Juan E. Galvan

Ever since JavaScript came around, there has always been a debate between PHP vs. JavaScript. Both are popular languages for software development. Both operate in a web browser, and both are event-driven.

Whether you’re a newbie to coding or working in software development, deciding which language to use for a project can be difficult. So let’s settle the debate once and for all. Which is better?

JavaScript is winning the battle, ever since the introduction of Node.js, Angular.js, and React.js has made it full-stack. It is no longer used solely for the front end, with PHP serving as the back end. You can pretty much develop the whole project with Javascript, front to back. Due to its versatility and its interactive elements, it is often the better choice.

Code on black screen

However, PHP is still used by about 79% of all web applications as the server-side programming language. Many people will tell you that using a mixture of both instead of choosing between the two is the best decision. At the end of the day, it depends on what you plan to use it for. So let’s explore how you can pick the best scripting language for you.

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The difference between PHP vs. JavaScript

Before we go ahead and compare the two, let’s get down to the differences first. PHP, or Hypertext Preprocessor, is a server-side scripting language, while JavaScript is a client-side scripting language. This is the main difference between the two, and what it means is that PHP runs its queries by using a server. JavaScript, on the other hand, runs in the web browser.

Initially, PHP was used in the back end, and JavaScript was used primarily for front-end interactivity. Even now, most projects use PHP for the back end or a mixture of both JavaScript and PHP to develop a whole project.

PHP supports the use of databases like MariaDB, PostgreSQL, or MySQL, whereas JavaScript works with MongoDB, CouchDB, and NoSQL. Instead, JavaScript uses a web server with Node.js. They are also different syntax-wise, and one of the key differences is that PHP accepts uppercase and lowercase variables while JavaScript does not.

Another key difference is that JavaScript supports interchanging between objects and arrays, but PHP does not. You can also combine JavaScript code with different languages like HTML, XML, Ajax, etc. But with PHP, you can only use HTML.

When it comes to concurrency, PHP is a multi-threaded synchronous language, whereas JavaScript is single-threaded and asynchronous. PHP is also more secure than JavaScript since you can’t access your application’s code from the browser. However, JavaScript isn’t open source and hence often lacks a lot of the community support PHP has.

smartphone on two books about javascript and css


Which one should you learn?

If you plan on working in web development, it’s best to have a working knowledge of both these languages. Depending on your project and where you work, you might have to switch between the two or use them together. However, when you’re just starting to learn, I suggest starting with JavaScript. There’s no need to set anything up, and you can start right now.

There’s a lot of debate about this as well, considering PHP is easy to learn as a language due to its simplicity. But learning JavaScript pays off as it is much more universal. Once you get used to the syntax, all the JavaScript frameworks, etc., you can use it in a versatile manner, instead of PHP code, which is only used for the back end with HTML code. 

Most people who start with CSS and HTML dive into JavaScript as the next step. However, this is not to say that you can’t start with PHP. It does have an easier learning curve, and its concepts are much easier to grasp, especially if you’ve never had any other programming experience. But due to the recent developments in JavaScript, it might prove more useful to you.

No matter which one you start with, however, you should probably pick up the other afterward. And once you’ve gotten the hang of one of them, the other becomes relatively easier to learn. It’s great to have both on your resume or even if you’re self-employed.

Should you use PHP or JavaScript for your project?

When deciding which scripting language to use for a project or in the professional world, the answer usually depends on what kind of project you’re working on. For most projects nowadays, JavaScript is more convenient and efficient to use. Due to its ease of use and versatility, it is the most popular language on GitHub.

However, for certain projects, PHP is still a better choice. And in a lot of cases, if you’re working on existing projects, you’ll probably have to work with PHP anyway. So let’s consider the factors to keep in mind when deciding which language will work best for you.

Speed

Since JavaScript compiles entirely in the browser and is a client-side server language, it is much faster and more efficient than PHP. It is asynchronous and event-driven, and hence it doesn’t have to wait for one function to execute before running the others. It all happens simultaneously.

PHP, on the other hand, needs a server and is also synchronous. It cannot execute one code before running the previous lines. So it’s significantly slower. So if speed is a concern, definitely opt for JavaScript.

Extensions

Though PHP can only be combined with HTML, it can be extended with any LAMP stack solution such as MySQL, PostgreSQL, etc. This is what makes it popular with sites like WordPress or Drupal.

JavaScript, however, has several frameworks, and new ones pop up very often. The most common ones are Vue, Angular, React, etc. Frameworks like Node.js are what are making JavaScript work well for server-side projects. Since it’s so versatile and provides you with different options, JavaScript is better in terms of extensibility.

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Full-stack vs. back end

Ever since Node.js was introduced, JavaScript has evolved into a full-stack development language. You can use it for anything from the back end to the front end; it’s both a server-side programming language and a client-side scripting language. PHP, however, can only be used for the back end. To use it, you must be proficient in CSS and HTML and keep switching between all of them.

JavaScript is much more convenient and more straightforward. You can design and develop an entire web application only using JavaScript. So unless you have to use PHP, it’s usually easier to do the whole thing in JavaScript.

Most people who do use PHP will use Javascript frameworks and HTML code for their front-end development anyway.

Community perks

Since PHP is open source and has been around for so long, there’s a lot of help online if you get stuck with problems. From forums to comment threads, chances are you’ll find help with any bugs you encounter. It is also adaptable and customizable, and it is still used in the back end of most websites.

However, JavaScript is fastly rising in popularity, and it’s in use by tech giants like LinkedIn, Netflix, Uber, etc. So it has its community as well. You’ll find help online for both quite easily.

Security

On its own, PHP is usually more secure than JavaScript since it’s a server-side scripting language. You can’t access the code from the browser. Whereas almost anybody can see the code behind a web page in JavaScript. Since it runs in the browser, it is less secure.

However, JavaScript has tools to compensate for this security issue. You can use different security analyzer tools and different practices, such as SSL/HTTPS, to make your JavaScript code more secure.

Content management systems 

JavaScript seems like the clear winner in most of these factors, yet PHP is still being used by thousands of sites online every day. This is because it is widely available in systems such as WordPress or Moodle, which makes up for a lot of websites on the internet.

PHP is well connected to different databases like MariaDB, MySQL, etc., making it more popular with content management websites that require a database. PHP might work better for you if your project is a blog, an e-commerce website, or even a learning management system.

Back-end development

Even though JavaScript is a better choice overall, PHP can still be the better tool if you only consider the back end of things. It is easier to learn and is free and open source, so it might be more accessible to some. It has been tried and tested, and a vast portion of the internet still uses PHP as the back-end language.

Hence, the best approach might just be to use both in your project. You can utilize the advantages of both these languages and build a robust system. Websites like Facebook and Wikipedia use both, and I’m sure you’ve seen how smoothly they work.

Conclusion

In the battle of PHP vs. JavaScript, JavaScript is a clear winner. It is versatile and efficient and is perfect for large-scale projects where you can develop both the front end and the back end using JavaScript.

However, a huge portion of the web is still run using PHP. PHP code is easy to learn, the LAMP stack is ubiquitous (open-source web development environment), and a PHP developer can get hired for web applications virtually anywhere. So, it will always come in handy if you know PHP.

Ideally, you will need to know how to produce both PHP and JavaScript code. Both can be great general-purpose languages, especially when used together.

Page Last Updated: December 2021