extremely feature-rich. Using its thirty generic components and reusable bundles, you have fewer dependencies, and it’s way easier to update your code. However, when compared to Laravel, Symfony falls short on the performance.
Now, a library, in its essence, is a set of methods, modules, and functions. As we discuss libraries, the PHP vs. Python battle has no clear winner either. When creating Python, van Rossum wanted something generally extensible, and a wide range of available libraries certainly do help with this goal. However, while the PHP team had no such explicit intention, the language has been around for long enough for a ton of libraries to be developed as well.
PHP vs. Python: before you go
The choice between PHP vs. Python is not an easy feat. While it’s true that Python is growing at a rapid pace and there are tons of new projects written every year, PHP doesn’t seem to be going anywhere either. A lot of huge projects that are popular already (e.g., Wordpress) are PHP-based. There's no doubt they will continue to need support for years to come.
According to Glassdoor.com, PHP has a slight edge in terms of salary as well: a PHP developer earns an average yearly salary of $93,987, while Python developers earn $85,502 on average. Both of these sums are higher than the average developer salary of $80,394 per year.
BitDegree courses can be a great place to start – check out our online courses on PHP and Python! Whichever you choose in the end, we hope our comprehensive PHP vs. Python comparison has helped you by providing some useful arguments. And remember, you don’t have to limit yourself to just one language – the more you know, the more you can.