Python vs PHP: what is better to build web applications?

There are dozens of programming languages around, and often developers have to make a difficult choice when it comes to choosing languages for developing applications. Today, we will be discussing two titans in the world of application development – Python and PHP. Let’s go through a quick intro of the two before deciding which would be good for your requirements.

Introducing Python and PHP

Python

Python is a widely used, object oriented, general performance, high performance programming language with dynamic semantics. The language was founded by Guido Van Rossum and the first release was in February 1991. 

PHP

PHP initially stood for Personal Home Page Tools (later changed to Hypertext Preprocessor), and it is also a fairly old programming language like Python. Designed for web development, PHP is also a general purpose programming language founded by Rasmus Lerdorf in 1994. The language is used mainly in conjunction with web content management systems, web template systems and HTML code. 

Now that we’ve gotten the formalities aside, let’s get down to the real business of comparing them both when it comes to building web applications. 

Performance 

Performance-wise, both languages are really good. PHP was a bit slow in the beginning, as it was originally intended to be a tool for building web applications and dynamic websites. With the release of PHP 7, the speed of the language increased considerably, and it now has almost the same speed as python. Developers can easily process huge amounts of data.

Both languages are just perfect for building simple and small scale applications. Of course, there are a few other things that may affect the software performance, irrespective of the language that you choose. Those are hardware resources, code logic, access time for hard disk, amount of memory and width of data path. Other things that can slow up the application or cause crashes include low storage space, failing hard disk and failing RAM. 

Verdict: Both are performance oriented 

Library Management

With Python, it is very easy to parse at a glance. Every Python developer has a PiP or ‘PiP install Python’ for managing different libraries. This is a very essential tool that a developer should have in his toolbar. 

The library management is not very strong in PHP. It is not bad, but when compared to Python, the latter is much better. PHP7 has Composer, which when paired with Packagist is a fantastic combination, but is still young. Python has much better and mature packages, which is easier to install.

Verdict: Python is comparatively better

Environment Management 

If you are building your applications on containers like Docker, then you don’t have to worry about environment management. But if you need segregate the applications installed language and library versions, then you need to manage environments. Through a tool known as Virtualenv, you can install multiple versions of the Python alongside each other, and switch between them. It is an awesome tool that developers really cherish.

PHP does have something like Virtualenv, that’s known as virtPHP, but that’s been archived for a long time, and not maintained well. The developers instead use containers. This is a good thing because using containers have plenty of benefits and in operational deployment. Unfortunately, it is not a good choice for every environment, and that’s something you have to be aware of.

Verdict: Python is perfect; for PHP, you have to have the suitable environment

Ease of learning 

Both languages have so many similarities in this respect. They are both dynamically types, have excellent IDE support, are object oriented interpreted languages and can run on several operating systems. For PHP, you have to prefix all the variables using the dollar sign ($), uses the -> operator to show a method called on an object. 

Python’s syntax is also different from other programming languages. It uses whitespace sensitivity instead of curly braces. 

The array concept of PHP is not a very good one, and if you do understand then PHP comes with so many options. Unfortunately, PHP does not have quality implementations. You may have to write your own data type if you are doing something that doesn’t fit into the array. 

Python has so many different varieties of built-in data types, so the difficulty lies where to use which tool. 

Verdict: Both are good languages to learn, but PHP has some outdated tutorials that may not be suitable

Speed of Application

There are several things that could slow down the speed of a web application, and sometimes programming languages have nothing to do with that. PHP is a little faster because the core team has done their best to speed up the programming language, especially PHP 7. However, a hitch with PHP is that it restarts your application every time a web request is made. This could be frustrating when you are working with an application that has shared resources across requests. 

This is not a problem with Python. Irrespective of the choice of programming language, you can build the application with great performance if you are plugging into a tool like Retrace. The tool lets you identify problem areas and speed up the problem areas irrespective of the language. 

Verdict: Both score well in the application speed department

Framework

PHP has plenty of frameworks, and the best ones include Slim, Symphony, Laravel, Fast-free framework. Many large brands use these frameworks. The frameworks offer excellent scalability with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. So it is easy to build scalable applications with PHP.

Comparatively, Python has a lower number of frameworks. The popular ones are Django and Flask. These frameworks are fast, safe and scalable. 

Verdict: Both have excellent frameworks, only thing is PHP has more frameworks

Language Documentation

Good documentation is a must for every developer. Python has excellent documentation, and is written in a less-conversational tone. The documentation style is a bit terse, and could be a little difficult for others. 

PHP has robust documentation as well, the only drawback is that it allows for comments as well. So when reading the documentation pages, it is the comments that stick out, even comments that have been there for years. That could be a deterrent, even if the function’s behaviour has been removed by the developer. 

Verdict: Both have superb documentation, but the outdated comments of PHP could be a turn off

Debugging

When a developer works on developing an application, the dream would be to have an app that works without a hitch. Often, that is not the case, which is why they would need a debugger to figure out what went wrong. Both PHP and Python have wonderful debuggers that developers love to use. With Python, all you have to do is press the debug button, and the job is done. 

With PHP, that’s not so easy. You need to do a little bit of step up work, and that’s the only minor hitch. 

Verdict: Both have excellent debuggers with brilliant IDE integration 

Conclusion

So it goes without saying that both PHP and Python are really popular among developers, and they both have excellent community support, each with its own distinguishing points. 

While Python is both object-oriented and procedure-oriented programming, Python is a general purpose programming language meant for backend web development. PHP is only used for backend web development as it is a general purpose programming language. But it is a very reliable and easy to use language.

Interesting Links:

Python vs PHP: Which Technology Will Dominate The Future Of Web Development?

10 reasons why python scores over php for web development

Pictures: Canva

The author: Sascha Thattil works at Software-Developer-India.com which is a part of the YUHIRO Group. YUHIRO is a German-Indian enterprise which provides programmers to IT companies, agencies and IT departments.

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