10 Popular PHP frameworks for web developers to consider in 2021Posted Feb 21, 2021 | 10 min. (2087 words)
This article was originally posted in November 2018
PHP, or hypertext preprocessor, is an open-source server-side scripting language. It’s extremely popular, too — almost 80% of all websites were using PHP as of August 2021, with no signs of slowing down any time soon. It’s free to download and use and is powerful enough to run some of the biggest websites on the internet (WordPress, Facebook, and Wikipedia just to name a few).
Being around since 1991, PHP database frameworks have had plenty of time to come and go, with the landscape now being full of quality options. There is now a rich ecosystem of frameworks available to make your life easier when writing PHP code.
But why do you need to use a PHP framework in the first place? And how do you know which PHP framework is right for you?
This post will list the 10 best PHP frameworks on the market today and will provide you with the information to pick which is right for you.
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Why use a PHP framework?
A PHP framework provides a basic structure for streamlining the development of web apps. We use them because they speed up the development process.
Above all, the responsiveness of websites and applications built using PHP frameworks helps businesses fulfill their performance needs. So there’s no doubt that PHP frameworks will continue gaining attention and popularity in 2019.
What should you look for in a framework?
There are several things that you should be looking for when choosing a PHP framework. For more details, visit the ten criteria for choosing the correct framework.
From a high level, you should consider:
- Popularity and community size: Frameworks are frequently community-driven, so ensuring there is a community to maintain and improve a framework is a massive positive benefit.
- Philosophy: What is the framework trying to achieve? If it doesn’t line up with your own business needs and goals, maybe you should look for an alternative solution.
- Sustainability: Is the framework frequently maintained, and will it support your technology stack both now and in the future?
- Support: Is there anywhere that you can turn if you have any questions or concerns? Frequently, this point will tie back into the popularity and community size criteria. Documentation and online resources should be available to help you navigate any problems you might encounter.
The best way for you to make a decision, however, is to just test them out. I can’t stress enough the importance of trying these frameworks out before implementing them into your tech stack. You don’t have to test every single one but try to narrow it down to two or three options and just have a play around with them. They might surprise you!
10 of the best PHP frameworks
Here’s a list of the best PHP frameworks, based on popularity and ability to facilitate application development.
Introduced in 2011, Laravel has become the most popular free, open-source PHP framework in the world. Why? Because it can handle complex web applications securely, at a considerably faster pace than other frameworks. Laravel simplifies the development process by easing common tasks such as routing, sessions, caching, and authentication.
Reasons to use Laravel
Laravel is suitable when developing applications with complex backend requirements, whether small or large. Installing Laravel has been made easier by the introduction of Homestead, a prepackaged, all-in-one vagrant box.
It’s a PHP framework full of features that will help you customize complex apps. Among these: seamless data migration, MVC architecture support, security, routing, view template engine, and authentication, among many others.
Laravel is highly expressive, and its speed and security are in line with expectations for a modern web application. For developers who want to build B2B or enterprise websites that will evolve with changing web trends, Laravel is the way to go.
Known for its small footprint (it’s only about 2 MB in size, including the documentation) CodeIgniter is a PHP framework suitable for developing dynamic websites. It offers numerous prebuilt modules that help with constructing robust and reusable components.
Reasons to use CodeIgniter
CodeIgniter is a lightweight and straightforward PHP framework that’s hassle-free to install, unlike other frameworks. Due to a simple setup process and highly illustrated documentation, it’s ideal for beginners.
Key features include an MVC architecture, top-notch error handling, inbuilt security tools, and simple and excellent documentation. In addition, it creates scalable apps.
Compared with other frameworks, CodeIgniter is considerably faster. Since it also offers solid performance, it’s a good choice when you want to develop lightweight applications to run on modest servers. One caveat: CodeIgniter releases are a bit irregular, so the framework isn’t a great option for an application that requires high-level security.
The Symfony framework was launched in 2005, and although it’s been in existence for much longer than other frameworks on this list, it’s a reliable and mature platform. Symfony is an extensive PHP MVC framework and the only framework known to follow PHP and web standards to the tee.
Reasons to use Symfony
Symfony is the perfect choice for developing large-scale enterprise projects. It’s easy to install and configure on most platforms.
One of its key features? It’s reusable PHP components. It also boasts database engine–independence, and it’s stable, complies with most web best practices and design patterns, and allows for integration with other vendor libraries.
Symfony is also highly flexible and can integrate with bigger projects like Drupal. Symfony and Laravel have many common and unique features, which makes it difficult to say which of these frameworks is better.
However, while Laravel focuses more on simplicity and delivering value, even for developers who are not advanced, Symfony targets advanced developers and is a bit harder to start with. In addition, the Symfony security mechanism is a bit difficult to use. And, because it lets developers “do it all,” it can be slower than other frameworks.
If you’re looking for a toolkit that’s simple and elegant, look no further. CakePHP will help you develop visually impressive, feature-loaded websites. In addition, CakePHP is one of the easiest frameworks to learn, especially because of its CRUD (create, read, update, and delete) framework. CakePHP hit the market in the early 2000s, and since then it’s gained better performance and many new components.
Reasons to use CakePHP
CakePHP is simple and easy to install, as you only need a web server and a copy of the framework.
It makes a good choice for commercial applications due to security features that include SQL injection prevention, input validation, cross-site request forgery (CSRF) protection, and cross-site scripting (XSS) protection.
Some key features include a modern framework, fast builds, proper class inheritance, validation, and security. In addition, CakePHP provides great documentation, many support portals, and premium support through Cake Development Corporation.
The Yii framework — which stands for Yes, it is! — is, in fact, simple and evolutionary. It’s a high-performance, component-based PHP framework for developing modern web applications. Yii is suitable for all kinds of web apps. For this reason, it’s a universal web programming framework.
Reasons to use Yii
Yii has an easy installation process. Furthermore, its robust security features make the framework suitable for highly secure endeavors such as e-commerce projects, portals, CMS, forums, and many others.
It boasts excellent speed and performance, it’s highly extensible, and it lets developers avoid the complexity of writing repetitive SQL statements, as they can model the database data in terms of objects.
Yii has a core developer team and experts that contribute to its development. With a massive community using it, you can post issues on Yii forums and get help.
Yii is extremely extensible, and you can customize nearly every piece of the core’s code. However, if it’s your first time using it, be prepared for a steep learning curve.
6. Zend Framework
The Zend framework is a complete object-oriented framework, and the fact that it uses features such as interfaces and inheritance makes it extendable. It was built on the agile methodology, which helps you to deliver high-quality applications to enterprise clients. Zend is highly customizable and abides by PHP best practices—an important point for developers who want to add project-specific functionalities.
Reasons to use Zend
Zend framework is an excellent fit for complex, enterprise-level projects. It’s the preferred framework for large IT departments and banks.
Some key features include MVC components, simple cloud API, data encryption, and session management.
It can integrate with external libraries, and you can use only the components you want. The Zend framework comes with extremely good documentation and has a large community base. However, if you’re a mobile app builder, get ready for a steep learning curve.
A full-stack PHP framework that employs the MVC web architecture design pattern, Phalcon was originally written in C and C++ and released in 2012. Since it’s delivered as a C-extension, you don’t have to worry about learning the C programming language.
Reasons to use Phalcon
Phalcon is easy to install and suitable for creating highly configurable web applications that are in line with enterprise development guidelines.
Key features include increased execution speed, asset management, a universal autoloader, and top security and caching.
Unlike other frameworks, Phalcon optimizes performance due to its efficient memory utilization. If you’re looking to create a blazing fast website, give Phalcon a try.
On the negative side, Phalcon developers are a bit slow to patch bugs, which may not jive with today’s need for high levels of security.
FuelPHP is a flexible, full-stack PHP framework first released in 2011. Apart from supporting the MVC design pattern, it has its own version called the hierarchical model view controller (HMVC). With HMVC, unlike with MVC, content doesn’t need to duplicate to show on multiple pages. As a result, it consumes less time and memory.
Reasons to use FuelPHP
FuelPHP helps developers deliver end-to-end web solutions that are diverse in size and complexities.
Key features include HMVC implementation, RESTful implementation, a URL routing system, vulnerability protection, and a caching system.
It extends its security approach beyond ordinary security measures, making it a great option if security is crucial for your project. Because FuelPHP is relatively new, it offers less support and may present a steeper learning curve.
Introduced in 2012 and just like FuelPHP, PHPixie implements the HMVC design pattern. Its goal was to create a high-performance framework for read-only websites.
Reasons to use PHPixie
It’s easy to get started with PHPixie, which is suitable for social networking websites, customized web applications, and web app development services.
Key features include HMVC architecture, standard ORM (object-relational mapping), input validation, authorization capabilities, authentication, and caching.
PHPixie is built using independent components. For this reason, you can use it without the framework itself. Note that PHPixie has relatively few modules. Besides that, it lacks support for components independently made from the dependencies. Since it’s relatively new, it’s less popular and has a smaller community of users than other frameworks.
Slim is another popular PHP micro-framework that helps developers quickly create simple but powerful web applications and APIs.
Reasons to use Slim
- Just like PHPixie, Slim is easy to learn. PHP developers use Slim to develop RESTful APIs and web services.
- Key features include URL routing, session, and cookie encryption, client-side HTTP caching, and more.
- It’s the best framework for a small web application that doesn’t necessarily require a full-stack PHP framework. In addition, active maintenance and friendly documentation make Slim super user-friendly.
How hard are PHP frameworks to maintain?
As part of your PHP workflow, it’s important to track errors. Raygun Crash Reporting works with most PHP frameworks and will accurately help you detect and diagnose software errors. With smart PHP error monitoring software from Raygun, you can be alerted to issues affecting your users the second they happen.
Which PHP framework is right for you?
Using PHP frameworks simplifies the development process, which helps to minimize workload. Each framework has its own strengths and weaknesses, and they all vary in terms of community, documentation, and the database they support.
As such, the decision on the best framework to use depends on various factors such as security, ease of use, scalability, documentation, and more. So, start by understanding the requirements of the project or application you want to develop. Then, choose the most suitable PHP framework from this list. You can’t go wrong.