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What is PHP and What is it Used For?

Posted on by Freddy Reese | Updated:
Reading Time: 5 minutes

What is PHP?

PHP is a widely-used open source, general-purpose, server-side scripting language. It was released in 1995 by Rasmus Lerdorf and has since evolved into one of the most popular programming languages with a large community of developers worldwide. The abbreviation PHP originally stood for Personal Home Page but has since been changed to PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor.

What Language is PHP Written In? 

C is the primary language used to write PHP, a low-level programming language commonly used for system programming, embedded systems, and other applications requiring low-level control over hardware resources. There are a few reasons why the developers of PHP chose to use C as the language to implement PHP, such as performance, portability, access to system resources, and existing C codebase. 

Overall, however, writing PHP in C has been successful. PHP has become one of the world's most widely-used web programming languages, and its performance, portability, and access to system resources have all played a role in its success.

What is PHP Used For?

Here are some of the most common uses for PHP.

Dynamic Web Pages

Web designers often use PHP to create dynamic web pages. These pages can be made by embedding PHP code directly into HTML pages, allowing developers to create custom content based on user input or other variables. PHP is particularly well-suited for this type of application because it is easy to use and has good database connectivity support.

Content Management Systems (CMS)

Developers frequently use PHP to create content management systems (CMS) to manage websites and other online content. These systems typically offer users a web-based interface to create and edit content, with features like version control, workflow management, and user access controls. 

E-Commerce

Businesses commonly use PHP to build e-commerce platforms to sell products and services online. These platforms usually incorporate payment processing, shopping carts, and order management features.

Web-Based Software Applications

Developers commonly use PHP to develop web-based applications that manage data, automate workflows, and perform other tasks. 

How to Use PHP

To use PHP, you must first ensure your environment has it set up, including your PHP handler. On Windows, this is done through XAMPP, and on Linux servers, it will most likely be pre-installed. This section shows how to do it on your local desktop Ubuntu 22.04 distribution.

Step 1:

First, update the apt package manager with the latest repository information. Use the following commands to do so.

sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade

Step 2:

Check if PHP is already installed with the php -v command. The output will look similar to the following if it is not installed.

php -v
Command 'php' not found, but can be installed with:
sudo apt install php-cli     # version 2:8.1+92ubuntu1, or
sudo apt install php8.1-cli  # version 8.1.2-1ubuntu2.10

Step 3:

To install PHP, install it using apt with this command.

sudo apt install php

Step 4:

Recheck the PHP version. If the installation was successful, you would receive a similar output.

php -v
PHP 8.1.2-1ubuntu2.10 (cli) (built: Jan 16 2023 15:19:49) (NTS)
Copyright (c) The PHP Group
Zend Engine v4.1.2, Copyright (c) Zend Technologies
    with Zend OPcache v8.1.2-1ubuntu2.10, Copyright (c), by Zend Technologies

In some cases, you may need to update PHP, which is simple to do depending on your permissions.

PHP on Windows

To use PHP on Windows, you must have a WAMP (Windows, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) server running locally.

XAMPP (Cross-Platform, Apache, MySQL, PHP, and Perl) is another option that also works on all operating systems, and WAMP works only on Windows.

Examples of PHP Code

Here are some simple examples of PHP code.

Example 1:

The first example is a simple Hello World! script.

<?php
echo "Hello, World!";
?>

Use your favorite file editor to add the code into a file. For this tutorial, the filename is php hello. Once completed, you can execute it from your terminal using the following command. Replace <filename> with your actual file name.

php <filename>

The terminal outputs the result of your PHP code.

[root@vm php]# php hello
Hello, World!

Example 2:

This script uses the date() function to display the current date in the MM/DD/YYYY format. The file for this example is php date.

<?php
echo "Today is " . date("m/d/Y") . PHP_EOL;
?>

When running it, you get the current date.

[root@vm php]# php date
Today is 02/13/2023

PHP_EOL (End of Line) will output the newline character based on the operating system the script is running. This function ensures that the line break will work correctly in any environment.

Example 3:

The final example is connecting to an existing database on the server. If the connection is successful, it gives a confirmation output.

<?php
$servername = "localhost";
$username = "my_user";
$password = "my_password";
$dbname = "my_database";

// Create connection
$conn = new mysqli($servername, $username, $password, $dbname);

// Check connection
if ($conn->connect_error) {
  die("Connection failed: " . $conn->connect_error);
}
echo "Connected successfully";
?>

After changing the database credential variables to fit the test database and running the script, you can see it succeeded.

[root@vm php]# php database
Connected successfully

The Benefits of Using PHP

Easy to Learn and Use

This simplicity makes it a popular choice for web developers of all skill levels. Its syntax is similar to that of C and Java, meaning that developers familiar with those languages can also quickly learn PHP. You can start writing simple scripts in just a few hours. At the same time, it offers many advanced features for an experienced programmer.

Flexible

PHP is a highly flexible language that you can use for many tasks. You can embed it directly into HTML code, for example. Additionally, you can integrate PHP with other web-based technologies, such as CSS and JavaScript, which makes it a good choice for building complex web applications.

Support For Databases

This allows you to integrate it with popular databases like MySQL, Oracle Database, and PostgreSQL, which makes it well-suited for building web applications.

Open Source

Being open-source, PHP is freely available and can be used and modified by anyone. The advantage of this is that it makes PHP more affordable than other proprietary web development languages and tools.

Extensive Community and Ecosystem

PHP has a large and active community of developers who create and maintain a wide range of libraries, frameworks, and other tools to help developers build and deploy web applications faster and easier.

Where to Learn More About PHP

Many resources are available for those who want to learn more about PHP, from beginner-level tutorials to advanced courses and certifications.

Official PHP Documentation

The official PHP website (php.net) has a wealth of information about the language, including documentation on all of the built-in functions, extensions, tutorials, and examples. 

Online Courses

From beginner-level courses to more advanced ones, there are plenty of learning courses for PHP. Some of the most popular online course providers include Udemy and Coursera.

Books

Many books on PHP can help you learn the language. Some popular books are "PHP and MySQL for Dynamic Web Sites" by Larry Ullman and "Learning PHP, MySQL & JavaScript" by Robin Nixon.

PHP Communities

Many online communities dedicated to PHP, such as forums, chat rooms, and social media groups, are great places to ask questions, get help with specific problems, and connect with other PHP developers.

Conferences and Meetups

PHP conferences and meetups held worldwide can also provide opportunities to learn from experts, network with other developers, and stay current on the latest PHP trends and knowledge.

Conclusion

PHP is a popular and versatile server-side scripting language. Its ease of use, flexibility, and wide range of features make it a favorite among developers.

Now that you know what PHP is and what it is used for, put those skills into practice on one of Liquid Web’s VPS Hosting, Cloud Dedicated Server, or Dedicated Server options. You will find the right fit with several options preinstalled with PHP and different management options. Contact the sales team and get started.

Avatar for Freddy Reese

About the Author: Freddy Reese

Freddy works in the Liquid Web Managed Hosting Support team with a strong passion for all things related to Linux administration, cybersecurity, and aviation. In his free time, he likes to keep up with the latest news on topics ranging from fusion to space technologies. His hobbies include automating all kinds of stuff using Arduino/Raspberry Pi, learning and flying around in flight simulators, playing with his dog Chupko, swimming at nearby beaches, and staying physically and mentally healthy by going to the gym.

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