Node.js vs. PHP – Which is better for Backend development?

PHP and Node.js are both powerful backends for dynamic websites. They both fall under the same category, yet their features are quite distinct.

1. PHP

PHP (hypertext preprocessor) is a general purpose scripting language which has been designed for web development purpose. It was released in 1995, and ever since has been used as the first choice of language preference for content management systems like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla and a number of modern frameworks such as Laravel and Symphony.

2. Node.js

This is a javascript programming language that runs on the server. It is used to make web pages interactive and dynamic too. The emergence of Node.js in 2009 made it possible to perform asynchronous coding with Javascript.

Though both Node.js and PHP are both server side scripting languages, they are bound to have various similarities but there exists various dis-similarities as well between the two scripting languages. Let us explore the differences and similarities between them:

3. Similarities

These two technologies have some top – level similarities. They are as follows:

A. Interpreted languages

Both Node.js and PHP can be run in their runtime environments. Both PHP and Node.js are interpreted languages.

B. Viable Choices

Both PHP and Nodes.js are used to build websites and both are run on server-side. Different reasons make one more preferred over the other. Node.js is more extensive and faster compared to PHP which may make it a more viable choice. However, some programmers prefer PHP because it is easier to pick up than a Node.js and features an integrated database.

One is not better than the other. It is the uses that determine which one would be more preferable for use.

4. The difference between PHP and Node.js :

Runtime EnvironmentPHP has a ready to install feature to use it on the server sideNode.js is a runtime environment for Javascript on the server side.
Powered by two enginesPHP is powered by Zend enginesNode.js is powered by Google’s V8 javascript engine
Complexity of usePHP is much simpler to use compared to Node.js.Node.js is not too complex to use but requires more lines of coding and basic understanding of closures and callback functions
JSONPHP uses it lesser than Node.js PHP makes use of json_encode() and json_decode() functionsJSON works better with Node.js than PHP. Node.js uses JSON.stringify() and JSON.parse()
ConcurrencyPHP uses multi-threaded blocking I/O to carry out multiple tasks to run parallels alongside each otherNode.js uses event-driven non blocking I/O execution model
ExecutionPHP is synchronousNode.js is asynchronous
Execution SpeedPHP is slower than Node.jsFaster than PHP and also light weight compared to PHP.
Web ServerPHP runs on the Apache web server. It can also run on IIS web server in case of a windows machine.NPM does not need a web server, it runs on its own run time environment.
Package ManagerComposer package manager is widely used.Node Package Manager (NPM) is widely used.

5. When to use PHP or Node.js?

Both are great server technologies available for use. Deciding on which back end server- Node.js or PHP server depends completely on the nature of your project.

6. When to use PHP

A. Centralized Server

In case we do not plan on scaling our application across multiple servers we can use LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) stack. This might change depending on project requirements and growth.

B. Portability

PHP is a highly portable language. The cheap costs of web hosting and the availability of the servers for PHP is comparable to none. PHP can run on almost any platform that has Apache, IIS and a supported database system installed, this makes PHP applications portable and easy to deploy. CMS’s like WordPress, Drupal or Joomla make it easier to create websites and work on almost every web host. WordPress powers 30% of the web.

7. When to use Node.js

A. Same Language across the Stack

Node.js will be the correct choice to use if your project involves software stacks such as MEAN stack ( MongoDB, ExpressJs, AngularJs.), dynamic single page applications, server side technologies and Front end technologies like Angular Js, Backbone.Js or React Js. This makes it easier to have the same language (Javascript) across your whole stack. You can also use Typescript library of Node.js in case of an Angular project to make it easier for the developers.Mean stack is also easier to scale than LAMP stack across multiple servers.

B. Realtime Data

Node.js is great for applications that require real time data, however I would be skeptical about using Node.js for financial applications as Javascript itself is not reliable when it comes to numbers as everything is integer or float and not much separation is done between the types. A more type safe language is recommended when working on financial applications that require lot of computing or a library that is reliable enough.

C. Speed

As I mentioned before, Node.js is faster than PHP when it comes to execution speed, if speed is what you require for your application, such as a browser based multiplayer game or a chat application, Node.js is a great choice than PHP.

8. FAQs

What is better Node.js or PHP?

NodeJS and PHP have separate use cases and you should choose one according to the requirements of the project. If you are working on a project that will run on a central server and need portability, you should choose PHP. But if speed, real-time data analytics and dynamicity is your goal, you should definitely think of using NodeJS.

Can NodeJS replace PHP?

NodeJS and PHP are not there to replace each other. Both have their own uses. Though NodeJS might seem like a substitute for PHP but NodeJS won’t replace it. PHP’s portability and adaptability for web applications and websites cannot be replaced by NodeJS. At the same time, NodeJS is efficient in large requests. So, both are independent and exclusive when it comes to operations.

Why is PHP so bad?

The thing makes PHP great is ironically the disadvantage, too. Freedom to code without a structure can lead to the production of a lot of bad code with security loopholes. That’s why PHP is considered bad by many developers around the globe.

Is PHP losing popularity?

PHP was once a favorite among the developer community. But now, things are different. With rising popularity of languages such as Python, PHP is slowly losing its edge. The security issues with PHP along with the availability of better, scalable and secure alternatives like HHVM by Facebook in 2014 (Hack) has slowly reduced its usage over the years.

Can I use NodeJS with PHP?

Yes. You can use NodeJS with PHP. You will have to integrate Node with your PHP application to do so. You would need to configure several things to take advantage of Node’s Event-based architecture before fully integrating it for your PHP application.

Is Facebook still using PHP?

Yes. Facebook uses PHP even in 2020 but has its own configurations like a dedicated compiler to transform the native code on the web servers for a performance boost. It has also optimized Linux for performance optimization. So, it can be said that Facebook depends on PHP but with its own variations.