PHP is the most used server-side development platform around the world. In fact, PHP is used by 77.4% of all the websites whose server-side programming language is known, including Facebook, Wikipedia, Zoom, and Xbox.com. That’s why the number of available PHP frameworks increases each year to meet demand.
Since the introduction of PHP in 1994, new frameworks have been created each year to address current development issues. Are you looking to integrate APIs? Install a PHP micro-framework? Build an entire web platform from the ground up? Good news—there are several full-stack PHP frameworks that’ll work for you.
So how do you choose between the numerous frameworks available? Buckle up—we're comparing some of the more popular PHP frameworks, their attributes, and how each works for different programming problems.
What is a PHP framework?
A PHP is a simple and flexible web-development language. These frameworks make the coding process even easier and more streamlined. The additional libraries and premade plug-ins that come with frameworks help you get your work done faster and with less chance of error.
Additionally, most PHP frameworks don't require any previous knowledge of PHP language, which is helpful for newcomers who are learning PHP as they also learn the framework. A few do require an existing knowledge of PHP though, like Yii.
Benefits of using PHP and PHP frameworks
PHP is the most popular web-application programming language for good reason. It has a number of advantages over the next most popular programming platform, Java, that make it a more desirable system to work with for many developers.
Advantages of PHP over Java
- Flexibility and ease of coding
- Better facilitates scaling
- Easier module creation
- Diversity of library and module options
- Quicker development and prototyping time
- More stable, developer-friendly shared hosting
Top PHP frameworks in 2022
Your development needs will best inform your PHP framework decision. Are you new to PHP development or jumping into the game as a hobbyist? Choose a user-friendly, easy-to-learn framework. Looking for something that's tight on security and has a comprehensive selection of features? There's a make and model for you too.
Below are some popular, highly-trusted frameworks. Have a look at the features that make each one special and what purpose each is best suited for.
Highly popular and highly praised, Laravel is one of the longest-running PHP frameworks out there. It's open source and has a vast array of packages, which makes it ideal for any size project, like a small web app that stores recipes to a full-blown, company-wide intranet.
What is Laravel known for?
- Excellent support community
- Easy-to-learn syntax
- Its open source code
- Built-in functionality
- Easy to expand, as needed
- Compatible with MVC architecture
Laravel's top security features
- Route protection
- Password storage
- User authentication
- Manual user logging
- HTTP basic authentication
- Password reminders & reset
- Authentication drivers
Downsides of Laravel
- Lacks initial internal support
- Some upgrades have been reported as difficult
- Steep learning curve
With its selection of modular components, Symfony is flexible and scalable. It has an onboard debugging tool, which makes it easy to fix as you go, and its Twig integration streamlines the coding syntax.
Symfony is a little more difficult to learn than other frameworks but provides extensive documentation and other learning resources to help if you get stuck.
What is Symfony known for?
- Scalability, excellent for large-scale development
- Reusable modular components
- Template engine
- Learning resources
- Compatibility with MVC architecture
Symfony's top security features
- Secure session cookies that are built-in
- CSRF protection against cross-site request forgeries
- X. 509 authentication certificates
- Customizable authentication
Downsides of Symfony
- Difficult-to-navigate the security features
- Reported difficulty with file parsing
- Some difficulty when used for small-scale development
CodeIgniter is a light framework that's ideal for small to mid-scale application development. Its streamlined design makes it unobtrusive and allows for faster loading speeds.
Onboard security features make it easy to lock down and open up what you need as a project's development requirements change.
What is CodeIgniter known for?
- Built-in security tools
- Lightweight code
- Compatibility with MVC and non-MVC architecture
CodeIgniter's top security features
- Cross-scripting protection
- SQL injection protection
- CSRF prevention
- Error obfuscation
- Built-in password handling
Downsides of CodeIgniter
- Insufficient library resources
- Poor support of modular code extension
- Lacking built-in ORM support
The Zend framework is managed by the Linux Foundation. Its repositories have moved to GitHub, but it's still the same software.
What’s best about Zend? Its adaptability, automation capabilities, and capacity for building large-scale projects are typically what developers like most about this framework.
However, many engineers also critique the framework for lacking documentation and a community to help support developers working in it.
What is Zend known for?
- Encryption and session management
- High configurability
- Cloud API components
- Highly structured and reusable code
- Interoperability with third-party templates
- MVC components
Zend's top security features
- HTML purifier to prevent XSS attacks and weed out sites with non-compliant code
- Escape component to protect against XSS attacks
- An entry script that is the only PHP file visible to guests
- URL format validation
- Form validation
- Access Control Lists (ACL) and Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)
Downsides of Zend
- High entry cost
- Compatibility issues when upgrading
- Not suited for small-scale projects
- Large and unwieldy to navigate
- Lacking documentation and support community
Yii is lauded for its easy implementation and its wide range of features. It supports a number of modules, such as the Gii code generator, and is rich in security features, including cookie attack prevention and authentication controls.
Once setup is complete, Yii can have a bit of a learning curve. However, their extensive documentation and support community are great resources to get over the early hurdles of the framework.
What is Yii known for?
- Its open source code
- Excellent error handling and logging
- The Gii code generator
- Elegant caching
- Helpful support community
- Robust documentation
- Compatible with MVC architecture
Yii's top security features
- Data tampering prevention
- Password validation
- Key derivation
Downsides of Yii
- Requires previous knowledge of PHP, making it difficult for beginners
- Lacks active record (AR) query capability
- Lacks relational database query capability
- Static method dependencies
The Phalcon framework is built in the C language—well known for its memory-management capabilities. As a PHP framework, you don't need to learn C to use it. Phalcon utilizes PHP namespaces.
Its foundation in C gives it an edge in speed—it’s more than twice as fast as the next framework in PHP 5.56 benchmark tests. Its modular structure means you only add libraries and components you need, which keeps Phalcon light and agile.
One downside of Phalcon is that it doesn't have documentation or a support community as extensive as some other popular frameworks.
What is Phalcon known for?
- High performance
- Efficient use of resources
- Modular structure
- Based in C
- Extensive database support including SQLite, MySQL, and Redis
Phalcon's top security features
- Password hashing for authentication encryption
- CSRF protection
- Exception handling
Downsides of Phalcon
- Not widely known
- Difficult installation and update process
- No shared hosting
- Low on code conversion capability
- Lean on tech support resources
CakePHP is seen as the first MVC framework to hit the scene. It's a more rigid system, relying on coding convention over modularity.
The key benefit to this approach is that code is uniform throughout a project's development, making it easier for future developers to understand. However, its unique workflow can make it difficult to transition to or from another framework.
CakePHP boasts an expansive set of libraries and components, which gives you access to many features that other frameworks might not contain.
What is CakePHP known for?
- A vast array of components
- Coding convention
- Built-in testing features
- Built-in security features
- CRUD scaffolding
- Automated database management
- Compatible with MVC architecture
CakePHP's top security features
- Data encryption/decryption
- Form tampering protection
- CSRF prevention
Downsides of CakePHP
- Manual default route updating for URLs
- Difficulty with updating framework versions
- Lacking in documentation and tech support
As a micro framework, Slim's primary purpose is to handle HTTP requests and build REST APIs. Though suitable for building smaller web applications, most developers wouldn't use it to build large-scale projects.
Slim is considered one of the easiest frameworks to learn and use. Plus, it has comprehensive documentation and a support community that's always happy to give advice when you need it.
What is Slim known for?
- Streamlined and lightweight
- Fast HTTP routing
- Middleware integration
- Fast loading
- Cookie encryption
Slim's security features
- CSRF protection
Downsides of Slim
- Doesn't work the best for large-scale development
- Inconsistency between versions
- Dependency-creation roadblocks
- Difficult to hunt down model properties
- Often requires third-party solutions for API development
PHPixie is a light system that began as a micro framework. As it grew, it remained light. Its streamlined architecture also gives it a strong edge.
PHPixie works well with larger architectures, such as HMVC. It comes with ORM and a query builder to give it functionality with databases.
The framework relies on many external module dependencies to operate. All components are unit tested and verified, following strict industry standards.
The framework is easy on resources and it's relatively easy to learn. PHPixie boasts that any user can learn the basics in 30 minutes or less.
What is PHPixie known for?
- Open source code
- Module dependencies
- Lightweight and high performance
- HMVC architecture
PHPixie security features
- Authentication encryption
- Secure cookie handling
Downsides of PHPixie
- Very few modules
- Not a widely known framework
Relatively new to the scene, FuelPHP is an MVC framework that also supports HMVC architecture. The system contains presentation models, which allow you to place an additional layer between the view and the controller.
What is FuelPHP known for?
- Its open source code
- Helpful online support community
- Extensive security options
- MVC architecture that supports HMVC
FuelPHP's top security features
- Input filtering
- URI filtering
- XSS filtering
- Output encoding
- CSRF token protection
- SQL injection prevention
- A secure OAuth framework: Opauth
Downsides of FuelPHP
- A steep learning curve that is geared toward advanced developers
- Lean documentation and help support
- Not many example products built on the framework
- Difficult namespacing conventions
Aura's claim to fame is its large set of enclosed libraries that have no other dependencies. This structure gives you the flexibility to use only the libraries needed for a given project.
Aura's architecture also provides a great deal of scalability. The framework's unique design enables you to work with any coding structure.
What is Aura known for?
- Independent, encapsulated libraries
- Flexibility in development
- Documentation is available for each library
Aura's top security features
- No security options
Downsides of Aura
- It's a licensed product
- Magic methods make debugging difficult
- Model properties are difficult to use
- Substantial unnecessary folder and file generation within the framework file system
- Small community for help and support
- No apparent security features
Which PHP framework is the easiest for beginners?
Although this is a bit of a subjective question, depending on your personal preferences and needs, a look at reviews for the PHP frameworks above helped us conclude that there are a few frameworks that are easiest to use.
For a simple learning curve, Slim makes it to the top of most lists. However, as a micro framework, Slim might not suit your purposes, especially if you're looking to build larger web applications.
For full-stack frameworks, developers and tech sites like FuelPHP for its comprehensive capabilities as well as its extensive and helpful documentation and community.
Across the forums and tech sites, Laravel seems to get the most praise. Users love Laravel's ease of use and its robust community and documentation that make it a pleasant experience compared to other full-stack frameworks.
Which PHP framework is the most scalable?
Unless you’re developing a simple, single-purpose web app, you’re most likely going to want a framework that can grow as your development needs expand. Even if you're creating an application or platform that you don't foresee growing over time, it's probably best to be prepared and use a framework that can handle different needs.
Across several independent sites, Laravel and Symfony tend to get the best reviews for their ability to scale web applications. Some users suggest that Symfony's features seem geared toward larger enterprises. With its 15,000+ modules and libraries, Laravel seems to fit the bill best for its ability to start small and grow larger as needed.
Which PHP framework should you choose?
Every framework has its own strengths and opportunities for improvement. If performance and speed are your main goals, Phalcon for PHP 5.6 and Laravel or Slim for 8.0 appear to be the way to go.
If you're new, or just want a system that's easy to work with, Slim seems to be the winner for micro frameworks, and Laravel wins the full-stack trophy for ease of use and scalability.
In the end, you know what sort of framework you'll need better than anyone else. Only you have an idea of what load capacities your system will need to handle, what your project's expected growth curve looks like, and what other systems you'll need to integrate with your framework.
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