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How to Learn PHP: Best Courses, Books, and Resources

James Gallagher - October 06, 2022


From Yahoo to Tumblr to Wikipedia, there is no shortage of websites that are using the PHP programming language in some way. For people interested in starting a career in tech, many want to learn PHP to land a job quickly.

The PHP programming language is one of the most popular programming languages in the world. According to the PYPL Popularity of Programming Language Index, PHP is ranked as the fifth most-searched language on Google. With this in mind, it’s clear just how widespread the PHP programming language is around the web.

You may be asking yourself, “How do I learn to code in PHP?” That’s a great question! While you may feel overwhelmed with the idea of learning how to code, you don’t have to worry, because everyone has to start somewhere.

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In this guide, we’re going to break down a few top tips to help you learn to code in PHP. We’ll make sure that you can start your journey on a strong footing. This guide explains how to learn PHP by focusing on the fundamentals, and shares online courses to learn PHP. It also covers the best books to learn PHP programming that are available today.

What Is PHP?

PHP, which stands for Hypertext Preprocessor, is a server-side scripting language that allows you to develop full stack web applications. Because PHP is a server-side technology, it runs on the back end of a website. This is the part of a website that a user does not see. This means that PHP is often used to execute server-side scripts, such as gathering and processing data and working with databases. The PHP language has a wide range of potential use cases.

  • PHP can add content to a web page. This allows you to load data onto a website based on a database or another source of content.
  • PHP can work with files on a server
  • PHP can collect and process form data
  • PHP allows you to implement login and registration pages on a website

These are only a few of the different tasks you can perform with PHP. If you take a moment to reflect on this list, it’s clear why so many people are interested in learning the technology.

Is PHP Hard to Learn?

No, PHP is one of the easier programming languages to learn. This is because PHP has a strong ecosystem of resources available for beginners and it has a syntax that is forgiving to beginners.

If PHP is hard to learn depends on your current skill level. Whether you struggle to learn PHP depends on your experience with programming. If you’ve already learned another web development technology, you should find it easier to learn PHP. However, if you do not have any programming experience, you may find it more difficult to learn PHP.

What Is PHP Used For?

PHP is used for server-side scripting. This means that you use PHP to develop the back-end of a website, or the part that a user does not see. A PHP application may handle authentication for a website, payments, user management, or any other “dynamic” part of a site.

PHP is usually backed by a database. This is because PHP is good at handling and processing form data. Often, you’ll find that web applications use PHP to process data, and then a tool like MySQL to store the data that has been collected.

What PHP is used for depends on the kind of web application you want to create. For example, Facebook uses PHP for its desktop applications. Wikipedia and Etsy also use PHP for their websites. Because of its usage by major companies, students choose to learn PHP to enhance their job opportunities in the web development field.

How Long Does it Take to Learn PHP?

It takes about three to six months to learn PHP depending on how much time you commit. PHP has a favorable syntax which makes it a great starting point for anyone interested in learning about backend web development.

How long it takes to learn PHP depends on whether you choose to learn part-time or full-time. If you commit to studying part-time, learning PHP in three to six months is a reasonable goal. But, if you decide to commit all your time to learning PHP, you should be able to learn the basics within a month or two.

As with any programming language , learning PHP is a journey. There is no point at which you will have “learned PHP.” You’ll keep learning. Wondering how long to learn PHP programming is best answered by saying “Indefinitely”.

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How to Learn PHP Fast

To learn PHP fast, you must be able to commit to an intensive learning schedule that is feasible for you. This could mean committing to learn PHP quickly by focusing on it full-time.

The fastest way to learn PHP is typically through self-paced learning via online courses or tutorials. This lets you study at your own pace, which can help you learn PHP fast if you choose to study on evenings or weekends as well. Massive open online courses offered by websites such as Udemy or Coursera provide the full course for you to study at your own pace.

Why Should You Learn PHP?

The main reason you should learn PHP is that the PHP programming language is simple and easy to use. But, don’t let that fool you into thinking it is just a language for beginners. W3Techs reports that PHP is used by “78.3 percent of all the websites whose server-side programming language we know.”

One of the main reasons learning PHP is a good investment is that the language is easy to use. PHP was designed to speed up web development, so the language has a simple syntax that is great for beginners. In addition, because the language is dynamically-typed, there are fewer rules you need to follow to build features using PHP.

That’s not all! Because PHP is so popular, there is also a massive developer community that follows the programming language. For you, this means that there are plenty of resources you can take advantage of to help you learn to code. This also means that there is no shortage of companies that are looking to hire those skilled in PHP.

How to Learn PHP: Step-by-Step Guide

A PHP student types PHP functions into software on a laptop while looking at two other desktop monitors.
If you want to learn programming in PHP, taking an online course or reading PHP books can help you advance your knowledge.

When it comes to figuring out how to learn PHP, there is one pathway that can make learning PHP coding easier. This strategy involves learning important adjacent skills that create a strong foundation for learning PHP smoothly.

So, how do you go about learning to code in PHP fast? Let’s break down a few steps you should follow to learn how to code in PHP.

Step 1: Learn HTML and CSS

PHP is a great programming language to learn, but it should not be the first technology you master in web development. How to learn PHP the easiest way is by having some basic coding knowledge.

Before you learn PHP, you should take some time to learn HTML and CSS. HTML and CSS are used to define the structure and style of a web page, respectively. They are the fundamental building blocks that make up the web.

Because PHP is often used to make sites dynamic, many apps you’ll build in PHP will also use HTML. This means that it’s best to have at least a basic understanding of how to code in HTML and CSS before you get started learning PHP coding.

Step 2: Master the Basics

Once you have learned about HTML and CSS, you’ll be ready to start working with PHP. The first step in your journey to learning PHP is to master the basics. This will create a good foundation of knowledge that you can use to help you explore more complicated topics later on in your journey.

To help you get started, we have compiled a list of the main topics you should explore to help you learn PHP:

  • Syntax and variables
  • Functions
  • Conditionals and loops
  • Arrays
  • Working with forms
  • Object-oriented programming

Step 3: Build a Project

Learning about classes, functions, and syntax is important when you’re just starting. After you have a good knowledge of those topics, you need to start working on your own project.

Working on a PHP project gives you an opportunity to practice active learning, where you’re fully involved in the topics you want to learn. When you’re building a project, you have control over what you implement, the timeline of your project, and every single last detail. If you want to build a project, you need to be thinking about it often.

If you’re looking for an idea, ask yourself: What problems do I face frequently that I want to solve? Maybe you have trouble keeping track of chores at home. In that case, you could build a chore tracking app. Or maybe you want to build a portfolio with a few web forms. If so, you could use PHP!

Here is a list of ideas to get your mind in the mood for idea-generation:

  • A social polling app
  • An app to track the cities you have visited while traveling this year
  • An app to keep track of your test scores at school
  • A website that aggregates news content from different sites
  • An online job portal

Make sure that the project you decide to build is something that you are interested in. If you are interested in your project, you’ll have no trouble finding the motivation you need to keep going.

Step 4: Focus on Readability

Toward the start of your journey, you’ll make mistakes. It’s an inevitable part of learning how to code. As you refine your skills, you should make sure that you are frequently evaluating when you have made mistakes. This will help you stay on the right track as you learn more about PHP.

One of the most common types of mistakes is ignoring the readability of the code. If you’re building an app for yourself, why does it matter if your code is easy to read, or uses the right spacing?

Readability is an essential part of writing good code. First, writing readable code makes it easier for you to understand your code. Remember, you are not just writing code for yourself, you are writing code that your future self may need to read and update. Second, writing readable code makes it easier for other people to contribute to your work.

As you refine your skills, make sure you continue to remind yourself about how to make your code readable. If you ever spot an opportunity to make your code readable, you should take it.

Here are a few questions you should keep in mind when evaluating the readability of your code:

  • Can I easily understand my work?
  • Does my code use comments?
  • If I were to look at this code in three months, would I understand it?
  • If I were another developer looking at this code, would I understand it?

Step 5: Join PHP Communities

Learning to code is a collaborative sport. There’s no need to sit in your bedroom all day, hunched over your computer, and spending all your time learning by yourself. This is where PHP communities can be a big help.

When you start learning PHP, you’ll want to speak with other developers who are also learning the technology. You should try to talk with those who are well-versed in PHP too. This can give you some valuable perspective as you go about acquiring skills in PHP.

Joining developer communities is a great way to meet new developers who can help you along your journey. In communities, you can ask questions, help out others, and find great resources that can assist you in learning how to code.

Top PHP Community Examples

Here are a few of the top PHP communities on the Internet:

  • Dev.to : Dev.to is a community for developers that have come together to help each other solve problems. The Dev.to community has a thread specifically for PHP programmers that is great for both beginners and experts.
  • freeCodeCamp : freeCodeCamp is a non-profit that helps people on their journey to learning how to code. Their site features hundreds of videos and tutorials for beginners to experts, and they also operate a popular community for developers.
  • StackOverflow : StackOverflow is one of the go-to places for developers who have a question about coding. The StackOverflow site has no shortage of queries related to PHP which can be helpful for all developers.
  • Hashnode : Hashnode is a social network for developers to share their stories and help each other out.

Upon joining a community, you should start to contribute as soon as possible. Make yourself visible, and get to know other people on the platform. The more you contribute, the more relationships you’ll develop, and the more value you’ll derive from being part of a community.

Step 6: Get in Some Practice

What is the best way to learn any new skill? Practice. When you are new to a language and still finding your way around, it can feel intimidating and as though you’ll never master coding. But, through practice, you can improve, and continue on your journey to becoming an expert PHP coder.

There is a wide array of different ways you can practice your coding skills. Here are a few of the top ways to practice that we recommend for new developers:

  • Build projects . As we discussed earlier, building projects allows you to build something that you want to create. When you build a project, you have full control over how it turns out. This encourages you to take responsibility and let your creative mind take you away if you have a new idea.
  • Seek code reviews . If you know any other PHP developers, ask them if they would be willing to review your code. This will allow you to get feedback from someone else which may offer opportunities for you to improve your work. Alternatively, if you feel ready, you could even offer to review someone else’s work.
  • Try out a code challenge . Platforms like Codewars, Programmr, and Coderbyte host coding challenges that you can use to refine your skills. These challenges are a great way to push your knowledge of PHP to the limits.

The exact way in which you practice does not necessarily matter. All that matters is that you are coding as much as you possibly can. The more you code, the better you’ll get, and the more progress you’ll see while you learn PHP programming.

How to Learn PHP Free

If you’re trying to decide if you should learn PHP, or you want to learn PHP programming but are on a budget, then you likely want to try to learn PHP free of charge.

Learning PHP free of charge makes it easy for anyone to begin their PHP education and get closer to their career goals. The following tutorials are some of the best ways to learn PHP online for free.

Top PHP Tutorials for Beginners

PHP Basics: Master PHP Fundamentals

When beginning to learn PHP programming, the focus of your learning should be on mastering PHP fundamentals. Most of this foundational knowledge applies to programming in most languages, and therefore the usage and logic behind it can be transferred to other languages and projects. Therefore, it’s very important to master these fundamentals early.

Syntax and Variables

First, you’ll need to know how to actually write code in PHP, and what rules the language follows. This is referred to as learning the syntax for a programming language.

Once you’ve mastered the syntax of PHP, you can then go on to explore variables and data types. Here are the main topics you should explore related to syntax and variables:

  • How is PHP used in HTML?
  • How is PHP executed?
  • How do you write comments in PHP?
  • How to work with strings and numbers
  • How to create and use variables
  • How to reassign values to a variable

Functions

Functions are blocks of code that accomplish a specific task in a program. The PHP language, like all other languages, relies on functions to group together code that can be executed multiple times throughout a code. Here are the main aspects of functions in PHP that you should learn about:

  • How to define a function
  • How to call a function
  • Return statements
  • Returning values
  • Arguments and parameters
  • Variable scope
  • Built-in vs. user-defined functions

Conditionals and Loops

Conditional statements allow coders to run certain blocks of code only if and when a condition or set of conditions is met. Loops allow coders to run a block of code multiple times over, which helps to reduce repetition in a program. Here are the main topics you should cover in terms of PHP conditionals and loops:

  • If statements
  • Else and elseif statements
  • Switch statement
  • Ternary operators
  • While and do…while loops
  • For and for each loops
  • Break and continue statements

Arrays

The array data type allows you to store multiple related values. For example, an array could store a list of names of students going on a field trip at school. Here are the main topics you should cover when learning about arrays:

  • How to create an array
  • How to access elements in an array
  • How to change an array
  • How to add and remove items from an array

Working with Forms

One of the most common use cases of PHP is to implement forms on a web page. This is because PHP is a server-side language. PHP allows you to easily process and store the data that has been submitted on a website. Here are the main topics you should know about in order to effectively work with forms:

  • Back end vs. front end
  • How to handle a form
  • How to embed PHP in HTML
  • How to validate a form
  • Regular expressions

Object-Oriented Programming

PHP is an object-oriented programming language. This means the language makes use of classes and objects to define the structure of data. The core principles of object-oriented programming with which you should make yourself familiar are as follows:

  • How to create and initialize a class
  • How to create a method
  • How to create an object
  • Inheritance
  • Method overloading
  • Visibility
  • Getters and setters

Best Way to Learn PHP Online

The best way to learn PHP online depends on your unique circumstances and budget. Some courses are longer than others, some are self-paced, and some are free, and a course could be all three. To learn PHP the right way for you, your time, your budget, and your preferred learning method are key factors to consider.

So far, we have covered why you should learn PHP, and the main topics you should explore. But, there is still one major question that we have not yet answered: Where can you learn about PHP?

Before you start looking for resources, you should consider what type of learner you are. Do you prefer reading books or watching online PHP tutorials? Do you like courses, or prefer to go at your own pace? To start, you may want to experiment with a range of different learning styles. You can double down on the ones that are best for you as you go.

Online PHP Courses

An online PHP course can help you learn PHP programming from the most basic fundamentals to more advanced level PHP coding. PHP courses and PHP online tutorials can help you quickly advance your knowledge of PHP and provide a strong foundation for building web applications.

PHP for Beginners by Udemy

  • Price: $124.99
  • Audience: Beginner programmers

PHP for Beginners is written for people who have no programming experience. For the $199 cost of the course, you’ll get access to 38 hours of content as well as a number of downloadable resources to accompany your learning.

PHP Fundamentals by Pluralsight

  • Price: $29 per month
  • Audience: Beginner programmers

Learn PHP through the PHP Fundamentals course by Pluralsight. This five-hour course can be completed at your own pace and teaches a tech stack that also includes MySQL, Linux, and Apache alongside PHP. Pluralsight also offers a 10-day free trial for its platform so this course could potentially be completed for free.

PHP Unit Testing with PHPUnit by Udemy

  • Price: $99
  • Audience: Intermediate programmers

This PHP course by Udemy focuses on teaching an important part of PHP programming: unit testing. Students are required to know PHP and be comfortable using the command line to succeed in this course. The course teaches PHP programmers how to write higher quality, cleaner code with fewer bugs and how to find bugs quickly.

Free PHP Courses

How to learn PHP for free can be a common desire for beginners who want to find out if they want to continue with more intensive learning. Taking a PHP online course for free can help students decide if this language is right for them. The courses below provide free PHP training for anyone who wants to learn PHP programming.

PHP Essential Training by LinkedIn Learning

  • Audience: Beginners

PHP Essential Training covers all the basics of PHP in about four hours. You’ll start by covering the basics of PHP, then you’ll learn about topics like control structures and debugging. Beginners can learn PHP fundamentals easily and at their own pace with this course. A certificate of completion is available for those who finish the course.

Building Web Applications in PHP by the University of Michigan

  • Audience: Intermediate

If you already have a basic understanding of web development, you may be interested in this course by the University of Michigan. You’ll learn the basics of web applications, how they are structured, and how you can use PHP to build a website.

Learn PHP by Codeacademy

  • Audience: Beginners

Learn PHP by Codeacademy is a free 25-hour course available on the Codeacademy web platform. It is trusted by major Fortune 500 companies to help their employees learn PHP programming. Students can earn a completion certificate for a fee after finishing the course.

Online PHP Books

For anyone learning PHP, books are one of the most useful methods. If your goal is to learn PHP programming, studying PHP books can help you learn at a slower pace while going more in-depth. If you’re looking for the best book to learn PHP, consider some of the top ones listed below.

Head First PHP & MySQL by Lynn Beighley and Michael Morrison

This book is an excellent introduction to building websites with PHP and MySQL. You’ll start by learning about the structure of a PHP application. Then, you will go on to learn how to use MySQL to store data collected from a PHP application.

PHP and MySQL Web Development by Luke Welling and Laura Thomson

PHP and MYSQL Web Development covers PHP fundamentals and how to set up and work with a MySQL database. This book has a particular emphasis on PHP in the real-world. You’ll learn about security throughout this book so you can build robust web applications.

The Joy of PHP by Alan Forbes

The Joy of PHP teaches you how to build interactive web applications even if you do not have any programming experience. It’ll cover how to install and configure PHP and all of the basics of this language. This book is a “gentle introduction” to PHP, according to the author.

Online PHP Resources

As you learn PHP, you can enhance your studying through PHP resources available online. These online courses will teach you the fundamental knowledge you need to learn PHP programming and develop PHP applications.

Depending on how much time you devote to learning PHP, you’ll learn a lot in a short period of time. You don’t even need to spend money to learn PHP. There are plenty of free online resources, such as the PHP documentation, on which you can rely.

Official PHP Documentation

The official PHP documentation is a good primer on the PHP language. The manual was written with beginners in mind so you’ll have no trouble following along with the examples in this guide.

PHP: The Right Way

PHP: The Right Way is an online guide that covers various PHP topics. You’ll learn PHP fundamentals like how to set up PHP, how to deploy an application, and how to write PHP code. This resource is a user-friendly and comprehensive guide designed to help coders from all experience levels learn PHP programming.

freeCodeCamp PHP Session

Another top PHP resource comes from freeCodeCamp’s five-hour tutorial on how to learn PHP. You’ll cover all the basics of PHP and have the knowledge you need to start working on your own PHP application.

Should You Learn PHP?

Yes, you should learn PHP. Learning how to code in PHP is a long journey. However, that does not mean that it is impossible. It just takes some practice to master the skill.

The great thing about the PHP programming language is that it is easy to learn in comparison to other languages. The language uses a simple syntax that is readable even for people without much technical experience. And, as a result, you should have no trouble getting started.

In addition, given how many sites use PHP, from WordPress to Yahoo, the community of PHP developers out there is strong. This means that if you have a question, it should be easy to find an answer or someone who can help.

To start your journey, you should master the basics of PHP, such as syntax, loops, and conditionals. Then, you can start building your own practical projects, work on improving the readability of your code, and take on coding challenges.

Once you’ve learned PHP, you’ll have a new skill in your toolkit that you can use to build efficient web applications. In addition, if you’re interested in changing careers, PHP could help you make the transition. By following the steps in this guide, you’ll be able to learn PHP fast and efficiently.

Learn PHP FAQ

Can you teach yourself PHP?

Yes, you can absolutely teach yourself PHP programming. There are a wide variety of resources available for you to use to teach yourself PHP. From books written by PHP experts to online courses developed by advanced PHP developers, any style of learner can find a method to learn PHP. There are even free courses and tutorials available on platforms like Udemy and Coursera.

Is PHP easy to learn?

Yes, PHP is easy to learn. This programming language is one of the most popular programming languages and therefore you can find many resources for learning, especially if you’re a beginner. While learning to code can be challenging, if you also have an understanding of HTML and CSS, PHP is easy to learn.

Where can I learn PHP?

The best places to learn PHP are PHP books, online courses, video tutorials, and bootcamps. PHP books offer a thorough and authoritative learning experience, while online courses and video tutorials add an audio element to learning which can be more helpful for some students. You can also learn PHP by attending coding bootcamps or certification courses.

Is PHP worth learning?

Yes, PHP is worth learning because it is one of the most popular languages in programming today. Many major companies inside and outside of the tech sphere use PHP for their web applications. This means there is a demand for professionals with PHP programming skills. Learning PHP is worth it if you want to gain in-demand skills and find a career in tech fast.

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James Gallagher

About the author: James Gallagher is a self-taught programmer and the technical content manager at Career Karma. He has experience in range of programming languages and extensive expertise in Python, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. James has written hundreds of programming tutorials, and he frequently contributes to publications like Codecademy, Treehouse, Repl.it, Afrotech, and others.

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