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PHP or Python — Which Language Should You Learn in 2017

2017 is the year of web apps and API’s. Instead of reinventing the wheel every time, developers make use of scaffoldings and third-party libraries to ensure that the projects are ready for live deployments within days.

While the RESTful API’s and cross-platform libraries have made web development easier, they haven’t solved the age-old question that still stumps and (bitterly) divides developers, managers and customers alike.

PHP vs. Python?

This question remains an important discussion point because of development and project budgeting considerations. However, this question is particularly important for beginners who wish to make it big in web development. PHP and Python are the most popular web development languages today. In fact, these two languages power most of the popular websites on the internet today.

Beginners have a very different set of requirements from experienced developers. Seasoned developers have little trouble picking up a new language. In contrast, beginners have to fight two related battles. They have to understand the programming constructs and then learn how to implement these constructs in the programming language of their choice. They have to master syntax that often makes no sense at all for the beginners.

A related issue is the bias of experienced developers. Talk to a PHP developer and they will tell you that there is nothing better than PHP. Talk to a Python developer and they will start highlighting all the good things you could do with Python. In general, very few developers would have good things to say about the language they do not use.

Therefore, instead of mentioning the pros and cons of both PHP and Python, I will discuss three areas that beginners should consider when selecting their first programming language. The following discussion centers on these three areas in the context of PHP vs. Python.

Popularity

There is no question about the popularity of both PHP and Python. Even when these languages do not power a project, the project managers and the client do consider them. At the moment, PHP overwhelmingly dominates the internet with more than 80% market share.

PHP powers some of your favorite websites including Wikipedia, Flickr, Tumblr and Yahoo. Initially, Facebook was completely powered by PHP. Since then, the social media giant has transitioned to a PHP framework that incorporates all the features that the Facebook developers need for platform and app development.

Python attained its popular status when Google selected it for powering some of its well known projects. Gradually this trend prevailed and now industry giants such as YouTube, Reddit, Pinterest, Instagram and Spotify use Python (either partially or completely) in their product platforms.

Therefore, in the popularity contest, both PHP and Python are neck to neck. Every day, both these languages are used to launch new projects.

Available Frameworks and CMS

A Framework is a community contributed and maintained compilation of code that allows developers to quickly develop applications without worrying about building everything from scratch. A typical framework provides hundreds of functions that developers could call in for adding specific functionality to the application without reinventing the wheel.

PHP offers a large number of frameworks that the developers could use to create general purpose and industry specific applications. PHP frameworks such as Laravel and Symfony power popular applications that are used by millions of users. PHP developers have the advantage of mature frameworks that are maintained by enthusiastic community.

Python does offer a selection of frameworks that perform the same function as the PHP frameworks. While very versatile and powerful, the options in Python frameworks is rather limited. Django and Flask are two popular choices that Python developers use in crafting web apps. The number of Python frameworks is slowly increasing because of the increased of the language in mainstream projects.

Content Management Systems of CMS are software platforms that offer a very flexible foundation for projects. Whether it is simple blog, ecommerce store or corporate portal, CMS offer a comprehensive solution that ensures that the developers and end users could focus on the business case rather than the building the platform from scratch.

World’s most popular CMS, WordPress is built in PHP. Similarly, two of the leading open source ecommerce platforms, Magento and WooCommerce are built in PHP. On the other hand, Python offer several Django powered CMS that have limited following.

In this particular case, PHP is a clear winner because it has something for everyone. In many cases, PHP offers more and versatile options in both frameworks and CMS that match project’s specifications.

Learning Curve

This is the central premise of this article. Learning curve define the ease (or difficulty) of acquiring a particular language. In the case of a programming language, the learning curve is all about becoming fluent in the syntax and then using the tools to translate the design into functional code.

Here, Python has a slight edge over PHP. For a newbie, Python code is more readable and thus easy to understand. PHP has reputation of being difficult and not very welcoming of new users. The rules are much tough and there is little room for mistakes.

Python is very tolerant of mistakes in formatting and the code generally does not break because of minor mistakes. This is great encouragement for a beginner. This is why many CS schools around the world now opt for Python as the fort language in which to teach the fundamentals of programming.

PHP community has made great efforts to make the language as beginner friendly as possible. Through courses and tutorials, PHP gurus are trying to made the language as easy to understand as Python.

Final Words

Choosing a first programming language is the toughest decision you will ever make. PHP and Python are both worth contenders of your attention. Both languages offer many learning opportunities in the form of user-friendly syntax validation tools and training projects that ease out the learning process and allows for a firm foundation of the language.

I recommend that beginners should try out both languages and then opt for one as per their particular targets and industry they wish to enter. While Python appears to be easiest to acquire of the two, PHP open up better job prospects and technical resources.

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