This article compares PHP and Java as two of the most popular choices for a modern web developer and highlights the pros and cons of each in terms of speed, ease of development, and scope of application.
Overview of PHP and Java
For years, PHP had been an indisputable leader in the race for dominance in the web development arena. However, the emergence of multiple alternatives eventually made many programmers question its supremacy and even occasionally give it a scornful look when talking about complex application development.
Java, one of its main competitors, came from the enterprise world and quickly gained a wide following thanks to some of its powerful features. So what are the advantages of Java over PHP, if any? Is PHP faster than Java? Which is better? Let’s try to find out.
PHP stands for Hypertext Preprocessor, although it was formerly known as Personal Home Pages (back in the day when that was a thing). The first version of PHP was released in 1995 and has since become much more powerful and flexible. According to statistics, PHP is currently used by over 77% of all websites where the backend stack is known.
Some quick facts about PHP:
- PHP’s mascot is a blue elephant
- The latest version of PHP is 8.1, but many developers still prefer to stay on PHP 7 for stability and compatibility purposes
- The most popular PHP frameworks are Laravel, CodeIgniter, and Symfony
- PHP uses a mix of procedural and object-oriented programming
- PHP is free and open-source
The list of major websites and products built with PHP is truly gigantic and includes such big names as Facebook (yes, the almighty Facebook itself), Flickr, Wikipedia, Slack, Tumblr, Etsy, Wordpress, 9GAG, and many, many more.
Java is a general-purpose, object-oriented programming language that can be used for backend (server-side) and frontend (client-side) development, as well as for building mobile apps for the Android platform. Unlike PHP, which is an interpreted language, its code is compiled into bytecode, which is then executed by the Java Virtual Machine.
The language pioneered the WORA concept, which is an acronym of Write Once, Run Anywhere (also WORE — Write Once, Run Everywhere). This concept refers to Java’s intrinsic ability to run on any platform with the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) installed.
A few quick facts about Java:
- The technology could be called Oak, but that name was changed right before the release due to a copyright conflict
- The overwhelming majority of enterprises use Java for all of their software development needs, including web application development.
- Java gets downloaded over 1 billion times a year
- Java runs on more than 1 billion devices every day — mostly because Android uses lots of Java components and calls
Java (mostly in combination with other languages and technologies) powers some of the most complex eCommerce platforms and online services that we all know and use on a regular basis: Amazon, Uber, LinkedIn, Google and Android, Netflix and something that your kids probably can’t live without — Minecraft.
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PHP vs Java: Similarities
Although the two languages are quite different conceptually, there are some similarities between them that are worth noting:
- Both are open-source and free to download and use. Whether it’s Java or PHP, you can download the distribution package and start working on your dynamic web application right away.
- Both support object-oriented programming, although Java does it natively and PHP offers OOP support as an option only.
- Ease of learning. Most developers admit that Java is harder to learn, especially when it comes to some of its subsystems, such as JDBC. However, they are still in the same league in terms of technical difficulty.
- The day-to-day syntax of both languages is similar, which makes switching from PHP to Java (and back) pretty simple.
PHP and Java Comparison: Differences
The list of differences between Java and PHP is a bit longer:
|Strongly typed||Weakly typed|
|General-purpose language with client-side code execution||General-purpose server-side scripting language with a focus on web development|
|Runs on any platform where JVM is installed||Requires Apache Tomcat and PHP to be installed on the local machine or server|
|OOP is the default choice for developers||OOP is an option for developers|
|Java offers a variety of APIs for various purposes||PHP offers considerably fewer APIs|
|Higher security out of the box||Average security by default|
If we want to find out whether PHP is better than Java (or not), we will have to take a closer look at what’s similar and what’s different in these two languages. Let’s consider several key aspects of both, including ease of development, performance, and fitness for different purposes.
PHP VS Java: Performance
Years ago, when PHP was still relatively young, its performance was somewhat disappointing, especially in high-load projects with predictably high code complexity. However, the release of PHP 7 changed everything and gave the language the much-needed performance boost.
PHP 8 took it even further by introducing JIT (Just-In-Time) compilation, a feature that proved to be a valuable addition to the historically interpreted language and made the PHP 8 vs Java performance comparison even harder. The use of JIT compilation brought substantial performance gains in tasks that required a lot of mathematical calculations but resulted in fairly modest speed enhancements in general.
Being the number one language for enterprise applications, Java was built with speed and scalability in mind, which means that in most instances it is supposed to outperform PHP, especially in complex solutions with advanced features and elaborate architectures.
One reason is that Java code is precompiled and will run faster in most situations. Another important reason is that Java is a statically-typed language, which gives it a competitive edge in comparison with dynamically-typed scripting languages like PHP that spend a lot of time checking variable types at run-time instead of compile-time.
Conclusion: there is no clear winner here, because no synthetic benchmark can adequately simulate the real-life performance of a web application on a particular server and in a particular environment. We intentionally omit the topic of memory consumption, as memory usually comes cheap from any hosting company that you buy your VPS from.
However, when asked about the choice of PHP or Java for web development, most software engineers agree that performance-wise, modern versions of PHP are a great pick for building a website of moderate complexity.
When it comes to complex, multi-component enterprise systems, secure corporate portals, or solutions with heavy, real-time calculations running concurrently, Java will be a much better choice both in terms of performance and the number of tools/components you can choose from to achieve your goals.
PHP and Java: Which Programming Language is More Secure?
A lot of myths about PHP and its alleged lack of security date back to the olden days, when the language was still in its infancy and needed a bit of refinement in terms of security. By now, all of those issues have been taken care of and PHP can be considered just as secure as any other language in the market, including Java.
The only inherent vulnerability of PHP is that since it’s an interpreted language and it’s not compiled before execution, its code can be modified right on the server by anyone with sufficient access rights. Code injections are another source of threats, but PHP has enough built-in tools, as well as “secure” functions and operators to minimize security risks.
Java was initially constructed as a secure development platform with multiple code checks built into the compiler. The very fact that the code is compiled and not interpreted gives Java the edge right away.
Conclusion: in terms of security features, both languages are absolutely on par with today’s high standards, yet Java has a small lead. Java offers more built-in functionality right away, while PHP lets you achieve the same results with a little more effort. In the end, it all boils down to how effectively the developer can mitigate security risks.
Difference Between Java and PHP in Software Development Cost
Thanks to PHP’s global popularity, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding and hiring qualified developers. And their cost is likely to be lower than that of their Java peers. According to trusted sources, the average salary of a PHP developer in the United States is $87,857/year (and all the way up to $139,000/year).
There is always an opportunity to save on your budget and hire PHP developers from freelance platforms or, even better, acquire them from a competent outsourcing partner that will provide better processes, professional liability insurance, and extra confidence for you as a client.
According to statistics from Upwork, the average cost of Mid+/Senior PHP developers is between $30 and $45 per hour. In case of agencies, expect these rates to be higher by around 30%, as companies add an administrative overhead and a target margin on top of the cost of resources.
Java has traditionally leaned towards the enterprise sector, which means that the cost of such developers will be higher. According to market research data, Java developers in the US make $106,611/year on average.
And that’s not the end of the story. In addition to the cost of developers, you will be making payments to Oracle for each commercial development license.
Based on data from same source, Upwork, intermediate Java freelancers charge from $49/hour and above while advanced Java developers can be charging as much as $160/hour. Typical outsourcing companies charge between $50 and $100 per hour for Java engineers depending on their experience and skill set.
Conclusion: the PHP developer vs Java developer cost round goes to PHP.
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Java and PHP: Developer Tools
PHP has been around for nearly 3 decades and has always been widely popular among individual developers, web design agencies, and larger software development companies. That is why the market is full of high-quality IDEs and other relevant products. Some of the better-known ones include:
Integrated Development Environments (IDEs)
- Zend Studio
- Cloud 9
Testing and debugging tools
- New Relic APM
When it comes to Java, there is no shortage of great IDEs and development tools, either. The world of Java development is huge, with hundreds of companies competing for their place under the sun.
Some of the most notable tools and products used by Java developers are:
Integrated Development Environments (IDEs)
- IntelliJ IDEA
Testing and debugging tools
- Java VisualVM
- Oracle Java Mission Control
- NetBeans Profiler
Conclusion: the products mentioned above form just the very tip of the iceberg. There are countless other tools available from major software manufacturers, smaller teams or even individuals working on niche products. Therefore, it would be fair to say that there are no advantages of PHP over Java in terms of development tools — and the opposite is also true. It’s a solid draw.
PHP versus Java: Future Comparison
Neither of the two languages being compared here are showing signs of decline. Both are going strong in their respective areas. Apparently, competitors like Python and Node.js are creating a lot of pressure and claiming their share of the market, but PHP still remains a very strong player in the web development field.
For beginners, PHP is one of the best tools to kick-start a developer’s career — it’s free, easy to learn and popular among web development agencies that can become first employers. For experienced developers, PHP can be a fast lane to delivering high-quality, easily maintainable websites within a short time frame.
Java is also not going anywhere and remains in the top league of web development languages with massive industrial support and extremely high popularity among enterprise users.
EPAM Anywhere Business Experience in Using PHP and Java
Our company’s expertise spans multiple projects in PHP and Java completed over the years of our history. In each of these projects, our architects had to analyze the requirements and the expected business outcomes to solve the “Java vs PHP for web development” dilemma. The aspects that we always take into consideration include the following:
- Client’s existing infrastructure and tech stack
- Client’s in-house resources that can be potentially used for support and maintenance
- Current technology trends in specific market niche
- Projected solution complexity and architecture
- Expected website traffic
- Special project needs that a particular framework or third-party libraries could help address
- TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) for different versions of the solution
We strongly believe that for any task out there, there is the most appropriate tool or set of tools. In some projects, the benefits of using Java over PHP are obvious because of the sheer size and complexity of the solution or the specifics of its future use. That’s when we recommend that our clients hire Java developers with some QAs and a dedicated project manager to get the job done.
In other situations, while deciding between PHP vs Java for backend components, we often opt for PHP because of the higher speed of development, comfort for web designers, ease of making changes, and lower project costs.
We are not biased at all and will choose the technology that better solves the clients business needs, whether it’s PHP, Java, or something else.
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Let us take a look at what you have conceptually and provide some professional recommendations. Whether you have a rough feature list or a detailed spec sheet, it will do just fine for a free initial estimate.
The bottom line is that PHP and Java are closer to the status of being alternatives than they are competitors. Created for different purposes, they can both be used for building certain types of mainstream solutions. Both are mature languages with massive global communities and plenty of development tools.
If facing the choice between PHP and Java, use the following simple rules:
- Your website will run in relative isolation and not be a part of an enterprise ecosystem — go with PHP
- You are a startup that needs to go live ASAP on a budget and be able to quickly modify the website as the company evolves and pivots — go with PHP
- You are building a website with robust security features, advanced front-end functionality (such as real-time data streaming), multiple integrations, and complex data storage mechanisms — go with Java
- You are building a solution that will scale with your business and adapt to various cloud platforms and deployment models — Java should be your #1 choice
The ultimate decision between the two will depend on the specifics of a particular project and the priorities of its stakeholders. If you happen to be such a stakeholder, please don’t hesitate to contact us for professional recommendations and technical guidance — EPAM Anywhere Business is always at your disposal!