From its humble beginnings in 1994, PHP has grown into the most popular online scripting language today. Its flexibility and power combined with its ease of use and small learning curve when compared to other languages has made it the dominant language among most webmasters.
PHP started out as a set of CGI (Common Gateway Binaries) written in C by Rasmus Lerdof in 1994. This initial start was taken by two developers from Israel and converted into what would become the base of PHP3. PHP’s popularity rose in the late 1990s as it was easy to learn and powerful to use. Any casual programmer could easily pick up this language in a relatively short amount of time. Although PHP3 gained a following, it wasn’t until the turn of the millennium and the introduction of PHP4 and Zend, that the PHP language took off in terms of adoption and popularity. Since then, it has conquered much of the web and has become the programming language of choice for many web developers.
PHP has some distinct advantages over other languages such as C# (ASP.NET) and Java. PHP is free and open source. It does not require any IDE to write. While you can write C# and Java in notepad like PHP, most people need an IDE like Sun’s Java SDK or Microsoft Visual Studio to edit C# and Java with any kind of efficiency. PHP requires no editor and although Zend does offer an excellent IDE at a low price, many long-time PHP developers prefer to use notepad, editpad lite, or notepad++. All three of these programs are free and do not have any overhead attached to them. This makes PHP the easiest language to edit. The second advantage PHP had was in its beginning it was a lot like PERL. In fact, it was often called “PERL optimized for the web”. Because of this, once PHP was introduced, many PERL programmers easily converted to PHP and it immediately had a following. The third reason why PHP is so popular is because of its easy learning curve. While all ASP.NET and JAVA is forcibly object-oriented and requires some understanding of Object Oriented principles to be able to program, PHP lets you choose to use object orientation or not. Procedural programming is easier than Object Oriented programming to grasp so casual programmers will pick up PHP over any other web language. The final reason PHP become so popular is because of the wide array of applications written for it. Every hosting company offers PHP as a standard because such software as PHPBB3, Vbulletin, Joomla, and many other popular web software packages are written exclusively in PHP. With PHP, you can find just about every kind of application available, most of the time for free. No other server-side language has so many free programs and resources available.
In the recent years, some other languages (notably Ruby on Rails) have been called “the next big thing” or “poised to take over the web”. However, none of these have even grown close to the following PHP has. The sheer number of resources, good documentation and the knowledgeable user community will keep PHP as the language of choice for years to come.