Node.js vs PHP: what to choose for back-end?

PHP and Node.js can be used to develop mobile applications of any complexity. However, they are based on different concepts and architectures.

We at Sannacode use both technologies frequently to develop websites. So we decided to help you to choose the right tech stack for your app.

How is Node.js different from PHP?

PHP is a scripting language created by Rasmus Lerdorf in 1994. It was the number one language in Web 1.0. An example of PHP’s success is content management systems such as WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal that are used for millions of blogs and web portals. It has a lot of advantages:

  • Huge codebase — A large code base makes it easy to program in PHP. It allows you to create various Internet resources ranging from control systems to powerful frameworks such as Facebook.
  • Designing for WEB — unlike Java or Python, PHP scripts explicitly intended for the Web. They contain all the necessary functionality to work with HTML, servers, and databases.
  • Exceptional Flexibility — In addition to the recommended HTML language, it integrates perfectly into JavaScript, WML, XML, and many other languages.

Node.js is a new web development technology. Unlike PHP, Node.js is not a programming language. It is a runtime environment that uses JavaScript to write server-side applications. Introduced in 2009, Node.js showcased the power of JavaScript in developing event-driven, data-driven applications in the Web 2.0 era.

The main advantages of this software platform include:

  • Excellent performance — programming in Node.js allows creating apps with non-blocking input and output, processing multiple requests simultaneously.
  • Asynchronous work — with the simultaneous connection of hundreds of thousands of users, node js intelligently allocate resources and ensure all systems’ smooth operation.

Node.js vs PHP performance

Even the most demanding PHP developer rarely cares about speed, but Node.js performance tends to be better. Of course, performance is a consequence of experience and team development. However, Node.js has several advantages:

1. Fewer dependencies

All requests to the PHP application must be directed to the webserver to run the PHP interpreter, which processes the code and serves it up. Node.js doesn’t need so many dependencies. Although you are using a server-side framework like express, it is pretty lightweight and manages a portion of your application.

2. Fast interpreter

Node.js is smaller and more agile than PHP. It is due to the legacy of Google, which made a massive contribution to the performance of the JavaScript engine — V8.

3. Apps run constantly

PHP follows the usual client-server model. Each page request initiates the application, loads the database connection parameters, retrieves the information, and displays the HTML code. In Node.js, the application is constantly running and only needs to be initialized once. For example, you can create a single database connection object that is reused on a new request. True, there are ways to implement this behavior in PHP using unique systems such as Memcached, but this is not a standard language feature.

4. Event-driven, non-blocking I/O stream

PHP and most other server-side languages ​​use a prominent blocking model. When you request to retrieve information from a database, the request will execute and complete the process before moving on to the following statement. It’s different in Node.js. In Node.js, you don’t have to wait. Instead, you can create a callback function that listens to the process and executes it after the activity completes.

Although Node.js applications are noticeably faster than PHP, there are some pitfalls.

Node.js/JavaScript runs on a single thread, and most web servers are multithreaded and process requests in parallel. Writing asynchronous code is tricky and has its challenges.

Before PHP 7, it was easy to say that Node.js wins in terms of performance when discussing PHP and JavaScript. However, PHP 7 is built on the PHPNG engine results in a 2x performance increase and a 50% increase in memory consumption (compared to PHP 5.6).

Node.js is still faster than PHP when there is no need to process data in real-time. Therefore, when you need to create chats, games, videos, or large data streams, you can opt for PHP.

When to use Node.js over PHP?

To understand when to use Node.js, you need to know that the Node.js app can access a wide range of global objects, including documents or windows. As a result, the program can access the user’s hard drive and file system and libraries and software solutions located on the computer, which significantly expands the interaction capabilities.

This platform is often used to create web services that require an intensive exchange of information with users, including for the implementation of chats, collaboration systems, social networks, etc. Many programs written in Node.js consist of a server and a client.

To understand the reasons for this use, it is worth dwelling a little more on asynchrony and the possibilities of the event-driven paradigm. At the same time, the essence of programming comes down to the fact that you tell the program what actions it should perform and what function it should call after performing these actions. But while Node.js is waiting for the code to execute and the function call, it may well be busy with some other tasks. In this case, the thread will not be blocked while waiting for the request.

Thus, the application can request the server database, and while waiting for a response, process some other requests. As a result, thousands of connections are processed simultaneously, each of which wastes very little time and resources. It significantly speeds up the exchange of information with the server and, as a result, the operation of the browser application.

As a conclusion

PHP is the most popular general-purpose programming language used for web development. There are thousands of PHP sites running on their servers. Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla are still entirely PHP-based. We also used PHP for our website sannacode.com.

PHP may lag behind JavaScript, but PHP is still in the top 10 most popular languages when it comes to learning internal languages, according to a Stack Overflow poll last year.

However, recent research shows the growing popularity of another server-side language, Node.js. We are increasingly using Node.js for client projects. You can see them in our portfolio.

Naturally, this information is not enough to make a final decision. We recommend that you consider the features of your product and the strategy of product development when choosing a tech stack. You can contact Sannacode specialists for a free consultation.

We’re a full-cycle web and mobile development company with Agile approach and expertise that helps to solve your business’s challenges.