Which is Better for Web Development, PHP or Python?
The modern programming landscape is complex and full of options for programmers to build out applications, software, and web-based solutions. Developers take different educational and training paths based on which side of the user experience they want to support. Those who want to focus on the user interface and functionality on the client-side focus on frontend development, while those more interested in server-side functionality and frameworks are considered backend developers. For backend developers, there are a number of programming language options in use by programmers across modern projects, but two of the primary workhorses many rely upon are Python and PHP. As a developer yourself, or perhaps a business owner looking to have to decide on a vendor to create an application, you might be trying to figure out which of these popular languages you should be using in your own projects.
Why Does it Matter Which Programming Language You Use for Web Development?
Websites and web applications serve different purposes, and as such need different frameworks, web servers, and databases in order to support target user traffic and functionality. How a website or application is expected to perform under anticipated user load will also play a role in choosing the right backend language for your project. Another factor that determines which programming language you should be using for a project is the skill of your own software development team and whether the necessary language is either in their repertoire already or within their ability to learn and execute quickly. If a required language is beyond the scope of your team’s abilities, you must then instead consider the costs of bringing on a developer or agency with the appropriate skills to carry out the project at hand.
Regardless of the influences, the choice of backend language should come down to how fast programs written with the chosen syntax can operate, how reliable they are, and how well they can scale with the needs of a given project. With all of these factors in mind, we’re going to spend the remainder of this discussion comparing and contrasting Python and PHP, covering features and capabilities as well as the development costs of each, and then we’ll pull in reviews from users across various industries to provide readers with an insight into which language might best fit their development needs.
Topics we are going to cover in this software comparison include:
- What is Python?
- What is PHP?
- Python Development vs. PHP Development Pricing Overview
- Execution Speed
- Library Support
- Flexibility and Scalability
- Python vs. PHP Expert Reviews
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
- The Overall Winner
What is Python?
Python was created by Guido Van Rossum in the Netherlands during the late 1980s and into the 1990s. Van Rossum held control over the project as a lead developer until 2018 when he stepped down and was replaced by a five-member council of core Python developers from the community. Python is an object-oriented and structured programming language at its core but can support other programming language paradigms through extensions. Its core philosophies are summarized in the popular Python document, The Zen of Python.
While it’s an extremely powerful and versatile language that can be used for both frontend and backend tasks, the natural syntax makes it a popular language that has been adopted by non-programmers in various industries to execute data analytics, deep learning, and accounting tasks. It is an extremely versatile tool used in both software development and app development.
Capabilities and Top Features include:
- Extremely fast and efficient edit-test-debug cycle, as the language doesn’t include a compilation step
- Object-oriented combined with dynamic typing and binding makes it a great tool for Rapid application development
- Easy-to-understand syntax
- Open-source community with a plethora of available libraries extending language functionality
What is PHP?
PHP was conceived using the C programming language in 1994 by Rasmus Lerdorf initially as a set of Common Gateway Interface (CGI) binaries he used to track visits to a specific online document. As the tools were intended for his own use, he came to call them Personal Home Page tools, or PHP tools, but then continued to expand their functionality to become a more versatile programming tool in the following year.
Source code was made public in 1995, with Lerdorf remaining active in the development of the core product until he released a rewritten form of the code known as the Personal Home Page Construction Kit in October 1995. This was the first version of the scripting tool to be considered an advanced scripting interface and heavily resembled C, making it an easier transition for programmers already working in C, Perl, and other languages at the time. However, it wasn’t until a further rewrite and rerelease of the code by Lerdorf in 1996 as PHP/FI that the toolkit began to resemble a standalone programming language. Throughout the late 1990s and into the 2000s, PHP continued to evolve over versions 3, 4, and 5, when it became a powerful tool for supporting more than just backend functionality for web servers. PHP 7.x is currently live in the wild and addresses many of the performance issues of previous versions.
Known for being an open-source general-purpose scripting language, PHP handles web development tasks extremely well and can be embedded into frontend HTML to perform various tasks. Instead of executing on the client-side, PHP is processed on the server-side and then sends the resulting output or actions to the client. This lightens the client-side load and minimizes how often external calls have to be made without sacrificing complex user experience in the process. As a language based around C, PHP is extremely logical and easy for users to understand and implement.
Capabilities and Top Features include:
- Executes scripts extremely fast, as the language maintains its own memory and can minimize the server workload in the process
- Open-source tool, making it free to download and use as a developer
- Easy-to-grasp syntax that provides complex functionality with fewer lines of code than other languages
- Operating System independent and compatible with modern web servers
- Easy to embed within HTML files, removing the need to maintain complex documents that need to be called and maintained separately from the program files
Python Development vs. PHP Development Pricing Overview
For hourly programmer rates, we have pulled data used by other firms based on the Codementor platform. Keep in mind that these values are averages and based on specific data sources. Salary research for full-time positions versus freelance hourly rates can vary greatly from employer to employer and industry to industry. These numbers should be considered as a starting point only to provide your leadership with insight into the costs of bringing in a team that specializes in either language for a specific project on an hourly basis.
Average Hourly Rate
$81 to $100
$61 to $80
Starts at $41
Starts at $41
$61 to $80
$61 to $80
Ends at $160
Ends at $160
Bringing in a team of Python programmers will cost your company a somewhat higher average rate, ranging between $81 to $100, which is reflected in data elsewhere positioning Python developers’ annual salaries upwards of $110,000. The hourly rates for PHP programmers, which run lower at between $61 to $80, suffer from the fact that while in demand due to the popularity of WordPress, PHP developers must price themselves more competitively.
Hear From Industry Experts
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Speed and performance are critical issues for web-based applications and web pages, especially those that have heavy traffic and the ability to quickly process user requests is crucial to performance. Even a fraction of a second can mean the difference between a conversion and a bounced user unwilling to wait for a function to load or execute.
Comparing Processing Speed of Python vs PHP
As with many programming languages, much of Python code’s processing speed issues can be mitigated through solid programming practices. The language also was built to execute without having to perform a separate compilation process, which compared to previous versions of PHP made it faster and better able to handle certain projects. However, with the introduction of PHP 7.x, previous issues in performance speed were addressed and the platform now outperforms Python for projects with significant workloads.
Speed of processing is often a function of code structure and can be mitigated in Python through solid programming practices.
Programs written with new Version 7.x are roughly 3x faster than comparable programs written in Python.
Python does not require a compiler to run, and this practical approach and the simplicity of coding in it often outweighs speed and performance considerations.
Written inline with HTML and other languages, PHP operates server-side rather than client-side, allowing it to run much faster on backend resources and deliver results quickly to the user via the interface.
Prior to PHP 7.x, Python’s method did outperform PHP versions 5.x and below when it came to processing speeds.
Which Option is Better?
Overall, for large, complex options where speed of processing visitor requests is important to the user experience, PHP is the solid winner since the release of PHP 7.x. For smaller applications where speed is not a factor in the user experience or won’t be noticed, programmers should instead go with the tool that best supports the intended framework and functionality.
The ability to extend functionality and methods for improving and enhancing the coding process in modern programming languages often relies on 3rd party maintained libraries. These libraries have frameworks, codes, commands, and other functionality already built out, and through inclusion of the library, calls to those various elements are as simple as one line of code. This allows programmers to write extremely complex and diverse types of programs with extensive functionality quickly and efficiently.
Comparing Python’s Libraries vs PHP Libraries
PHP has only recently started to integrate tools such as Composer with PHP 7.x to help with dependency management. Python’s PIP, on the other hand, has a long history acting as the language’s package control system, and the community of third-party libraries for Python is extremely extensive. The Python community has also latched on to libraries and functionality that make Python a great tool for executing AI and machine learning-focused tasks.
Python Library Support
PHP Library Support
Pip Installs Python (PIP) package control is a qualitatively more efficient and faster method for managing libraries in Python-based projects.
While previous PHP versions had little library support, PHP 7.x has introduced Composer, a dependency manager similar to PIP in Python.
Python’s machine learning and AI libraries are some of the most powerful and mature in the field and make Python a preferable platform for projects requiring these analytic tools.
Composer is still young, but used in conjunction with PHP’s package repository, Packagist, it can lead to efficient library management
Python libraries are built to integrate with web frameworks and can quickly be installed and put into use.
Which Option is Better?
Overall, Python’s library management and integration tools are much stronger and more established than those in use by PHP. Python is also the go-to for the growing demand for AI-based and machine-learning projects, as the libraries for these types of projects that are available to Python developers are extremely robust, well-known, and well supported. It will take time for PHP’s new relationship between Composer and Packagist to truly bear fruit for the programming language and community.
Flexibility and Scalability
As organizations grow and evolve, their websites and web apps will need to be able to evolve and grow with the needs of the business. This pertains not only to functionality and the ability to quickly modify or add products and services or expand an eCommerce site but also applies to developers’ ability to modify and expand the traffic that web pages and applications can handle easily.
Comparing the Flexibility and Scalability of Python vs PHP
Elements of library management combined with the support of various modern frameworks come into play when we talk about the ability of either of these languages to support increasing business demands quickly and efficiently. Python’s extensive library support and access to frameworks such as Django and Flask set it beyond PHP, even with the latest improvements that allow PHP 7.x to operate at a much faster rate than Python for large-scale projects.
Python’s Flexibility and Scalability
PHP’s Flexibility and Scalability
The improved access to AI and machine learning assets allow Python-built tools to learn and adapt to trends in usage and have built-in responses to allow programs to automatically respond.
Takes advantage of frameworks such as Symfony and Laravel that support the development and management of projects over time
The depth of library support and frameworks in use by Python developers such as Django and Flask ensure Python-built projects are scalable, secure, and responsive.
|Struggles to be as responsive to new trends despite improvements to the code brought with the 7.x version.|
Which Option is Better?
Python is the designated machine-learning and AI language. Modern websites and applications built with the language are able to access these crucial adaptive tools, ensuring developers can quickly adapt websites and applications to changing demands on the applications. While PHP might retain a performance speed advantage, the ability to quickly adapt and respond to changing traffic demands sets Python applications apart from competitors.
Python vs. PHP Expert Reviews
To further compare Python vs. PHP, we corresponded directly with the industry experts themselves. We asked them which programming language and development method they prefer to use and why. In these responses, we find a very distinct advantage that PHP has over Python when it comes to strictly comparing the two tools for web development.
Users Who Prefer Python
“We develop web applications that need some sort of machine language abilities that Python offers. That is the only reason we choose to develop some of our clients’ web applications with a Python back end instead of PHP.”
—Tim Strawbridge, Business Owner and Software Engineer, SW Development Services
“It’s convenience features like destructuring feel easier to use than PHP’s. Plus, the lack of $’s everywhere makes typing and copying variable names slightly faster.” —Erin Dachtler, Full-Stack Developer, Propaganda Creative
Users Who Prefer PHP
“Our clientele are small business owners, and they rarely want to spend the amount of time or money on a web application using Python. PHP is easier to use, has more options, and is user-friendly when we give the website back to the owner. PHP is our favorite programming language by far, between these two choices.”
—Stephen Gagnon, SEO, Code Web
“So, two of the main reasons why I think PHP is a better web tool are first how much simpler the digital adoption process is, and second the resources available. While Python is a tremendously powerful language, it ideally is not meant for handling and building websites, but instead should be used for tasks that it excels at, such as processing of data, data-binding, and visualization.”
—William Chin, Agile Consultant and Founder, YourDigitalAid.com
“PHP is more widely supported and was designed with the web in mind. This is important because, on the web, speed really matters. PHP is almost always supported in any hosting environment by default, without needing to install custom set-ups or extra features. It is the most common language still used all around the web for CMS platforms such as WordPress by a long shot!”
—Christopher Mendes, CEO, 2Leaf
“As a small business specializing in WordPress website design, we prefer PHP for a couple of reasons. First, it is widely used and supported on Linux hosting environments. Second, since we focus on WordPress development, PHP is the core programming language and we have built our team around it. However, if we ever expanded into custom development projects again I would definitely consider exploring Python as an option. The community support seems to have grown quite a bit and it is definitely a solid programming language.”
—Kevin McNally, Owner, Interactive Palette
The Overall Winner
As we reach the point where we have to choose the winning software language in this discussion, there’s an important aspect of this narrative that we have to take into account: the sheer dominance of content management systems such as WordPress in web development. It’s absolutely vital to understand that with WordPress powering 40% of websites across the Internet, which means many agencies and freelancers in web development operating today must-have skill in using PHP to properly build and support websites for their clients, whereas Python’s increasing popularity hasn’t quite reached a fever pitch that can compete with the demand for PHP. Purely based on the speed and demand from the community for PHP, it might be easy to give the win to PHP.
However, understanding trends in website and application development and how they align with the growing demand for big data analytics, AI-capable and machine-learning driven tools, and platforms with extensive flexibility and responsiveness to changing business needs, developers that want to future-proof the tools they create must consider utilizing Python. The language has stronger ties with the tools that are already driving innovation in the web development landscape, and as libraries continue to improve and expand the functionality of Python, the language will continue to outperform and exceed the functionality of sites built with WordPress and PHP.
Flexibility and Scalability
The Overall Winner
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Navigating programming languages can be complicated, so we’ve included answers to some of the most commonly asked questions relating to each language’s relationship with the development process.