Given that it’s one of the web’s most essential programming languages, PHP is something that every web developer needs to both master and be able to use well. PHP frameworks can give users of all abilities a fantastic way to build out an application using an efficient and effective approach.
PHP frameworks help you to streamline your development process, and have all of the common dependencies you need at hand. A good framework will do this without bloating out packages with unnecessary libraries.
In this post, we’re going to look at a few different PHP frameworks, talk about how they differ, and give you the information you need to choose the right one for your next project.
What PHP frameworks are
The PHP scripting language is a cornerstone of the web and has been that way almost since its inception. While lots of critics talk about how PHP is dying a slow death, the figures state anything but that. It has a near 80% market share for server-side scripting languages, so you’ll want to know the language back to front in order to work on any web apps .
👉 Want to learn more about PHP? Here are the best PHP books to help you get started with PHP, as well as some of its popular frameworks.
However, PHP is a mammoth language to learn and implement. It offers all of the power you’ll need to spin up any web app, but this can be a double-edged sword. Enter PHP frameworks. They package PHP with other tools, elements, libraries, and dependencies to create an almost all-in-one way to develop apps.
Why you’d use a PHP framework
The idea is to give you the tools you need without “rolling your own.” This has a number of benefits:
- You won’t have as much code to write because there will be functions within the framework. This is one of the primary ‘ingredients’ of PHP frameworks: built-in custom functions help you be more efficient.
- Speaking of which, you’ll be able to develop quicker and code apps faster. Part of this is down to the built-in time-saving functions but there will often be other tools in the box, too. These can help you create basic ‘skeleton’ code, run unit tests, and much more.
- In general, frameworks are easier to maintain because a team will work on the core code. Also, you will develop leaner coding practices that confirm to the typical standards. Combined this can make a PHP framework more secure.
- A framework will also include libraries to help you carry out mundane and common tasks, such as validation and sanitizing. The different frameworks may focus on specific libraries in some cases. This is a key selling point for some: You’ll often gravitate to a particular framework because it lets you develop with complementing tools.
To build on this with a real-world situation, consider the 2D ‘Flash’ game engine framework, HaxeFlixel.
It combines a number of different open-source technologies to create a complete gaming engine that doesn’t need other dependencies. The Haxe language is core to the framework. It combines with the Flixel game engine to offer those libraries in a near-native way. From there, the Open FL platform helps to render the app in-browser. PHP frameworks can achieve similar results.
Powerful PHP frameworks to use in 2023
Over the next few minutes, we’re going to go over six PHP frameworks and discuss why they deserve to be on this list. Of course, there are more PHP frameworks than these available, but each one here will give you superb results, and will deserve to be the foundation of your next project. Let’s find out why.
First on the list, Laravel takes its inspiration from another PHP framework on this list, CodeIgniter. We’ll talk more about this later, but for now, Laravel looks to add some of the elements not found in other solutions.
It’s free and open-source and has a whole ecosystem of tools to consider. For example, Homestead is a way to develop PHP applications using a Vagrant ‘box’ without the need to install a web server or even PHP. For macOS users, Valet is a fantastic development environment too.
Here’s what I like about Laravel:
- You can extend the framework even further through repositories such as Packalyst.
- The ecosystem takes this extension and runs with it. For example, you can add OAuth authentication, compile into other languages, carry out testing and debugging, and more.
- There’s plenty of security in the box too, through hashing, encryption, and validation to name a few. There are also components that help to guard against Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) attacks, SQL injection, and others.
On the whole, Laravel is going to suit developers who want to work completely within the PHP framework. For complex apps, Laravel is a gold standard tool. This is because it supports the popular Model-View-Controller (MVC) architecture and takes you through the entire app development process.
For example, you can set up an environment with Homestead, wireframe the app with Jetstream or Spark, test using Telescope and Dusk, and deploy using Envoyer or Vapor.
In contrast to Laravel’s vast ecosystem, CakePHP is a slimmed-down PHP framework that is great for commercial applications, although, unfortunately, you can’t eat it.
It also follows an MVC approach, and takes its inspiration from other language frameworks such as Ruby on Rails. The initial spark for CakePHP was Rapid Application Development (RAD). This is an approach that values planning less than developing an app in an adaptive way. This makes CakePHP valuable in a number of ways:
- It’s simple to install. All you need is a web server and the framework itself to begin.
- There’s a built-in Object-Relational Mapper (ORM). This is a way to store incompatible type values in a virtual database of sorts and lets you use PHP to get at them.
- There are a number of components and helpers to take a detour around mundane and common tasks. This ‘batteries included’ approach helps to streamline the development process.
I think that CakePHP is a great first-time framework because it’s super-fast to set up, and you get a flexible and intuitive framework under your fingers. Even so, it’s a stellar solution for bigger projects, too, and is going to be an ally when it comes to scaling from a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) all the way to an enterprise-level full-featured situation.
I also like that there is a wealth of superb documentation to help you learn not only the basics, but the deeper components of CakePHP. As far as PHP frameworks go, this one is tasty!
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From a tiny spark comes a mighty flame, and in the case of CodeIgniter, that’s apt. It’s a quality PHP framework, with a number of loyal users and champions, all packed into a footprint the size of a few web pages.
Because the framework itself is small, setup time is minimal. This is good news for rapid development, or any situation where you have to get to work rather than plan. This extends to the app architecture you employ. While CodeIgniter encourages you to use MVC, because it’s typical and powerful, you don’t have to. It’s a framework that wraps around your needs, rather than forces you into a box.
There are a few other great aspects of CodeIgniter:
- The framework has a bunch of default settings ready to go, which means you only need to connect a database and you can get to work.
- CodeIgniter is performant and is arguably better in this regard than the competition.
- It supports multiple caching methods, which means whatever you choose to implement, you won’t have to reach out to third-party libraries or packages.
The support is good too, with a dedicated forum, Slack channel, and GitHub page for users to discuss the framework. As a case in point, the user guide weighs in at 6MB. Compare this to CodeIgniter itself, which is only 1.2MB, and you can see the lengths the development team goes to in order to help others use it.
In the section on Laravel, we discussed how it seemed to add the elements that CodeIgniter didn’t have at the time. However, don’t consider this framework to be unable to deal with modern web or app development. CodeIgniter is a top-drawer solution and works as a good way to develop lightweight yet dynamic and powerful applications.
4. Laminas Project (formerly Zend Framework)
It may have a new name, but nothing about the Laminas Project is old news. It’s an Agile and object-oriented framework, which means it lets you deploy the highest of quality for all manner of projects, including enterprises.
You might know the Laminas Project as the Zend Framework – it’s the older, more familiar name, and doesn’t even have a distinct logo yet. However, with the move to GitHub, the project takes on a new lease of life – but with the same core codebase. There are lots of positive reasons to use Laminas as your PHP framework:
- Each version of Laminas (or the Zend Framework) has built upon its previous performance. It means the latest version is super fast.
- It uses security best practices to make sure your projects remain watertight.
- Laminas is a flexible and adaptable framework and isn’t a “walled garden,” unlike other solutions.
By the last point I mean that Laminas serves the PHP language over any other aspect. This means you can leverage the best practices for the language and utilize PHP Framework Interop Group (PHP-FIG) standards. For the unaware, this lets you port your code to other frameworks without consequences.
This is fantastic if you know that you want to move to another framework in the future, but have to work with Laminas now. We’re thinking about projects you inherit from other developers or clients, where you have to carry out a lot of refactoring and repurposing of code.
For typical uses, Laminas is going to fit enterprise-level projects, or those with the same kind of pretensions, such as tech and finance. What’s more, it’s somewhat modular, so it can be lightweight if you need it and comes with comprehensive documentation.
While FuelPHP is a framework that supports the MVC approach, it also offers full support for an alternative architecture. This is just one aspect of the flexible and performant PHP framework.
While a Hierarchical Model View Controller (HMVC) architecture doesn’t have wide adoption, FuelPHP backs it enough to support it from the ground up. A HMVC approach ‘widgetizes’ data such as post comments, ecommerce carts, and other content that needs to display across multiple pages.
FuelPHP goes one step further and uses Presenters to add a powerful layer of logic between your controller and view.
This isn’t the only plus point of using FuelPHP:
- The framework is light on memory usage and high in speed, owing to its support for HMVC.
- You’ll find that FuelPHP treats security with a greater depth than the competition (although all of the PHP frameworks on this list are secure). For example, you get CSRF protection, but also numerous filtering algorithms, built-in user input escaping, and more.
- There’s also a command line utility available called “oil.” This will help you run mundane and routine tasks, debug code, among other aspects.
Overall, you’ll want to turn to FuelPHP if security is a big factor for your project. What’s more, if you have complex needs with regards to the infrastructure of your app, FuelPHP will do the business. For example, you can parse your views using another template library – almost any. This means if you want to use Markdown, Twig, or Haml over PHP, you can do so.
Also, because FuelPHP offers elements such as RESTful implementation, URL routing, a full-featured authentication framework, and a modular base, this option can adapt to your needs without compromise.
6. Fat-Free Framework
CodeIgniter was small enough to fit into any of your projects, and PHP frameworks such as CakePHP will offer small footprints yet beefy functionality. However, for a true lean yet muscular solution, you’ll want to chomp down on the Fat-Free Framework.
It’s a “micro-framework,” and it’s almost too hard to comprehend how this can be a full-featured toolkit in a package that’s only 65KB in size. It’s minimalist and comes with a raft of superb features:
- There are tons of optional plugins to extend the framework. Given the size of the code, this is one of the key elements of the Fat-Free Framework.
- You’ll have a minimal level of configuration to carry out. When you need to tinker, you’ll know where to head because you will have installed the relevant dependencies.
- You can use a large number of database types, including the Fat-Free Framework’s own Jig.
If you are looking into using PHP frameworks, this option is terrific for a first-timer. It’s minimal, which means you can tour the framework in minutes, then extend it with the dependencies and libraries you choose. It means you can get to grips with the Fat-Free Framework and bring in elements you know well. This will speed up development time and have a positive effect on the rest of the chain.
Picking from these PHP frameworks: IN SUMMARY
In general, PHP frameworks can offer a powerful way to develop apps without the need to bolt together multiple components. The whole package will provide a secure and maintainable solution, while being performant too. You’ll use the built-in functions and technologies to develop an app, and lots of times, you’ll choose a framework for a specific use case.
This post has looked at six different PHP frameworks. Here’s a quick summary of them:
- Laravel. You get a full ecosystem here, with comprehensive documentation and the support you’d expect from a major player.
- CakePHP. If you want a scalable, lightweight, powerful, and well-documented solution for rapid development, CakePHP is it.
- CodeIgniter. This is a flexible and performant PHP framework that can deliver, regardless of the size of your project.
- Laminas Project. The former Zend Framework is a stellar solution with a robust codebase and thought-out features and functionality.
- FuelPHP. If you want to ensure your application is the most secure, FuelPHP could be ideal.
- Fat-Free Framework. Minimal, modular, and muscular – this PHP framework is perfect as a first-time and scalable solution.
Are PHP frameworks something you’ll consider for a future project, and if so, which one’s do you like the look of? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!
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