Is PHP Entering a Death Spiral? TIOBE Thinks So.

At a quarter-century old, PHP is one of those stalwart programming languages, widely used by web developers despite some much-publicized complaints (“a fractal of bad design,” in the words of one infamous blog posting) and, for much of its existence, a lack of formal written specification.

But TIOBE, which uses some controversial metrics to determine the popularity of various programming languages, thinks that PHP is on the decline—maybe even in a protracted death spiral. “Till the end of 2009 everything went fine, but soon after that PHP was going downhill from 10 percent to 5 percent market share in 2 years’ time. In 2014 it halved again to 2.5 percent,” the organization wrote in a note accompanying its September update, which shows PHP falling from seventh to ninth place in the overall rankings.

Moreover, there’s apparently a reason for that decline of PHP. “From its start PHP was the Visual Basic for web design: easy to learn, easy to deploy, but mainly used by web designers with a limited software engineering background,” TIOBE added. “The downside of PHP’s simplicity was that it was relatively easy to shoot security holes in it. PHP has been struggling with this for a long time.”

In order to create its rankings, TIOBE leverages data from a variety of aggregators and search engines, including Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, and Amazon. For a language to rank, it must be Turing complete, have its own Wikipedia entry, and earn more than 5,000 hits for +”<language> programming” on Google. That methodology has obviously sparked complaints that these rankings aren’t a “true” measure of languages’ respective popularity.

But that methodology also means that languages within TIOBE’s Top Ten tend not to move very much; there has to be a massive shift in search traffic. Java always seems in first place, followed by C, Python, and C++; if there is a shift in those upper echelons, it tends to be a one-place switcheroo. If PHP is consistently dropping, there might be something going on here.

Nonetheless, PHP remains a language in use by legions of web developers, so chances are very good it’s not going away anytime soon. If you’re curious about how it works and what it can do for your web-building, check out PHP 7.x; PHP 7.0 rolled out in 2015 and offers considerable speed and feature improvements. There are also tons of resources available online for continuing education.

17 Responses to “Is PHP Entering a Death Spiral? TIOBE Thinks So.”

  1. Lerie Taylor

    PHP isn’t going anywhere. The article title is also misleading since at the end of the article you express the opinion that PHP isn’t going anywhere. Seems like clickbait.

    PHP isn’t being challenged by ANY other language right now as a replacement.

    • Andrew Borell

      I agree, its going nowhere. PHP had some performance issues during those years that were corrected in more recent revisions. Anyone who has spent time in Python development knows Python is being taken up by developers in all languages, and if anything I could see java (really i should just say oracle) in a death spiral with python and golang on the rise.

      Oracle quarterly earnings call is in progress right now. Maybe tomorrow we can read a non-fiction story about the Oracle death spiral.

    • +1 on click bait

      Articles puts PHP in decline against what? There is a myriad technologies that don’t use PHP, blockchain, ML etc which are huge at the moment and programmers there are using different languages

      The articles would make more sense if php were in decline against other web tech and offer an alternative to php in relation to the decline

  2. Jacob Fogg

    Dude, your reference article for how bad PHP is, was written in 2012!!! That makes it like 49 year old in programming years. Since then HUGE strides have been made in the language AND the echosystem. Security has been VASTLY improved in the last 7 years… And honestly, if security were the benchmark, we should all run away screaming at the very mention of JavaScript. Please stop trolling the webs… And if you are going to be a hater, at least be an educated hater!

  3. Weird article

    Visual Basic (-2.2 percent) and C++ (-1.76 percent) dropped considerably more in the rankings than PHP (-0.91 percent). These are basically just made-up rankings anyway, so I’m not sure any of the numbers matter. It’s also hilarious that you mention C++ in the “upper echelon” despite it’s substantial drops in recent years.

  4. Derry Bryson

    The TIOBE index is really only good for determining what languages are used most in in new development and maybe what you should use to determine what languages to learn as a new programmer that wants to get a job. It is not good at really comparing which computer languages are most popular by usage, since it doesn’t consider the use case for the language. In the case of PHP, it is almost 100% used for websites, on the other hand Java is often used not for websites and C is almost never used for websites (maybe never anymore). Since PHP is almost 100% used for websites, it shouldn’t be compared to languages like Java, C, Python, C#, etc. Considering that 33% of websites (and that is not declining) on the internet use WordPress which is written is PHP, I think this article is at best misleading andFacebook still uses PHP.

  5. Did you seriously in 2019 just recommend that people interested in PHP should check out version 7.0, a version released in 2015 that achieved end of life 9 months ago? Anyone interested in PHP should look at version 7.3, and you should research your recommendations better please.

  6. This article made absolutely no sense and is misleading. You explained how PHP was was in decline and how was privy to developer flaws and then pushed a 5 year old major version at the end. Since the initial PHP 7.0 release, PHP has implemented features that allow it to be designed in a more strict manner.

    Additionally, using the same logic as yours, node / JavaScript is just as flawed because it is not a strict language by nature either.

  7. PHP isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it is gaining traction outside of web scripting which has been it’s greatest hurdle (Swoole, workerman, ReactPHP …). PHP 7.4 ships in Nov. and will finally have a JIT compiler and will follow a new model for garbage collection, fixing it’s two greatest technical problems – at a time when many async PHP 7.3 projects are already out performing similar offerings from node.js and others.

  8. Now we all know that negative articles draw just if not more attention than positive news. The main reason why we are reading this is because the publisher knows the article will draw a lot of readers. Why? Simply because a lot of people use PHP, and to reply to this post you need register which increase their user base and in doing so reaching their monthly target. So I fell for this and registered just to send this post. But well done, articles like these are putting the spot lite back on proven languages.

  9. How the languages are used that is what matters.
    – Java is the worst. Many design mistakes where people are still not aware of.
    – Python, academics and raspberry pi kiddies, google rant seeking followers. where are the real business success stories? there are more failures then success in there.
    – Javascript, will dominate.
    – PHP, in the past there were java copy cats abusing it too. Powerful web language. Lately nice discoveries in the interactive space.

    Driving force of a language is the creativity of the users.

  10. Since a decade ideologists and geeks weren’t get tired to predict the death of PHP. But in the field of web-development still nothing beats PHP. And PHP has a very healthy development pace and gets better year by year. In the past trendy languages – e.g. Ruby – suffer from a massive user exodus (toward JS) – but old-fashioned PHP stays strong and healthy. The ecosystem is vast and offer nowadays efficient, stable and fast solutions for nearly any requirements of web-development. I am closely watching these developments since 25 years and the signs I am reading are just the opposite, PHP will continue to stay relevant and the #1 server-side language for web-developers. Compare PHP as an example with Ruby. PHP runs > 75% of the dynamic websites in the world and Ruby approx. 0.5%. I never understood from where the arrogance was coming to question the relevance of PHP if you analyze these numbers. And projects/companies like Wikipedia, Facebook, Yahoo, Slack and thousands more are proving every day that PHP is doing an excellent job.