When Python scores over PHP

Author: Michał Macura
10 min read
When Python scores over PHP

When you hear the words "Server-side Programming" a number of languages are going to come to mind. But amongst that list are two that are very much loved and respected by programmers worldwide. These are obviously PHP and Python. The debate on which to use for any core web application has raged on since the very beginning.

It has extended as far as the non-programming community with online businesses, startups and large organizations having a hard time selecting which is best for their applications. Developers don't seem to be of much help as each has its own biased point of view.

However, a proper understanding of both would go a long way in speeding up the session making process for executives and business managers. While cutting all the long programming jargon out of the equation.

This is not to say we are taking a neutral stand on the argument but one that's focused more on function and results over personal preference. One should always use the right tools for the right job and if multiple tools fit, the simplest is preferred.

When Python scores over PHP

When you hear the words "Server-side Programming" a number of languages are going to come to mind. But amongst that list are two that are very much loved and respected by programmers worldwide. These are obviously PHP and Python. The debate on which to use for any core web application has raged on since the very beginning.

It has extended as far as the non-programming community with online businesses, startups and large organizations having a hard time selecting which is best for their applications. Developers don't seem to be of much help as each has its own biased point of view.

However, a proper understanding of both would go a long way in speeding up the session making process for executives and business managers. While cutting all the long programming jargon out of the equation.

This is not to say we are taking a neutral stand on the argument but one that's focused more on function and results over personal preference. One should always use the right tools for the right job and if multiple tools fit, the simplest is preferred.

PHP vs Python Performance Comparison

Having two very similar tools or languages can be tasking when it comes to picking which to use for a project or application. So to understand the strengths and shortcomings of each, we would have to take a look at their performance, benefits, and features.

Starting off with PHP, it is considered and is primarily a web programming language. This is not to say that I can not be used for other non-web related applications but should be avoided. If used outside of web development it should be taken as an intellectual exercise and not a core development tool.

However, this doesn't apply to Python. The programming language is vastly more adaptable and versatile. It can be used for web development along with other non-web based applications. This, in a practical sense, means if you have an application that both functions on and off a server, you would not need to use something else for coding. Some examples of this include things like data science, machine learning, natural language processing, image processing, mobile and desktop application development to name a few.

We can further break down the differences between each language by comparing a few factors:

Ease of Learning

This might not be so important if you already have a dev team or plan to outsource the development to an external team. It, however, becomes a priority if you are starting your own in-house development team or department. You would want to pick a language that is easy to learn and understand, has a short learning curve and a simple enough format that beginners can pick up quickly, plus experienced programmers can adapt too even faster.

Here Python has a clear distinct advantage. Not only has it become a language that is used to teach entry-level coding but because of its very easy learning curve and the programs being much shorter, it has become a defile choice in most application development projects. The codes are also very readable to none programmers and can give you a general idea of what each part does without seeming as if you are reading Greek. This is one of the reasons programmers familiar with other languages can easily adapt to using Python in a short time span.

PHP, on the other hand, can be a task to learn and understand. While the community is doing it's best to make it a language that has far fewer complexities in it's writing syntax it is still basically like learning a foreign language to those without a programming background.

Community support

It is almost impossible to say which has better community support. This is because both communities have gone above and beyond to provide support for their respective languages. This is evident in the fact that a quick Google search into almost any programming challenge will bring up a tone of content relating to its solution. And if there appears to be no current solution to a given query, active users and members of the community are ready and willing to help solve it.

This is why building on both platforms feels more like a collaborative endeavor than a single coder experience. This is because you have the wealth of knowledge from both communities at your disposal when building your application.

Documentation

Here is where we experience our first tie. Just the vast number of the official documentation, community guides, videos and discussion forums and tutorials that are available for both PHP and Python can be overwhelming.

The only logical conclusion in this instance is to give both a gold star and declare a tie.

Pricing

Since both PHP and Python cost nothing, we can not use price as a matrix to compare them. So they both get a gold star in this category also.

Library support

But now we can do away with the tie and gain a clear winner in this category. Hands down the better library support go to Python in this category. While PHP does have the Packagist package repository, which is a very strong support structure, it does not come close to the number of libraries that are available for Python. Because Python is more versatile, it has far more use cases and hence more libraries than PHP.

Take, for example, since Python can be used in instances of machine learning, libraries like TensorFlow, Keras, Theano, Scikit Learn, etc can be used but PHP has no such options. If your goal is to go beyond what a web-based application can do, then it would be a good idea to take a deeper look into the possibilities opened up by Python.

Speed

The tables turn when there is a need for speed in performance-critical applications. While version 5.x for PHP isn't anything special and in some cases, downright slow, that is not the case with PHP 7.x as it clocks 3x faster than your average Python program. When dealing with a web-based application where millisecond response time can be a deciding factor in industries such as the stock market or banking, it is not far fetched to say that the faster program is King.

But if we leave the realm of the super-fast and just deal with your regular small lightweight application, then speed might not be an issue. This, however, is just a consultation to Python users out there.

Debugging

With tools like PDB(Python Debugger) and XDebug available for Python and PHP respectively, we are left with another tie since both functions just fine and have similar features.

Package Management

Using PIP (a tool to manage and install Python packages) is far more intuitive than what PHP has to offer. It also allows developers to install, upgrade, and even uninstall while using a wide range of sources for external as well as internal libraries.

Python's package managers are far more effective in organizing the code and keeping the backups along with the version numbers. It helps the developers track their progress while helping businesses perform regular updates on the activities. Hence Python gains a good lead on PHP in this category.

Market Popularity

According to w3techs.com: "PHP is used by 78.9% of all the websites whose server-side programming language we know."

The best way to illustrate the difference between PHP and Python in this category is to take a look at their stats. It has been observed that 7,212,664 websites have been developed using PHP and counting, and as for Python, the number amounts to be 146,702. Yes, this is a staggering difference and is enough to convince most folks to join the PHP bandwagon. This number difference is partly as a result of CMS (content management systems) such as WordPress that has become more popular over the years.

Should you choose PHP or Python for your next web development project?

At the end of the day, knowing which language to choose for your project comes down to your web development needs or to be more specific, it depends on your application needs and project lifecycle. Either technology would be a good fit for web-based application and users would not be able to tell the difference if the same web app was built with both languages.

Python and PHP both have frameworks for web development that make rapid development possible. The top Python framework is called Django while the most popular PHP framework is Laravel.

We should note here that building a web app is usually a long term endeavor and should be treated with just as much emphasis as any other business decision. Once married to your language of choice, it becomes a very difficult task to switch or migrate. That could mean rebuilding from the ground up or abandoning the app. You don’t want to build your project around a specific programming language or a framework. You want the technology that suits your project.

Can you choose Python or PHP for OOP?

Short answer: Yes.

Both languages can be used to develop applications that require OOP. But with PHP there is an extra caveat. While PHP does support object-oriented programming there is a need for your developer or development team to select what programming paradigm to follow. This being the case it would be wise to get a highly skilled developer as a failure of the dev to properly understand the project requirements will lead to tragic outcomes.

Using Python which is already an object-oriented programming language removes this guesswork or dependency on the developer's chosen paradigm.

Conclusion

If you are just developing a simple website, blog or a small web service, then any of the myriads of web programming languages would do a good job of creating such a site/app. Most users would not be able to differentiate. The choice, however, comes into focus when we up the scales. The more powerful or complex your application, service or site is, the more you need to evaluate your choice of programming language.

As a quick note, the decision should depend more on two key factors:

  1. What are the requirements of your project or application?

  2. And the skill level of your developer or development team.

This doesn't mean you can't create powerful products or apps with either but you choose should depend on your circumstances.

Having a powerful tool such as Python has its advantages and has resulted in many powerful startups like Instagram, Pinterest, and Reddit using Python-based web applications. While others such as the folks over at Facebook selected PHP as the primary backend.