PHP or Java—which language is right for your software project?
PHP is one of the most mature, ubiquitous server-side scripts on the web. Java is a general purpose, compiled programming language designed with one mantra in mind—”write once, run anywhere.” Both power dynamic web applications and sites, with their own strengths and nuances.
Once you choose a language for your software project, it can be pretty difficult to change gears unless you perform a major overhaul down the line. That’s why choosing the right language up front is imperative to building a scalable, successful site that accomplishes your business goals.
You’ve probably done a little research into the right language, but it can be difficult for someone without software development expertise to determine which one is right. Here’s a look at two of the most popular programming languages, Java and PHP. A software developer can help you best decide between the two based on your project, but here are some basics to help you make the right decision.
What is Java?
Java was designed as a general purpose programming language for building standalone applications. When Java was released by Sun in 1991, it was initially being used to program consumer electronics like VCRs.
Java is a compiled language, so when you compile the code it’s turned to intermediate binary for the specific operating system running your software. Its applications are compiled into bytecode that can run on implementations of the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). The JVM helps bridge the gap between source code and the 1s and 0s that the computer understands. Any machine that has the JVM installed can run Java.
In development, Java is primarily a server-side language for the web and the programming language of choice for mobile development on the Android platform. It also still has a decent presence on the front-end as a Java applet, although this is falling out of favor due to security concerns.
What is PHP?
PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) is a general-purpose scripting language that quickly became the de facto server-side language of choice for web developers after its initial release in 1995. It’s got an advantage in that it was designed and created for the web, versus languages that were adapted to the web (like Ruby or Python). Today, a majority of websites run on PHP, and PHP programmers are still in high demand thanks to its role as the foundation for content management systems (CMS) like WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla and a number of modern frameworks like Laravel, Symfony, and CakePHP that have accelerated development with this mature language.
PHP and Java Differences
Let’s take a closer look at some of the major differences between these two languages.
- Compiled vs. Interpreted. Java is considered a compiled programming language. This allows it to run on any operating system regardless of where it was written. The difference is in the implementation: Java is compiled into bytecode and run on a virtual machine. PHP is what you call an interpreted language, or “script”—the code can be run as-is in their respective runtime environments (i.e., the server). While there’s a lot of nuance to the compiled vs. interpreted debate, it is generally true that scripts are much easier to use and favor programmer productivity.
- Memory safe. Java is a memory-safe language, which means if you attempt to assign values outside of the given array parameters, the programmer receives an error.
- Static vs. Dynamic Type Checking. Java uses static type checking, where the type of a variable is checked at compile-time. The programmer must specify the type (integer, double, string, etc.) of any variable they create. There are many pros and cons for these two paradigms, but the primary advantage of static type checking is that type errors are caught early in development, and because the compiler knows exactly what data types are being used, code typically executes faster or uses less memory. The primary advantage of dynamic type checking is programmer productivity—you are free to assign types at your leisure.
- Concurrency. This is the language’s ability to handle the execution of several instruction sequences at the same time. Java makes use of multiple threads to perform tasks in parallel. PHP, like most server-side languages, uses multi-threaded, blocking I/O to carry out multiple tasks in parallel. For most use-cases, both methods work just fine, but Java is generally faster because thread to thread memory sharing much faster than interprocess communication (IPC). PHP has been around the block for a while though and has found its own way to achieve asynchronous processing—most notably through the HHVM project released by Facebook.
- Class-Based vs. Prototype Based. Java follows class based inheritance—a top-down, hierarchical, class-based relationship whereby properties are defined in a class and inherited by an instance of that class (one of its members).
PHP vs. Java: Major Similarities
Let’s take a closer look at some of the major similarities between these two languages.
- Back-End Development. Both languages are used on the server-side. Java has long been used to power back-end technologies like Apache, JBoss, and WebSphere.
- Syntax. Looping structures, classes, defining variables, and conditional operators are very similar in both languages. This makes it easy for developers to work cross-platform should you have several projects that use both languages.
- Entry points. When your program starts, the compiler or interpreter looks for where it needs to begin execution.
- Object-Oriented Programming (OOP). Neither language is “fully” object-oriented, but both languages have access to techniques like inheritance, encapsulation, and polymorphism. The benefit? Object-oriented languages make your program much more modular so you can reuse code for other programs.
Should I Use PHP or Java for my Next Project?
As with all languages, the choice really boils down to what you’re trying to build and what resources you have at your disposal.
You should consider Java if your project involves…
- Android Apps
- Enterprise Software
- Scientific Computing
- Big Data Analytics
- General Purpose Programming of Hardware
- Server-Side Technologies like Apache, JBoss, Geronimo, GlassFish, etc.
You should consider PHP if your project involves…
- Software stacks like the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP)
- CMS’s like WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla etc.
- Servers like MySQL, SQL, MariaDB, Oracle, Sybase, and Postgresql etc.
Both Java and PHP are excellent foundations for a wide variety of software. Which language you choose to use will be determined by what you want to be developed.
You can manipulate hardware with Java, but it’s not a common language for low-level programming since it’s a “safer” language. Because Java won’t allow you to perform certain functions to protect the PC, it’s preferred for higher level applications.
The best way to make a firm decision is to post your project and ask developers for their opinions. They can tell you which language is right for your project to help guide you to the right solution.