Beyond the Bias: Why PHP Deserves a Fresh Look

Exploring the evolution and resilience of a language that's shaped the web, despite its rocky start.

Beyond the Bias: Why PHP Deserves a Fresh Look

PHP, often dubbed one of the most disliked programming languages in the tech community, has undergone significant transformations since its inception in 1994—a time that might as well be the Mesozoic era in internet history.

Historically, PHP was critiqued for its inconsistencies and perceived limitations. Originally, it wasn't even intended to be a full-fledged programming language. Rasmus Lerdorf, the creator of PHP, once remarked:

"I really don’t like programming. I built this tool to program less so that I could simply reuse code... I don’t know how to stop it, there was never any intention to write a programming language [...]. I don’t know how to write a programming language at all, I just kept adding the next logical step."

This statement might leave you wondering how a programmer from Greenland, without intentions to innovate, ended up crafting one of the most influential web technologies of all time. Despite its quirks and initial flaws, PHP offered more advantages than most alternatives at the time.

The Evolution of PHP

The modern incarnation of PHP is a far cry from its earlier versions. With each update, PHP has steadily improved, gaining traction among web developers who now routinely use it to create modern, maintainable applications and websites. In fact, PHP currently powers over 70% of the websites accessible via your browser.

However, this doesn't mean PHP has evolved into the ultimate programming solution. Despite significant enhancements, the language still bears the marks of its past mistakes. For instance, consider these commonly used functions:

phpCopy codestr_replace("a", "b", $randomString); // Replace part of a string
strtoupper($randomString); // Convert the string to uppercase
ucfirst($randomString); // Capitalize the first letter of the string

These functions, all related to string manipulation, lack a coherent naming convention, reflecting the early design inconsistencies that still haunt PHP. Such examples might seem trivial, but they underscore the challenges inherent in PHP’s foundation.

Overcoming the Past

Many of PHP's detractors have disengaged from the language long ago, possibly without experiencing the capabilities of modern frameworks like Symfony or Laravel. They might not have written a line of PHP code in over a decade and are unaware of the transformative changes introduced with PHP 7 and PHP 8. These major releases have revamped PHP’s capabilities, introducing highly-requested features and significantly advancing its object-oriented programming (OOP) features and optional type systems.

It's crucial to recognise that, in skilled hands, PHP is fully capable of producing modern, maintainable code. Despite its flaws, PHP is neither dying nor fading away anytime soon.

This is precisely why I've decided to initiate a series of articles on PHP 8 and the forthcoming 8.1 release—highlighting the new features these versions bring to the table.

Stay tuned for more insightful content on what I like to call "the most active and influential 'dead' language in the world."