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Node.js vs PHP For Backend Development: Which One Should You Pick?

May 6, 202210 min read

Dawid Karczewski

Senior full stack developer and CTO at Ideamotive.

node.js and php backend development which is better

Any website or web application is powered by a technology stack that consists of a few virtual layers, including backend and frontend. While the frontend refers to everything that a user sees and interacts with (i.e. user interface: buttons, panels, sliders, etc.), the backend is a set of mechanisms that run under the hood of a project and are invisible to users, such as server-side applications and database queries. PHP and Node.js are technologies used in backend development; thus, they are vital for the fast and efficient performance of a project. It doesn't matter how well-designed and responsive the UI of your project is while the rest of the user experience is laggy and full of errors because of the poorly built backend. 


Proficient backend programmers and project managers surely understand how Node.js vs PHP are compared and what strengths and limitations they carry, but if you're a novice to backend development, check this article to learn about the subject. We’ll guide you through the feature comparison of these technologies and help you make your own decision on the Node.js vs PHP dilemma.

What is PHP?

PHP is one of the most popular back-end scripting languages out there, originally released in 1994, the abbreviation then stood for Personal Home Page, and is now deciphered as Hypertext Preprocessor. It’s an open-source programming language utilized in WordPress, the top content management system, and other popular CMSs (i.e. Drupal, Shopify, Joomla, WooCommerce), so the lion's share of all websites, including Facebook or Wikipedia, are developed with different types of PHP frameworks. 


As for tech features, PHP is synchronous with multi-threaded blocking I/O (input/output) processing. PHP code is executed on the server-side by interpreters, such as Zend Engine working with Apache or Nginx servers. According to this model, the client-side waits until it gets the results of a script being executed, without having access to the original code, and no code lines are executed until the previous result is received. PHP code can be integrated into HTML or HTML5 markup, which makes PHP very flexible. The language efficiently connects to the SQL database, such as MySQL, MariaDB, or PostgreSQL. 


Nodejs vs PHP For Web Development Which Technology Should You Pick For Your Backend? - top 10 most popular languages

What is Node.js?


Since 2009, Node.js is an open-source runtime environment, enabling the use of JavaScript applications on the server-side. Earlier, JavaScript was an exceptional frontend animal, built to run in a web browser environment, and it did never intersect with the area of PHP use. Node.js turned the tables: powered by Google’s V8 JS engine, it enabled asynchronous programming with JavaScript, which was a revolutionary shift, upgrading JS to the level of more powerful programming languages, such as Python


Additionally to asynchronous, non-blocking I/O, Node.js features event-driven workflow and powerful built-in libraries, which make it possible to set interactive client/server communications sessions via WebSockets. The Node.js logic supports micro-services, event queues, and jobs. Unlike PHP, Node.js sends the task to the computer's file system and is immediately ready to process the next request without waiting for previous results to return -- it makes it faster since the waiting downtime is excluded from the operation. 


Another thing to mention about Node.js is its first-class support of JSON (Javascript Object Notation), a special format for handling data. JSON comes to use when the data is transferred from the server to the web page and allows you to interact with NoSQL databases. Node.js is already used by Microsoft, LinkedIn, and PayPal.

Nodejs vs PHP For Web Development Which Technology Should You Pick For Your Backend? - top 10 most popular frameworks

PHP vs. Node.js: Why Should We Compare Them?

They are pretty different in many respects: while PHP is a standalone programming language, Node.js is a runtime environment for JavaScript. However, they have a lot in common too: both are successfully utilized in backend development in numerous web projects and apps. The functionality of both technologies can be improved and extended by plugging additional libraries, frameworks, and APIs. Choosing one between them can be very challenging and can massively affect the whole development process (including costs, time, and team staffing). 


When a discussion starts, some backend developers may name a dozen factors contributing to why they opted for PHP over Node.js: for example, because it’s easier to code and operate and comes with a large and experienced community, so they can find a ready and relatable solution for even very specific situations. At the same time, Node.js is considered to be more powerful with a wider range of applications and faster performance. 


Below you may see how they compare in detail.  

Comparison of PHP vs. Node.js: Which Is the Best Backend Solution in 2022?

PHP vs. Node.js: Speed Of Coding

What about the ease and speed of coding? For many developers, coding in PHP is a faster option because it’s easier to use. A skillful PHP developer can code in PHP with a significantly higher speed rate if compared to Node.js, as there is no need to utilize compilers or converters. The language allows establishing a simple connection to the SQL database without hosting confinements. At the same time, there is a trade-off: PHP programs do not perform that swiftly.


As for Node.js, deployment of applications and frameworks appears a more sophisticated task; nevertheless, a code written under Node.js environment executes rapidly and smoothly since it keeps the server workloads low. With Node.js, it’s possible to maintain a two-way connection website with free data exchange and to get access to the callbacks, which helps you save time when dealing with multiple different threads. 


Conclusion: Coding in PHP can be a good thing when you need a quick solution. But if you need a more efficient, complex, and sustainable output, you should opt for Node.js and invest more time in writing and compiling your code. 

Node.js vs. PHP: Performance

As mentioned above, these technologies adhere to different concepts in handling requests: PHP has a slower, synchronous code execution procedure, which means that every module or function is processed in the code-specified order. If one query is not executed, the next one will not get executed until the previous one is accomplished. 


The process of opening a file in PHP looks like this:

  1. PHP sends a query to the computer's file system.
  2. Waits until the file system opens and reads the requested file.
  3. Returns the content to the client.
  4. Works on the next request/code line.

Owing to the powers of the V8 engine, real-time server interaction, and asynchronous execution (order-independent execution), Node.js can boast superior performance and obviously outperforms PHP. 


This is how Node.js concurrently handles a file request:

  1. Node.js sends a query to the computer's file system.
  2. Works on the next request without waiting for the previous one.
  3. When the file system has opened and read the requested file, the server sends the content back to the client.


Conclusion: Is Node.js faster than PHP? Because of a slower loading process rendered by PHP, Node.js is the winner in terms of performance and code execution speed. It eliminates the waiting downtime and provides real-time data in a much more efficient manner, which allows using Node.js for high-load projects. 

Node.js vs. PHP: Extensibility

PHP can be combined with HTML; and therefore, it is an integral part of many content management engines such as WordPress or Drupal, making the development process easier and cheaper. 


You can also extend PHP with LAMP stack technology and server software, such as MySQL, PostgreSQL, mSQL, MS-SQL, SQLite, PostgreSQL, and non-relational databases like ElasticSearch, Redis, and MongoDB. Besides that, PHP can work together with countless extensions and libraries. It requires the use of package managers, such as PEAR, a structured library of open-source PHP programs, making the scripts/commands accessible from anywhere on the command-line, and Composer, a PHP dependency management tool.


JavaScript, which is the programming language behind Node.js, is even more capable of functionality extensions because it can be combined with HTML, XML, and Ajax. There are tons of powerful JavaScript frameworks and instruments out there, with Node.js being the most popular server-side framework. Node.js has an inbuilt package manager called NPM (Node Package Manager) which is the largest software catalog in the world (650,000 free code packages). 


Conclusion: All in all, JavaScript (and thus, Node.js) has more potential for extensibility.

Node.js vs. PHP: Functionality 

PHP is a pure backend programming language, so its application area is pretty limited. Technically, it belongs to the LAMP stack, which stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP/Perl/Python. So to design, build, test, and maintain a completely functional web project, a software developer should be proficient enough in approaching and configuring different systems, along with using HTML and CSS (or you have to hire a team of different engineers to cover all the mentioned areas). Of course, potential dealing with different systems seriously complicates the learning curve. Despite the said issues, PHP is on the track of dynamically developing, with its developers regularly coming up with new stuff and ideas for improving its features and functionality.  


Is Node.js better than PHP? At least, it has an advantage over PHP, as Node.js gathers some of the essential functionality under the umbrella of a single seamless package with no functionality fragmentation, so you can use it to develop an integral backend model (you’ll still need a database, such as MySQL. Also, a reverse proxy, such as Apache or Nginx, and HTTP framework, such as Express.js, are often used.) Moreover, JavaScript is a full-stack development language, meaning that it is capable of developing an entire web or mobile application with no other tech than JS.


Conclusion: Many experienced developers would call it a draw. The powerful package management system (NPM) gives Node.js extra functionality points, but aside from that functionalities are rather similar.

Node.js vs. PHP: Popularity

Websites with PHP far outnumber sites with Node.js: PHP powers the backend of about 80% of all websites in the world, and about 40% of them are driven by the PHP-based WordPress engine. At the same time, the popularity of Node.js is rising: in 2020 it became the most used programming framework. Although Node.js powers just about 1-2% of websites, those websites include some giants, such as Linkedin and Netflix. What can be said for sure, the Node.js presence is going to increase because of the “JavaScript is everywhere” reality -- JS is reported to be the most demanded and convenient language for a few years in a row, while PHP developers are in considerably less demand. 


Conclusion: PHP is much more popular than Node.js. 

Node.js vs. PHP: Community + Ecosystem 

PHP has been on the market since 1994. It has already gained a very strong community and offers an endless portfolio of projects. PHP comes with a huge codebase: 1M+ questions on StackOverflow alone and tons of training material available; not to mention a vast repository of efficient PHP-driven solutions, such as WordPress and frameworks making it easy to develop with PHP. Such a superior richness of the PHP-related resources allows you to cut down development time/costs, and increase the productivity of your team.


In contrast to PHP, Node.js is pretty young, and thus, its community is not that large. At the same time, its open-source community is hard-working, diverse, and enthusiastic. Also, Node.js is backed by the largest library a.k.a NPM Registry that is a public collection of packages of open-source JavaScript applications and solutions that help you address all sorts of potential situations, including backend development challenges. There is a foundation taking care of Node.js development


Conclusion: PHP looks like a mighty Goliath, while Node.js is an ambitious David. The battle is not yet finished!

Talents: How Much Does It Cost to Hire Either a PHP or Node.js Developer?

There is a large pool of backend devs familiar with Node.js: more than 50% of all developers have had a positive experience with it in 2020, highlighting it as the most popular web development technology. In the U.S., developers skilled in Node.js can earn somewhat between $70K and $100K annually. At the same time, the yearly wage of their colleagues in Europe can fall anywhere within the range of $25-95K (the lower rates are peculiar to Eastern Europe and Balkan countries, which are the top destinations for outsourcing). 


The USA-based PHP developers can be hired for an annual compensation ranging from $55-101K USD, with $80K+  on average. These rates are a bit lower in Asia or Europe, especially in Eastern Europe, including Ukraine, Romania, and Russia. As we mentioned above, PHP is a part of the LAMP stack, so you may consider hiring a full-stack developer: their salaries can reach as high as $150K, or about $96K on average in the USA. 


Conclusion: Most likely, if you’re looking for either PHP or Node.js engineers, you won’t face a deficit of talent proposition, but make sure that your budget is capable of winning a specialist through the salary bidding. 

PHP or Node.js: Cost of Development

Long story short: the smaller team you have, the lower are costs! When building a project with only JavaScript (Node.js) that is utilized throughout the entire project, including backend, there’s no need for additional developers — a full-stack JS developer can complete the job. When doing the job on PHP, you may require more specialists (or a very proficient full-stack guy covering it all) to make sure the database and other important backend things are doing well. 


Conclusion: A real price of a project massively depends on your business needs, the volume of code that is to be written to satisfy them, and the time the qualified developers would have to spend working on your project. Since there are a lot of ready-made solutions available out there, you may get your project done relatively quickly and at an affordable price, especially if you don’t hire developers yourself but look for development outsourcing.    


Nodejs vs PHP For Web Development Which Technology Should You Pick For Your Backend? - php vs node overview

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Both Technologies

PHP Strengths: 

  • Supported by the vast majority of internet hosting services. 
  • Works on almost any server and platform. 
  • Neat code syntax / Fewer code lines. 
  • Supports countless libraries, frameworks, and CMSs.
  • Easy-to-learn and quick in terms of coding speed.
  • Easiness of configuring the development process/environment.
  • Unlike Node.js, there is no need for a virtual server with SSH access to run PHP.
  • One of the most popular, sustainable, and well-elaborated back-end languages.
  • Approved by a majority of websites that are happily built with PHP (80% of all.)
  • The world’s most used content management engine, WordPress, uses PHP.
  • A powerful community of developers who contribute to the development of the language, training materials, and auxiliary software. 
  • A long history of success, since 1994 and counting on.

PHP Limitations:

  • Provides slower operation because it runs in the line by line mode, running the next function only after completion of the previous one (however, there are solutions that help cope with the issue and maximize the PHP performance). 
  • Web-oriented: works only in the backend area of a website.
  • Incapable of handling a big number of applications. 
  • Imperfect for debugging: even with the inbuilt error-highlighting tools, most PHP developers agree that PHP lacks efficiency when it comes to finding, filtering, and managing code errors.

Node.js Strengths:

  • Capable of processing multiple events and functions in parallel.
  • Allows establishing a real-time client-server connection.
  • Agility: great for developing any kind of custom solution.  
  • Uses JavaScript, so one language is applied throughout the entire app, including the frontend and the backend, which makes the code operations more convenient.
  • Service calls are much lighter than PHP calls.
  • The simplicity of working with JSON.
  • Scalability: owing to microservices architecture (or containerization), the system’s scalability can be easily achieved.

Node.js Limitations:

  • Not suitable for handling bigger files.
  • Relatively new: fewer support materials and a smaller community available out there.
  • Ineffective with web apps rendering sophisticated graphics and causing high CPU workloads.
  • Lacks support on content management systems.
  • Powers only about 1% of all websites.

What is PHP good for?

Since PHP is designed as a fully backend-focused language, it can be well integrated with HTML, centralized servers, and databases, and will be the best choice for LAMP stack projects including Linux, Apache, and MySQL. PHP is certainly the right instrument when you're dealing with a CMS like WordPress, Joomla, etc. (with these systems, you can set your web project up in a very short time.) For example, it makes sense to opt for PHP if you’re going to start an e-commerce marketplace, email marketing platforms, content-based websites, personal or business blogs. Some of the most popular PHP projects: Wikipedia, Yahoo, MailChimp, Flickr, and Tumblr — demonstrate the tremendous results that can be achieved with a combination of a centralized server and the use of PHP. 

What is Node.js good for?

Node.js is exceptionally good for building dynamic single-page apps that work in a data-intensive, real-time manner, including distributed sessions across multiple devices: instant messengers (Slack), streaming services (Netflix), fintech apps (PayPal), online education (Coursera), social networks (Twitter), gaming apps, live chats, project management tools (Asana, Trello), data-intensive IoT devices and applications, etc.


If you’re interested to get a deeper review of how both technologies perform, you may find different technical PHP vs. Node.js benchmarks on the web. There is more comparison of Node.js against alternatives, and below you may find a detailed comparison table of PHP/Node.js features: 


Nodejs vs PHP For Web Development Which Technology Should You Pick For Your Backend? - php vs node features

Final word: 

Developing a multi-functional website with either PHP or Node.js requires skilled backend developers and project managers. At the same time, simple projects can be completed by a single person in little or no time (for example, starting a personal blog in WordPress or Wix). Please note that sometimes PHP and Node.js are not the only available or recommended development options

If you’re not sure of which system is better for your needs, please contact us for a consultation — our professional consultants will consider your business and industry specifics and provide you with a complete development plan and an outsourced team to build and maintain your project at a reasonable price.


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Dawid Karczewski

Dawid is a full stack developer experienced in creating Ruby on Rails and React Native apps from naught to implementation. Technological superhero, delivering amazing solutions for our clients and helping them grow.

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