NodeJS vs PHP: Which Technology to Choose for Your Project

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Sergey Lobko-Lobanovsky
Chief Executive Officer, Geomotiv
Published: May 2, 2020

NodeJS and PHP are popular server-side technologies. They belong to the sphere of web development, but they can’t be used interchangeably. Different concepts and architectures stand behind those software development tools.

When you launch a project, you should know which software solution will suit for it best. It is essential to navigate through the set of features and characteristics in a highly divided world of back-end development. So let’s start with an overview of the two technologies. 

PHP Overview

PHP was developed as a server-side framework but can be used for other purposes. Its files can contain plain text, CSS, HTML, JavaScript, and PHP. One can combine it with HTML or HTML5, with PHP code executed on most web servers, including IIS, Apache etc.

PHP debuted in 1994 when it started to beat its contenders for web application development. Since then, the language became even more popular, powering 79% of websites in 2019 according to the survey conducted by W3Techs. These numbers are justified. This language is used by the largest CMS - Wordpress along with Shopify, Woocommerce, Drupal, etc.

If we analyze PHP performance on the market, we can note that the technology is dominating web development: 

Source: https://w3techs.com/technologies/market/programming_language/20

As we can see from the diagram above, popular server-side technologies occupy different positions in terms of popularity and website traffic. The best position is the upper right-hand side corner. This means that the technology is used by many websites with high traffic. 

PHP occupies the middle right-hand side on the diagram. It means that it generally powers many sites with average traffic. 

NodeJS Overview

NodeJS serves as a Javascript runtime environment. It allows you to execute the code on the side of the server. One can also define NodeJS as a server-side programming language. It is built on Google’s V8 JavaScript engine, which makes it suitable for creating fast real-time applications. NodeJS files contain solely Javascript code and have a .js extension. 

Launched in 2009, NodeJS is comparatively young. Yet tech giants like Microsoft or Paypal have recognized its potential. Users can build Javascript applications that can run independently without compatibility issues. With the NodeJS first program, Javascript significantly extended its functionality as a feature-rich scripting language. 

It’s easy to see that both technologies have a number of peculiarities. Now let's look at the main differences between PHP and NodeJS. We’ll compare them on a set of parameters:

  • Development
  • Code Execution
  • Databases
  • Speed
  • Application domain. 

Development

PHP

PHP development has a low entry barrier for developers. One deploys applications without having to resort to compilers or converters. PHP works seamlessly with SQL databases to access their data without restrictions. 

NodeJS

A basic understanding of callback functions and blockings is a crucial NodeJS requirement. Additionally, one has to set up server infrastructure to deploy certain frameworks and applications on NodeJS.

Code Execution

PHP

PHP is synchronous. If a previous line of code implies heavy computation, the below lines of code have to wait until it is finished. However, PHP code can use certain APIs that behave asynchronously. For that, PHP provides a host of extensions and packages. 

NodeJS

Asynchronous programming in NodeJS is faster than that of PHP. NodeJS can handle numerous simultaneous functions in one go. Code execution, however, can be stuck in a so-called “callback hell” when incoming requests are blocked until a previous computation is over. However, certain features like Async/Await have been developed to fix the issue.

Databases

PHP

PHP collaborates with traditional and relational databases. It provides ways to use NoSQL regardless of the engines applied. 

NodeJS

NodeJS relies on JSON to use a NoSQL database such as MongoDB. PHP projects can also go with JSON. Yet developers prefer to use Javascript instead of PHP. In this case, developers work with the same syntax for the browser and the server.

Speed

PHP

One doesn’t have to turn to JAR files or compilers to write code in PHP. However, as it was stated above, PHP isn’t able to process several requests at once due to its synchronous nature. This can affect the speed of application execution and increase the load on the server. 

NodeJS

Coding and compiling with NodeJS is more intricate and time-consuming. However, NodeJS shows faster performance than that of PHP. The NodeJS framework is powered by Chrome’s JavaScript Engine(V8). This ingine helps to create fast and scalable web applications. The callback function facilitates concurrent request processing.

Application Domain

PHP

PHP is generally used in the following application domains: 

  • As an integral part of a LAMP stack to deliver web applications and websites
  • As the primary language for building the majority of CMS
  • In high-load environments and CPU-intensive applications.

It is worth mentioning that our company used PHP in one of the projects dedicated to the development of custom services for real-time media buying. 

This project was engaged in the implementation of file exchange with the AWS S3 service, file analysis, and verification. The procedures were followed by the formation of a specific request to a third-party service. 

The choice of the PHP language was determined by the following factors:

  1. Presence of all the necessary libraries for working with the required services
  2. Low entry barrier
  3. Customer requirements.

PHP helped us to deliver the output that was completely synchronised with the client expectations.

NodeJS

As for NodeJS, it is widely used for:

  • Real-time, multi-user applications like chats, video streaming applications or collaboration tools
  • Scalable server-side applications without CPU intensive computation
  • SPA (Single Page Application) projects due to event-driven programming in NodeJS and its asynchronous nature.

Almost 6000 high-grade companies use the technology to power their apps and websites. We’ve mentioned several big names in the picture below:

Based on the data provided by https://stackshare.io/nodejs

The image demonstrates some distinguished examples of companies which use NodeJS in their tech stacks.

NodeJS gave us a boost in productivity when Geomotiv acted as a Dedicated Team for OTT Service. The project dealt with a high-load system able to process 8 million requests per minute. With NodeJS, the development process was fast and efficient. It was capable of handling the same amount of load together with ensuring the code’s scalability. 

Summing Up

Let's summarize and collect everything we talked about. In this article, we focused on the comparison between PHP and NodeJS. Our aim was to explain the differences between the two technologies and highlight their most important features. 

Among the most important criteria that should determine the choice between PHP and NodeJS are:

  • the complexity of development
  • the peculiarities of code execution
  • database restrictions
  • the speed of development 
  • typical application domains.

It is worth mentioning that there is no correct answer to the question which technology to choose. It depends on the features of the project, as well as on the preferences and knowledge of the development team.

PHP and NodeJS contribute to the development of better applications every day. Both server-side technologies shine in their respective application domains. Thus, these languages can help you create a perfect software solution for your needs.

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