PHP - Essential But Underappreciated
Written by Sue Gee   
Wednesday, 15 September 2021

We always knew that PHP is the common server-side web technology. Even so, discovering PHP is used by almost 80% of websites and that the next most used server-side languages has less than 10% is something of an eye opener.


W3Techs reports are updated on a daily basis. Here's today's for server-side programming languages:



W3Techs investigate technologies of websites rarther than individual web pages so when a technology is detected on any of a website's pages it is considered to be used by the website. This means a single website can use more than one server-side language. 

In order to limit the impact of domain spammers, the company restricts the exercise to the top 10 million websites (top 1 million before June 2013) in the statistics . It include all sites that are either in the Alexa top 10 million or in the Tranco top 1 million list. 

W3Tech has also produced a historical tends chart covering the period since it started out in 2010:webtechphp

The remarkable feature of this chart is the way in which PHP, starting with  72.5%, increased to a peak of 80.6% by 2015 and has declined by less than 2% since then so that it still stands at 78.8%. It only credible competitor, ASP.NET started in 2010 with 24.4% but has lost between 1% and 2% per year and now has just 8.3%. Ruby, which started out with just 0.5% has seen a ten-fold increase to 5.3% which now puts it in 3rd position, displacing Java which started with 4.0% and finishes with 3.6%. 

As we've noted in the context of programming languages in general once a technology achieves a dominant position it is hard to shift and in the RedMonk Language Rankings, which date from 2012, PHP started in 3rd position and has only ever been overtaken by Python.


While PHP ranks 4th for RedMonk, it often comes much further down the rankings, particularly those that look at "popularity". For example, it is currently 9th in the TIOBE Index, only one place higher than its lowest ever ranking of #10 in 2017.  


Comparing PHP, which you would only use in a server-side  context, with general-purpose languages is perhaps unfair, but using the IEEE Spectrum interactive app to compare it with other web development languages it comes in 7th position. While this seems more reasonable that the 13th place if you include the other three environments (Enterprise, Mobile and Embedded) it still doesn't reflect the real status of the language that is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the vast majority of websites. 

So, as we have speculated before (see PHP Is Best? a news item  from 2019 accompanying a videoed talk celebrating 25 years of PHP by its creator Ramus Lerdorf), PHP is the "get the job done" language that we just use, but don't love, or even talk about.


More Information

Historical yearly trends in the usage statistics of server-side programming languages for websites (W3techs) 

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 15 September 2021 )