PHP is considered amongst the most used and most popular scripting language used on the web. PHP stands for ‘Hypertext Preprocessor’ , and it is used in the development of web pages that require scripting functions not found within the basic HTML functions.

Devised in 1994 by programmer Rasmus Lerdorf, PHP goes beyond and supplements HTML in several ways. The script can perform complex calculations such as providing date ranges through to figuring out mathematical equations; it is adept at collecting user information such as address data; and crucially PHP interacts with databases, allowing for the creation of web pages that utilise database contents to create page content.

The changing face of PHP

PHP was publically released in 1995 with encouragement given to developers to help enhance and evolve the code. By 1997 PHP had extended beyond the serious developing community, and into the wider public domain. Simultaneously, the popular server, Apache, had emerged as the main implementation tool behind the rapidly expanding number of web sites populating the fast-growing Internet. The incorporation of PHP into the Apache module gave PHP3, as it became known, the core functionality and loveable usability that saw it power nearly 10% of all web sites found on the internet in the late 1990s.

By the year 2000, PHP had undergone another revolution, incorporating the Zend engine. PHP4 now uses this execution engine for more complex calculations such as Boolean type, and offered the added bonus of enhanced memory performance.

Since the breakthrough of PHP, the language has undergone several gestations. Perhaps the most notable example of the use of PHP comes in the shape of Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg and his programming peers were huge fans of PHP’s flexibility, and the website still uses this scripting foundation today.

PHP and the user

PHP’s popularity stems from its basic user friendliness. Simple adjustments to the code allow users to make dramatic changes to the shape of web pages and the information contained within them.

It is easy to read, and as a result easy to edit once a user develops basic proficiency. For example, some programming languages require several changes across documents to reach end goals. With PHP, the user simply edits within the PHP framework, saving time and reducing error rates.

In-keeping with the democratic quality inherent to PHP, tech bloggers frequently cite the quality level of support that working with PHP offers the user. Resources such as e-commerce applications and CMS platforms like Word Press all interact smoothly with the PHP programming language.

A hybrid future?

As if to confirm the website’s defining relationship with PHP, and their own status as coding pioneers in their own right, Facebook software engineers have spent the last couple of years focusing on a hybrid form of the script. Named ‘Hack’ and launched in spring 2014, the language isn’t considered a step away from PHP, rather a further development of the landmark script.

This new PHP hybrid focuses on providing developers with a platform that allows them to build websites of immense complexity, as well as develop new software. Crucially, Hack allows work to be carried out at speed, with fewer flaws whilst retaining that spirit of innovation that made PHP so beloved of the developing community.

Will Hack become a new force, perhaps independent of PHP? As a current open source, companies are able to test out the script and make decisions for themselves. However, as a website that serves over 1.2billion users globally when Facebook speaks, everybody listens. The focus for the future of PHP development is fixed firmly on the direction that Hack may take.