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Software Engineering

How to Learn PHP

James Gallagher - November 04, 2021


[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]From Yahoo to Tumblr to Wikipedia, there is no shortage of websites that are using the PHP programming language in some way

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.


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. These include:


  • 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?

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.

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.

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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.


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 back-end web development.

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.


Why Should You Learn PHP?

The PHP programming language is simple and easy to use. Don’t let that fool you into thinking it is just a language for beginners. W3Techs reports that PHP is used by “78.3% 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, and 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 Free

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.

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.


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

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

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


PHP Essential Training by LinkedIn Learning


  • Price: Free
  • 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.


PHP for Beginners


  • Price: $199
  • Audience: Beginners

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.


Building Web Applications in PHP by the University of Michigan


  • Price: Free
  • Audience: Intermediate

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


Online PHP Books


Headfirst 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 buil dinteractive web applications even if you do not have any programming experience. You’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


Official PHP Documentation

The official PHP documentation is a good primer on the PHP language. The documentation 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 how to set up PHP, how to deploy an application, how to write PHP code, and more.


freeCodeCamp PHP Session

freeCodeCamp has a five-hour tutorial on PHP. You’ll cover all the basics of PHP and have the knowledge you need to start working on your own PHP application.

These online courses will teach you the fundamental knowledge you need to 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.


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 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.


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 to ignore 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?


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.

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, 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.


Wrapping Up

Learning how to code in PHP is a long journey. But, 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, in comparison to other languages, it is easy to learn. 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 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.

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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. He also serves as a researcher at Career Karma, publishing comprehensive reports on the bootcamp market.

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