What is PHP? A Guide For Beginners

Looking for a new programming language to learn? Or are you just simply curious and wonder what PHP exactly is? Regardless of the reason, you’ve come to the right place. Stick with us and discover what you need to know about PHP.

Scripting Languages

PHP (a recursive acronym for PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor) is a subset of scripting languages like JavaScript and Python. The difference is, PHP is mostly used for server-side communication while JavaScript can be used for both frontend and backend and Python – for server-side only (backend).

Sounds confusing? Well, that’s why we need to understand about scripting languages first before diving deeper into PHP.

A scripting language is a language that automates the execution of tasks in a special runtime environment. This includes telling a static page (built with HTML and CSS) to perform specific actions with rules you’ve defined beforehand.

For instance, you can use a script to validate a form to ensure that all fields have been filled out before the form is sent back to the server. The script would run and then check all the fields when a user submits the form.

If one of them is empty, a warning text would be displayed to inform the user.

Other common uses of scripting languages include displaying a drop-down effect when a cursor hovers over the main menu, rollover buttons and animation, opening dialog boxes, and so on.

Server-side and Client-side

Scripting languages can either run on client-side (frontend) or on the server-side (backend).

Client-side scripts are processed by web browsers. When your browser a.k.a. the client requests a page containing client-side scripts, the server would respond by sending source codes that are executable for the browser.

On the other hand, server-side scripting language means the scripts are executed on servers before they’re sent to browsers. So instead of sending the source code, web servers process (parse) the codes first by turning them into a plain HTML format.

Because of that, server-side scripting enables webmasters to hide their source code, while client-side scripts can be easily seen by client’s users.

Now that you understand the basic concepts of scripting languages, it’s time to bring back our original question…

So What is PHP?

Like mentioned before, it is a scripting language created for server-side communications. Hence, it can handle various server-side functions such as collecting form data, manage files on the server, modify databases, and much more.

This language was originally created by Rasmus Lerdorf for tracking visitors to his personal home page. As it became more popular, Lerdorf finally released it as an open-source project. This decision encouraged developers to use, fix, and improve the code and eventually turned it into the scripting language that we use today.

Although PHP is considered as a general-purpose scripting language, it’s most widely used for web development. This is due to one of its outstanding features —  the ability to be embedded into an HTML file.

Let’s say if you don’t want people to see your source code, you can hide it with this scripting language. Simply write the code into a PHP file, embeds it in HTML, and people will never know the original content.

Another benefit of this particular feature is when you have to use the same HTML markup repeatedly. Rather than rewriting it over and over again, just write the code into a PHP file. Whenever you need to use HTML, insert the PHP file and you’re good to go.

An example of a PHP page can be seen on Facebook. Open the homepage and you can see the URL ends with .php (facebook.com/home.php). In other words, this page is built with a PHP file (home.php) that contains a mix of hypertext preprocessor code and HTML tags.

If you want to learn more about how a PHP file is written, you can see a simple example below:

  <title>PHP Test</title>
 <?php echo '<p>Greetings From Hostinger</p>'; ?> 

If you place this written PHP file into the root directory of your site, you would find it by going to yoursite.com/greetings.php

The output of this PHP file in HTML would look like this:

  <title>PHP Test</title>
 <p>Greetings From Hostinger</p>

This is the most basic example, as you don’t even need to run this script in any way shape or form. We simply used the echo statement to tell the page to display Greetings From Hostinger. This example, however, shows how your site can interpret PHP code into HTML.

Why Use PHP?

PHP is not the only server-side scripting language available — there are many others out there. However, it has an edge over its competitors if you’re running a WordPress site.

As we mentioned earlier, WordPress is built on using PHP. So by using this language, it can drastically improve the amount of customization you can have on your site. You can use it to modify available plugins and themes or even make one on your own! If you want to become a WordPress devhttps://www.hostinger.com/tutorials/best-wordpress-pluginseloper, learning PHP is a must.

If you’re still not convinced, here are some other reasons why PHP is a great scripting language to use:

  • Easy to learn —  you can learn it easily since it has great documentation of its functions along with examples.
  • Widely used — it is used to create any kind of platforms like ecommerce, blogs, social media, and so on. Statistics show that 79% of all websites use PHP!
  • Low cost — it is open-source so you can use it for free.
  • Big community — if you come across any problem with it, you don’t have to worry because there are plenty of PHP blogs on the internet.
  • Integrates with databases — some examples are MySQL, Oracle, Sybase, DB2, etc.

PHP vs JavaScript

We’ve mentioned before that you can do a lot of things with PHP. However, it is most widely used for generating dynamic content.

If you’re familiar with JavaScript, you know that it’s also used to make a static page more dynamic and interactive. Hence, now we have two scripting languages that have similar functions.

Why do we need both?

When it comes to building a dynamic website, it’s actually possible to create one that only runs on JavaScript. However, the functionality can vary greatly.

With JavaScript, you can create a dynamic site that allows simple interactions like mouse rollover effect, autocorrect, and photo galleries. But it cannot create user-generated content like social networks and ecommerce (websites that change according to user behavior). To do this, you’ll need PHP.

Let’s say you’re logging in to a social network. In order to display your profile, PHP retrieves your data from the database and sends the result to your browser.

Whenever you make a change to your profile, PHP will store that new info to the database for future retrieval. This whole process makes it possible for a social network to display different content to different users.

Hence, JavaScript and PHP are not competitors. Instead, they compliment each other to build a beautiful dynamic website.


PHP is a server-side scripting language with various purposes. But it’s mainly used for generating dynamic content on a site.

It is widely popular due to its open-source nature and versatile functionality. It’s simple enough for newcomers, but professional programmers can also use it for more advanced features.

Learning and understanding PHP can undoubtedly enhance your developer skills — you’ll be able to build any type of websites that you want, become a skilled WordPress developer, or even built a web application one day!

So as you see, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t learn PHP, is there?

The author

Bilqis A.

Bilqis Addiningrum is a content writer at Hostinger. She's fascinated with all things internet and has a deep passion for WordPress, where a lot of her experience comes from. When she is not sewing or doing craft projects, she loves to teach friends and family about technology and the internet.