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phpvsjavaAre you are thinking about really getting to know the ins and outs of a web development language, trying to decide between PHP and Java? While comprehensive web programming knowledge will serve you well, many developers become specialists, and their expertise can go a long way toward securing work, particularly with development teams.

But you might be trying to figure out which language will give you the best long-term return on your learning investment. What will best support the intricate development needs of large companies?  Which will help startups and small businesses get the most bang for their limited bucks? And ultimately, which will be in the greatest demand?

Both PHP and Java are pervasive and integral to the modern web. And since they can be used to accomplish some of the same tasks, possibly no two languages prompt as much debate over relative strengths and weaknesses. Both have serious credentials, supporting some of the world’s largest and most profitable sites. And this likely means that both will have a long and promising future in web development.

So how do you choose?  Well, if you haven’t already, you might start with a comprehensive survey course in web development to get a good overview of how the languages work within a larger context. But as you begin to explore these languages, here are some ideas about them and their differences, drawing from the experience of developers who use them regularly.

Not a duel but a matching game

Often developers, especially ones who work primarily with PHP or Java, will argue about the overarching superiority of one language to the other. This can get fairly charged, and commentators write in high-level terms. So you would be excused for thinking these languages are structurally the same and mutually exclusive.

But they are not. The way they operate is different, and determining where each one fits depends largely on the task to be accomplished, the larger context and goals, and the plan for ongoing development.

One of the primary structural differences between PHP and Java is the difference between strongly- and weakly-typed languages. Java is a strongly-typed language, meaning it requires explicit statements of intent to function and that it is backed by a compiler. At the highest level, you can think of this as meaning it has strict expectations on how you express inputs and outputs. If these exact expectations are not met, the compiler will fail and the program will not work until errors are resolved.

PHP, in contrast, is weakly typed, essentially meaning it is more flexible and reliant on “common sense programming” in how a task is accomplished.  While this may sound more attractive because it requires less formal knowledge, some contend that it complicates certain tasks, particularly in object oriented programming, with its lack of standards.

Ultimately, these characteristics imply that java can be a good choice when development is complicated and relies on teams of professional developers. Rather than making work more challenging, the precisely defined standards allow for easier understanding and greater efficiency among teams. On the other hand, PHP is more accessible to inexperienced programmers. If a web product intends to allow users to work with the code (such as web and blog creation software or small business sites) PHP can fit the bill nicely. It can also be a nice economical and nimble choice for small teams using agreed coding standards and when dealing with simple functions.

The fact that the use of particular codes can be most appropriate to certain context means there are options for learning specifically what you need in a certain coding situation.  For example, you can take a dedicated course on Java programming for Android app development.  This may be a great way to get started if you have a specific goal in mind.

PHP: Just put that anywhere

You have likely taken away, thus far, that PHP can be characterized as fast, flexible, and free.  Unless, of course, it leads to jam-ups caused by a lack of coding standards, this is a fair statement. And there a few other facts about PHP that further define these traits.

First, an advantage of PHP is that, aside from being free in terms of coding standards, it is free of cost. The open-source language is available on virtually every Web-hosting platform for anyone to use.  It is the programming language of the people!

Then, to further define PHP’s flexibility is the fact that it works universally, across platforms. The reason for this is that the code is processed entirely on the server side and delivered as dynamic content to the viewer. For large scale operations that need to work on every system architecture, PHP can be the way to go.  It can provide an easy method to ensure people are seeing what they should, wherever they are.

If you think you want to get started with this flexible and universal option, you can get going with a detailed introductory course on PHP and MySQL.

A complex blend for better sleep at night?

A common perception of Java is that it is better for authoring Websites that use complex modules and usually employ development teams to support. One reason for this, as mentioned previously, is that developers in large teams can often pick up and run with Java more easily due to the tight controls on the language .

But the reasons go beyond precise language standards.  While PHP is often cited as being a more economical language, the opposite can be true when complicated object oriented elements are involved. Java is structured to handle this type of programming in a straightforward fashion, whereas PHP can lead to additional scripting, workarounds, and headaches.

And finally, Java has traditionally been considered a more secure option. While this has been contested, particularly following exposure of security vulnerabilities earlier this year, many enterprise systems are unlikely to move to PHP, which is hard pressed to make claims of decreased vulnerabilities. For this and the other reasons stated here, a lot of big businesses (not all) prefer to build with Java.

If this enterprise friendly and pervasive language sounds more lucrative to you, you’ll want to get a start on learning its more structured language.  You can sign up today for detailed Java course covering all the fundamentals you’ll need.


If you take nothing else from this discussion on Java vs. PHP, hopefully you take from it that there is no head-on war between Java and PHP, and there is no need for one.  Perhaps you will find that you want to master both in becoming an outstanding, versatile web developer.  If you think you would like to jump into one or the other, think about what it is you want to accomplish, and go for it!

Page Last Updated: September 2013

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