This old, often criticized programming language is staging a comeback

The SlashData report says PHP is attracting new developers significantly faster than many other programming languages.

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At the beginning of this decade the reputation of PHP as a programming language was in the doldrums.

The frustrations with the inconsistencies and unpredictability of the language were captured by the 2012 article PHP: a fractal of bad design, which still ranks highly in search results for 'PHP criticisms'.

However, in the intervening years the language has undergone many changes, with the 7.x releases introducing 'landmark usability and speed improvements to the language', as outlined by TechRepublic's James Sanders.

Now that hard work may be paying off, with the new State of the Developer Nation report by SlashData naming PHP the second most popular language for web development and the fifth most popular language overall, with 5.9 million active developers.

"Like Python, it's growing significantly faster than the overall developer population, having added 32% more developers to its ranks in 2018," the report states.

"Despite having (arguably) a somewhat bad reputation, the fact that PHP is easy to learn and widely deployed still propels it forward as a major language for the modern internet."

SEE: 10 ways to prevent developer burnout (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Even before this latest growth spurt, PHP was always a widely used language, having long been the cornerstone of the web. The majority of the world's websites still run on PHP, given its use for hugely popular Content Management Systems (CMS) such as Drupal, Joomla and WordPress. That legacy of a huge number of sites running on PHP means demand for developers with PHP skills is unlikely to dry up anytime soon.

And despite not getting the same attention as languages like JavaScript or Python, PHP is frequently near the top roundups of popular programming languages, occupying the number four spot in both this year's RedMonk Programming Language Rankings and the most recent Stack Overflow Developer Survey.

That said, new server-side languages are starting to emerge, with almost one third of developers saying they used PHP alongside Node.js JavaScript in the 2018 Node.js user survey. PHP also scores less highly on round-ups of languages that developers enjoy using, placing 23rd out of 25 in the "most loved" languages category in this year's Stack Overflow Developer Survey.

Elsewhere the State of the Developer Nation report's findings are pretty consistent with other surveys of language use.

Web scripting language turned jack-of-all-trades JavaScript has the largest developer base, with 11.7 million active users. Close behind is the versatile Python, which is rapidly adding new developers on the back of its use in the expanding field of machine learning, with 8.2 million developers, more than Java, according to the SlashData report.

In contrast, the report says that Java, with 7.6 million active developers, C#, with 6.7 million, and C/C++, with 6.3 million are " growing at a slower rate than the general developer population", adding "they are no longer the first languages that (new) developers look to". These findings are in contrast to the TIOBE Index, which in this month's report stated that C++ had overtaken Python to become the third-most popular programming language. This difference of opinion highlights why the results of all programming language surveys need to be taken with a pinch of salt, and judged on the basis of to what extent you agree with their methodology.

The SlashData report says the fastest growing language community in percentage terms is the Java-alternative Kotlin, growing by 58% in 2018 to 1.7 million developers, with SlashData attributing the uptick to Google making Kotlin a first-class language for Android development.

The SlashData programming language figures were compiled using the firm's "independent estimate of the global number of software developers", and its "large-scale, low-bias surveys which reach more than 20,000 developers every six months".

Image: SlashData

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