If someone says “JavaScript is only for front end development, and PHP is for back end” — do not listen.

Before I jump into claiming that one language is better than the other, there is something I need to clarify. I don't want to turn the PHP vs JavaScript discussion into comparing apples and oranges, so I should explain the main difference between JavaScript and PHP.

PHP is a programming language for back end development only. JavaScript, in turn, was initially designed as a front end development language. But with the introduction of Node.js in 2009, JavaScript became full stack.

The commonly cited claim that “JavaScript is only for front end development, and PHP is for back end” is just not true. Today, you can develop the entire app with JavaScript, both client side and server side. The question is, which language is more effective for your particular project?

Therefore, if you're trying to decide between PHP and JavaScript, the discussion is reduced to which language you want to use for back end development. And to help you make an informed decision, I will compare PHP vs JavaScript for web development based on the following criteria:

  1. Brief overview
  2. Performance and speed
  3. Extensibility
  4. Universality
  5. Community
  6. Learning curve
  7. Syntax
  8. Apps it is best suited for
php vs javascript
TL;DR

Brief overview

JavaScript

JavaScript is a lightweight, multi-paradigm, high-level, interpreted or just-in-time-compiled, dynamic programming language. Introduced in 1995 by Brendan Eich, JavaScript is characterized by curly-bracket syntax, first-class functions, and prototype-based object orientation.

According to Statista, 69 % of developers worldwide use JavaScript and 5 % more plan to adopt this language. The report shows that it is the most popular programming language in the world as of late 2019.

PHP

PHP stands for Hypertext Preprocessor, and it is an open source scripting language for back end development. Developed in 1994 by Rasmus Lerdorf, the language received global recognition. According to the W3Tech survey, 79% of all websites use PHP. Among the most popular ones, there are Facebook, Wikipedia, and, of course, WordPress.

PHP vs JavaScript: 0 – 0

Performance & Speed

JavaScript

JavaScript is characterized by an event-driven, single-threaded, non-blocking I/O execution model. Such a model is ensured by the event loop and Node clustering.

The asynchronous nature of Node.js enables it to run through the entire code simultaneously without waiting for some functions to be executed. Thanks to that, JavaScript is the best solution for low latency applications, such as streaming platforms. Node.js is sped up even further by the V8 engine, constant server connection, and callback functions.

PHP

PHP is characterized by a multi-threaded, blocking I/O execution model. Unlike JavaScript, PHP is synchronous. The second line of code in PHP cannot be executed until the first one is, which makes it much slower than JavaScript.

While PHP undoubtedly loses in terms of speed, some say that it is more stable than JavaScript. Yet, this advantage is quite ambiguous and not a hundred percent proven.

The reliability and stability of both PHP and JavaScript are open to interpretation. But thanks to its outstanding speed, JavaScript wins a point.

PHP vs JavaScript: 0 – 1

Extensibility

JavaScript

JavaScript can be combined with HTML, XML, and Ajax.

There are a number of great JavaScript frameworks, and one cannot even count them because new ones emerge quite often.

The most  popular front-end JS technologies are Vue, Angular, and React, but here at KeenEthics we also see a bright future for Svelte.

The most common server-side framework is Node.js. What framework you choose may define development speed and cost, performance, and other technical qualities of your future app.

As for package managers, Node.js comes with NPM (Node Package Manager) preinstalled. NPM greatly facilitates developers’ lives, and it is the largest software registry in the world.

PHP

PHP can be combined with HTML only.

Probably the greatest advantage of PHP is the availability of CMSs like WordPress or Drupal. These solutions may greatly facilitate and even make web development cheaper. PHP can also be extended with any LAMP stack technology and such server solutions as MySQL or PostgreSQL.

There are two package managers for PHP – PEAR and Composer. PEAR (PHP Extension and Application Repository) is a structured library of open source PHP code. Composer is a dependency management tool for PHP.

Overall, JavaScript offers more opportunities for extensibility, so it wins the point.

PHP vs JavaScript: 0 – 2

Universality

JavaScript is cross-platform, and so is PHP. Both PHP and JavaScript are primarily aimed at developing web applications, even though both can be used for mobile app development.

JavaScript

The greatest advantage of JavaScript over PHP lies in the fact that JavaScript is a full-stack development language. Most JS vs PHP comparisons emphasize that JavaScript is front end only, but that is simply not true. You can develop an entire web or mobile app with no other technology than JavaScript.

The experience of KeenEthics proves it: as a JS-oriented company, we develop custom web and mobile solutions from scratch using only JavaScript.

PHP

PHP is a back end development language only. PHP belongs to the LAMP stack, which stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP/Perl/Python.

To develop a web app with this technology stack, a software engineer needs to know four different syntax systems, as well as HTML and CSS. Switching between languages is neither convenient nor efficient, and it complicates the learning curve badly.

JavaScript development is full-stack development, which is the greatest advantage of it.

PHP vs JavaScript: 0 – 3

Community

JavaScript

According to stackshare.io,  the main reasons why developers enjoy working with JavaScript are its universality ("Can be used on front end and back end"), popularity ("It is everywhere"), and extensibility ("there are a lot of great frameworks").

JavaScript is used by Netflix, LinkedIn, Trello, Uber, Airbnb, Instagram, eBay, NASA, and Medium.

Most JS frameworks are open source, but not JavaScript itself.

JavaScript is the most popular language on GitHub with over a 20% share of pull requests.

PHP

Stackshare.io shows that the most beloved advantages of PHP are a large community, open source, and simple deployment.

PHP is used by such companies as Facebook, Lyft, Wikipedia, Slack, Tumblr, and 9 GAG.

PHP code is open source, which makes it more flexible and customizable.

On GitHub, PHP takes only the eighth place with about 5 % of pull requests.

Both languages have huge support communities and are favored by large tech giants – both PHP and JavaScript earn a point.

PHP vs JavaScript: 1 – 4

Learning curve

PHP

PHP is much simpler to start learning than JavaScript. Setting up a server is as simple as creating a single .php  file, writing a few lines of code enclosed with <?php?> tags, and entering the URL into the browser tab.

Also, PHP peculiarities, such as inconsistent functions or return values, are easier to understand and master than the peculiarities of JavaScript and of certain JS frameworks.

JavaScript

Setting up JavaScript, namely Node.js, for server side is not that complicated. But it is more difficult than PHP. A beginning JS developer needs to have more knowledge than a beginning PHP developer.

However, the effort you put into learning JavaScript totally pays off. Since JavaScript is more universal than PHP, the learning effort brings much more value.

PHP wins a point for learning simplicity, beginning developers will definitely appreciate it.

PHP vs JavaScript: 2 – 4

Syntax

The syntax of a programming language, in most cases, is just a matter of personal preference. Therefore, neither of the languages win a point here.

Yet, I will provide a side-by-side comparison of JS and PHP syntax rules in case you are here thinking about which language to learn. Maybe some peculiarities of a certain language will work better for you, and this is how you will make your choice.

  • Both PHP and JavaScript make use of brackets of different types, including curly, round, and square brackets.
  • In both PHP and JavaScript, variables can be of any type, they can change type, and you can check the type by calling a language-specific operator  – typeof in JS and gettype in PHP.
  • In both languages, arrays start with “0”.
  • for() loop functions identically in both PHP and JavaScript, the difference is only in how the variable inside for-brackets is declared. foreach() loop, which is unique to PHP, can be easily transformed into JS for() loop.
  • In JS, variables are global by default unless declared local with var. A local variable is available for everything within this function or its subfunctions.
  • In JS, both addition and concatenation are done with “+”.
  • JS is case sensitive in variables and functions.
  • There are no associative arrays (key-value pairs) in JS, you should use JSON strings instead.
  • In JS, arrays and objects are very similar and often interchangeable. An object item can be referenced as an array item as well.
  • In JS, items in objects are referenced with a fullstop “.”.
  • PHP makes use of dollar signs “$” to denote variables,  whereas JS has no such sign. All variables are local by default unless declared global with global. A local variable will not be available in subfunctions unless you pass it in an argument.
  • In PHP, addition is done with “+”, and concatenation is done with “.”.
  • PHP is case sensitive only in variables.
  • PHP allows both numeric and associative arrays.
  • In PHP, arrays and objects are completely different things with different syntax.
  • In PHP, items in objects are referenced with an arrow “->”.

These are some of the most basic differences that you should know about these languages. Check this table and this article for some more syntax differences between PHP and JavaScript.

As I said, neither language wins a point here because the syntax is a matter of personal preference.

PHP vs JavaScript: 2 – 4

Apps it is best suited for

JavaScript

JavaScript has dedicated server hosting, which makes it perfectly suitable for large projects. It can be used to develop both the front end and back end of almost any software application type, including 3D games, AR/VR solutions, IoT products, and so on.

PHP

Although PHP is a general-purpose programming language, it is primarily used for developing dynamic web pages. Considering the availability of PHP-based content management systems such as Moodle and WordPress, PHP is the best solution for blogs, learning management systems, and e-commerce websites.

Once again, in terms of the apps it is best suitable for, each language is different but neither better nor worse than the competitor. Both PHP and JavaScript are quite universal, so both get a point.

PHP vs JavaScript: 3 – 5

To Wrap Up

The comparison between PHP vs JavaScript ends with the score 3 to 5 – JavaScript beats PHP.

Both languages are fairly good in terms of community support, extensibility, and apps they are suited to. JavaScript is certainly more efficient in terms of speed and universality. Meanwhile, it loses to PHP in terms of learning curve even though the syntax, as we concluded, is just a matter of personal preference.

Just keep in mind - this does not mean that JavaScript and Node.js in particular are always the best choice - it's up to you and your project.

Choose Node.js:

  • If you plan to develop a single page app,
  • If you plan to build a real-time application, such as a streaming service or a messenger,
  • If you plan to build a large project with heavy data load,
  • If you are using JavaScript for front end development.

Choose PHP:

  • If you plan to develop a blog or an e-commerce website,
  • If you are using some of the LAMP technologies already.

Do you have an idea for a project?

My company KeenEthics can't help you with PHP, but we are an experienced JavaScript company willing to take up the challenge. If you are ready to change the game and start your project, feel free to get in touch.

I would also like to say thank you to Yaryna Korduba, one of the awesomest web developers at KeenEthics, for inspiring and contributing to the article.

If you have enjoyed the article, you should definitely read another wonderful comparison: Angular vs React: What to Choose for Your App? or NodeJS vs Python: How to Choose the Best Technology to Develop Your Web App's Back End.