Chris Castiglione Teacher at One Month. Faculty at Columbia University where I teach Digital Literacy. I write about coding, the internet, and social impact.

Python vs. PHP: What’s the Difference?

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Python vs. PHP

The main difference between Python and PHP is that: PHP is mostly used for web development, whereas Python is mostly used for data analytics. With that said, you could choose to use either language for a variety of other purposes, and so in this article, I’ll break down the main differences between Python and PHP.

When to choose Python vs. PHP?

PHP is a popular coding language for web development. It’s common to use PHP to make websites, web apps, and blogs. All WordPress sites are built in PHP. Wikipedia and Facebook were also built using PHP.  

Python is a general-purpose programming language, which is used in a variety of fields from data science to robotics. Google uses Python for its engineering and Lyft users Python for its data analytics. Python can be used to build a website (like PHP) using the popular Python framework Django.  

Python vs. PHP Comparison Chart

CriterionPHPPython
Language
  • Created in 1994 by Rasmus Lerdorf
  • Designed exclusively for web development.
  • Created in 1991 by Guido Van Rossum
  • Designed as a general-purpose language.
Pros
  • Works really well for web development out of the box
  • Supported natively by most web server software, cheap hosting available
  • Syntax derived from C
  • More frameworks and libraries for web development
  • Works well for a variety of purposes: robotics, academia, graphics, backends, etc.
  • Pre-installed on most GNU/Linux distros
  • Easy to learn and read
  • A diverse range of functionalities and uses
Cons
  • Can be hard to debug
  • Often very explicit and inelegant to read
Community
  • Innovates quickly, web-focused
  • Stable and diverse, widely used in academia
Usage
  • WordPress
  • Wikipedia
  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Google
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram
  • Reddit

The Languages

Python takes a direct approach to programming, and its primary goal is to make everything visible to the programmer. It was designed to be easy for beginners to pick up, and as a result, it is easy to learn and debug.

This is why many beginner programming classes and courses start with Python nowadays. There’s also the added advantage that Python comes pre-installed on Linux and Mac Computers (but be aware that it’s usually Python 2, and you’ll want to upgrade to Python 3).

These days, PHP is sometimes the butt of developers jokes. There are two reasons why: a history of occasional security flaws and syntax that has allowed for newbie developers to write very sloppy code. These two issues have been improved over time, but these problems from the language’s past never seem to go away. With that said, PHP is incredibly easy to get started with if you want to get into web development since no complicated configurations are required.

Web Development

As a beginner, you might want to just jump in and get started with writing code that just works. If that’s the case, and you’re interested in web development, PHP is a good choice. It’s universally installed on virtually every shared hosting service out there, so you can start writing code and publish your first website on the internet in a really short amount of time.

Here’s a simple hello world program in PHP:

<?php echo "Hello, world!"; ?>

This code would instantly print the greeting on a webpage. It’s that simple. In contrast, while writing “Hello World” with Python code is just as simple, getting a Python server setup first is much more complicated. And while some really good frameworks such as Django exist for web development, getting started is more complicated than with PHP. It is also harder to find cheap web hosting services that support Python, which can be disappointing if you’re just getting started and want to get something up on the web to show off to your friends.

The other thing which makes PHP easy, is that you can add PHP in between HTML. So, if you have experience with HTML and basic frontend web development, you can very easily convert a static website to a dynamic one:

<html><body><? [PHP code here] ?></body></html>

In this example, the PHP output would just replace the PHP tags, which is super convenient when working with websites. The great majority of server software, blogging systems, CMS and e-commerce platforms are written in PHP, and for good reason, it just works, when it comes to web development.

Additionally, virtually all web server software (such as Apache and Nginx) support PHP right out of the box. In contrast, setting Python up can be more complicated. PHP is easier to both maintain and deploy.

What about for work other than web development?

However, for any other purpose other than web development, Python is the superior choice! It is easy to work with, has a clean and readable syntax, and has a range of diverse libraries and frameworks available to do all sorts of stuff. It’s used in diverse industries: robotics, data sciences, academia, backend development, desktop development, and so on…

Communities

Because of how long they’ve been around, both Python and PHP have amassed substantial communities, and it’s easy to find help for either. Visit Python.org or the official PHP website to learn more. I’d also suggest searching for some local Python Meetups and PHP Meetups

So… which one is for me?

I’d suggest you learn PHP if one of the three conditions applies to you: 

  1. You want to learn WordPress or a specific PHP Framework (Drupal, ZEND, etc)
  2. You want to be hired by a company that uses PHP
  3. You’re 100% interested in website development (aka. making portfolios, company sites or blogs for clients). This doesn’t mean you can’t be interested in other coding topics — but if you intend to make a career as a web developer full-time then PHP is probably your best bet.

However, if wish to learn a programming language that you can use for web development, and also data science, academics, backend or desktop development? Python is the right choice! Python has been gaining traction in all sorts of industries, and while PHP is still the most popular language on the web, Python wins in almost every other field. Python is used by Google, Instagram, and Reddit, among others.

Python vs. PHP What's the Difference?
Python vs. PHP What’s the Difference?
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Chris Castiglione Teacher at One Month. Faculty at Columbia University where I teach Digital Literacy. I write about coding, the internet, and social impact.

2 Replies to “Python vs. PHP: What’s the Difference?”

  1. Good Content
    On varies, between python and php. I totally agree with this article.
    It is really helpful to python as well as php developers.
    Thank you for sharing your great knowledge with us.
    Looking forward to your further tips on similar topics Thanks…

  2. For several years I have been programming on PHP, a functional language, you can write everything you want, from a simple blog to a complex online store. Therefore PHP is cooler for me than Python.

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