What the heck is PHP?

By August 30, 2010 4 Comments

I’ve encountered a lot of challenging situations as a PHP programmer, from the big things (creating and optimizing complex applications that access millions of rows of data) to the smaller things (figuring out where to put more reminders after I’ve run out of room for post-its on my monitors). One of the problems I face most often is trying to explain to people what I do for a living. Generally, I just answer with “I’m a programmer” and people drop the subject. Who really wants to hear about code in a social situation? A small percentage of people are not deterred by this, however, and will ask for more details. This is where it gets tricky. Saying that I’m a web programmer is true, but makes most people think I write HTML. The truth is that even though much of our world runs on PHP, most people have absolutely no idea what it is. So here’s a crash course:

HTML by itself is what we call static. That means that it will look the same each time you see it. The only way to change the information on the page is to go in and change the actual file. This is great for simpler websites or websites that don’t need to change their information very often. Some websites require more functionality, however. That’s where PHP comes in.

PHP is a scripting language that allows you to display dynamic pages. This means that the pages display different data depending on things like user input.

Imagine logging into a website. You enter your username and password, and a page comes up that welcomes you and displays information specific to you. That is possible because PHP (or another scripting language) is running in the background. It took the username and password that you entered, checked it in the database to make sure it was correct, found information about you that is tied to that login, and sent it to the browser to display as HTML. A login script is a simple example, but PHP can produce much more complex things, such as e-commerce sites, blogs, intra-company applications, forums, etc. PHP is extremely powerful and has made commonplace online what would not otherwise be possible. It’s responsible for sites like Wikipedia, Facebook, and Yahoo. Chances are that you rely on PHP every day. So here’s my shout-out to PHP. Thank you, PHP, for being so awesome.

If you feel the same need to geek out over PHP that I do, you can check out the website:


  • Craig says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Venita. Aimee actually jumped on a plane yesterday to go to a 4 day long PHP conference in Chicago. She’ll be coming back with a brain full of goodies!

  • Travis says:

    I code PHP as a hobby, but I’d like to start doing it as a career. How did you become a Zend Certified Engineer and really everything to do your job? Did you go to school for it?

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