PHP vs. Node.js

TL;DR: PHP is not going to disappear immediately, but its positions are undermined even further by the nascent Node.js.

When the Internet exploded in the 2000s, PHP was a thing all the cool kids did. It was extremely revolutionary, because:

  • It was an interpreted language unlike C++ or Java which require the source code compilation
  • It had the ability to be used directly with HTML by mixing within its template files with a <%php ... %> markup tags
  • It had cheap shared hosting providers on Apache servers with a Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP (LAMP) stack
  • It had a functional nature which is easier to learn than the object-oriented programming

Over the years, PHP and its apps became a monstrous technology vulnerable to security threats (e.g., SQL injections), lack of a centralized packaging registry (was Composer inspired by Node Package Manager?), inconsistent API and subpar performance. There are many better alternatives to PHP, e.g., Ruby on Rails and Django, however nothing is as approachable as Node.js.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Node.js, or who have heard of it but can’t quite grasp the concept, here is my analogy:

Node.js is functionally similar to the PHP + Apache or ASP + IIS stacks.

Nowadays, Node.js is gaining momentum. The platform uses JavaScript. It’s functional, and its non-blocking I/O mechanism allows for a better performance. Node.js comes with a robust Node Package Manager solution and the specification, i.e., ECMAScript.

Because Node.js is a lower-level technology, it is not comparable to complex frameworks like Struts, Rails or Django directly.

Therefore, many people, whether software engineers or entrepreneurs, are often faced with the decision of “What tech stack to use” In this article PHP vs. Node.js, we’ll compare apples-to-apples approaching the question from different angles, such as:

  • Syntax
  • Context switch
  • Modules
  • Ecosystem
  • Frameworks
  • Real-time apps
  • Database apps
  • Third-party services apps
  • Web servers
  • Hosting
  • Performance


Both platforms have access to the command line interface via $ php -i and $ node.

This snippet prints ‘Hello World’ in PHP:

echo 'Hello World'; 

This will output the same phrase in Node.js:

console.log('Hello World');

Note: In JavaScript semi-colons are optional except when inside of the for loops and before immediately-invoked function expressions (IIFE).

Sleep function script example in PHP:

echo "a"."\n";
echo "b"."\n";
echo "c"."\n";

The above code will output:


And then after a 2 second delay:


If we try to re-write the code in Node.js:

setTimeout(function() {

This snippet will print:


And with a 2 second delay, it will print:


Note: In JavaScript, console.log() automatically adds the end of line symbol.

The for loop in PHP might look like this:

for ($i = 1; $i <= 10; $i++) { 
  echo $i;

They’re strikingly similar in Node.js:

for (var i = 0; i <= 10; i++) { 

To create an array in PHP:

$users = array( 
  array('name' => 'John', 'id' => 3940), 
  array('name' => 'Peter', 'id' => 8904) 

To create an array in Node.js:

var users = [ 
  { name: 'John', id: 3940 }, 
  { name: 'Peter', id: 8904 } 

To iterate through an array in PHP:

for($i = 0; $i < count($users); ++$i) { 
  $users[$i]['id'] = mt_rand(000000, 999999); 

To iterate through an array in Node.js:

for (var i; i < arr.length; i++) {
    users[i] = Math.floor(Math.random()*1000000);

Or in a functional manner:

users.forEach(function(user, i){ 
  users[i] = Math.floor(Math.random()*1000000); 

To declare a function in PHP:

function hello($name) {
  echo "Hi ".$name;
hello("Peter"); //outputs Hi Peter

To declare a function in Node.js:

function hello(name) {
  console.log('Hi' + name);
hello('Peter'); //outputs Hi Peter

To declare a new object in PHP:

class foo {
    function do_foo()  {
        echo "Doing foo."; 

$bar = new foo;

To declare a new object in Node.js:

var foo = function () {
  return { 
    do_foo: function () {console.log('Doing foo');}

var bar = foo();

Note: there are no classes in Node.js/JavaScript, because objects inherit directly from other objects (prototypal inheritance). There are many instantiating patterns such as pseudo-classical, functional(above) and classical.

A database snippet with the PDO database connection library in PHP:

$pdo = new PDO('sqlite:users.db');
$stmt = $pdo->prepare('SELECT name FROM users WHERE id = :id');
$stmt->bindParam(':id', $_GET['id'], PDO::PARAM_INT); //<-- Automatically sanitized by PDO

A Node.js database script with the Mongoskin MongoDB library:

//assuming we use Connect/Express middleware for req.query
var db = require('mongoskin').db('localhost:27017/db'); 
db.collection('users').find({_id:}).toArray(function(err, results) {
    if (err) throw err;

Context Switch

The Switch between different environments and languages is attributed to the drop of efficiency when writing software code. Many researches and personal anecdotal observations show that interruption negatively impacts programmers’ performance. With less languages to learn and remember the flow is smoother and the code is better! For a deeper articles on this subject you might want to take a look at Human Task Switches Considered Harmful and The Multi-Tasking Myth.


With the LAMP stack, i.e, Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP, developers must master at least two more languages which are PHP and SQL in addition to the mandatory and omnipresent HTML, CSS and JavaScript.


Node.js is brilliant at having less context switches, because together with MongoDB, this stack can operate only in one language: JavaScript!

An example of MongoDB shell commands (called by $ mongo):

> db.users.find({});
> db.users.insert({name: 'Azat', email: ''})
> db.users.update({name:'Azat'},{$set:{email:''}})



There is PEAR, a veteran system which installs packages on a server globally, and a better alternative Composer.

In other cases, developers had to seek modules — or components as they call them — on various websites, and to administer them manually by placing *.php files into sub-folders of their projects. Unfortunately, all this is not very kosher.


Node.js comes with a superior and dependable package management system called NPM and its registry which is easy to use and publish. Everything is administered via the package.json file and versioned locally, unless we’re installing a CLI tool with the -g option.

Both PHP and Node.js are functional languages with a relatively later addition of OOP to PHP.



This is probably one of the most important areas where PHP still beats Node.js. There are amazing open-source applications, e.g., WordPress, tons of free scripts, quality tools and books.


Node.js is growing faster than any other platform/language. This is mostly due to the philosophy of keeping modules minimal and performing only a small set of tasks. Other factors might include such things as:

  • The gigantic popularity of front-end JavaScript among web developers
  • Existence of the specs, and abundance of JavaScript resources and gurus (such as Doug Crockford) amassed during the language’s many years of existence
  • Collaborative GitHub open-source community based on an awesome distributed version control system that didn’t exist before
  • Ease of NPM use, e.g., to publish an NPM module run $ npm publish

As a result, some people predict that Node.js will surpass other languages in the absolute number of contributions.


It’s important to have rich tools and proven libraries at our disposal.


CakePHP and Zend come to mind, and for more choices there is an extensive list.


Playing field is relatively leveled with Express.js being the most popular choice, and the full-stack MVC frameworks Meteor and Derby showing the way to the future.

Real-time apps


For PHP, there is still Node.js dependent and some other approaches. The problem with native PHP and websockets is that Apache and ISS — where PHP is usually run as a module — weren’t really built with persistent connection in mind. Therefore, developers have to use the standalone processes like: Apache WebSocket or Ratchet.


Real-time apps building is just a breeze with Node.js stack of the Socket.IO library, Express.js framework and Handlebars reactive template engine. In the Meteor and Derby projects, real-time apps building is taken one step further by combining front and back-end code bases with the persistence layer which reduces the complexity and speeds up the development dramatically.

Database apps


PHP has a long and fruitful history with traditional/relational databases like MySQL, hence the name of the stack LAMP — Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP.


Node.js is natural with NoSQL databases like MongoDB.

The databases’ performances are somewhat comparable to each other depending on the use cases as per MySql vs MongoDB performance benchmark(MySQL), Simple Test : MongoDB vs MySQL(MongoDB) and MongoDb vs MySql – Fight!!!(MongoDB) articles. However, MongoDB is superior for distributed databases and is highly scalable. The added bonus is that without a fixed schema, NoSQL databases are perfect for cloud computing, prototyping and agile projects.

Third-party services apps


As is the case with many traditional languages, PHP’s flow is blocked ’til the remote server has responded, hence the need for multi-threading.

Note: Some languages provide this feature when special libraries/frameworks such as EventMachine for Ruby or Twisted for Python are used. However, they’re very complex and weren’t built from the ground up with the platform.


On the contrary, due to a non-blocking I/O, Node.js can handle multiple requests and make multiple requests as a client to a third-party services (e.g., Twitter, Amazon) with just one thread of execution.

Web Servers


Since PHP 5.4 and higher, there is a build-in development server that we can started with:

$ php -S localhost:8000

Assuming we have index.php in that folder:

  echo 'Hello World';

For versions prior to 5.4, there are ‘all-in-one’ tools like MAMP and XAMPP.

As for the production environment, PHP can’t be run on its own. One of the most popular technologies used with PHP are Apache and nginx where PHP is just a module of Apache web server. My personal experience of Apache is that it has a steep learning curve and while being very configurable, by default those configurations are prone to security leaks.


Node.js was created from the ground up for the network applications and there is a set of core modules to write web servers.

To start a Node.js server:

$ node .

Assuming our index.js file in this folder has:

var http = require('http');
http.createServer(function (req, res) {
  res.writeHead(200, {'Content-Type': 'text/plain'});
  res.end('Hello World\n');
}).listen(1337, '');
console.log('Server running at');

In production, Node.js can be run on SmartOS or Linux (like Ubuntu) as a service.

Note: Multi-threading is absolutely possible in Node.js with clusters and/or external modules.



PHP owes its popularity mainly to the ease and cheapness of offered shared hosting solutions. True, it’s hard to find one without the LAMP stack on it. This commoditization sometimes leads to security holes and less than acceptable downtime due to hosting providers overselling and other consumers using malicious code.

Platform as a Service is a better alternative and somewhere in between full fledged dedicated server and shared hosting. Most of PaaS providers support PHP right of the bat.


Node.js works nicely on PaaSs, with Heroku and Nodjitsu leading the list. Also, the cloud infrastructure company Joyent (the maintainer of Node.js), developed powerful operation system SmartOS that allows for performance bursts, painless deployment and DTrace debugging.


It’s needless to say that performance is important. This resource shows different benchmark tests: Which programs are fastest?.


PHP is relatively fast but due to its bottleneck in the file system, database and third-party requests, it fails miserably in comparison with Node.js and its super fast Goolge Chrome V8 engine.

For example, when Facebook reached its scalability limits with PHP, they wrote an extremely fast C++ library and virtual machine which they called HipHop VM, but kept the PHP API.


Node.js is extremely fast due to its non-blocking I/O mechanism and Google Chrome V8 engine technology. I even heard that Joyent started re-writing some of their C++ modules in Node.js.


PHP was an outstanding technology in its days. Its success and popularity came from:

  • Its ease of learning and use
  • cheap and straightforward hosting mostly shared LAMP
  • Abundance of open-source scripts, apps and libraries

At the same time, these same things now led to its dusk. The contributions to the core from beginner programmers metamorphosed API inconsistently while the lack of OOP/classes and module management systems inhibited open-source community growth. Absence of a leading framework (Ruby on Rails comes to mind as an example of a single dominance) or a paradigm that also helped to produce a lot of bad code that relied heavily on mixing PHP and HTML code without any MVC-ishness. On the other hand, there are a lot of good products and infrastructure for PHP that are here to stay.

Node.js is relatively young with only three years since its first commit, but it’s already the fastest growing platform by the pace of contributions (the absolute number will surpass other languages in a few years). The fact that JavaScript language is the most popular language in the world and has the biggest run-time internment of course attributed to that. Many tools are ported to Node.js with small or no modification from the browser environment. Also, great books on JavaScript fundamentals (for example, JavaScript: The Good Parts and Eloquent JavaScript) experienced surge in the popularity again.

Node.js is very efficient and great for building real time, NoSQL oriented and scalable systems.


I worked with many technologies including Ruby on Rails, Python, Java/J2EE, VB, ASP, Perl and of course PHP. One of my most complex PHP projects was which involved use of the MVC pattern with template engines, classes, database abstraction layer and .htaccess re-routing. However, my focus during the past couple of years has been dedicated solely to Node.js and front-end JavaScript frameworks like Backbone.js. So my opinion might be biased, please comment on your experience with real projects in both PHP and Node.js.

If you want to learn more about Node.js take a look at my artisanal book Rapid Prototyping with JS: Agile JavaScript Development, premium online training Node Program (Udemy link) and the astonishing coding intensive full-time course at HackReactor.

72 thoughts on “PHP vs. Node.js

  1. Azat Post author

    “But, its still a lot of years to overcome LAMP.” Not many years, maybe 2-3 years. Because the speed is faster than when PHP was coming to its power 10-20 years ago.

    “PHP will not go away”- I agree just like VISA and banks are still using COBOL and DB2 a few decades later. There would be legacy PHP apps to support. WordPress is used a lot so that will be there… but do you want to be in the early adopters or in the laggards cohort according to the adaption and technology lifecycle curve? I want to be in the early adopters. If you want to be in the laggards, that’s okay with me too. I need devs to support this blog (which is WP).

  2. realmartiandev

    I think you should also be careful if being biased that Node.js is better. In my experience creating Node.js, I totally agree. It is fast, super instant.. However, applying the database could be the most crucial point.. Read this one, check what the Mozilla are up to >… And it really depends on the clients what they really want, so the PHP will not go away. It’ll still be there because of MySQL.. is understandable compare to NoSQL.. Of coure, there are other NoSQL are now securing there data more complicated alogirthm… But, its still a lot of years to overcome LAMP. Know your client, and know which one is best to apply. Would it be LAMP or MEAN?.. It really depends..

  3. Azat Post author

    You clearly did NOT read the whole article, because if you would have read it, then you would’ve read that it says that I’m biased and why that is so. :-)
    Please think before commenting obvious things next time.

  4. TF

    “Node.js comes with a superior and dependable package management system called NPM and its registry which is easy to use and publish.” => On what basis can you assert that? If you compare NPM to Pear obviously… but to Composer? I’m really interested to know in which way NPM is superior to Composer!

    I use both Node.js and PHP, and I love both of them, but the way you describe them is heavily biased and very misleading. It’s a pity that your comparison has the only purpose of saying that Node.js is superior to PHP, which is false.

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  6. Dario Fumagalli

    I loved a lot about this article but it’s heavy bias towards what the author believes to be the obvious, inevitable and possibly impending future sort of ruins it.

    I happen to be using PHP since it was called “PHP/FI” and have followed its evolution till true marvels like the Phalcon full native code MVC library (which blows everything else to dust).

    See, it’s not just about “difficulty to switch language” or those 10 milliseconds gained.
    Professionals know PHP, Java, Javascript, Ruby AND traditional languages (I know C / C++ / Delphi and others) and use the best tool for the task. Difficulty just shows who’s capable and experienced vs who can’t deliver.

    Furthermore, somebody who actually makes a living off his coding abilities needs to get stuff done, needs business ready architectures that work, needs freedom. This old, dated PHP comes with stuff to deliver business apps and to make revenue. Be it Laravel, Yii, Phalcon or be it an higher tier framework (WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, but also Magento, OpenCart, PrestaShop…), PHP comes with mountains and mountains of flexible, customizable, “just fill in the blanks” great software. THIS is what matters, not the 10 milliseconds, I and you are not Facebook or Google top tier engineers facing the challenges like supporting whatever millions concurrent connections.
    Plus, enter the “SQL vs NoSQL” endless diatribe. No, NoSQL is not the panacea. Real business applications need flexible and relational searches too, it’s not all just about dumping a clump of json / key->value nested array into a record. Proof: hybrid solutions that implement both SQL and NoSQL are being made. As I said above, the professional wants and needs to be able to pick the right tool for the task. The more the better. SQL and NoSQL too.

    Node.js is an awesome technology and it is certainly going to play an emergent, growing role in what it does best. It has still to do a LOT before it may truly compete and beat the other mature solutions out there.
    In a couple of years we’ll see how far it goes (and it’ll go far), but by reading the article it’d sound like we have to dump PHP / Ruby / whatever today and embrace the new messiah. It’s not so simple. It’s not so fast.

  7. Azat Post author

    That’s right. However, Heroku and Amazon Web Services have free accounts, and those ultra-cheap PHP hosting providers that you mention (4.99/mo for unlimited) are usually oversell, slow and prone to hacking attacks. I’ve heard that Linode is cheaper than AWS.

  8. Tanveer Sure


    I liked the comparison, however, when it comes to finding hosting solutions, for PHP there are almost unlimited options where as for Node js there are a limited few like Amazon or Heroku etc. These are expensive options compared to PHP hosting options. What are your thoughts on that? Are there cheaper options there for Node js hosting?

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  10. Wabile

    …I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article mainly due to the intimate knowledge you appear to possess on both php and nodejs.

    Unfortunately I have no experience at all on nodejs, though I intent in the next few weeks to experiment with it. Your articles certainly prompts me to do so.

    Unless it was your intention, your explicit bias towards nodejs at the expense of php may require some calibration to ensure you stick to the point of comparing two different tool sets (which happen to be developed based on different philosophies).

    Trust me, there is no need to denounce php, it has proven its worth and relevance amongst certain software developer communities.

  11. Udit Mittal

    Well I agree with Subhajit choudhary that it’s the skills that matters instead of the underlying technology when it comes to making your application. All the technologies that exist out there are created by some great minds of our time and are pretty reliable. But what they have gives us are the tools. It depends on us how well we use them. It depends on us how much knowledge we gather to complement their technology and use it aptly.

  12. Azat Post author

    Yeah, that’s the beauty that you can use one language everywhere: on front-end, on back-end and in the database!

  13. Subhajit Choudhury

    Going through the article I feel, the emphasis was on NodeJS being superior, or, should I say, PHP is all about downsides.
    What I feel “Programming languages are just a tool to display one’s logic”. Its just a syntactical difference or function call difference.Working in abstraction vision doesnot lend you the security. Even a JAVA based app could be injected, wouldn’t it?
    Its about good programming knowledge and not good abstraction layer.
    Had PHP being so full of downsides, it would already been obsolete by now. But still it continues to gain new versions.
    Even google, facebook used PHP or rather using PHP. They created HHVM. Not just because the pain of transforming the codebase to any so-called other prolific languages. That would have been an easy task to convert the codebase, if not a piece of cake, for all the talented engineers present.
    Its a myth that PHP is less secured. Instead of pointing at its vulnerability, the approach of the coding structure / standard should be seen.
    Nothing is secured in this world, not even one’s life. So no language is secured. Its about generating excellent code and excellent coding approach.
    By all means I am not downsiding NodeJS. It is good in its own way. It is just another name in the land of all Programming languages / frameworks.

    somewhere I heard:

    Person 1
    “I want to make an enterprise application. Which language should I use ?”

    Person 2
    “Any language (as if JAVA / .NET were created by GOD —full-proof) but not PHP. Its not enterprise ready. Security issues / not structured …blah blah !!!!”.

    Person 3
    “Yes PHP can.. how do you feel that it is an enterprise app ?.. May be of its time consumption on page load (beacause JAVA / .NET app takes time to load).
    You should use sleep(5000) between every function or at time use $this->redirect(‘Document Expired’) and even better create a config which can append and extension .do / .jsp.
    Yes now the app is an enterprise ready.

    Unfortunately, the MYTHS have taken over the FACTS and FACETS.

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