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What is PHP?
Unless you have a static HTML site, you'll need to use scripts and applications to serve up your website content. PHP stands for PHP Hypertext Processor, and it's designed to make dynamic websites easier to create. It's primarily available on Linux hosting plans.
If your blog or business website relies on a content management system (CMS) (like WordPress), or if you need to protect your site’s code and customer information behind a robust line of defense, you want a hosting provider that supports PHP. Its open-source code and versatility make it a popular offering for most providers. PHP installation and configuration can usually be found in the website control panel application provided by your host (such as cPanel), and should not add any additional cost to your hosting fees, but it’s always a good idea to confirm support for this (or any other) application with your host when choosing a plan.
How PHP Changed the Web
In the early days of the web, content was created in text editors using raw HTML. Occasionally, a page creator would throw in a bitmap image to liven things up. With the advent of PHP, websites became more dynamic, more responsive and faster to create.
PHP was originally rolled out in 1995, and the most important subsequent release was arguably version 5. In total, it took five years for PHP to become a common feature on hosting accounts. In PHP 5, there was a more sophisticated approach to object oriented programming, marking a leap forward in functionality and ease of use. Although some hosts do offer PHP 4 for legacy sites, it is no longer supported officially, and it's advisable to transition older websites to the newer version 5 or above.
At the time of writing, we're on version 5.x of PHP. The next version of PHP is likely to be number 7. Version 6 was abandoned due to various resource problems.
Why Use PHP?
PHP connects HTML pages to dynamic content from databases and multimedia applications, making it easy to create interactive content.
There are lots of reasons to use PHP to develop your site:
- It's favoured by beginners because it can be incorporated into HTML documents. The PHP interpreter will only read the items enclosed within delimiters. Everything else is processed as regular HTML. This makes it easy to add small dynamic chunks of code to an existing site
- It's a lightweight option that can be run on all kinds of hosting accounts
- PHP is free, so most hosts included it in their hosting plans
- It allows you to pull content from a database, meaning that one page template can be populated with different content
- PHP can't be read by the visitor, to it's ideal for secure applications, such as authorization and payment processing
- If it's not installed, you may be able to install it yourself through your control panel
- You need PHP for WordPress and many similar applications
Most hosting packages come with PHP support at no extra cost, plus a range of PHP scripts that you can install to enhance your website.
Learning PHP is simple; there are lots of little tutorials that will help you get started.
Linux vs Windows For PHP
PHP was originally written for Linux web servers, but it can now be installed on most operating systems and platforms. It's possible to run PHP version 5.3 and above on Windows servers offered via your hosting provider. However, there are a few secondary reasons why you might not choose Windows for PHP scripts:
- Historically, Linux and PHP are closely linked. Finding support for scripts running on Windows can be difficult
- There's more work involved for the hosting company, so they might not be so keen to support it
- Windows hosting usually costs more, so it's better not to choose it unless you have a particular reason
Linux powers the majority of sites on the web. Don't choose Windows if you don't need it for any other purpose, since Linux and PHP are a great combination.
PHP Terminology and Acronyms
When buying a hosting account for PHP support, you may come across some of the following terms and abbreviations:
- PHP is a recursive acronym. It stands for PHP Hypertext Processor. Originally, it stood for Personal Home Page
- Foo is a term used as a placeholder or wildcard. You'll see it on PHP forums, in working code and in examples online
- PEAR is the PHP Extension and Application Repository, a code library that simplifies and speeds up development
- LAMP, a common hosting set-up: Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP. LAMP is sometimes referred to as a stack, or a solution stack
- Zend is a software company that develops PHP applications. Its products include the Zend Engine, the driving force behind the execution of PHP code