Introduction to PHP Server-Side Scripting Language

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| Published on: March 20, 2024

In the world of web development, PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) has long been a go-to language for creating dynamic and interactive websites. As a server-side scripting language, PHP has the power to generate dynamic content, interact with databases, handle form submissions, and much more. Whether you’re a beginner looking to dive into web development or an experienced programmer seeking to expand your skills, understanding the fundamentals of PHP is crucial. In this comprehensive blog post, we’ll explore the basics of PHP, its inner workings, and the different modes it can operate in, such as PHP-FPM and FastCGI.

What is PHP?

PHP is a server-side scripting language that is widely used for web development. It was created by Rasmus Lerdorf in 1994 and has since evolved into a powerful and versatile language. PHP code is executed on the server, generating HTML or other output that is sent to the client’s web browser. This allows for dynamic content generation, server-side processing, and interaction with databases.

One of the key advantages of PHP is its simplicity and ease of use. PHP code can be embedded directly into HTML files, making it seamless to integrate with web pages. It follows a straightforward syntax similar to C and Java, making it accessible to developers with different programming backgrounds.

How PHP Works

To understand how PHP works, let’s take a look at the typical flow of a PHP-powered web page:

  1. A user requests a PHP file by entering a URL in their web browser or clicking on a link.
  2. The web server receives the request and recognizes that it is a PHP file based on its extension (e.g., .php).
  3. The web server forwards the request to the PHP interpreter, which processes the PHP code within the file.
  4. The PHP interpreter executes the code, performing tasks such as retrieving data from databases, processing form inputs, or generating dynamic content.
  5. The PHP interpreter generates the final HTML output and sends it back to the web server.
  6. The web server sends the HTML output to the user’s web browser, which renders the page.

This process happens seamlessly and quickly, allowing PHP to generate dynamic web pages on the fly.

PHP Syntax and Basic Constructs

PHP code is typically enclosed within special tags, <?php and ?>, which identify it as PHP code. Here’s a simple example of a PHP script that outputs “Hello, World!”:

echo "Hello, World!";

In this example, the echo statement is used to output text. PHP supports various basic constructs, such as variables, data types, control structures, and functions, which allow you to write powerful and dynamic code.

Variables in PHP are prefixed with a dollar sign ($) and can store different types of data, such as strings, numbers, booleans, and arrays. PHP is a loosely typed language, meaning you don’t need to explicitly declare the data type of a variable.

$name = "John Doe";
$age = 25;
$isStudent = true;

The PHP server-side scripting language provides control structures like if statements, for loops, and while loops to control the flow of code execution based on certain conditions. These constructs allow you to make decisions, repeat code blocks, and build dynamic logic into your PHP scripts.

Functions in PHP are reusable blocks of code that perform specific tasks. PHP has a wide range of built-in functions for various purposes, such as string manipulation, date and time handling, file operations, and database interaction. You can also define your own custom functions to encapsulate specific functionality.

function greet($name) {
    echo "Hello, " . $name . "!";


PHP and Web Forms

One of the most common uses of PHP is handling web forms. PHP makes it easy to retrieve form data submitted by users and process it on the server. When a user submits a form, the form data is sent to the PHP script specified in the form’s action attribute. PHP provides the $_GET and $_POST superglobal variables to access the form data depending on the form’s submission method.

Here’s an example of a simple HTML form that submits data to a PHP script:

<form action="process.php" method="post">
    <label for="name">Name:</label>
    <input type="text" id="name" name="name" required>
    <button type="submit">Submit</button>

In the corresponding PHP script (process.php), you can retrieve the submitted form data using the $_POST variable:

$name = $_POST['name'];
echo "Hello, " . $name . "!";

This script retrieves the value of the “name” field submitted via the form and outputs a greeting message.

PHP and Databases

PHP has excellent support for interacting with databases, making it a popular choice for building database-driven web applications. PHP provides extensions and libraries for connecting to various databases, such as MySQL, PostgreSQL, and SQLite.

To connect to a database, you typically use PHP’s built-in functions or object-oriented interfaces specific to the database you’re working with. For example, to connect to a MySQL database using the mysqli extension, you can use the following code:

$servername = "localhost";
$username = "your_username";
$password = "your_password";
$dbname = "your_database";

// Create a connection
$conn = new mysqli($servername, $username, $password, $dbname);

// Check the connection
if ($conn->connect_error) {
    die("Connection failed: " . $conn->connect_error);

echo "Connected successfully";

Once connected to a database, you can perform various operations like executing queries, retrieving data, and manipulating database records using PHP’s database-specific functions or prepared statements.

PHP Modes: CGI, FastCGI, and PHP-FPM

PHP can operate in different modes depending on how it interacts with the web server. Let’s explore the common modes:

  1. CGI (Common Gateway Interface):
    CGI is a traditional method of running PHP scripts. In CGI mode, each request to a PHP script spawns a new PHP process to handle the request. While straightforward, CGI can be resource-intensive and slow, especially under high traffic loads.
  2. FastCGI:
    FastCGI is an improvement over traditional CGI. Instead of creating a new process for each request, FastCGI maintains a pool of persistent PHP processes that handle multiple requests. This approach reduces overhead and improves performance. FastCGI is commonly used with web servers like Apache and Nginx.
  3. PHP-FPM (FastCGI Process Manager):
    PHP-FPM is an alternative PHP FastCGI implementation that provides additional features and benefits. It is designed to efficiently manage PHP processes and optimize resource utilization. PHP-FPM allows for fine-grained control over process management, including setting the number of worker processes, managing process lifecycle, and handling process isolation. To use PHP-FPM with a web server like Nginx, you need to configure Nginx to forward PHP requests to the PHP-FPM process. Here’s an example of an Nginx server block configured to use PHP-FPM:
   server {
       listen 80;
       root /var/www/;
       index index.php;

       location ~ \.php$ {
           fastcgi_pass unix:/var/run/php/php7.4-fpm.sock;
           fastcgi_index index.php;
           include fastcgi_params;
           fastcgi_param SCRIPT_FILENAME $document_root$fastcgi_script_name;

In this configuration, Nginx forwards PHP requests to the PHP-FPM process via a Unix socket file (php7.4-fpm.sock). The fastcgi_pass directive specifies the socket file path, and the fastcgi_param directives set the necessary parameters for PHP-FPM to handle the request.

Frameworks and Libraries

PHP has a rich ecosystem of frameworks and libraries that make web development faster, easier, and more efficient. These tools provide pre-built components, utilities, and conventions that help you structure your code, handle common tasks, and follow best practices.

  1. Laravel: Laravel is a powerful and expressive PHP framework known for its elegant syntax, extensive features, and developer-friendly ecosystem. It provides a robust set of tools for routing, database abstraction, authentication, and more.
  2. Symfony: Symfony is a mature and feature-rich PHP framework that emphasizes modularity and reusability. It offers a set of decoupled components that can be used independently or integrated into a full-stack framework.
  3. CodeIgniter: CodeIgniter is a lightweight and fast PHP framework that follows the MVC (Model-View-Controller) architectural pattern. It provides a simple and intuitive structure for building web applications.
  4. Zend Framework: Zend Framework is a comprehensive PHP framework that promotes best practices and design patterns. It offers a collection of loosely coupled components that can be used separately or combined to create robust applications.

In addition to frameworks, PHP has a vast collection of libraries and packages available through package managers like Composer. These libraries cover a wide range of functionalities, such as database abstraction, HTTP clients, authentication, PDF generation, and more. Leveraging existing libraries can save you time and effort in implementing common features and allow you to focus on your application’s unique requirements.


PHP is a versatile and powerful server-side scripting language that has been at the forefront of web development for decades. Its simplicity, flexibility, and extensive ecosystem make it an excellent choice for building dynamic and interactive websites.

In this blog post, we explored the basics of PHP, including its syntax, basic constructs, and how it works behind the scenes. We also delved into PHP’s interaction with web forms and databases, two crucial aspects of web development. Additionally, we discussed the different modes PHP can operate in, such as CGI, FastCGI, and PHP-FPM, and how they impact performance and resource utilization.

Furthermore, we touched upon PHP frameworks and libraries, which provide a wealth of tools and abstractions to streamline web development and promote best practices.


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