The advent of Node.js in 2009 means that comparing Javascript to PHP is no longer like comparing apples with oranges. JS has become a first-class citizen in the world of server-side coding.

Node’s event loop concurrency paradigm also means that Node.js code is asynchronous and non-blocking, compared to PHP which is synchronous and blocking. So Node.js code runs faster.

These days, you can do anything with JS that you can do with PHP, even connect to MySQL databases—not to mention PostgreSQL, Oracle, and many others. And doing it via Express.js means it can be done in minutes.

PHP accounts for 78% of all websites with server-side programming. WordPress is used in nearly 40% of all websites in the world. But PHP has been around since virtually the beginning of the World Wide Web and so has the advantage of an enormous head start.

But Node.js, although a latecomer to the race, is already raising eyebrows. Javascript is now the primary server-side language running eBay. Other giants such as Amazon, Netflix, and Yahoo!, have also chosen Node.js.

Javascript vs. PHP—when to use which one?

The benefits of using Javascript over PHP for a web project are numerous. These include:

  • Javascript is faster.
  • Coders only need to know one language instead of many to write both server and client-side code.
  • Excellent for real-time applications.
  • Much better for page responsiveness when dealing with enormous amounts of data.

When starting from scratch, JS is almost always the better choice.

In the following cases, PHP might be the better choice:

  • A stable version of the project already exists in PHP and has large existing support for it such as WordPress and Drupal.
  • You have extensive existing code written in PHP and are a small company that cannot afford to rewrite everything in JS.

Almost all web developers know some Javascript

Javascript knowledge is ubiquitous. Whereas Javascript developers don’t necessarily know PHP, it’s hard to find any web developer—whether PHP, ASP, Ruby, Java, etc.—who doesn’t know at least some Javascript. This makes the advanced aspects of the language easier to learn, and curious web developers can simply “jump in” and start fiddling with Node if they get curious, which developers often do.

Making development easier is the existence of solid and widely supported Javascript libraries and frameworks. These include Angular, React, Express, jQuery, and others. Amateur JS coders don’t need to know everything about closures initially, for example, they just need to know about each of the libraries to get started and pick up the rest as they become more confident.

The enormous PHP community and projects out there mean that PHP will not die easily. But open-source is open-source, and curious programmers might indeed get together and start creating a blogging platform written entirely in JS, just for the fun of it. If that happened (which it could—teenagers get bored and need things to do), then server-side JS would overtake PHP very quickly.

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