Devs defend PHP programming language despite dip in popularity

Male software developer sitting at desk coding in PHP programming language on a laptop device.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The PHP programming language, most often used for web development, has tumbled down one of the lists of popular languages - but supporters insist it continues to evolve and adapt.

PHP was once ranked in third place on Tiobe’s index of the most popular coding languages, said Paul Jansen, CEO Tiobe Software, but for April 2024 it has dropped to number 17 on its rankings – marking its lowest position ever.

Part of the reason is, Jansen said, that since the days when PHP was riding high, a number of competitors have entered the market, such as web development frameworks like Rails, Django, and React, powered by languages including Ruby, Python, and JavaScript.

“As a result, PHP had to reinvent itself,” he said. “Nowadays PHP still has a strong presence in the field of small and medium websites, and is the language behind the most popular web content management system WordPress. So, PHP is certainly not gone, but its glory days seem to be over.”

PHP is a general-purpose scripting language that is well suited to web development. It arrived back in 1995 but continues to be enhanced. PHP 8.3, for example, was released in November last year.

The programming language might jump back up the ranking again relatively quickly. It was in seventh place on Tiobe’s list as recently as January of this year, and month-to-month fluctuations in rankings may not be hugely significant considering how long it takes to learn a language and build projects.

Speaking to ITPro, Roman Pronskiy, executive director of The PHP Foundation, said while much focus is placed on a range of popular languages today, PHP remains a top contender for several reasons - especially in terms of its versatility.

“It’s not as hot as AI," he said. "At the same time, it's fascinating to discover how many cool things are built with PHP.”

Pronskiy said PHP has traditionally been centered around frameworks and CMSs rather than the language itself, and pointed to growing interest in Laravel, Symfony and WordPress.

“I wish I could show at least a small fraction of the cool projects and businesses built with PHP,” and added: “What's amazing for businesses is that the cost of running those projects is ridiculously low.”

Pronskiy said that PHP has carved out a distinct niche and it “continues to evolve to adapt to changes and demands of the market”.

“The initiatives of the PHP Foundation and various sub-communities are evidence of that,” he said. “Thus, rather than viewing shifts in the market as a concern, the PHP community is embracing change, innovation, and healthy competition to secure PHP's place in the programming world.”

Tiobe’s list is just one of a number of measures of programming language popularity, and the relative popularity of individual coding languages can vary considerably between these rankings.

For example, according to StackOverflow’s 2023 developer survey, PHP remains the tenth most popular language with professional developers.

Similarly, PHP is the 11th most-used coding language according to research by JetBrains, although usage has declined in the last couple of years, the survey found.

Developer-focused analyst firm RedMonk recently ranked PHP at number four on its list – and the language has been at number two or number three on that ranking since 2012.

Regardless of fluctuations in popularity, PHP still continues to be hugely popular for building websites. According to data from Cloudflare over half (54.7%) of websites are built on PHP, while another source of data puts it as high as 76%.

Steve Ranger

Steve Ranger is an award-winning reporter and editor who writes about technology and business. Previously he was the editorial director at ZDNET and the editor of