NodeJS or PHP? Which One to Choose for Web Development

NodeJS or PHP

When you have to choose between Node.js vs PHP, how do you decide which one to use? Let’s find out!

Both PHP and Node.js are effective options for back-end development. And just like with other technologies, there’s a debate in the dev community when it comes to defining which of these is the best. 

On one side, we have the relatively newer technology Node.js that makes it possible and seamless to use JavaScript for backend and frontend development. On the other hand, we have PHP which has remained one of the most popular and used technologies of all time. So which of them is better? And how do you choose whether to use PHP or Node.js for your next project’s server-side development? 

In this comparison article, we will look at the two of them in-depth understanding their advantages and disadvantages and  comparing their:

  • Performance
  • Development
  • Database
  • Hosting
  • Execution speed
  • Practical application

But before any of that, let’s understand what Node.js and PHP are.

What is PHP? An Overview

PHP, an acronym for Hypertext Preprocessor, is an open-source server-side script language created in 1994 by Rasmus Lerdorf. Since its development, it has been a massive success. A recent survey, for example, revealed that PHP is used by 78.9% of all websites with a server-side programming language. 

In other words, nearly 8 out of 10 websites that you surf on the web use PHP one way or another. Plus, the ever-growing popularity of CMS (Content Management Systems) like WooCommerce, Shopify, WordPress, and Drupal displays how PHP has back-end development in its hands.

What is Node.js? An Overview 

Node.js is an open-source, cross-platform runtime environment that executes JavaScript code beyond the boundaries of a web browser and runs on the V8 engine. Node.js allows developers to use JavaScript to write command-line tools and server-side scripting (running server-side scripts to create dynamic web page content before sending the page to the visitor’s browser). The idea of Node.js is the unification of web application development using one programming language instead of different languages for client-side and server-side scripts. 

Ryan Dahl developed NodeJS in 2009 as a way of developing scalable and fast applications. It utilizes an event-driven, non-blocking I/O model. The technology is growing in popularity in the dev community very quickly, and some reputable brands have already taken advantage of the power provided by Nodejs. 

Node.js vs PHP: Which One’s Best for Web Development?

To know which one is best for web development in this PHP vs Node.js battle, we will compare both of them with the parameters mentioned in the introduction. Let’s get started. 

Node.js vs PHP: Performance

Performance is a metric that measures how code is written in Node.js or PHP and its behavior on KPIs such as seamlessness and page loads. High-performing technology results in a better outcome for your project’s performance using KPIs that strongly impact  user experience.

Comparing these two technologies, Node.js vs PHP, performance, certain projects and options, controlled by qualified developers, enable PHP to run faster than normal. For instance, Facebook created Hack, which was developed to be compatible with PHP. Hack aims to make your existing PHP code faster. And with PHP 8 featuring JIT, you can expect even faster speeds. However, Node.js performance is most times better. Though performance is also largely a result of the skills and experience of the developing team, Node.js provides several advantages over PHP in terms of performance that go beyond developer skill:

Fewer Dependencies

Every request to the PHP project has to be directed to a web server, and this runs the PHP interpreter that processes the code and serves it. Node.js, on the other hand, does not require that number of dependencies and even though you are using a server-side framework it’s lightweight and manages various aspects of the application. 

No Interpreter 

Node.js is more agile and smaller. This is a result of Google. The tech giant made a massive contribution to the JavaScript V8 engine’s performance. It’s worth stating that Node.js is a compiled language and PHP is an interpreted one. A compiled code can seamlessly be executed by the PC’s CPU. This means that the executable code is specified in the CPU’s native language. But the interpreted code has to be translated from its original format during execution into CPU machine instructions. This translation is implemented by an interpreter and it results in a slower working of the interpreter language. 

Event-Driven, Non-blocking Input/Output Stream

Most server-side languages, PHP inclusive, use a blocking model. This means when you request  information from a database, the request executes and finalizes the process before transitioning to the following statement. With Node.js, you don’t have to wait, rather you can create callback functions that listen to processes and execute them concurrently. 

Where PHP Shines

Though Node.js projects are faster than PHP, there are certain issues. The major one is that Node.js runs on 1 thread, and most web servers are multithreaded, which means they process requests in parallel. So writing asynchronous code has its unique challenges. 

Also, unlike Python or Java and other general-purpose programming languages, PHP was built mainly for the web. Because of this, it possesses all the required functions for working with servers, HTML, and databases. The comprehensive PHP language enables you to get by with minimal JS code on your front-end. 

Winner: Node.js wins the Node.js vs PHP performance battle as it offers better speed and a seamless and concurrent experience both for the developer and end-user.

Node.js vs PHP: Development 

PHP is purely a back-end programming language, and this makes its application use-cases quite limited. It technically belongs to the LAMP stack, an acronym for Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP/Perl/Python. So to test, build, manage or even design a functional web project, you have to be proficient enough in configuring and approaching different systems along with using CSS and HTML (otherwise, you will need to hire a team to handle the other areas). The potential of having to handle unique systems complicates the learning curve immensely. 

Regardless of the aforementioned issues though PHP is dynamically growing, with developers frequently coming up with new ideas to improve its functionality and features. 

Is Node.js any better than PHP here? It certainly has its advantages over the latter regarding  development, as Node.js brings together some of the required functionality under the cover of one seamless package with zero functionality fragmentation. 

So you’ll be able to use it to develop integral backend models, but you still require a reverse proxy like Nginx or Apache, an HTTP framework like Express.js, and a database such as MySQL. That said, JavaScript is a full-stack development language, which means that it is completely capable of developing a web or mobile application by itself with no other technology than JS.

But there’s more to the development battle. For most web developers, coding in PHP is a quicker option as it offers easier usability. A good PHP developer can code in the language at a significantly faster speed than with Node.js. This is primarily because there’s no need to use converters or compilers. PHP allows you to establish a connection to your SQL database without hosting restrictions or confinements. However, there’s a trade-off – PHP projects do not perform as fast as those developed with Node.js.

For Node.js the deployment of frameworks and applications seems a lot more like a complicated task; notwithstanding a written code under Node.js  executes more smoothly and rapidly as it ensures low server workloads. 

So while coding in PHP is a great option when you need a fast solution, or if you require a more complex, sustainable, and efficient output, go for Node.js. 

Winner:  Most experienced developers would say it’s a tie. However, the management system (NPM) gives Node.js additional development points, but their attributes are quite similar in this regard.

Node.js vs PHP: Database

PHP is usually used in collaboration with relational and traditional databases such as MariaDB, PostgreSQL, and MySQL. While you can use NoSQL database systems with PHP, these options aren’t very popular, and the processing time is both strenuous and extremely time-consuming. 

Node.js, on the other hand, works seamlessly and perfectly with NoSQL databases (not just SQL) such as CouchDB, MongoDB, as well as graph database systems like Neo4j. Plus, the NPM packages for nearly all the databases can be found on the npm registry. 

So what does this mean? MySQL database systems are particularly susceptible to cross-site scripting (XSS),  SQL injection attacks, and much more. So since PHP is typically used in collaboration with MySQL, projects you execute with the language may be vulnerable to such issues. On the flip side, Node.js works perfectly fine with NoSQL and the database; though it experiences injection attacks, they aren’t common and are almost negligible compared to SQL vulnerabilities. The primary reason is that it is new and their code design is built to make  them inherently resistant to such problems.

That said, PHP permits connection to nearly all database management systems such as mSQL, SQLite, etc. PHP can also be used with Redis, MongoDB, ElasticSearch, and other non-relational databases. So web developers aren’t restricted to using a specific database and have the choice of choosing the best one for the project, considering all necessary factors. 

Winner: NodeJS. In conclusion, if you intend to develop a scalable web project that will consistently and seamlessly pull data from relational, conventional, or NoSQL databases, Node.js is what you want to use. 

But if you want access to more database management systems options, PHP is the one to use. However, this implies a more tedious process if you decide to opt for non-relational and NoSQL databases. 

Node.js vs PHP: Hosting 

The hosting metric in this Node.js vs PHP comparison measures the range of compatibility the particular technology shares with or provides for different hosting service options. This is primarily because the number of available alternatives directly affects the hosting expenses. The security and speed of the web app have to also be considered when picking a host. 

For Node.js, you have a range of alternatives provided that help the technology perform competitively. 

It measures the range of compatibility that a technology platform shares with different hosting service providers. The number of alternatives available directly affects hosting expenses. The speed and security of the web app must also be considered while selecting a host. The organization that maintains Node.js (Joyent) provides a SmartOS system, which is excellent for performance enhancement, ease of deployment, and debugging. Also, with Nodejitsu and Heroku, it is seamless to use Node.js for a Platform-as-a-Service project.

PHP, on the other hand, is indirectly and directly powering nearly 80% of the web. Because of its insane reach, the technology is designed for compatibility with every major hosting service provider. Its LAMP stack also enables it to satisfy the needs of numerous servers. That said, the LAMP stack isn’t recommended as the most secure hosting tech stack. 

Winner:  PHP possesses broad compatibility with hosting service providers, but Node.js offers the same. So if you aren’t too bothered about security, you can choose either one for your web development project. There’s no major difference that’ll negatively affect your project.

Node.js vs PHP: Practical Application

Node.js is typically applied in a couple of places, such as multithreaded apps, web applications, browsers, and game servers. The technology is exceptionally great for creating dynamic one-page applications that work in a real-time, data-intensive manner, inclusive of distributed sessions across numerous devices: streaming services (Netflix), instant messengers (Slack), online education (Coursera), social networks (Twitter), fintech apps (PayPal), project management tools (Trello and Asana), gaming apps, live chats, and data-intensive IoT devices and apps, etc.  

PHP, on the other hand, is generally used for web-based projects. And since it is built as a completely backend-focused language, it can be seamlessly integrated with centralized servers, databases, and HTML. It is also the best pick for LAMP stack projects such as Apache, MySQL, and Linux. 

PHP is applied when you deal with CMS like Joomla, WordPress, etc. (these systems enable you to have your web project setup very quickly). PHP is also practically applied for building an eCommerce marketplace, effective websites, email marketing platforms, business or personal blogs. Some of the most notable PHP projects include MailChimp, Wikipedia, Yahoo, Tumblr, and Flickr, and they showcase the powerful results that can be achieved with a mix of PHP and a centralized server.

So there’s no winner here as their practical applications differ and are dependent on what you intend to develop.

Node.js vs PHP: Execution Speed

As we’ve already mentioned in this comparison, these technologies adhere to varying concepts when handling requests. PHP features asynchronous and slower code execution procedures. This means that all modules or functions are processed in the code specified order. 

So if a particular query isn’t executed, the subsequent one won’t get started until the previous one is finished. The process of code execution in PHP looks like the below:

  • PHP sends a request to the computer’s file system.
  • It waits until the file system opens and reads the request.
  • It sends the content to the client.
  • Processes the next code line or request.

Due to the V8 engine, asynchronous execution, and real-time server interaction, Node.js offers a better execution speed and certainly outperforms PHP.

Here’s how Node.js handles requests: 

  • Node.js sends a request to the computer’s file system.
  • Works on the subsequent request without waiting for the other one to finish.
  • When the requested file has been opened and read by the file system, the server sends the content to the client. 

This is what makes the execution speed of Node.js faster than that of PHP, as the latter offers a slower loading process. 

Winner: NodeJS as it cuts out the wait downtime and supplies real-time data effectively and efficiently, enabling the use of Node.js for load-intensive projects. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of NodeJs

Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of NodeJS. 

NodeJS Advantages

  • Node.js can process multiple functions and events in parallel.
  • This technology offers powerful agility as it is great for building any custom solution.
  • It uses JavaScript, so a single language is used throughout the whole application, including the backend and front-end, making  code operations very convenient. 
  • Due to containerization or microservices, architecture scalability can seamlessly be achieved. 
  • Its service calls are lighter than PHP calls.
  • NodeJS permits the establishment of a real-time client-server connection.
  • It provides the ease of working with JSON. 

NodeJS Disadvantages

  • Node.js is relatively new on the scene, so there are fewer support resources and a much smaller community. 
  • Content Management Systems do not provide support for it.
  • It isn’t suitable for managing big files. 
  • It is quite ineffective with web applications that render sophisticated graphics and cause a high CPU workload. 

web developer

Advantages and Disadvantages of PHP

Let’s see the strengths and limitations of PHP:

Advantages of PHP 

  • PHP works on nearly all servers and platforms. 
  • It supports countless CMSs, libraries, and frameworks. 
  • It is easy to configure the development environment and process. 
  • You don’t need a virtual server with SSH access to run PHP, unlike with Node.js.
  • The technology is one of the most sustainable, well-elaborated, and popular backend languages.
  • 80% of websites are built with PHP.. 
  • WordPress, the world’s most used CMS, uses PHP.
  • There’s a strong community of web developers who contribute to the growth of the language, auxiliary software, and training materials.
  • It is very easy to learn and quick to code. 
  • It requires fewer code lines and neat code syntax.
  • It is supported by many internet hosting service providers. 

Disadvantages of PHP

  • PHP is incapable of handling a huge number of applications.
  • It offers a slower operation than Node.js because it processes line by line, executing the following function only after the previous one (but there are solutions as mentioned in this piece to manage the issue and get the best PHP performance).
  • PHP is web-oriented, and it works only at the backend of your website. 
  • It is imperfect for debugging. This is even with in-built error highlighting tools. PHP lacks efficiency when it relates to discovering, filtering, and fixing code errors.

When to Use NodeJS? 

The right time to use NodeJS is when your project requires the features mentioned below as the technology will provide optimal value in such cases: 

Development Efficiency

If you are developing a dynamic one-page application, you may be using ExpressJS, AngularJS, or MongoDB.  Node.js is usually used in combination with this stack for seamless development and top-notch performance. 

Consistent Callback from Servers and High Speed

Web applications built using Node.js typically perform better when consistently sending requests to a server. The asynchronous architecture of Node.js enables non-blocking execution which is perfect for every project that requires speed. 

Real-time Data 

Because the data-transmission speed from the server to the client-side is top-notch, this technology is great for web projects that necessitate real-time data functionality.  Brands like Medium, LinkedIn, and Netflix have used Node.js for quite some time. And with these 3 organizations listed, you can easily notice a thread of consistent and fast connection, real-time data, and  as ease of development. 

When to Use PHP? 

PHP should be your go-to technology for your stack if your project requires the following features:

No Scaling Requirements and a Centralized Server

If your project requires that you allocate a particular centralized server to your web application that isn’t scaled across many servers, then PHP is the right language for your tech stack. You can also use it alongside MySQL, Apache, and Linux. 

Portability 

Though PHP focuses on the number of servers you can efficiently connect with, the technology provides you with amazing portability among servers. This means you can easily move your web application to any server that has IIS, Apache, and any other database support features. Also, if you use it with Content Management Systems such as Drupal, Joomla, or WordPress, you can have your website ready to go in no time. 

Final Decision: NodeJS or PHP?  

It’s impossible to pick one between Node.js vs PHP. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, so it’s not feasible for me or anyone to state a final verdict on the technology that outperforms the other. But what you do need to decide on is the one that is the best fit for your project.

To do so, simply pen down your product specifications and compare how NodeJS and PHP will work for it. Then choose the one that will execute your project optimally. Plus, you have to take into account the developers you’re working with. If they are better at using PHP, you may want to opt for it. Or if Node.js, then go for it. 

If you’re still unsure of what type of technical professional you need, we can help you. At DistantJob, as a remote recruitment agency we can help you find the talent you need in less than 2 weeks. Want to know more? Contact us. 

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Emmanuel Egeonu

Emmanuel Egeonu

Emmanuel Egeonu is a digital marketing consultant/writer that specializes in creating content for targeted traffic, landing pages, sales funnels, and website conversions. He has worked with leading influencers, several A-list celebrities, thought leaders, and Fortune 500 brands.