Why PHP?

PHP seems to have a bad reputation.

If you search the web, you’ll find tons of rants on how PHP is terrible, flawed by design, and some even less flattering stuff. But I don’t share the sentiment. I think that PHP’s main crime was being attractive to too many crappy developers.

My Love/Hate affair with Java

I learned Java back in the mid-to-late 90s. Beans was still considered new and Swing was expected to be the next big thing.

I loved it. It was simple, elegant and worry-free. Write once and let JVM worry about the rest. What could possible go wrong?

IMO: it was overused (and a bit bloated).

Take the Eclipse IDE, for example. Sure, nowadays it works fast enough on any decent computer. But 10+ years ago, it was more resource hungry than what most affordable PCs could deliver. Would I choose to write an IDE in Java? Maybe today I’d consider it, but it wouldn’t be my first choice.

Around that time, lots of stuff was being written in Java. Everybody had to know Java if they wanted to have a job, and we’d get freshly-minted programmers insisting that they could do device driver development in Java.

So I learned to hate Java.

Enter PHP

I was convinced to learn PHP mainly because of the expected speed of development. I wouldn’t have thought to program in anything other than Perl at the time, but a friend talked me into it for a small side project. I loved how fast and easy it was to do something useful with MySQL.

The “register globals” incident

Yes, this was one big design mistake. I’ll even admit it: at one time I did rely on register_globals. Guilty as charged. Maybe we didn’t know any better. But even if the PHP group changed this more than 15 years ago, it seems like the detractors haven’t forgotten.

Yes I have written crappy bits of code (other than the register_globals). Many of those crappy bits are still in the current codebase. And yes, I feel kind of ashamed.

There is no absolute “best” language

In the same way we can’t (and shouldn’t) use Java to write low-level software, we shouldn’t use Assembly language to write a cross-platform word processor.

Lots of people have a “favorite” language and will defend it fiercely. But languages are tools and some may be better that others given a specific purpose.

Whether due to laziness, ignorance, or just for fun: you can write crappy software in any language. You may want to complain about that weird way PHP handles dynamic typing, or comparison operators… and you may be right.

I might even agree with you if you decide to choose another language for your next project.

And if it’s not your choice to make, best I can do is recommend that you use version control, stick to a coding standard, and test early.

Every language sucks. And every language is beautiful.


So… why PHP?

The way I see it, PHP is great for rapid development of (non-critical) websites.

I don’t allocate a lot of time to this site’s development, so I need to be able to get a complete function or block of code done in a very small amount of time. PHP is good for this.

It’s about moving forward.