PHP is the most widely used programming language on the web, powering popular websites such as Facebook and Wikipedia. It’s easy to learn and lets you build web applications quickly.
Countless developers around the world use PHP and third-party application frameworks built on top of it. PHP frameworks allow you to be more productive and build robust applications on a stable and well-tested foundation.
Frameworks can also mitigate some weaknesses of the PHP language, which makes them a safe bet even for demanding applications.
Software development is becoming increasingly complex and requires the use of modules, design patterns, and tools to create reliable applications in a reasonable timeframe. That’s where frameworks can make a big difference.
In this article, we’ll go through the best PHP frameworks, and have a look at their core strengths and weaknesses. By the end of reading, you’ll have a good understanding of which PHP frameworks can cover your specific web development needs.
Laravel is the most popular PHP framework. Initially released in 2011 by Taylor Otwell, it has since grown to be a mature framework with hundreds of contributors and millions of installations.
It is based on an MVC architecture and uses its own templating language called Blade, which makes it easy to create HTML layouts. As for accessing databases, Laravel uses Eloquent ORM which is easy to understand and use.
Eloquent ORM is an object-relational mapper that allows you to define models and relationships in PHP which is then translated and executed as SQL. This keeps your code clean and simple, while lets you easily switch to a different database system if you choose to.
What makes Laravel stand out is the enormous variety of features, packages, and applications that make development faster and easier.
Queues, for example, allow you to run certain heavy tasks asynchronously, without straining your application and delaying loading time for your users. Other features, such as caching, broadcasting events for real-time web experiences, and authenticating users, are all supported out of the box.
According to a survey by Jetbrains, Laravel is used by 50% of PHP developers. You can use it to build any type of project, including SaaS, eCommerce, and other kinds of applications. Small companies choose it because it’s easy to learn, while large enterprises rely on it because of its powerful features.
- It’s a great starting point for beginners, thanks to its great documentation and large community.
- The syntax is straightforward and it can be so intuitive that your code works like “magic”. This makes Laravel easy to learn and understand with no prior experience.
- You can easily deploy to AWS or other cloud providers thanks to Laravel Forge and Laravel Envoyer.
- You can install a large variety of packages and applications to add new features (such as built-in subscription billing with Laravel Cashier).
- It contains almost every feature that advanced applications may require, along with being highly robust and secure.
- Many developers find Laravel highly opinionated because the syntax and project structure is enforced.
- It’s a somewhat heavy framework because of its many features, making it slower than other alternatives.
- When databases and queries become complex, Eloquent ORM may require raw SQL statements to function efficiently.
Symfony is a mature framework that revolutionized PHP development. Apart from being a framework, it offers a set of reusable components that can be used directly in any PHP project. These components are used in countless open-source tools, including Laravel. Symfony is maintained and supported by SensioLabs, has 100s of contributors, and has a vibrant community of developers.
Symfony rightfully belongs to the list of the best PHP frameworks because of its variety of features, large community, and robustness.
It’s ideal for more complex web projects where predictability, support, and optimization are required. Symfony has multiple drivers for enterprise databases, making it a great choice for enterprise projects as well.
- Symfony is a mature framework that you can trust to provide long-term support (see the release calendar for LTS versions).
- It’s highly customizable and contains 50 standalone components that can be used in any project.
- Advanced functional and unit testing is possible thanks to its built-in testing capabilities.
- Maintaining your project is easier because Symfony has a well-designed codebase.
- Symfony has great documentation and a large developer community that you can rely on for answers.
- Symfony has a steeper learning curve, and mastering it requires understanding many of its components.
- It’s somewhat lacking when it comes to dependency injection, as it doesn’t work in an intuitive way.
- Symfony’s ORM, Doctrine, is considerably more difficult to learn and work with than other ORMs.
Phalcon is an interesting framework because it’s not written in PHP but delivered as a PHP extension written in C. Does that mean that you will have to write C yourself? No, of course not. But since it’s not written in PHP and is directly compiled from C, it’s incredibly fast! Phalcon can handle more requests per second than any other framework by a wide margin.
Along with its blazing-fast performance, Phalcon offers many features such as an ORM, caching, templating, and security.
Phalcon is recommended when high performance is important, so it’s used by many large companies.
Note: Not to be confused with Falcon in Python.
- Phalcon offers great performance as it’s written in C and is pre-compiled.
- It adds very low overhead to your application.
- It contains its own SQL dialect called PHQL, which helps you write relational database queries that can be used in multiple database systems.
- Phalcon has a slightly more complex syntax compared to other PHP frameworks in this collection.
- It’s considerably harder to install and deploy because it must be installed as a PHP extension.
- It only supports 3 database adapters: MySQL, PostgreSQL, and SQLite.
CodeIgniter is an MVC framework based on PHP that helps developers rapidly create new projects. One great thing about it is that it’s not a restrictive framework and can be used like a toolkit that speeds up development.
Most PHP frameworks require you to follow the MVC approach, and even though CodeIgniter also encourages the use of the MVC pattern, it doesn’t enforce it. It offers caching, support for multiple databases, routing, and other features that are prevalent in modern web applications. These features are neatly packaged and can be used in a flexible way.
Codeigniter is used by small and large organizations for building APIs and lightweight web applications.
- CodeIgniter has a small overall footprint because it has fewer built-in features.
- It has great performance out of the box, fast loading times, and requires less optimization.
- In PHP most frameworks, the MVC pattern is enforced, but in CodeIgniter, you can choose any design pattern you prefer.
- CodeIgniter allows for a lot of flexibility, but this is also a double-edged sword because code maintainability can be difficult to achieve.
- It generally has fewer libraries and packages for building new features when you compare it to more popular frameworks.
- CodeIgniter doesn’t offer a stable release calendar, meaning that even security issues can take time to be addressed.
Yii is an open-source framework for building applications on top of PHP. It’s based on OOP and MVC patterns and adds less overhead by focusing mostly on core functionality.
Since Yii is a lot faster than other frameworks, it’s recommended for building performant web applications. It can be used to build anything from blogs to SaaS applications all the way to social media websites. For a list of projects made with Yii, check out the YiiPowered website.
- Yii offers automated CRUD generation with the help of its visual tool Gii.
- It’s a full-stack framework and supports many front-end operations using AJAX, such as validating inputs.
- It offers great performance and fast loading times thanks to its small weight.
- The ORM used in Yii has weak support for complex relationships and queries. This may force you to write raw SQL while losing some of the benefits of using an ORM.
- Many features, such as queues and broadcasting, are not supported by default and require extra configuration and installations.
- Yii is harder to learn, especially for less experienced developers.
CakePHP lets you create PHP applications quickly, with less configuration. It offers built-in features that help you code your application’s business logic. It also comes with a flexible database access layer and powerful features that allow you to build both simple and complex software systems.
It was among the first MVC frameworks to come into the PHP development ecosystem in the early 2000s, and it has since grown into a mature framework with tons of features.
The way CakePHP is designed makes it stand out because it offers a convention-based setup. By setting up a database with specific naming conventions, CakePHP can automatically work without any configuration.
It’s used by small and large companies alike — you can see some real-world CakePHP projects in their official showcase.
- CakePHP’s convention-based setup makes it easy to build new applications quickly, once you master the framework.
- It has many built-in features, such as authentication, validation, localization, and more.
- CakePHP contains all modern security features, and its codebase has been audited by the Mozilla Secure Open Source program.
- The CakePHP community is somewhat small, so it can be hard to find solutions to your specific issues.
- CakePHP doesn’t support default routes for fancy URLs, which is found in most other frameworks.
- Many developers experience issues upgrading from older to newer versions, or vice-versa.
- The fact that it’s convention-based means that you have less freedom.
Slim is a PHP micro-framework. It has fewer features than a typical framework but helps you create simple yet powerful web apps and APIs.
It includes features such as routing, middleware, and advanced request handling to help you build applications quickly. Features that are commonly found in most frameworks such as database access tools are not included in Slim but can be easily installed as outside dependencies using the Composer dependency manager.
Slim is suitable for building microservices, restful APIs for single-page applications (SPAs), and scalable systems.
- You can develop fast and lightweight APIs with only a few lines of code.
- It has a fast loading time and can handle many requests per second.
- It’s a modern framework that follows up-to-date software development practices.
- It’s not restrictive and offers a lot of freedom while supporting many key functionalities such as dependency injection, middleware, and routing.
- Slim has no ORM by default, but you can use the ORM of your choice by installing it independently.
- Even though it’s fast, it can handle somewhat fewer requests per second than Lumen (see next).
Lumen is a PHP micro-framework developed by the creator of Laravel and maintained by its community. It’s very similar to Laravel, so if you have prior experience with Laravel, you will feel right at home. Slim is also lightweight and performant, making it ideal for modern applications.
It can be used for building APIs to support single-page applications, microservices, and other back-end services where low latency and high performance are important.
- Lumen is easy to learn, especially if you have Laravel experience.
- It is much lighter than Laravel and requires minimal configuration to get started.
- Similar to Slim, it’s a modern framework that’s highly suitable for modern web development.
- If a Lumen project grows too complex and requires Laravel features, it can easily be converted to a Laravel project.
- Unfortunately, Lumen doesn’t have the best documentation. Many times, you will have to look into the original Laravel documentation where Lumen borrows many things from.
- Coming from a Laravel background, you may be missing some key features which will have to be installed manually if you need them.
- It’s not as actively supported and maintained as Laravel.
Honorable Mention 1: WordPress
The blog you’re currently reading is based on WordPress, which powers more than 30% of all websites. WordPress is not a framework, you might say, but a content management system (CMS). And this is, in fact, true.
However, since it’s modular and can be extended, it has many characteristics of frameworks. It comes with a specific request lifecycle, hooks, naming conventions, and database access tools that help you build new features.
Even though it’s not a framework in a strict sense, it’s similar to a framework when it comes to extending the original content management system and making it more powerful with custom features.
Honorable Mention 2: Drupal
Drupal is another popular CMS, not as popular as WordPress, but still used by millions of websites. It uses Symfony components to power a large chunk of its workflow.
It features extensive documentation on how to build new themes and modules (modules are the equivalent of WordPress plugins). And similarly to WordPress, it comes with many classes and conventions that make developing new features easier. Compared to using no framework, developing new things as Drupal modules can be considerably faster in terms of development time.
So even though it’s not entirely a framework, one could say that it’s a CMS combined with a framework that helps you add new features on top of the CMS.
How to Choose the Best PHP Framework for Your Project?
By now, I hope that you are well aware of the strengths and key differences between all major PHP frameworks. It goes without saying that choosing a framework is not an easy choice and will require commitment and research.
As such, it makes sense to analyze your project requirements well before choosing a framework. All PHP frameworks are similar to some extent, but they differ when it comes to performance, security, advanced features, and the level of community support.
And, you can come back to this list at any time to discover the right framework for your needs.
Do you have any questions about the best PHP frameworks? Let us know in the comments section below!