Today these three programming languages are to some extent the basis of software development. All three belong to the ten most popular high-level languages, with Java being the first for years, are supplied with lots of detailed documentation; have wide communities and extensive additional libraries. What made these languages so popular? What are the features of these tools and which language can be considered the best for the development of the backends? Although, choosing the best language for server side development is, probably impossible, as this choice depends on many factors starting with the goal of future application, in this article, we strive to answer these questions and give our readers a basis for such choice.
The history of language creation is very important for understanding its features. Knowing the origin of the language and what it was intended for by the creator, you can better understand its features and consciously choose the one that best suits for the implementation of your idea.
The start of the PHP development can be attributed to 1994 when Rasmus Lerdorf created a number of components that extended capabilities of the most popular than C language. Initially, these extensions were created in order to facilitate the management of the Rasmus’s own website. However, other developers quickly appreciated the features of those components and began to actively implement them. As a result of the constant use and evolution of PHP, the emergence and growth of the community, the new language has become not just popular: over 80% of the modern websites are based on it. PHP is constantly complemented by the developer team and members of a large user community together. We can safely say that PHP is on the peak now and it is still very early to talk about the decline in its popularity.
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Python was originally developed by Guido van Rossum as a stand-alone replacement for the ABC language. First Python version was released in 1989, but the language started getting popularity only in 2000 with the release of Python 2.0. Open source code, many additional features, and support for Unicode granted Python 2.0 an appreciation of users. Python from the start was engineered as a full stack programming language, irrelative of web development. That’s why it’s not so popular on the web – less than 1% of websites is created and managed using Python. Anyway, today it has many extensions, including web development ones (django, for example).
Java, unlike its “colleagues”, is the result of a painstaking work of many professionals from the Sun Microsystems (obtained by Oracle in 2010). Java development lasted for 5 years – from 1990 to the first official Java release in 1995. James Gosling originally created Java as a home appliances programming language, but the final product turned out to be suited to many areas, including web development.
What are their application spheres?
PHP is tightly associated with websites. No matter how hard the developers tried to make PHP a complete language, from the start its main application area remained the web page management. It should be mentioned though, that without additional libraries, the development of the backends in this language yields very “poor” results.
The scope of Python today is very extensive. All thanks to the fact that this language is full-stacked and has many extensions for various applications, such as:
– scipy, numpy, pandas, matplotlib for various complex calculations;
– anaconda3 for scientific research;
– django and others for web development.
Java in its turn, as evidenced by the abovementioned statistics, is currently the leading programming language in almost every sphere of the IT, despite its complex syntax and relative learning difficulty.
PHP, Python, and Java: language classification
The first and main distinctive feature of any programming language is its paradigm. Modern programming theory distinguishes such major programming paradigms:
Python is attributed to aspect-oriented languages: it means that writing the backend in the Python is reduced to writing its individual modules, the connection between which is subsequently determined and controlled by user actions in the frontend part.
PHP is an object-oriented language, the programming in which is based on objects to which certain properties, parameters, and methods are attached. The user gives commands to objects in the frontend, to which objects react, starting certain actions.
Classification of Java is a really difficult task since this language is multi-paradigmatic. Java combines the features of such classes:
– Object-oriented (same as PHP);
– Component-oriented: languages based on the creation of components – program modules intended for re-use;
– Imperative: a class of languages whose feature is the strictly sequential execution of instructions;
– Structural: a class of languages consisting of three basic control structures: sequence, branch, and cycle;
– Reflective: a class of languages that can track and change their own structure.
The syntax of a language is constituted by its fundamental “grammatical” rules. The main difference between various languages, be they spoken or programming, lays in syntax, and the process of learning a language is by most the study of its grammar. Grammatical traits of the language are one of the main parameters of its applicability in a particular field, as well as the feature by which one can characterize the complexity of the language.
The PHP’s syntax is almost the same as the syntax of C (due to its origins). It contains many additional characters: brackets, quotes, braces, periods, and colons, inherited from C. A nice moment in working with PHP is neglect of white spaces during the compilation, which brings additional usability and gives the ability to structure the code into simple logical components. An unpleasant feature of PHP is the incompatibility of the namespace conventions, which is why many developers do not perceive it as a full-fledged programming language. However, this feature is primarily due to the fact that the language initially was designed for the website management.
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Python, rightfully considered one of the easiest in learning, on the contrary, is oriented at the maximum accounting of spaces and indents in the compilation, which significantly speeds up the process of coding, but increases the possibility of careless errors. However, Python contains significantly less extra characters than other languages described in this article. Considering Python, it’s also worth noting the simplicity of commands. In fact, most of the commands in this language are similar to the corresponding words in natural English, which makes it much easier to learn.
The syntax of Java is notably more intricate than that of Python and PHP, which is considered one of the drawbacks of the language and makes it very difficult to learn. Working with Java, programmers have to take into account a lot of different factors among which are following:
– Letter case: Java compilators are case-sensitive;
– Class names consensus (a word starting with a capital letter will be treated as a class name by default);
– Method names consensus (a word starting with a small letter will be treated as a method name by default);
– Program file must be named the same as the main program class;
– The program execution begins with an obligatory ‘main()’ method.
Judging the features of the language, important for backend development, in addition to the class it is attributed to and its syntax, it would be necessary to mention the compilation peculiarities and the organization of additional files and libraries loading.
In PHP, additional libraries and files are loaded manually, which is considered a very unpleasant language characteristic. A program written in PHP can be compiled into .exe file (which is important for desktop applications), but this requires additional tools.
In Python, the process of loading additional files and libraries is reduced to a simple set of actions: moving the file to the program folder and writing several lines of code. However, Python cannot create the executable file itself, being an actual code interpreter. To turn the program into the .exe file, it is necessary to use additional compilers (for instance, the py2exe developed by community programmers).
As for Java, one cannot help mentioning the peculiarity of launching programs written in this language. Applications can be compiled into the intermediary bytecode which can later be interpreted by the specific platform’s Java virtual machine. Such a solution is undoubtedly convenient in terms of universality, but at the same time, it is considered a drawback due to a notable performance decrease. To speed up Java programs, additional hardware accelerators are often used. Concerning compilation, Java is much more convenient than Python and PHP, because the application is automatically compiled into an executable without any additional tools.
Mobile application development
PHP, Java, and Python for mobile development: which is better? Python and Java are not limited to the web development capabilities, which make them more versatile than PHP.
All the major mobile platforms (iOS, Android, Windows Mobile) have some kind of Python port or framework that allows developing native and web applications with a help of Python.
Java is the native programming language for Android platform with a support from Java Native Interface and Android SDK.
Thanks to its regulations and logic, PHP is better applicable for web development exactly. Though there are ways to build mobile web applications over the PHP server-side backends, it is much harder as compared to Python. Not to mention that the simplest way – using the solutions by Zend company, is commercial, though not very pricey.
Read also: How to Choose a Mobile Development Platform?
Considering the PHP, Python and Java languages as solutions for the server backend development, first of all, type of the application that you are going to create should be taken into account.
PHP, while inconsistent as a full-fledged programming language, is nevertheless ideally suited for writing web applications.
Java and Python are suitable both for creating web applications and self-contained software. Among these two, Python is easier to master and simultaneously more flexible tool, while Java, though much more sophisticated but more universal and independent language, and provides more opportunities.
Definitely naming one of the described languages the best for backend development, however, is difficult. Everything depends on the ultimate goal pursued by the developer. We hope that this article helps our readers to better understand main properties of the three popular languages and facilitates the complex process of choosing between them.