Saturday, November 19, 2011

PHP sucks (but, some frameworks don't)

I started web development with PHP, and I've decided I've had enough. Why? Keep reading.

PHP (the language) sucks. There, I said it. 

  • 1029380128301928301823 Globals
  • Object system hacked on
  • C extension system sucks
  • Documentation sucks (read more; no, I'm not drunk)
  • Has a terrible community
  • All in all, designed by total idiots. 

You've probably heard this a ton of times before, but, here it is again. THERE ARE JUST WAY TOO MANY GLOBALS. Why in the world does md5() need to be global? Do you seriously use md5() in every single file?

This is also a common occurrence, why on the planet are things like the order of  haystack and needle the same everywhere? Is it really that hard to do?

All in all, the language lacks continuity; it lacks grace. It doesn't have any precise definitions for anything, there are always exceptions (a bit like the English language), unlike something like Python, which tries its best to be properly defined and easy to relay to someone. In my eyes, if a language has a simple grammar, but, it is still powerful enough for use, I consider it excellent (Lisp/Clojure comes to mind).

The Object System. Everyone's probably saying, "Hey! Its just like Java, what's wrong with it?!". Firstly, Java isn't the all-glorious object system everyone wants. Secondly, atleast most libraries and APIs in Java are based around objects and classes, whereas for PHP, its just a few bajillion globals, with classes if anyone wants to use them (which new programmers conveniently ignore because they can, and it leads to projects with a few hundred functions, and no classes and everything held together with <?require's and <?include's and global mutable state).

Another horrific massacre is the C extension system for PHP. If you haven't tried (I have), don't do it, you'll regret it in your later years when macros will show up as nightmares. It shows you that the interpreter is this humongous blob of macros, held together by large if-else statements and switch'es, and it also tells you that you have to deal with this if you want to get any work done with the so-called "API". And, there's all this stuff that's dependent on Zend, and if they change their mind about something in the API, it all comes crashing down on you. Almost NOTHING is optimized. The things that have been optimized turn out to be this convoluted mess of unnecessary variables and unused heap space.

Documentation. Everyone seems to be telling me that the documentation for PHP is absolutely wonderful. When I type in "php mysql" into google, I get Which would be all fine and dandy if I was a new web developer that just needed to get my darn code to connect to mysql, but, dig deeper and you'll find out that this actually references the dangerous "mysql_" set of functions, which should have never been invented, and everyone should have been using PDO instead. Of course, the documentation doesn't tell me ANY of this, and just tells me how to install it, and how to go about making dangerous commands to MySQL. And, the comments on the documentation contain possibly the worst code that has ever put foot on planet earth, and newbies (especially on #php on Freenode) use them quite freely and get very confused and disappointed when their website gets hacked, or the code refuses to work when another user is running, etc.

The community is also terrible. Every time I try to tell someone that they should maybe put the cryptographic functions in their own class, they (basically) accuse me of heresy and remind me what the Spanish Inquisition did to heretics. The community loves newbies, definitely, but, the people who aren't experts with PHP end up giving really bad advice (like not using PDO because its too complicated for small projects), and the ignorance just keeps spreading.

If you look at the interpreter code, it'll be quite obvious why I say my last bullet point. The lexing code has a ton of repeated rules, crap that's never actually used in the parse tree and even more inconsistencies that are defaulted, and, whenever an elegant solution is possible the code is instead splattered with regular expressions. The parser gets even worse in this regard, with part of the lexing done in the parser.

Now, here's another statement I'm making about PHP.

(some of) PHP's frameworks and their developers are excellent.

A good example is Kohana ( This framework is well thought out, expressive, and easy to use. Takes a couple of hours to learn and gives you full MVC out of the box, with database connectivity and everything. The developers really know what they're doing, and they try to make sure that Kohana is top quality code and stays well maintained. These developers have climbed the difficult hills of PHP with all its intricacies, and have come out victorious and you can see that in their code.

But, that still doesn't cut it for me.

Its a bit like trying to build the Eiffel Tower on top of a wooden log house. Yes, the eiffel tower is a great feat of engineering, but, its built on a log house, you can't expect it to be too stable. That's the case here, Kohana is AWESOME, but, its built on PHP, and I'd still be much more productive in Python or Ruby or maybe even Perl!

What's the alternative?

I highly suggest Python and Flask ( as an excellent combination for beginners, and Django for more experienced Python developers.

There are also many other options, such as Ruby on Rails (I like this too, but, the lack of documentation sort of makes it difficult for me), Node.JS, Web::Simple (for Perl, not too popular, but excellent, IMO), etc. etc.

Stay away from PHP if you're a freelancer if $10/hr seems bad

Because PHP has such a low barrier for entry, there are hordes of terrible developers that are up for hire on websites such as, and others. They sink to bottom prices, deliver terrible quality work, and there's thousands of them.

There's this funny story that I usually use to give an example. Before I realized I wouldn't make any money, I used to be quite active on, usually bidding on PHP projects. For one such project (it basically consisted of writing PHP for a AJAX app that needed to continuously poll), I bid $\$150$ (which is quite low for all the code I had to write, about $\$15$/hr), and there was another man (who had not-so-good ratings), who said he would do it for $\$40$. I warned the employer that he would not do the job properly, and you'd have to hire someone for a rewrite of the code, but, he (obviously) disregarded my arguments, and hired the $\$40$ guy. And, what happened? The $\$40$ guy procrastinated and delayed, wrote a bunch of crap code that basically checked the server every 10 seconds for this static file, which he modified with this Perl script that he set up a cronjob for, and it was overall a terrible hackjob. After 2 weeks, the employer had to hire again (he did hire me this time around).

Because of these types of scenarios, its very difficult to do well as a freelancer in PHP, IMHO.

So, I'm moving away from PHP to greener pastures, and I hopefully won't have to come back.


  1. You only see the disatvantages but you forget the most important thing in software development, shipping.

    Php has lots of libraries, huge community and is very easy to use even if it has some problems, it allows you to solve your problems quick and launch, and that is more important than some small syntax problems.
    In web development is very important to launch fast and php really helps here.

    And this is exactly why there is so much php criticism but php stil remains popular.

  2. The problem is, even if you get a shipment done quickly, the next shipment will be pushed back much farther than needed because you have to deal with all this crap from PHP.

    I think the reason why PHP remains popular is because

    a) Very easy/cheap to get programmers (like Java)
    b) Change happens slowly, esp. when big corporations like Facebook and Wikipedia use PHP

  3. PHP has not nearly as many libraries as Perl

  4. Thanks for the feedback, everyone :)

    @Gatesben: is that in response to the blog post, or one of the comments?

  5. PHP has one of the very best documentations out there (most haters even acknowledge this) The community sucks? Why because you aren't part of the community? I agree that a lot of beginners produce crap but to say the language sucks and blah etc, is ridiculous. From what you have posted here, I can apply what you said to every other language in existence today

  6. @Jason

    The documentation is great, except when it tells people to use the extremely dangerous mysqli set of functions.

    I was part of the community for a large period of time, and what I say comes from my experience (although you might not have had the same).

    You can't apply "1203810238912039812 globals" to most languages today, and same with "C extensions suck" and "object system hacked on".

    However, I still code in CakePHP and such, and I find it WONDERFUL, but, I refrain from coding in pure PHP as far as possible.

  7. Mainly documentation is used to enable every user to understand the related things properly.

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