Is PHP Doomed to Decline in the Long Term? TIOBE Thinks So.

While some programming languages rise in popularity, some inevitably fall. PHP might be one of the latter, according to the latest monthly update of the TIOBE Index, which measures programming languages’ popularity.

“Recently, we saw PHP struggling to stay in that top 10. PHP was once the master of web programming, but now it is facing a lot of competition in this field,” reads the note accompanying the new TIOBE rankings. “This is not to say that PHP is dead. There are still a lot of small and medium enterprises relying on PHP. So I expect PHP to decline further but in a very slow pace.”

Other languages could be eating PHP’s market-share, the note continues: “Two of PHP’s competitors, Ruby and Groovy, gain both 3 positions this month. Ruby from #16 to #13 and Groovy from #15 to #12.”

To determine 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 TIOBE isn’t a scientific measure of languages’ respective popularity; nonetheless, it’s a solid indicator of languages’ “buzz.”)

First created in 1994, PHP is still largely used in web development, and it’s a notable component of popular platforms such as WordPress. Although pundits and analysts have predicted PHP’s demise for years, it’s managed to retain a significant developer audience. Many technologists think it’s easy to learn, ensuring it will pick up new students and devotees. 

Fans of PHP argue that the language is still advancing, with annual releases and a passionate developer community behind it. “The PHP ecosystem is actively evolving and improving. There is a huge number of ready-made solutions (frameworks (Symfony, CodeIgniter, Laravel, Laminas, Yii, Cake, Code Igniter) with a large ecosystem of packages, products, services; plugins and libraries, integrations),” Vadim Belsky, Head of Web Development at ScienceSoft, told Dice last year.

So is PHP a stodgy relic spiraling towards obsolescence and doom? While it might be falling in the TIOBE rankings, it’s very much still in use. Like most ultra-popular languages, it maintains a substantial legacy code-base that must be maintained, meaning it’s likely to stick around for many years yet.