PHP vs NodeJS: A complete showdown

PHP vs NodeJS: A complete showdown
PHP vs NodeJS: A complete showdown

Let us say you decide to register on a social media platform. The next time you use the registered login credentials to access your account, it takes you right in without any warning message you might’ve gotten before registering. Or better yet, when you visit an analytical page, such as Google trends, have you ever wondered how you get those results updated every minute? That’s the work that takes place in the backend, and you’ll be looking into two of the best tools to use in the backend to achieve this.

Before we jump into it…
Let’s understand how the backend works. In contrast to frontend development that is about making web applications render on the client-side, backend development is about making these applications render server-side. But that isn’t everything. Backend development also deals with the creation of services that process business logic and access other resources such as databases, file servers, cloud services and plenty more.

These services that are created are the backbone of any application and can be accessed and used by both the server-side rendering apps and also from the client-side rendering apps. Now that you have a basic understanding of the backend, let’s get you started on what PHP and NodeJS are and help you decide on what you should choose for your backend needs.

Let’s understand how PHP and NodeJS started its battle. In the olden times, the partnership between JavaScript and PHP was simple. While JavaScript handled the client-side scripting and details on the browser, PHP managed all the server-side tasks between port 80 and MySQL. They worked in harmony to support many crucial parts of the internet. Between WordPress, Facebook and many other websites, people can hardly go a minute on the web without running into PHP.


This happy union took a detour when someone discovered that JavaScript could also run on the server. This reduced the use of PHP in the next generation to build server stacks. This technology that engulfed PHP is NodeJS, and one language was all it took to make it. Java can be used everywhere, became the talk of the town. But this isn’t the end, as software can live on for decades. Most of the PHP code continues to serve up large portions of the text we read each day. It is estimated that at least 80 per cent of the pages we view is built on PHP in some form. The reason for this is because PHP continues to be reborn and updates itself with its competitors every year. This continuing duel between PHP and NodeJS is what prompts to write this article. We’ll do the explaining while you decide who wins on your end.

Let’s start with the formal definitions
PHP, expanded as Hypertext Preprocessor, was created by Rasmus Lerdorf in 1994. Although it is a server-side scripting language, it can also be used as a general scripting language. It is processed by an interpreter that is installed on web servers such as Apache. PHP code can also be embedded into HTML or HTML5 markup, and this flexibility contributed to its immense popularity.


NodeJS is a cross-platform, runtime environment that executes JavaScript code outside a web browser. It was created in 2009 and is used for building fast and scalable applications. It uses an event-driven, non-blocking I/O model. Although the percentage of websites that are built with NodeJS is comparatively low, it’s climbing the popularity ladder among developers.

Wondering how a PHP and NodeJS code looks?
Every language follows a set of principles and rules called syntax. It is the key to mastering a new programming language as most of the fundamentals stay consistent throughout different languages. Below you can find the syntax for PHP and JavaScript and an example using every developer’s favourite “Hello World.”

Syntax:
PHP:
<?php
// Your code goes here
?>
NodeJS (JavaScript):
<script>
// JavaScript code
</script>

PHP code to print “Hello World”NodeJS code to print “Hello World”
<?php echo “Hello World!”; ?>  console.log(“Hello World!”);

Synchronous code vs Asynchronous code; let’s simplify this…

PHP is synchronous, meaning you wait for it to finish before moving on to another task. But PHP has some APIs that behave asynchronously apart from the synchronous lot. Being synchronous code comes with a problem, and this example can help you understand that. Let’s say, the first line of code has a function that takes a lot of time to execute. Due to the synchronous nature of PHP, the lines below this code has to wait for their turn and will run only after the function is entirely executed. This makes the user wait as it is slower.

On the other hand, NodeJS is asynchronous. This specifies that the JavaScript engine runs through the entire code at once and does not wait for any code to get executed first. In our example, this means that it doesn’t wait for the function to return, and the lines of code below the function will run normally. Simultaneously, the function is executing too and will return the output once done. With this example, you can agree that NodeJS is faster than PHP.

Which one is easy for me to learn?

If you’re writing backend code in PHP, you might have to continuously switch between different languages and syntax, making it difficult for an absolute beginner. The reason for this is that PHP is predominantly used as part of the LAMP stack.

LAMP stack is an open-source software which includes MySQL for database, PHP for server-side code and Linux for an operating system. All of these have different syntax used by them and require a sound knowledge of HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

This is not the case with NodeJS as it is written in JavaScript. JavaScript can be used both on the client-side and with the help of NodeJS, it can also be used on the server-side. This means the user doesn’t need to switch between different languages, like in the case of PHP. Javascript stack follows a MEAN or MERN stack and is better because JavaScript is the only language and syntax you’ll need to know.

Is your favourite database on the list?
Relational databases like MariaDB, MySQL, PostgreSQL are popular choices for PHP. Although it is possible to use NoSQL databases with PHP, it is not a common practice to use them together. NodeJS works fine with SQL databases, but since the trend is shifting, NodeJS leans towards using NoSQL databases, such as CouchDB and MongoDB. The NPM packages for almost all the databases are available on the npm registry.

Frameworks to the rescue
Frameworks have been known to reduce the work of a developer by forcing several conventions and help solve common issues like view rendering, asset generation, security, application configurations. Just like any other language or environment, PHP and NodeJS also come with a set of frameworks, and we’ve compiled a list of famous frameworks used in both the languages.

Frameworks of PHP

  • Laravel
  • CodeIgniter
  • Symfony
  • CakePHP
  • Yii
  • Zend Framework
  • Phalcon

Frameworks of NodeJS

  • Express.js
  • Hapi.js
  • Socket.io
  • Koa.js
  • Sails.js
  • LoopBack.js

If you’re interested in exploring more about NodeJS and its top frameworks, check out our article on 10 Best NodeJS Frameworks.

Enough Tech Talks, Let’s Talk about the Trend

If you’re not able to make up your mind even after reading through the technical comparison of PHP and NodeJS, pay close attention to what you will come across now, as it may steer you in the right direction that’s meant for you.

According to SimilarTech, 182,552 websites are currently running on NodeS, whereas 7,121,581 sites use PHP on the backend. As we mentioned earlier, most of the web servers run on PHP, and a minority of it runs on NodeJS. While talking about market shares, PHP is leading in Top 10K Sites, Top 100K Sites, Top 1M Sites and The Entire Web. Despite its recent growth, NodeJs still lags behind PHP in market share segments.

And that’s it! We’ve walked you through some of the many differences PHP and NodeJS offer, and now it is up to your detective skills to research more about the two technologies and start utilising it. Every technology has distinct advantages and pitfalls. In many places, PHP might have seemed like a convenient choice, but NodeJS has shown promising trends for the future generation of websites. In the end, choosing between them depends on your requirements and needs.

To read more about different programming languages and frameworks, click here.