Is PHP dead? The data behind the rumors


It’s happened before. A programming language loses popularity points over the course of a few years and rumors start to fly that it’s destined for the grave. PHP is no exception. TIOBE shows PHP trending downwards as it struggles to stay in the top 10, slipping from No. 7 to No. 9 in just one year’s time. So the question now: is PHP dead? Or, at the very least, on its way out?

The story job seekers and employers tell could lead you to believe the answer is yes and yes. According to data, PHP job postings have decreased 5.16% from August 2017 to August 2019. The most dramatic shift can be seen in the number of people running searches for PHP roles, which dropped 41.83% in that same time frame.

But just because interest in a language is waning, is that enough to say it’s doom and gloom from here on out? Is PHP really dying?

The way people use PHP today tells us no, not yet. Find out how it’s hanging in there, plus which roles typically require PHP skills so that you can take advantage of the employer demand and job seeker interest gap—and the next step in your career.

Is PHP dead? What usage stats have to say about it

In 2019, over four billion internet users are recorded as spending nearly seven hours online every day. And the total number of users is only growing—at a rate of one million new users by the day.

So when PHP, according to W3Techs, is used by 79% of all the websites that have a known server-side programming language, PHP’s death is definitely exaggerated.

Part of why 79% of websites run on PHP is because WordPress, the most popular content management system, runs on PHP itself—and almost 35% of all websites run on WordPress.

Though WordPress dominates the CMS world with a whopping 61.4% of the market share, it’s not the only one powered by PHP. Joomla and Drupal both use it too, and follow closely behind WordPress in terms of popularity—though by the numbers you wouldn’t have guessed it: Joomla’s market share at 4.9% and Drupal’s at 3.1% don’t exactly give WordPress a run for its money.

But even if Joomla and Drupal don’t carry as much clout as WordPress, the fact remains that the top content management systems all use PHP. Considering how much of the web runs on these three alone tells us that PHP isn’t dead after all.

(And even while non-PHP solutions like Wix and Squarespace are gaining speed as plug-and-play options, WordPress still reigns supreme.)

If PHP isn’t dead (yet) why is interest down?

With so much of the web running on it, it’s hard to imagine PHP coming up on the end of its life any time soon. While it’s gotten plenty of traction across the world wide web, that’s not to say PHP is a developer’s first choice.

In fact, Stack Overflow’s 2019 survey says PHP is both the 8th most popular programming language and the 5th most dreaded. In their words, most dreaded means that “a high percentage of developers who are currently using [it] express no interest in continuing to do so.”

Ranking high for the most popular and most dreaded says something.

It suggests that PHP’s “popularity” likely stems from being commonly used (and useful), but not necessarily well-liked—at least for many developers who have worked with it before.

In fact, Seen recently adopted the use of WordPress in its transition from Indeed Prime. This means that our product and engineering teams made the switch from using Java and React to PHP.

Bruno Roncolato, Product Manager at Seen, says that when weighing CMS options for the new Seen website, WordPress came out on top—despite a general decline in interest for PHP. In a nutshell: The pros to using WordPress outweigh any cons to adopting PHP.

So why is PHP being used more out of necessity than anything else? After all, other languages have been around since the dot-com boom just the same—Java, Python, C#—and all of these land higher on the TIOBE Index or Stack Overflow’s most-loved list.

Part of this lack of interest today is a result of bad reputation. It’s considered outdated, largely because earlier PHP versions (specifically 4 and 5) are known for having a poor design and security issues. PHP 7 and beyond, however, come with massive improvements, solving for failures and loopholes common in earlier versions. Regardless, many developers haven’t recovered from (or returned to) using PHP since the 2000s.

A lot of messy code is also to blame: Because PHP doesn’t have a steep learning curve, the amount of questionable code and practices circulating contributes to its poor reputation—and dip in popularity. 

But while developers might not be jumping at the chance to learn it over a language like Python, that doesn’t mean PHP doesn’t have anything going for it nowadays. So don’t let a decline in interest—or any bad rap—steer you away from learning or using PHP.

Don't let a drop in interest or bad rap steer you away from PHP. Despite the rumors, it's far from dead. Click To Tweet

Other pluses to PHP: It’s platform independent, low cost, easily combines with databases and is maintained by a large active open source community (including a subreddit with 100K users and 1M+ Meetup members). One area where PHP pulls ahead of even Python? Speed. PHP 7.3 is recorded as being three times faster than Python.

Roles on the lookout for PHP talent

Over the last two years, employer demand has dropped a little, but job seeker demand has plummeted in comparison. What could this mean if you’re in the market for a new PHP role? Less competition and more of a chance to land your next big opportunity faster.

Here are three roles that commonly look for candidates skilled in PHP, plus average salaries for each.

Back-end developer

In a sense, front-end developers make websites easy to navigate for a smooth user experience. Back-end developers, on the other hand, bring function to everything a user sees.

Using back-end technologies (e.g., PHP, Java, Python, Ruby), they build, maintain, test and debug the server side of a website or app. As a back-end developer, you’ll make sure the right data gets sent to the front end—and keep both sides communicating—so you’ll also get to know about servers and databases. It’s not out of the question for you to know about APIs, security and DevOps concepts, too.

You’ll write back-end code from scratch using PHP, or use one of its many libraries to get the job done faster (and with less potential for human error). If developing WordPress sites, you might customize themes or create plugins.

Average US salary: $125,629

US city with the highest salary: San Francisco, CA (Average: $146,322 / Adjusted for cost of living: $110,180)

Full stack developer

A jack of all trades, full stack developers use front- and back-end technologies to build out websites and apps. Though they generally won’t build out a website from start to finish, they’ll be able to transition between working on both sides of the house.

In addition to what a back-end developer does, you’ll have expertise in HTML, CSS and JavaScript as a front-end developer. Another part of full stack development is keeping systems running smoothly, which means staying up to speed on databases and web storage, web architecture, networking and DevOps concepts.

You can use PHP exactly how a back-end developer does: writing code from scratch or with the help of libraries and frameworks (e.g., Laravel, Symfony, CodeIgniter), and building out functionality in WordPress websites.

Something to note: Though full stack developers work on front- and back-end tech, they might end up focusing on one side, depending on the role and company. If you want to put your PHP skills to the best use, get a good understanding of which side (front vs. back) the role leans before signing on.

Average US salary: $110,537

US city with the highest salary: Boston, MA (Average: $123,974 / Adjusted for cost of living: $110,213)

Web developer

Similar to a full stack developer, a web developer has expertise in both front- and back-end tech. A main difference between the two: web developers, though knowledgeable of both, generally specialize in front-end development and design.

Being a web developer, you’ll have a good grip on business needs, and work closely with developers and web designers to build out a website that fits client specifications. You may also create and implement graphics and content, test and debug as well as maintain websites once they’re up and running (e.g., updates, performance, speed).

Web development can involve programming on the server side, so naturally, PHP expertise is useful to have and can open the doors to more career opportunities down the road.

Average US salary: $71,246

US city with the highest salary: San Francisco, CA (Average: $104,127 / Adjusted for cost of living: $78,407)

PHP…Outdated? Perhaps. Dead? Not quite.

No programming language is perfect—not even the ones that are all the rage. The reality is, every language can rise and fall in popularity over time.

So whether you code in PHP because you genuinely enjoy it or use the language out of pure necessity, it’s still alive. And remember, while PHP popularity is down for talent at the moment, companies still need PHP developers (which means knowing PHP won’t limit your chances of landing a role—if anything, it’ll give your resume a boost).

*Methodology: analyzed the percentage change in the share of job postings with “PHP” in the job title over a two-year period from August 2017 to August 2019.

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