What is the difference between PHP and Node.js? Part : 1

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Both PHP and Node.js run server-side, and both are viable choices for building websites. But there are core differences between them.

First off, one is not better than the other. Let’s just get rid of that argument now. They suit different use cases, and often it makes sense to use both of them together on one site.

Now, on to the differences.

1. Maturity

PHP has been around for ages. This means that there are plenty of projects written in PHP, and plenty of PHP developers. It’s easy to get help to a tricky problem – it’s probably already been solved. Node.js is comparatively new to the game, so a lot of time you’ll be breaking new ground with it. It’s not a bad thing though, Node.js has learnt from the mistakes of other languages (including PHP), and had little legacy crud.

2. How they run

Node.js typically runs as its own server, and is pretty self-contained. With PHP, you’d run it with a web server like Apache or Nginx or one of the many others.

If you run a traditional Apache installation, you’ll discover that every connection gets a little Apache server that starts up to take care of that connection. This is great because whatever one user is doing doesn’t affect any other users. It’s not so great when your site starts getting hammered, and your server is grinding because it’s run out of pre-started servers and everything dies when you run out of memory. So to scale traditional PHP, you end up with lots of servers running through a load balancer, and then you struggle with session maintenance and other stuff.

Of course PHP does scale – there are lots of massive websites that use PHP. It just takes a little work.

Node.js runs one instance of the server and accepts all connections to this instance. This means it’s more memory efficient and quick to respond to lots and lots of connections. But it also means that anything that slows Node.js down, slows it down for *everyone*.

So say your app sends a “Thank you for signing up!” mail. In PHP, you’d just fire it off as part of the app, and the user might sit for a few seconds while your PHP app talks to mail servers, and the mail gets sent. It’s not great, but it’s unlikely you’re going to spend days coding an asynchronous way of sending a thank-you mail.

In Node.js, however, that thank-you mail will stop everyone using your app for a few seconds. If there are lots of people signing up, this becomes a total disaster.

So to deal with this, Node.js follows a very different coding style.

3. Coding style

So, obviously, Node.js is Javascript, and PHP is, er, PHP. For all the propaganda about one being superior to the other, they’re actually quite similar in syntax. But you need to shift the way you think quite substantially between the two.

PHP is very linear. Trying to multitask anything in PHP is a schlep. PHP isn’t good at it because it doesn’t have to be. Your whole system is multitasking with PHP, starting up and shutting down multiple Apache servers in milliseconds to deliver just one webpage. Apache does the multitasking for you. After they’ve done their jobs, those Apache servers die and go to web server heaven, where there is no XML.

Node.js is totally asynchronous. Pretty much everything is multitasking, which has its own challenges. You generally fire off a process, like sending a mail, and when it’s done it in turn fires off an event to tell your app it’s done. Your app, in the meantime, carries on working on everyone else’s requests. This stuff is hard to debug, and sometimes hard to architect. But mostly it’s just different from PHP.

So, when should you use one or the other?

Whenever you want! Your choice in technology is probably going to be dictated by whatever your lead developer is more comfortable in, what your service provider is willing to run, or other mundane operational considerations. If you’re lucky and you really have a choice, Node.js will probably have a bit of an edge where you have a lot of small connections. If you’re using a lot of Ajax on your pages, and doing a lot of asynchronous calls per page, or using websockets or similar long connections, Node.js will work better.

If you’ve got a complex, big, static page to deliver, or where you’ve got to crunch a lot of data, you’re probably better off with PHP.

Or be totally cool and use both at once. You’ll be like the lovechild between a biker and a hipster, and definitely sport an awesome beard.

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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:

Example: Printing ‘Hello World’ in PHP and Node.js

The following snippets compare the print ‘Hello World’ program in both the languages:

  • php:
  1. // Printing Hello GeeksforGeeks in PHP
  2. echo ‘Hello GeeksForGeeks’;
  • Node.js
  1. console.log(‘Hello GeeksForGeeks’);

Note: To run the Node.js code, please use the REPL environment.

Synchronous OR Asynchronous

Synchronous code executes line by line and proceeds to execute the next line of code when the current line has been executed.

Asynchronous code executes all the code at the same time.

  • PHP: PHP is synchronous but there are some APIs that behave asynchronously apart from the synchronous lot. The problem with being synchronous can be understood by a simple example. Suppose, the first line of code has a function that takes alot of time to execute. Now due to synchronous nature, the below lines of code has to wait for their turn and will execute only after the function is executed. This makes it slower and the user to wait.
  • Node.js: Node.js is asynchronous in nature which means the JavaScript engine runs through the entire code in one go and does not wait for a function to return. The lines of code below the function will execute and the function be executing too and will return the output once done and thus it make Node.js fast.

Note: Program can get stuck in a ‘callback hell’ if a lot of functions needs to be chained which might require piping data from one function to another. However, it can be resolved by Node.js as it has feature of Async/Await which can help a block of code execute synchronously.

CONTEXT SWITCHES

The Switch between different environments and languages is attributed to the drop of efficiency when writing code. Changing between multiple coding languages leads to drop in the efficiency of the programmer.

  • PHP:- Writing back end code in PHP, user continuously switches between different language and syntax. This is because PHP is predominantly used as part of LAMP stack which includes MySQL (for database), PHP (for server side code), and linux. All of them have different syntax plus good knowledge of HTML, CSS and Javascript is required.
  • Node.js:- Since Node.js is written in JavaScript, it makes both the sides server-side and client-side based on JavaScript so there is no need to switch between the languages. Javascript stack(MEAN or MERN) is better because the only coding language and syntax used is Javascript based.

MODULES:

  • PHP:- PHP uses module installing technologies like PEAR(a veteran package system), and Composer which is comaparatively new.
    • PEAR is a framework and distribution system for reusable PHP components.
    • Composer is a tool for dependency management in PHP. It allows users to declare the libraries on which the project depends and it will manage (install/update) them for user.
  • NODE.JS:- Node.js comes bundled with a package management system called NPM (Node Package Manager) and its registry which is easy to use and publish.

FRAMEWORKS:

  • PHP:-> PHP is a very popular server-side scripting language and has many frameworks which help in easy backend development. Some of them are Laravel, CodeIgniter, Cakephp, etc. These frameworks help in agile, robust and secure backend development of web applications.
  • Node.JS:-> Frameworks like Express and the full-stack MVC frameworks Meteor and Derby are the most popular. New frameworks keep popping up every now and then like koa.js, hapi, total.js, sails.js etc.

DATABASES:

  • PHP:-> PHP is used in collaboration with traditional/relational databases like MySQL, MariaDB, PostgreSQL, etc. However, there are ways to use NoSQL database systems with PHP too but they are not very popular.
  • NODE.JS:-> Node.js works perfectly with NoSQL (Not only SQL) databases like MongoDB, CouchDB and graph database systems like Neo4j. The NPM packages for almost all the databases are available on the npm registry.

Negative point PHP: MySQL database systems are especially prone to SQL injection attacks, Cross-side scripting(XSS) and others.

Negative point Node.js: Even though they are not that common, NoSQL injection attacks are a documented vulnerability. But compared to SQL injection, they are negligible. The major reason for this is that they are new and their code design is in such a way that they are inherently resistant to such attacks.

WEB SERVERS:

  • PHP: -> For versions prior to 5.4, LAMP and XAMPP(acronym for Cross-platform, Apache, MariaDB, PHP) servers had to be setup.
    But from v5.4, PHP comes with a built-in development server which can be used.
  • Node.js:-> Nodejs was developed for the network applications. It ships with some core modules like http, DNS, file system, etc. which helps to develop customized web servers. Some really popular frameworks for powering Node.js running web servers are Express.js, koa.js and Sails.js which can be setup by using only 4 lines of code at max.

Note: PHP should be used in applications in which client does not have to interact with the server again and again and Node.js should be used for the applications which require a lot of interaction between client and server.

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PHP:

  • PHP has a ready to install feature to use it on the server side.
  • PHP is powered by Zend engines.
  • PHP is much simpler to use compared to Node.js.
  • PHP uses it lesser than Node.js PHP makes use of json_encode() and json_decode() functions.
  • PHP uses multi-threaded blocking I/O to carry out multiple tasks to run parallels alongside each other.
  • PHP is synchronous.
  • PHP is slower than Node.js.
  • PHP runs on the Apache web server. It can also run on IIS web server in case of a windows machine.
  • A composer package manager is widely used.

Node.js:

  • Node.js is a runtime environment for Javascript on the server side.
  • Node.js is powered by Google’s V8 javascript engine.
  • Node.js is not too complex to use but requires more lines of coding and a basic understanding of closures and callback functions.
  • JSON works better with Node.js than PHP. Node.js uses JSON.stringify() and JSON.parse().
  • Node.js uses event-driven non-blocking I/O execution model.
  • Node.js is asynchronous.
  • Faster than PHP and also lightweight compared to PHP.
  • NPM does not need a web server, it runs on its own run time environment.
  • Node Package Manager (NPM) is widely used.

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