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PHP: An Overview 17 April 2010

Posted by Helen in GeekSpeak, Resources, Tools & Tech.
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What is PHP?

PHP stands for PHP Hypertext Preprocessor, though it originally was an acronym for Personal HomePage: Rasmus Lerdorf developed PHP in 1994 as a way to monitor how many people viewed his online resume. It’s come a long way since then: if 1994 represented version 1.0, 2010 saw version 5.3.2.

PHP is a free, open-source programming language; it’s the P in LAMP. In 2008, it was used by 20 million websites and one-third of all web servers. It produces dynamic web pages — web pages that are unique to the user or continuously updated — and works with Apache modules in Macs or Linux operating systems or as a CGI script on Macs, Linux or Windows. PHP supports 3rd party databases, like MySQL or Microsoft’s SQL, and its competitors include ASP.NET and JSP.

PHP scripts are plain-text files with PHP instructions, which can be imbedded into HTML; the pages are treated similarly to HTML pages. Essentially, the programmer writes code, then the server reads the code and translates it to content. It’s analogous (in the terms of one book) to to telling someone how grill a burger without actually cooking it for them. However, while you would tell them how to cook a burger, the server might have coded in that the person, say, was a vegetarian, so the end product would be a veggie burger; PHP provides customized results.

How is it used?

Uses for PHP include feedback forms; e-commerce systems; user registration,  log-ins, and online dashboards; guest books; discussion forums and message boards.

Why is it important?

PHP  has a reputation for being clear and both easy to read and to de-bug, as well as flexible, scalable, and extensible. It’s faster than Java, with more options than C or Perl– though it is based on these two languages.  A strong advantage is that it allows developers to use files like GIFs, PNGs, and JPEGs. It’s especially useful for companies with lower budgets, because there are no licensing fees or expensive hardware involved.

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