Node JS vs PHP

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Overview

NodeJS and PHP both are very popular and widely used technologies on the web. While PHP has been around for a few decades and is considered ideal for server-side scripting, NodeJS effectively satisfies the needs of modern web development. In this article, we’ll dive deep into their features, characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages and give a detailed comparison of NodeJS vs PHP to help you make an informed decision.

NodeJS Overview

NodeJS is Javascript’s run-time environment which includes everything you need to run a Javascript program outside of the browser. It was developed by Ryan Dahl in 2009 and is built on top of Google Chrome’s Javascript engine (V8 engine). NodeJS is an open-source, cross-platform runtime environment popularly used for building fast and scalable web applications. Additionally, it has a very comprehensive registry of various Javascript modules which makes developing web applications much easier. NodeJS uses the Javascript event loop for non-blocking I/O (Input/Output) which means that it can serve multiple requests in parallel and thus makes the application a lot more faster and efficient.

PHP Overview

PHP is a widely used server-side scripting language that is specifically designed for web development and can be embedded into HTML. PHP was developed by Rasmus Lerdorf in 1993. PHP initially stood for Personal Home Page, but now it is an acronym for Hypertext Preprocessor. PHP is open-source and platform-independent. PHP scripts have a .php extension. PHP powers more than 78% of all websites including behemoths like Facebook and Wikipedia. It is also used to build many Content Management Systems(CMSs) like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, etc. PHP boasts a huge community of developers, extensive documentation for beginners, and the flexibility to combine with many other programming languages.

Comparison NodeJS vs PHP

Before we assess the advantages and disadvantages of both technologies separately, let's take a closer look at the fundamental technological differences between NodeJS and PHP. Their design and syntax differ greatly because they were created more than 15 years apart, but with the recent updates, the difference has become less pronounced. Both languages are very well suited to current development standards. In this section, let's do a detailed comparison of NodeJS vs PHP based on different parameters.

CharacteristicNodeJSPHP
Scaling and loading on the serverTakes advantage of Javascript event loop to handle multiple concurrent requests.It is not as scalable as NodeJS.
Existing repository of frameworksUses NPM for installing and managing packages.Uses PEAR and Composer module installation systems.
CommunityHas a smaller but rapidly growing community when compared to PHP.Has a larger community owing to its legacy and popularity.
Starting upComes bundled with commonly used frameworks and modules.Earlier versions needed developers to set up servers. But PHP 7 comes with an inbuilt server.
Loading timeCan handle concurrent requests without compromising on performance.PHP 7 and later offer better performance.
SyntaxHas shorter syntax for common development tasks.Syntax is not very intuitive.
Modern featuresBuilt on top of the latest web standards.Lacks some features because of the limitations of the legacy architecture.
HostingRequires server with SSH connection for deployment.Wide compatibility with several hosting providers.
DatabaseSupports all types of databases and uses JSON for database integration.Has better support for relational databases.

Scaling and Load on the Server

NodeJS has an asynchronous, event-driven, and non-blocking architecture. It takes advantage of the Javascript event loop to handle parallel requests and does not block the execution of the Javascript code for I/O (Input/Output) operations. As a result of which, it can handle more concurrent requests from the client compared to PHP, and thus, it offers much better scalability.

Existing Repository of Frameworks

PEAR (PHP Extension and Application Repository) and Composer are two examples of module installation systems used by PHP. PEAR is a tool for reusable PHP components while Composer is used for managing libraries and packages in PHP projects. NodeJS comes bundled with NPM or Node Package Manager. It has a CLI(Command Line Interface) as well as an online registry for installing and managing packages in a Node project. NPM is easier to use compared to PHP modules which have to be downloaded and installed manually.

Community

PHP is used by more than 78% of websites, while NodeJS is used by a mere 2%. Thus, being so popular, PHP also has a very large community of developers who work willingly and actively to support any issues a newcomer might face which becomes more evident when you look at StackOverflow (a popular QnA website used by developers around the world). While there are more than 1.4 million questions for PHP, NodeJS has around 0.4 million. It’ll take NodeJS a few more years to establish this community size and support.

Starting Up

NodeJS comes bundled with many core modules for handling HTTP requests, filesystem operations, and performing DNS name resolutions. It has frameworks like Express.js, Hapi.js, Sails.js, etc which can be set up using 4-5 lines of code, and it helps in developing customized web servers with ease. PHP versions before v5.4 required the developer to download and set up XAMPP and LAMP servers. But the later versions of PHP come bundled with an inbuilt web server.

Loading Time

NodeJS being an asynchronous, non-blocking, and event-driven Javascript runtime, can easily handle simultaneous requests without compromising the performance of the application. Older versions of PHP lagged when compared to NodeJS, but with the recent improvements in PHP 7, it is almost on par with NodeJS but still lags in some CPU-bound tasks.

Syntax

If you’re not familiar with frontend web development or Javascript in general, the syntax of NodeJS might be a bit overwhelming in the beginning; but it does offer an upper hand over PHP by providing a shorter syntax for some common development tasks. Additionally, we can use it with Typescript for type checking which offers a much better development experience by avoiding logical and syntactical errors.

Modern Features

PHP is one of the oldest languages used in web development and it’s regularly updated to fit the latest web standards and stay relevant. That said, the language still has a legacy core architecture, and catching up to modern languages would need a very elaborate and complicated upgrade. NodeJS on the other hand uses the latest web architecture and is developed to suit modern development requirements.

Hosting

Due to its immense popularity and high adoption, PHP has wide compatibility with hosting providers compared to NodeJS. PHP doesn't require a virtual server with an SSH connection and its deployment is much faster and easier. On the other hand, to deploy a Node project, we need to create a complex virtual server infrastructure.

Database

PHP offers much better support for relational and conventional databases like MySQL, PostgreSQL, and MariaDB. However, it can be integrated with almost any database solution. Almost all existing web development solutions were adapted to fit PHP because it is used so widely. NodeJS also offers multiple database integrations and it uses JSON for database integration. Even though PHP can also be technically connected to JSON, NodeJS offers much better compatibility.

Advantages and Disadvantages of NodeJS

Advantages

  • NodeJS uses Javascript which is the most popular language used in web development. Also, it enables developers to use one single language in both the frontend and backend.
  • NodeJS has a very short time to market. It allows developers to quickly build and release new apps.
  • Since it can handle a large number of concurrent connections with high throughput, NodeJS applications are very easy to scale.
  • It supports a real-time connection between the server and the client.
  • NodeJS offers better JSON support. Unlike PHP, it does not convert JSON to binary models before storing, but instead, uses Javascript for easy data transfer
  • It comes bundled with the NPM package manager which provides various packages to help developers build web applications smoothly and quickly.
  • NodeJS is very flexible. It does not have any strict rules or hard dependencies which leaves space for creativity while developing applications.

Disadvantages

  • It does not support multi-threaded programming.
  • As NodeJS is single-threaded, despite its speed, it cannot handle web apps with heavy graphics and high CPU usage. This is because only one process can run on the main thread at a time, and running a CPU-intensive task will block the CPU for a long time which in turn blocks the event loop from processing asynchronous tasks, thus affecting the performance of the application.
  • When compared to PHP, NodeJS is relatively new, hence it has fewer support resources and a smaller developer community.

Advantages and Disadvantages of PHP

Advantages

  • PHP is more stable compared to other technologies. Since it has been around for a few decades and is so widely used, its maintainers have worked to make it more stable and reliable.
  • It is fairly easy to configure the development environment.
  • It has a very strong community of developers who contribute to the growth of the language and offer support resources.
  • Unlike NodeJS, we don't need a virtual server with SSH access to deploy the web server with PHP.
  • Due to its immense popularity, it is supported by a majority of hosting providers and database services.

Disadvantages

  • It does not support asynchronous code execution which causes performance and scalability issues.
  • It has very poor error handling. It is not capable of highlighting and filtering errors.
  • PHP uses the traditional client-server architecture, where a page request initiates an application, connects a database, and renders HTML, which makes it very inefficient.
  • It is difficult to implement the MVC(Model View Controller) architecture recommended for web applications with PHP because once the web page is loaded by the browser and the model is updated, it is not possible for the PHP server to update the view in the browser.

Conclusion

  • As with any web technology, both NodeJS and PHP have their advantages and disadvantages, both have been serving millions of websites and there’s no right or wrong when it comes to choosing a technology for building your web application.
  • It majorly depends on what problem you’re trying to solve and how the technology that you choose helps you achieve that.
  • So, instead of comparing NodeJS vs PHP and trying to evaluate which technology is superior to the other, you should first list down all the requirements of your project and then select the one that best suits your needs with minimum compromises.
  • In this process, also account for the expertise of the other developers in your team.
  • If your team is more skilled in one of them, then examine if you can mitigate or work with the potential drawbacks of that technology.