PHP vs Python

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Compared as Languages[edit]

Both PHP and Python:[edit]

  • are general purpose programming language (not just for the web, PHP was originally)
  • are interpreted, high level languages with dynamic typing
  • are OpenSource (except where various Zend products, recommended by some, are employed)
  • are supported by large developer communities
  • are easy to learn (compared to Java, and even Perl)
  • are easy to extend in C, C++ and Java
  • are extremely portable. They run on almost all platforms in existence without recompilation.
    • both are scripting languages... they *do not* need recompilation.
  • support for variable number of function arguments.
  • have the ability to freeze live objects in a string representation (for storing arbitrary objects on disk, moving them over the network, etc); they can then be converted back to identical objects with data intact. PHP's serialize function; Python's pickle and marshal modules. Note that PHP, handling of serialized objects and classes is much weaker and error prone than Python's due to PHP's lack of modules. When an object is serialized, only its attributes are stored, not its methods. Thus, the object's class must be present (with the exact same name) in the script that unserializes it. In Python this is handled automatically via the module/import framework. (this COULD be handled with PHP 5's autoload(), but is not done automatically)
  • are self documenting
    • python with docstrings and pydoc
    • PHP with reflection and doc strings

Both PHP and Python have:[edit]

  • the ternary operator/statement (... ? ... : ...) for PHP, conditional expressions since Python 2.5.
  • namespaces
  • classes are used extensively in the standard library
  • a notion of private attributes
  • object-oriented file handling
  • method chaining (In PHP it is called fluent interface)
  • have introspection
  • have references (differently implemented though)
  • iterators
  • structured exception handling
  • operator overloading
    • In PHP you can use runkit extension to emulate the same feature
  • SWIG integration
  • threading
  • an excellent profiler
    • for PHP, XDebug, a debugging and profiling extension, that supports both PHP4 and PHP5 is extremely popular
  • several debuggers and IDEs
  • lots of high-level data types (lists, tuples, dicts, mx.DateTimes, NumPy arrays, etc.)
  • differentiation between arrays (lists) and associative arrays (dictionaries).
    • PHP array is more flexible. In case developer want a true array, just use FixedArray in PHP SPL
  • cached byte-code compilation
  • a standardized database API
  • support for all major GUI frameworks
  • strong internationalization and UNICODE support
    • PHP 6 will include Unicode support built-in. This feature is available in PHP5.2 and PHP5.3 via intl extension which can be found at

What does PHP have that Python doesn't?[edit]

  • syntax from C and Perl, with lots curly braces and dollar signs
  • the 'switch' statement and 'do ... while' construct
  • increment and decrement and assignment operators (assignment is a statement only in Python)
  • a very casual language where all variables are "set" (to NULL), and a somewhat weak type system (not to be confused with dynamic types)
  • an expedient (commonly installed) environment
  • references ('$a =& $b' means that when $b changes, $a changes also)
  • one array type that doubles as a list and a dictionary. Dictionary keys are iterated in their original order.
  • private, protected and public modifiers for both properties and methods
  • abstract and final modifiers for both classes and methods
  • interfaces
  • Curly braces to mark out block structure, specially useful for embedding HTML code and improve readability in some cases.
  • Support for true PPP (private, public, protected) in classes.
  • Supports Trail that is more flexible, PHP users say, than multiple inheritance.

What does Python have that PHP doesn't?[edit]

  • a small core (Explanation needed)
  • very clear, concise, and orthogonal syntax (Explanation needed)
  • keyword arguments to functions and methods, easy support for default arguments
  • multiple inheritance
  • case sensitivity for functions and variables.
    • Retort: PHP is also case sensitive.
  • maturity, stability and upward-compatibility
    • Retort: PHP is stable, mature and up/backward-compatible
      • Counter-retort: in general PHP applications must be ported between PHP 4, PHP 5 and future PHP 6 with Unicode
        • Retort: Not true, PHP4 can run seamlessly in PHP5 runtime engine (99%). As for PHP6, the same. In Python, if you want to break your application, run it in Python 3.0
      • Counter-retort: As for maturity... "Age is not an accomplishment"
  • importing modules is safer than textually including code as in PHP: global variables are not used to exchange information.

Compared as Web Development Frameworks[edit]

Unlike PHP, which has web development features built directly into the core language, Python's web development capabilites are provided by add-on modules. Basic CGI capabilities are provided by the 'cgi' module which comes in Python's standard library. There's also a wide range of third-party modules available for Python; some are complementary, others compete. As a result, Python provides a more flexible base for web development.

There are some adverse side effects of this flexibility. First, the range of choices can be bewildering. Unless you are working experienced Python web developers, PHP is easier to get started with. Second, support for PHP is more common with shared-hosting companies than support for the various Python options.

Another difference is that PHP is embedded in the web server, whereas Python web applications can either be embedded in the web server like PHP or run in a separate process. Here's a simple classification of Python web development platforms:

  • emdedded in the web server process
    • Apache modules (eg. mod_python) embed the Python interpreter in Apache and allow other Apache modules to be written with Python. This is the same idea as mod_perl.
    • PyWX is an extension to AOLServer that serves the same purpose as the Apache modules above.
    • MS ASP scripts can be written using Python via Active Scripting Host.
  • running in a separate process
    • non-persistent process (a new process is spawned for each request)
      • custom CGI scripts
    • persistent process (all requests are sent from the web server to one persistent process)
      • custom Fast-CGI scripts
      • 'Application Servers' (eg. Zope, Webware, SkunkWeb)

(Note: PHP programs can be run standalone or as ordinary CGI scripts. However, when called indirectly from the web (eg. from a Perl CGI script), it requires unsetting an undocumented number of web environment variables so that PHP doesn't think it's running from the web and look in the wrong place for the script. Likewise, it's possible to write a long-running server in PHP, but there are precious few examples of it.)

The vast majority of Python Web applications are run in a separate process. This has some important implications.


Community Support[edit]


  • huge installed user base, but the figures are probably distorted by shared hosting
  • low signal-to-noise ratio -- because PHP is so expedient, many of the users are not invested in the technology (or even their own code) or the community


  • sizable, but not huge, installed user base
  • Python Software Foundation
  • lots of specialized interest groups
  • very high signal-to-noise ratio

Commercial Support[edit]



See the CommercialServices page for more information.


Although both PHP and Python have excellent core documentation, Python's is more extensive and generally higher quality. PHP has a large number of translations available. Python doesn't. For PHP see and for Python see Python allows documentation on modules, classes, and functions to be included in the program code. The documentation becomes an attribute of the module/class/function, accessible from inside of the language itself. Python manual is really awfully structurized and presented compared to PHP manual, which uses cross-links, a lot of colorized examples and invaluable user comments to make it easier to comprehend the magic. PHP manual merges different versions of the language together making it a little bit bloated.

Editorial Notes[edit]

Given the copy-and-paste origins of this document, along with the age of the original document, the text has been somewhat incoherent. Several changes have since been made to tidy up the text, drop redundant content (old comments which can be viewed in the original document, links to outdated resources and content found elsewhere in this Wiki), and to focus the remaining content on the actual topic of the page.

Constructive Criticism / Observations[edit]

I came here for an objective comparison between PHP and Python but what I see is a document that is not only incorrect but is also heavily biased. I realize this is a Python site but that doesn't give editors (read anonymous visitors) carte blanche when it comes to facts. For example - it is claimed that unset is not uniformly used in PHP but in fact it works on variables, objects and arrays. Next is the comment about Python having a profiler, so does PHP. Other items that should not be in the section labeled things that Python has that PHP doesn't include: method chaining, classes are used extensively in the standard library, maturity, easy support for default arguments, debuggers and IDEs and that is just the beginning.

I don't see the harm in referring to future functionality because leaving it out implies that it isn't going to be available - for example the addition of namespaces and other features in PHP5.3 is going to be a nice step for the language and the release is imminent. That having been said, OOP in PHP is not complete IMO so I would like to see objective comparisons of OOP in PHP and OOP in Python which would be an enormous benefit to myself and others.

I don't want seem like I hate Python, I honestly have no notions whatsoever about it but I do not like coming to a comparison page between two languages and discovering that the comments cannot be trusted. The reason I came here at all was to decide if Python would be a good fit for future projects that I intend open source but I am leaving this site unsure of the true advantages that Python has to offer. In the spirit of helping people know the difference, I suggest that you collaborate with someone who has no bias.

  • Retort: No such person exists.
    • Counter-Retort: To many retorts, not enough facts.
      • I have cleaned up that... just put everything in more appropriate sections, edited the “What both languages are” and “What one has that the other one doesn’t” sections. Now I hope they look less biased against PHP.
    • Counter-Retort: So everyone on the planet knows at least one of the two languages? That's a shame, I'm going to be out of a job!

Using Python and PHP together[edit]

The Embedded Python PECL extension "allows the Python interpreter to be embedded inside of PHP, allowing for the instantiate and manipulation of Python objects from within PHP". The PyPI phpserialize package is "a port of the serialize and unserialize functions of php to python". phppython "is a php to python code converter that currently can: convert small php code snippets, functions to python code". WPHP is a WSGI->PHP gateway that "allows you to run PHP processes inside of Python, using a WSGI gateway".

by john mahugu {john mahugu at gmail dot com}