A Decade of PHP

by Andy Oram

New languages always have to prove themselves. Listen to some old
programmers, and there was never a need to go further than MUMPS. (But
luckily, no one listens.) Others claim that no text processing
language can outdo Icon or Snobol. I never thought I'd be editing
material on Forth for an O'Reilly book, but danged if author John
Catsoulis didn't decide it was just the ticket for an embedded systems
designer in his new edition of
Designing Embedded Hardware.

Stop it, Andy! You're not here to sell books today. You're
here because your buddy Zak Greant let you know that PHP is seeing
its tenth anniversary today, and is coordinating a worldwide movement

honor and thank

its creator, Rasmus Lerdorf.

Anyway, new languages have to prove themselves, particularly because
they usually borrow from the past and represent incremental
improvements. Was Java a necessary improvement over C++, and was C# a
necessary improvement over either of those? Did Python build on the
best of Perl or was it blind to Perl's charms, and is Ruby the final
installment in this succession of scripting languages?

The old folks always feel resentment at the success of the new
platform, and this certainly goes for me and many Perl programmers
since the advent of PHP. But evolution means a change in both the
organism and the environment: the organism that thrives is the one
that adapts to its environment. And since the major forum for
exercising a scripting language in the 1990s became the CGI Web
interface, PHP represented a near-ideal evolutionary adaptation to
that environment. (SOAP has not challenged CGI's dominance as the
paradigm for interactive Web programming.) Use the Web and CGI, and
you'll want PHP.

(Hint: it integrates with Web pages very much like all the other
frameworks for embedding dynamically executed code in a Web page.)

That's why .php is one of the most common suffixes now in
URLs, and why PHP's PEAR repository of useful packages has in a short
time grown to enormous dimensions.

The experts say Java or .NET is a more robust framework. If you've got
the time, go right ahead and use them. PHP is the disruptive cousin in
the technology family. It makes it easy for ordinary folks to set up
Web pages the way users want them these days: interactive, responsive,
and customized. PHP helps keep the Web democratic.

We are still benefitting from grass-roots Web innovation--scruffy,
unpretentious, and just plain fun--thanks to Rasmus's modest but
highly insightful scripting innovations. And he even wrote a

for O'Reilly. (Stop it, Andy!)


2005-06-08 05:41:07
php (and, admittedly, common asp) are successful because of one thing: low point of entry

i started in computers playing with photoshop and building html pages - not exactly a programmer's background. php's low point of entry has allowed me to improve my programming techniques while still churning out the work, sloppy as it may have been; a very real on the job training. now i program in OOP and look to the PEAR repository first.

if the only languages i had to rely on were java or .net, i'd still be playing with photoshop, wishing i had a programmer friend to help me out.

2005-06-08 10:51:04
PHP is great, but don't create dichotomies where they don't exist
Andy, PHP is great.

If it weren't for PHP, I wouldn't be able to do half of the work I do these days. I use PHP daily, but I also think C/C++/C#/Java is more appropriate for some solutions. I can do everything I do in PHP in Java, but I couldn't say the same for the reverse. This is, in no way, an assertion that PHP is less capable, it is simply a different technology. To set Java and PHP as opposites on a linear scale is to create a false dichotomy. I think PHP people have an inferiority complex where they think that there are hundreds of Java developers bemoaning the existence of PHP. Could be farther from the truth, PHP is a good thing.

I don't agree with the assertion that PHP is easier for "ordinary" people; I think you sell yourself short. It also plays into a common misconception that some technologies are "better" than others; this usually leads to a hierarchy of skill sets where different people are viewed as more or less capable depending upon the technologies they use. Up to a certain point, all technology is accessible. .NET and Java may take more lead time, but I think anyone with the right training and tools can use these technologies with a minimum of fuss. To me there is little difference between a PHP guru and a .NET guru - yes, one might get more respect from the pointy-haired boss, but good architecture is good architecture and to call PHP more ordinary than it's compiled brethren sells LAMP short. You can achieve similar levels of complexity with any platform.

People call Java heavy weight, but there is a vibrant community of developers that have been bucking this trend for years. People pickup a Java book for the first time and think that all Java developers must be writing web applications using EJB. This isn't the case, there are Java apps out there that are as light-weight and accessible to "ordinary people" as PHP apps. And, I might say the pendulum swings the other way, there are poorly implemented PHP apps out there that rival the complexity of the most baroque Java or .NET web application.

It's the people behind the code that matter, not the language. Contrary to Paul Graham's essays, the language is irrelevant.

2005-06-08 13:13:57
Go, PHP, Go!
Yes, go PHP, go. Bless Mom and Pop programmers, this language is a gift to do-it-yourselfers on the Web (and even those of use with formal training).
2005-06-09 14:06:36
Agreed. And, unlike Java, PHP (under an Apache-style license) is not at the mercy of crazed proprietary overlords.

Oh Aaaandy- at the risk of sounding like a Grammar Cop, you don't need an apostrophe in "PHP is seeing it's tenth anniversary." I wouldn't even mention it except for the pandemic of wayward apostrophes. Strike a blow for correct punctuation! End apostrophe abuse!

2005-06-09 16:16:37
Absolutely right, carlaschroder. I hate this kind of sloppiness too. It's wrong. I'm reminded of claims by some musicians that parallel fifths are OK in tonal music because Bach sometimes used them. (After all, he wrote a hundred hours' worth of highly polyphonic music--and I used that apostrophe correctly.) A professor told me, "Yes, we find parallel fifths in Bach. But from his manuscripts, we can also tell that whenever he discovered a parallel fifth, he fixed it!

So I fixed my apostrophe. Thanks.

2005-06-12 08:23:08
Parallel fifths
Back at the now-defunct Phillips University, where I became the only person I know to attend two years of college and flunk out before the age of eighteen, there was a music professor, Dr. Ulrich, whose first name escapes me at the moment.

Ulrich was, I guess, a polymath--he had masters degrees in math and physics and a law degree he'd taken in order to handle his own copyright work, along with a doctorate in education and a couple of other miscellaneous dgrees--but he taught music.

He would correct his students' papers with a little note--if I'd gotten one, if would read "Redo--JWA" (my initials).

On one occasion, a student took the text up to him and showed him a parallel fifth in a piece of Bach's.

Dr. Ulrich looked at the text, then wrote in it, "Redo--JSB".

(I've always wondered if he was responsible for the catalog entry under Harmonic Analysis which described the course as charting the use of the harmonica in western music over the last few hundred years.)

Not quite as funny as my old buddy Jerry L. Young who got P. D. Q. Bach to sign his book on semiconductor theory, but still.