PHP Frameworks Explained in Four Simple Steps
Ever felt overwhelmed by the number of PHP frameworks available? In this article we explain exactly what a PHP framework is and look at the main options.
If you’re planning a career in web development, it won’t be long before you come across PHP development services as your potential IT employment niche. The majority of online applications and 82.6% of all websites use PHP. It is hands-down the most popular server-side programming language.
Building a web application with PHP from scratch, however, can be laborious and time-consuming. Frameworks, which are essentially pre-packaged general applications, can be used as the basic architecture for developing complex apps. They streamline and improve the whole development process.
Whether you’re responsible for developing a web app yourself, or looking to hire a developer for your project, understanding what frameworks do, along with how to choose one, can save lots of time and money.
1. What is PHP?
It’s worth quickly defining PHP. Though it represents the world’s most popular scripting language, beginner developers are often unfamiliar with the term. It can also be unclear how PHP fits into the broader “web development ecosystem”.
PHP Market Position
Put simply, PHP is a server-side program and coding language that automatically generates HTML whenever someone visits your website. One of the main benefits of using PHP is its ability to render conditional content. In particular, sites using PHP can draw data from databases using a number of variables. A blog homepage, for example, will automatically showcase a range of content based on the most recent publication dates.
One of the reasons that PHP is so popular is because it makes writing and publishing web pages much easier in contrast to using HTML and CSS exclusively. Using a CMS (Content Management System) like Wordpress, it’s possible to update a database and build new pages automatically. There is no need to edit HTML directly.
2. What is a PHP framework?
A PHP framework is a basic code architecture (framework) for developing a web application. You can compare using a framework to designing a car. Rather than build it from the ground up, instead you buy a “frame” that includes the engine, steering system and any other necessary parts. This is the “framework” and you can design and install other elements as you wish.
You can use pre-packaged pieces of code alongside an over-arching foundation framework straight out of the box. “Hooks” allow you to add whatever code you want to extend functionalities to meet the demands of your project. A process known as “Inversion-of-Control” (IoC) in which your code follows instructions made at the framework level, gives you the freedom to add features as you wish without the need to program at a deeper level.
PHP frameworks are useful primarily because they speed up the development process. As they use rigorously-tested code, the potential for mistakes at the foundational level is significantly reduced. Beginners are particularly susceptible to making mistakes with PHP because of its relative simplicity, and small mistakes can lead to site-wide problems. Code that has been unknowingly left out, particularly in regards to security, can also cause issues. All of these issues make relying on an established platform a good route.
One notable trend is the industry-wide streamlining of software development processes. Demand for application development has exploded over the last few years, and supply has struggled to keep up. Developers have responded by implementing processes aimed at speeding up production. Whilst this isn’t a bad thing, especially as it reduces costs, it does increase the potential for mistakes.
3. What makes a good PHP framework?
When you’re deciding on a PHP framework, keep some of the following features in mind. Popular frameworks can vary in their functionality so making the right choice early on is the best way to avoid headaches further down the line.
- Support network - The bigger frameworks have thousands of users and large support teams. A significant portion of developers also utilizes frame-specific communities and forums. Having this kind of network can make it a lot easier to find solutions to problems.
- Popularity - Will numerous developers be working on the same project? If multiple people will be building an app, it can be worthwhile to go with a framework and interface that is well-known. This can save a lot of time and resources that would otherwise be spent on training.
- Code library and testing features - More complex applications will demand more extensive frameworks. If you’re only planning on developing a simple app, then don’t waste money on an enterprise-level framework. At the other end of the spectrum, feature-rich SaaS apps require more in-depth features.
- Compatibility - Is your web hosting software compatible with a framework and does it have all the necessary programs installed to it run efficiently?
- Ease-of-use - Some frameworks, like Laravel, are designed for ease-of-use, while others require more expertise. If you’re a beginner, it’s obviously better to go with a simpler framework, but it’s also important to consider the learning curve of experienced developers. If your team is not familiar with a platform, simpler will probably be better.
- Specificness - Rasmus Lerdorf, who invented PHP, suggests that tailored frameworks are superior to all-purpose ones. Consider the specific problem you need to solve. Certain frameworks, like Symfony, are good for building frameworks, whilst others lend themselves to simple, highly-functional apps.
4. Which are the best PHP frameworks?
Here's our rundown of the main PHP frameworks. If this is your first time then it's usually best to focus on each framework's best-performing areas, fitting these with the demands of your project.
Top 5 Frameworks by Voting
Keep in mind that many frameworks are free and paid options aren’t always the best. It depends on the project, of course, but don’t assume that expensive options will out-perform inexpensive alternatives. If you’re a beginner, this is especially the case.
- Yii - Yii is the most popular framework based on user opinion. It is a favourite of large-scale developers and has thorough testing and admin features.
- Laravel - Laravel is an extensive framework that is suitable for beginners all the way up to advanced programmers. It’s simple documentation and ease-of-use when it comes to adding new modules (abstract self-contained pieces of code) make it ideal for small to medium-sized projects.
- CakePHP - CakePHP is ideal for developers that need to work fast. It’s simplicity and extensive coding means that feature-rich applications can be made and tested quickly.
- Zend - Zend’s framework is based completely on object-oriented code (made up of interlocking units of code each with their own functions) and is a favourite for bigger developers.
- Symfony - Symfony is particularly popular amongst website developers and has a number of online-oriented security and testing features.
Whether you’re an independent programmer or responsible for managing a team, picking the right PHP framework can streamline the whole process of development. The main benefit is that using a framework gives you full control, often in ways that can’t be achieved with a content management system (CMS).
If you have an application that demands a unique architecture, third-party developers can help you choose the best framework and work with you to build a feature-rich programme. In either case, you’ll save time and resources compared to building it from scratch!
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