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What is PHP-5?

PHP 5 is the current major version release of the PHP scripting language. With v5, PHP isn't just for a bit of HTML templating. It's a full-fledged programming language. PHP is an interpreted language, or scripting language, used to build dynamic web sites and web applications. It has a long and storied history as the most popular language for web development, but it started a something quite a bit simpler.

Where did PHP start?

PHP started as a simple tool to help bring a bit of dynamic content into HTML files. This was way back in 1994, and it was called "Personal Home Page Tools" (PHP Tools). It was essentially a program written in C that let you embed variable content into HTML files.

This let you do things like this:

<h2><?php echo $post_title; ?></h2>

<?php echo $post_content; ?>

This might seem pretty simple now, but back in 1994 is was a big deal. The internet was really still in its infancy, and most people were hand-coding every page of a website (by hand!). The idea took off, and the pretty soon a handful of "personal home page tools" became the PHP language. Eventually, the name was recursively-backronymed to "PHP Hypertext Preprocessor."

Since then it has had several major rewrites and releases, lots and lots of new features added, and has become one of the most popular languages for web development. It is estimated that around 40% of websites are running at least some PHP code.

What is PHP exactly?

It's a programming language. It's an interpreted language, which means that PHP code isn't compiled into a binary executable, but rather is interpreted at run-time. This sort of language is also called a "scripting language," and some people refer to programs written in these types of languages as "scripts" rather than "programs."

It is still focused on the web, but is capable of doing a lot more than passing content variables into an HTML template. It is a full-scale language and can accomplish just about anything that any other language can do.

Why is PHP so popular?

Many people consider PHP very easy to read and write. For example, Mark Zuckerberg has said that one of the reasons Facebook uses PHP is that it is easy to get stuff done in PHP -- it is "good for hacking on."

On the other hand, proponents of other languages say similar things. A more likely explanation of its widespread use is WordPress.

WordPress is a Blogging and Content Management System. It powers over 23% of the websites on the internet. A lot of PHP developers got their start using WordPress, and its easy to go from tweaking WordPress themes to writing plugins, to building entire web applications.

The barrier to entry for PHP is fairly low, so a lot of people learn it. A lot of people learn it, so then a lot of project get started using it.

PHP grows up

Early versions of PHP weren't a complete language, and didn't support all the types of things you might normally want to do if you were building a web application. And there were performance issues.

That's what happens when you try to solve a specific problem. It takes a while to turn a specific solution into a generalized tool set, and even longer to turn it into a complete tool set.

But eventually it happened.

PHP 5

In 2004, PHP 5 was released. With PHP 5, many people believe that the language was now really, truly, a programming language in the full sense of the term.

The biggest change in PHP 5 was support for Object Oriented Programming.

PHP 5 and Object Oriented Programming

Object Oriented Programming (OOP) is a way of conceptualizing and writing a program, in which data objects contain both attributes and methods for interacting with those attributes, as well as with other objects.

An example of this in web development is a blog post. The attributes of a blog post might be its title, its author, it content, and so forth. Methods might include saving it to the database, editing its content, and displaying it on the page.

Even though OOP was invented in the 1960s, it didn't become mainstream for most programmers and programming languages until the mid 1990s. When PHP was invented, OOP was still a pretty new idea.

Ten years later, after four major version releases of PHP, Object Oriented Programming had become "the right way" to write software, and the minimal support for OOP concepts in PHP 4 just wasn't enough.

PHP 5 provided complete support for Object Orientation, along with a number of other improvements that really changed the way people write PHP programs, and allowed it to compete with other languages that had started to dominate 'serious' web development.

PHP 5 Hosting

Any modern web host should provide support for the latest version of PHP 5. This is so standard at this point that there is probably something fishy about a web hosting company that doesn't make PHP 5 available.

Additionally, there a number of PHP extensions and libraries that a particular application might need. Be sure to check if these are available from your host if the software you want to use requires them.

PHP 5 Frequently Asked Questions

Our Latest Blog Posts On PHP 5

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