How to Learn PHP

PHP stands for PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor, and it’s a general-purpose scripting language used in web development. PHP is an open-source language that is able to embed into HTML. Using PHP simplifies HTML inputs and is less command heavy than C or Perl programming languages. Users may jump in and out of PHP mode as needed with the end goal to allow developers to write dynamically generated pages. The majority of the syntax within PHP is borrowed from C, Java and Perl; however, some unique PHP-specific elements exist within the language.

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Modernday PHP is actually the successor to PHP/FI, created by Rasmus Lerdorf in 1994. 

Originally, Lerdorf created PHP in C in order to track visits to his online resume. At that time, PHP stood for personal home page tools. Through several iterations, Lerdorf expanded on the tools in his version of PHP to include things like database interaction and dynamic web applications. He released his code in 1995, but it wasn’t until 1996 that the second generation of PHP took the shape of a programming language. PHP 2.0, as it was dubbed, had much more functionality than its original version, but it was still limited by the fact that only Lerdorf was working on it despite its small following of several thousand users. 

PHP differs from client-side JavaScript in how the code is executed. With PHP, the code runs on the server and then in the HTML that is able to be sent to a client. Therefore, the client would see the results of running the code without actually seeing the code itself. 

How Is PHP Used?

PHP is mainly used for server-side scripting. You may also use it for general CGI (common gateway interface) tasks such as collecting form data, creating dynamic page content or sending and receiving cookies. PHP is also used for command line scripting, which may be used for simple text processing. 

Though it’s not very common, someone with advanced knowledge of PHP may use it to write a desktop application with a graphical interface. A person would need to use PHP-GTK to execute this kind of project. PHP-GTK also enables cross-platform application writing; however, it’s not widely available for main distribution. More information on PHP-GTK can be found on its website.

All major operating systems support PHP including Linux, Microsoft Windows, macOS and many Unix variants. PHP works as a CGI processor or a module. It gives users the flexibility of choosing either procedural programming, object oriented programming or a mix of both. Beyond output HTML, PHP capabilities include outputting images, PDFs, any text including XHTML or any XML file. It works by auto-generating these files and saving them instead of printing it out and forming a server-side cache. 

Another strong feature of PHP is that it supports a wide range of databases. It may also talk to services using protocols and has support for the WDDX complex data exchange for nearly all programming languages. It also supports all Java objects and uses them transparently as PHP objects. PHP has many useful text processing features, including ones that have Perl compatibility. 

Today, roughly 43,800 companies are using PHP in their tech stacks, such as Facebook, Slack, and Lyft. Many developers turn to PHP because it is open source, free to use, easy to learn, flexible and scalable.

What Do I Need to Know Before Learning PHP?

My PHP is a popular coding language website that makes web development more simple. Like any computer programming language, there are certain concepts and ideas that one should be familiar with when attempting to learn. These technology and education prerequisites may help the aspiring learner. 

  1. Understand computer science and programming. PHP builds on other programming languages. You should understand the backbone of websites including HTML, CSS and JavaScript.
  2. Download the right technology. Since server-side scripting is the most traditional use of PHP, you’ll need to download a few things to make it work. You need to download and connect the PHP installation in order to run a web server. Learn about PHP installation here. 
  3. Get a foundational understanding of scripting. Understand the fundamentals of what PHP can be used for and begin learning some basic scripts.

Tips and Strategies for Learning PHP

When embarking on your PHP learning experience, you may find you need some extra support. Everyone learns in their own way, but these tips and strategies may make learning PHP easier. 

Find online resources. From forums to blogs to tech bootcamps,  there’s an immense amount of information online to help you learn PHP. Just try and stick to reputable sources. PHP.net is a great place to get started. Stack Overflow is another reliable source for information.

See our 2021 guide to online coding bootcamps

Practice with real-world applications. As a developer, it’s useful to get your hands dirty on a website right away. This will give you reason to learn more advanced PHP functionality.

Become a part of the growing community. Because anyone who programs in PHP is able to contribute to the community of developers, it’s useful to get involved with that community from the outset. As there are always new releases, there’s always a need for documentation, testing and contributing to bug fixes, among many other tasks. 

Frequently Asked Questions

PHP is a popular coding language used primarily for server-side scripting. It’s used in conjunction with other coding languages and most closely resembles Java, C and Perl.  It may be helpful to learn other languages before picking up PHP.  For more information, read the article about picking the right programming language to learn. This section will answer some common frequently asked questions about PHP. 

Can I teach myself PHP?

There are numerous ways to learn PHP, and everyone’s path is different. It’s possible to teach yourself PHP, but participating in forums and classes and talking with other programmers may be useful. 

Is it easy to learn PHP?

PHP is generally considered easy for a newcomer. Someone new to PHP may begin writing simple scripts in a few hours. However, it’s a  language developers can grow with as it offers many advanced features.

How long will it take to learn PHP?

It’s possible for simple PHP scripts to be picked up within a few hours, but more advanced PHP may take longer to learn. As with most programming languages, you may not learn the advanced functionality until you have a real reason to. So working as a professional programmer may increase your chances of needing to learn and use advanced PHP concepts. The pathway to becoming an advanced programmer may take anywhere from months to years depending on how you learn, what you are learning, how quickly you get hired to perform advanced programming tasks, etc. 

Last updated: January 2021