LearnPHP vs. JavaScript: Comparisons and Applications

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Dev Support
writes on November 28, 2022

PHP and JavaScript are two very popular programming languages and there are many web apps that use them both at the same time.

The main difference is that, while PHP is only for back-end development, JavaScript is used for front- and back-end development. Both of these languages are great options for aspiring web developers.

What is PHP?

PHP (PHP Hypertext Preprocessor) is an open source, general-purpose scripting language that’s used by the vast majority of websites today.

It can be used to create simple websites as well as full-fledged web applications because it can be easily combined with HTML to display dynamically generated information. This enables developers to build custom forms, manage web cookies, and integrate with third-party services via APIs.

PHP also supports a number of popular database management systems like MySQL and PostgreSQL. This has made PHP very popular for building web applications that require easy access to a lot of data, such as blogs and eCommerce sites. PHP also has many functions, extensions, and third-party packages.

Since PHP is a versatile programming language that has been around for a long time, it has a large open source community that supports it. Some of the most popular PHP web frameworks include Laravel and Symfony. These provide capabilities for building web applications faster and more easily.

A common tech stack for a web applications is LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP). LAMP became popular because it was one of the first open source tech stacks for the web.

PHP Syntax

The <?php ?> tag makes it very easy to combine PHP with HTML. Here’s a quick example of what the PHP syntax looks like:

<?php

    echo “Hey Treehouse Students!”;

?>

Example

Here’s a basic PHP program that will print the numbers 1 through 10:

<!DOCTYPE html>

<html>

<title>Treehouse PHP Example</title>

<body>

    <?php

     // Print numbers 1 to 10

     for( $n = 1; $n<= 10; $n++ ) {

          echo ($n . ” “);

     } 

    ?>

</body>

</html>

What is JavaScript?

JavaScript is a scripting language that was built to bring interactivity to the web.

Modern web applications combine HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to create responsive, single-page applications and memorable web experiences.

Today, JavaScript has become one of the most popular programming languages because it can be used for both front-end and back-end web development. With the introduction of Node.js, it became possible to execute JavaScript on back-end servers in addition to web browsers. This transformed JavaScript into a full-stack programming language.

Many widely used front-end technologies like React and Angular are built atop JavaScript, making it easier to create dynamic user interfaces for web applications.

A popular way to use JavaScript for back-end development is with a tech stack centered around Node.js. This makes JavaScript useful for full-stack web development with a tech stack like MEAN (MongoDB, Express, Angular, Node) or MERN (MongoDB, Express, React, Node).

JavaScript Syntax

The <script> tag makes it straightforward to embed JavaScript code into HTML. Here’s a quick example of what the JavaScript syntax looks like:

<script>

    document.write(“Hey Treehouse Students!”);

</script>

Example

Here’s a basic JavaScript program that will print the numbers 1 through 10:

<!DOCTYPE html>

<html>

<title>Treehouse JavaScript Example</title>

<body>

    <script>

        // Print numbers 1 to 10

        for(var n = 1; n <= 10; n++) {

            document.write(n + ” “);

        }

    </script>

</body>

</html>

PHP Use Cases

The most common use case for PHP is for server-side or back-end web development. That’s because it simplifies delivering dynamic content and data from a database to the front-end. Companies often choose PHP for building blogs, eCommerce, and other web apps that require a lot of database interaction.

PHP is also useful for working with many popular content management systems (CMSs) like Drupal, WordPress, and Joomla. There are many PHP developers that specialize in developing custom templates for websites built in the CMS. 

JavaScript Use Cases

JavaScript is mostly used in front-end development to make web pages dynamic. However, Node.js and other technologies enable JavaScript for back-end development. The majority of websites use this language because every web browser has an engine to run JavaScript code.

While web development is the most popular use case for JavaScript, it’s also used in mobile development. Hybrid and cross-platform mobile frameworks can build mobile apps for Android and iOS using a single JavaScript codebase, frameworks like React Native and Ionic. This makes it easier and faster to develop mobile apps that can run on any device.

PHP Advantages & Disadvantages

The advantages of PHP are:

  • Powers the back-end of the majority of websites and web apps
  • Useful for working with popular content management systems
  • Easily integrates with common database management systems

The disadvantages of PHP are:

  • Limited to back-end development only

JavaScript Advantages & Disadvantages

The advantages of JavaScript are:

  • Useful for both front-end and back-end development
  • A ubiquitous solution for powering web application front-ends
  • Enables the creation of single-page apps and dynamic web apps
  • Can be used to build mobile apps using hybrid/cross-platform frameworks

The disadvantage of JavaScript are:

  • JavaScript may be more difficult to learn (especially for back-end development)
  • Inconsistent cross-browser compatibility makes front-end development more difficult

PHP vs. JavaScript Comparison Chart

PHPJavaScript
Limited to back-end developmentUsed for both front-end and back-end development
The majority of websites use PHP for their back-endAlmost every website uses JavaScript for its front-end
Cannot execute within web browsersSupported by every major web browser
Only combines with HTMLIntegrates with HTML, AJAX, and XML
Integrates easily with popular database systemsRequires a runtime environment like Node.js to integrate with databases
PHP files have a .php extensionJavaScript files have a .js extension

Should I Start With PHP or JavaScript?

The first programming language you learn should be the one that interests you the most. This will help you stay motivated as you move on to more advanced programming concepts. Most programming languages share similar core concepts that make learning to code in any language a great choice. You’ll then be able to apply the programming skills you learn to nearly any other language in the future. 

It’s important to consider what type of applications you want to build and whether PHP or JavaScript is a viable option for that. Would you rather become a front-end, back-end, or full-stack developer?

Front-end: If you’re interested in becoming a front-end developer, the choice is easy: you’ll want to learn JavaScript. Many developers find JavaScript to be beginner-friendly because you can easily practice client-side programming and use the language directly within the browser console.

Back-end: PHP, on the other hand, is great for aspiring back-end developers because it’s so widely used for server-side applications. Since there’s a large ecosystem with a lot of educational resources available, it’s also considered easier to learn. However, between the two languages, the difference in the learning curve is minimal.

Full-stack: Many people even choose to learn both PHP and JavaScript to become full-stack developers. In this case, it makes sense to start with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Then you can move on to PHP to build full-stack web applications.

Still can’t decide which one to start with? Check out Treehouse’s Tracks for Beginning PHP and Beginning JavaScript.

Is It Worth Learning PHP?

You might still be wondering if you should learn PHP. Well, determining whether you should learn PHP or another language entirely depends on your goals as a developer. 

In general, PHP is worth learning if you want to get into server-side development and join an open source community that powers the majority of today’s websites and web apps. PHP is used by many global organizations like Facebook, Wikipedia, MailChimp, and Etsy, so there are a lot of job opportunities.

Kickstart Your Coding Journey With a Treehouse Free Trial

As you can see, PHP and JavaScript are both popular web languages that are usually used for different purposes. Choosing to learn one language over the other depends on whether you’d like to become a front-end, back-end, or full-stack web developer. 

Treehouse has dozens of Tracks you can choose from to learn popular programming languages, different software development stacks, and more. These are courses with curated roadmaps that take you from beginner to advanced.

You can also browse our library which offers a sample catalog of our courses, with plenty of PHP topics and JavaScript courses to browse.

Besides dozens of courses covering a variety of programming languages, Treehouse also offers a Techdegree for Full-Stack JavaScript Development. This online coding bootcamp gives you the real-world JavaScript skills you need to land a full-stack development role.

Begin your coding journey with a Treehouse Free Trial today.

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