Yaroslav Kuflinski

Yaroslav Kuflinski is AI/ML Observer at Iflexion.

PHP Frameworks Explained in 5 Simple Questions

If you are making your first steps in the world of web development, either as a prospective programmer or a potential employer, it won’t be long until you come across PHP. It’s no surprise, as PHP ranks among the most popular web programming languages. On top of that, the whopping 79% of all websites are built on PHP, and the web tools you use daily, like Facebook, Wikipedia, Yahoo, MailChimp, and Pinterest, are among them. 
While words are enough to write a text in any natural language, using bare PHP to build a web application would be a long and complicated process. Therefore, to simplify the development, it is a common practice to use PHP frameworks, which contain pre-packaged web template libraries and enable database access and user management among other functions. 
So, this article will answer five principal PHP framework-related questions and supply you with the insights that can save you time and money on your future project. 

What Is PHP?

Let’s start with the basics. PHP is an open-source server-side programming language for web development, which can be embedded into HTML. It is compatible with the major operating systems (macOS, Windows, Linux, Unix) and supported by a variety of web servers (Apache, nginx, IIS, lighttpd). The language is not limited to HTML and can generate and output text and image files of different formats. 
Beyond that, PHP supports an impressive selection of databases, which streamlines the web development process. Due to its flexibility, PHP puts little constraint on developers, designers, and employers and offers great freedom of choice and creativity.

What Can PHP Do?

The answer in the official PHP manual is short – “anything,” which is not far from the truth. The three major areas of PHP application are command-line scripting, server-side scripting, and desktop application development (this one is possible in theory, but is rarely put into practice). In simple words, anything that has to do with a web server can be created with PHP: a blog, an online store, a data-processing script, a sophisticated SaaS – you name it.
Essentially, PHP automatically generates conditional HTML content for website visitors. Using a set of variables, PHP draws the needed data from the database and dynamically outputs the corresponding content. This is how online store customers can filter a catalog page to view the newest added items first. 
Apart from this, PHP allows developers to create, publish, and edit web pages without tweaking the HTML code each time. Instead, one can make necessary changes via user-friendly content management systems built on PHP, like WordPress, and the content database will update automatically. 

What Is a PHP Framework?

A PHP framework is a platform for creating PHP web applications. It contains libraries with pre-packaged functions and classes and, more often than not, elements for software design pattern realization. The latter constitutes an out-of-the-box skeleton of the future project, on which the developer strings code that is either written from scratch or inherited from a library class. 
PHP frameworks became a customary practice because they take care of the mundane and repetitive aspects of web development. Also, the library functions and classes follow standard web development practices and are well-tested. Using them, you won’t have to reinvent the wheel all the time as well as significantly reduce the probability of errors that can escalate and cause a breakdown.
The last but not least advantage of relying on these frameworks is that they make your code readable and intelligible for fellow developers who may work on the same project.

What Makes a Good PHP Framework?

Selecting the right PHP framework is the key, and one shouldn’t approach it mindlessly. Below is the list of five must-have PHP framework aspects that will help you spot a good solution to drive your development project:
MVC-pattern elements. Model–View–Controller is a common design pattern for web interfaces, so having its classes out of the box in your framework allows skipping the demanding process of creating the architecture.  
Well-stocked libraries. The more extensive the framework libraries, the less time you will spend writing the code manually. Still, consider the scope of your project: if you don’t need a sophisticated solution, you can easily make do without expensive enterprise-level frameworks. 
Testing features. To avoid spending hours debugging your PHP code, implement a framework with automated testing available. 
Simplicity. While some PHP frameworks are intuitive and beginner-friendly, others have a steep learning curve. So, unless directly required, there is no need to stick to intricate frameworks and complicate your life on purpose.  
Popularity. A widespread PHP framework is more likely to have an extensive supportive community of developers and a decent selection of external libraries. Apart from this, using a mainstream framework allows various development teams cooperate easier. 

Which Are the Best PHP Frameworks?

Today, PHP developers in no way suffer from the lack of programming frameworks. On the contrary, it’s easy to get lost in their variety. To point you in the right direction, here is a rundown of five most noteworthy, best-performing and popular PHP frameworks. 
Laravel
Laravel is the hottest PHP framework of the day. Positioned as a framework for “web artisans,” it lives up to its creators’ claims, allowing developers to make beautiful modern designs. Laravel is adored by junior developers for its shallow learning curve, simplicity and top-of-the-line learning materials, while seasoned PHP engineers praise its built-in development environment, templating engine and RESTful routing system. 
Symphony
Symphony offers an outstanding set of features and long-term support releases but demands a decent level of expertise in return. This makes entry-level developers cautious about Symphony yet it doesn’t diminish its popularity. Symphony boasts one of the largest developer communities that SensioLabs, the framework owner, supports by adding comprehensive learning materials, blog posts, and discussions.  
Zend
Due to its component-based nature, Zend is dubbed “a glue framework” in the PHP community. Indeed, with Zend you get the freedom to load only necessary components as individual libraries, which in turn promotes code reuse. The framework not only contains a rich internal library but can also be freely integrated with a plethora of external libraries.
Phalcon
Phalcon is fundamentally different from other PHP frameworks, as essentially this is a PHP extension written in C. It demands little resources, adopts the MVC framework, and has a blazing performance speed. But due to the absence of an automated testing engine and the framework’s own peculiar nature, finding bugs turns into a quest that discourages even experienced developers from working with Phalcon. 
CakePHP
Opting for CakePHP, you get a solid set of basic functions necessary for PHP development: MVC support, an outstanding selection of helpful plugins and components, code reusability, and out-of-the-box AJAX support. What sets CakePHP apart is its emphasis on coding conventions, which speed up the development process on the one hand but may stifle your creativity on the other. 

To Wrap It Up

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the choice of a PHP framework will govern the course of your entire development project. Whether the solution you choose will streamline the process or hamper it depends on how well you know your project requirements and whether the PHP framework can address them. Calling in web development consultants is not uncommon at this stage, and if you’re not confident enough in your in-house expertise, getting access to external talent should not be a problem.
Understanding PHP frameworks is essential for web developers, but, as PHP specialists from Iflexion admit, it will also be useful for those who are looking to manage or hire a PHP development team.

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