PHP is a powerful and one of the most popular coding language among web programmers. Majority of the most popular websites on the web are based on PHP programming language. In this article, we are looking to help you choose the best PHP framework for 2014.

Every developer knows that a proper framework enables to create applications quicker, safer and more efficiently. Choosing a right framework before building your application is crucial for robustness and success. PHP frameworks are super useful tools for web development, as they are real time-savers when it comes to creation and maintenance of the PHP website.

Generally framework consists of:

  • A Toolbox – a set of prefabricated, rapidly integrated software components.
    It means writing less code, with less risk of error. It also means greater productivity and the ability to devote more time to doing those things which provide greater added value, such as managing guiding principles, side effects, etc.
  • A Methodology – an “assembly diagram” for applications. A structured approach may seem constraining at first. But in reality it allows developers to work both efficiently and effectively on the most complex aspects of a task, and the use of Best Practices guarantees the stability, maintainability and upgradeability of the applications you develop.

There are a lot of solid PHP frameworks on the market, so it is probably hard to choose one. We have gathered a list of the best PHP frameworks currently on the market and share our insights in finding the best one for your application. Every framework has its own advantages as well as disadvantages, so if you have a preferred Framework by which you work with aside from the ones listed here, please do let us know by dropping us your feedback in the comment section below.

1. Laravel : The PHP Framework for Web Artisans

Laravel - Best PHP Framework 2014

Laravel is a free, open source PHP Web application framework, designed for developing MVC web applications. In our opinion, Laravel is the best overall PHP framework of 2014. I personally believe that Laravel has taken PHP frameworks to the whole new level. Laravel helps you create wonderful applications using simple, expressive syntax, aiming to take the pain out of web development by easing common tasks, such as authentication, routing, sessions and caching. Laravel is well readable and well-documented that helps you speed up your coding. Laravel makes development easy and more creative for developers and lets them produce some outstanding result with it. With Composer you can manage all your application’s third-party packages, and works great on MySQL, Postgres, SQL Server, and SQLite.

Laravel uses the solid, tested components of the Symfony framework along with other popular packages to provide a modern framework that provides easy conventions, utilizes modern programming patterns and makes development a breeze.

Laravel has changed my life. The best framework to quickly turn an idea into product.

Maksim Surguy

Laravel reignited my passion for code, reinforced my understanding of MVC, and made development fun again!

Jozef Maxted

Laravel kept me from leaving PHP.

Michael Hasselbring

2. Phalcon

Phalcon the Fastest PHP Framework 2014

Phalcon is the fastest framework on the list. Built on C, but offered as PHP extension, it offers no compromise speed wise. It offers high performance and lower resource usage. There’s no need to learn or use the C Language, as the functionality is exposed as PHP classes ready to use. By creating a rich, fully featured framework written entirely in C and packaged as a PHP extension, Phalcon is able to save processor time and boost overall performance.

In the past, performance was not considered one of the top priorities when developing web applications. Reasonable hardware was able to compensate for that. However when Google  to take site speed into account in the search rankings, performance became one of the top priorities alongside functionality. This is yet another way in which improving web performance will have a positive impact on a website.

3. Symfony 2

Symfony2 PHP Framework

Symfony is a PHP framework for web projects. It speed up the creation and maintenance of your PHP web applications. Replace the repetitive coding tasks by power, control and pleasure.

Symfony is a set of reusable PHP components and a PHP framework for web projects. It is well documented, it is free under MIT license, and it is getting more and more popular every day. Drupal, one of the most popular CMS systems, as well as phpBB, one of the most used discussion board system, use symfony.

The is powerful, scalable and flexible. Yet it is considered by many, especially those new to frameworks, to have a very steep learning curve.

This is true to a certain extent. At first glance, Models, Views, Controllers, Entities, Repositories, Routing, Templating, etc, altogether can appear very terrifying and confusing.

However, if you have grasped the fundamentals of PHP and HTML, have a basic understanding of modern web site development (in particular, Pretty URIs, MVC), and know how to CRUD a database/table, you are not far from developing a fairly good website, be it for your personal usage or business application.

4. Yii Framework

Yii PHP Framework

Yii is the fast, secure and professional PHP Framework. It is a high-performance PHP framework best for developing Web 2.0 applications. Yii Comes with rich features: MVC, DAO/ActiveRecord, I18N, caching, authentication and role-based access control, scaffolding, testing, open source, high performing, object oriented, database access object, easy form validation, default support for web services and many more. Yii Framework is ideal and perfect for developing social networking websites reduces development time significantly.

Yii Framework is a good choice for developing new high quality web-applications in rapid time. The well designed foundation with excellent documentation helped us developing Chives remarkable user experience and functionality in very short time.

David Roth

Yii Framework met all our needs! It worked equally good for both rapid prototyping and large scale web applications. It allowed us to focus on our unique idea while still offering the flexibility to bend our application in all directions we want.

Knut Urdalen

Yii is a simple but very powerful application framework with a very short learning curve. Its component-based design allows us to customize it for our needs without directly modifying it — maintaining upgradability. It’s amazing how we were able to use it not just on our main app and our API, but also on our daemons!

Blue Jayson

 

5. CodeIgniter

CodeIgniter PHP Framework

CodeIgniter is a proven, agile and open PHP web application framework with a small footprint. It is powering the next generation of web applications.

CodeIgniter is a powerful PHP framework with a very small footprint, built for PHP coders who need a simple and elegant toolkit to create full-featured web applications. If you’re a developer who lives in the real world of shared hosting accounts and clients with deadlines, and if you’re tired of ponderously large and thoroughly undocumented frameworks, then CodeIgniter might be a good fit.

CodeIgniter is right for you if:

  • You want a framework with a small footprint.
  • You need exceptional performance.
  • You need clear, thorough documentation.
  • You are not interested in large-scale monolithic libraries.
  • You need broad compatibility with standard hosting.
  • You prefer nearly zero configuration.
  • You don’t want to adhere to restrictive coding rules.
  • You don’t want to learn another template language.
  • You prefer simple solutions to complexity.
  • You want to spend more time away from the computer.

6. Cake PHP

Cake PHP Framework

CakePHP is one of the frameworks to follow in 2014. They are about to release a stable version 3.0 to the public. CakePHP makes building web applications easier, faster, and requires less code. It enabled to use code generation and scaffolding features to rapidly build prototypes. No additional XML or YAML file configuration is required, just setup your database and you are ready to bake. CakePHP is licensed under the MIT license which makes it perfect for use in common applications. The things you need are built-in: translations, database access, caching, validation, authentication, and much more are all built into one of the original PHP MVC frameworks. CakePHP comes with built-in tools for input validation, CSRF protection, Form tampering protection, SQL injection prevention and XSS prevention, helping you keep your application safe and secure.

7. Zend Framework

Zend PHP Framework

I’ve used Zend Framework 1 and 2 in large scale enterprise projects for years. It has been one of the leading PHP frameworks with flexible architecture suitable for modern web applications for years. Recently I have switched over to a couple of newborn frameworks, but that is my personal preference.

Zend framework is designed with simplicity in mind. It is lightweight, easily customizable, and focused on most common needed functionality. It is built to dramatically ease the learning curve you must climb when adapting to a new framework. It is widely used, so quite well tested and safe.

Despite all the advantages, it is has quite different user experiences over the years. Some users call it “extremely complicated, the worst I have known so far”.

Extremely complicated framework, the worst that I have known so far (I have worked with symfony, Yii and django; all them are easier to learn)

Great framework with a great community and a lot of tutorials…nearly everything is good, just the speed could be better.

ZF is overly complicated. At some point you will find yourself struggling with it just to make things done. Syntax is too lengthy.
I’d say ZF is a great PHP class library but an awful web framework.

8. Kohana

Kohana PHP Framework

Kohana is an elegant PHP framework with a rich set of features for building web applications. It allows to build web applications quickly, as it has many common components included, as translation tools, database access, code profiling, encryption, validation, and more. It also has good debugging and profiling tools which helps to solve any occurring problems, which often is very time-consuming without the right tools.

Kohana is built to be a very fast PHP framework, carefully optimized for real world usage. However, some of the tests shown that it is slower than CodeIgniter, and some other major players on the list. But in general, it scores very well on benchmarks.

This is an OOP framework that is very dry. Everything is build using strict PHP 5 classes and objects. This shows that Kohana is sticking to the very best of PHP new features and is closely optimizing its core code.

9. Fuel PHP

Fuel PHP Framework

Fuel is a simple, flexible, community driven PHP 5.3+ framework, based on the best ideas of other frameworks. It is currently releasing version 2 of the project, currently in beta stage.

FuelPHP is a MVC (Model-View-Controller) framework that was designed from the ground up to have full support for HMVC as part of its architecture. But we didn’t stop there, we also added ViewModels (also known as presentation models) into the mix which give you the option to add a powerful layer between the Controller and the View.

FuelPHP also supports a more router based approach where you might route directly to a closure which deals with the input uri, making the closure the controller and giving it control of further execution.

10. Silex

Silex PHP Framework

Silex is the PHP micro-framework based on the Symfony2 Components.

Silex is a PHP micro-framework for PHP 5.3. It is built on the shoulders of Symfony2 and Pimple and also inspired by sinatra.

A microframework provides the guts for building simple single-file apps. Silex aims to be:

Concise: Silex exposes an intuitive and concise API that is fun to use.
Extensible: Silex has an extension system based around the Pimple micro service-container that makes it even easier to tie in third-party libraries.
Testable: Silex uses Symfony2’s HttpKernel which abstracts request and response. This makes it very easy to test apps and the framework itself. It also respects the HTTP specification and encourages its proper use.

Performance benchmark of the best PHP frameworks

There are many assumptions around performance of different PHP frameworks. I frequently hear strong opinions about superiority X over Y in this context. There are companies writing new PHP frameworks from scratch because available solutions are too slow for them. Let’s see what the number are telling.

Performing a representative benchmark across different framework is not an easy task. There are multiple ways to use each of them. Every use case will give different reading. Lets take routing as an example. Zend Framework 1 by default doesn’t need a routing file. It’s happy to use “/controller/action” pattern. On the other hand Symfony2 comes with a routing configuration. The file has to be read and parsed. That obviously takes some additional CPU cycles but does it mean Symfony2 routing is slower then Zend Framework 1? The answer is (obviously) no.

Systemarchitect has benchmarked “quick start” projects. That gives some idea on what is the base line for every framework and makes it possible to reproduce my tests (and argue against them).
Code was hosted on Amazon EC2 medium instance. I installed PHP-APC to avoid disk access and code parsing. I also made sure there is no I/O on Apache2 or application level. I set logs and cache paths to “/dev/shm/”. I tweaked projects to make them return roughly the same amount of data (10KB). All virtual hosts had the same mod_rewrite rules. AllowOveride was set to None.

Requests per second from Apache Benchmark with c=20 and n=500.

FrameworkReq/Sec
Phalcon822.96
Slim399.83
Kohana217.34
Code Igniter187.78
Silex179.01
Laravel135.9
YII123.5
Fuel PHP116.34
Hazaar MVC103.53
Zend Framework 1103.02
Cake PHP54.97
Nette53.48
Symfony239.22
Zend Framework 236.1

PHP Framework Benchmark 2014

Based on Systemarchitect’s benchmark, I’m not surprised, Phalcon is beating everyone on the list, as well as seeing Slim to be the second fastest because it’s a micro framework. The Quick Start project didn’t use any templates or layout which obviously contributed to the reading. Zend Framework 1 is twice faster than Symfony2 and Zend Framework 2 but in my experience the number will quickly go down in a real live setup.

Frameworks should speed up development, performance is a secondary concern. Zend Framework 2 and Symfony2 could do better but it’s not bad. There are ways to improve those numbers on production servers. Don’t reinvent the wheel, learn and use frameworks. There are various options which balance between performance and features.

Acumen’s summary

Summarizing the list, we think that the best 5 PHP Frameworks currently are: Laravel, Phalcon, Symfony2, CodeIgniter and Yii.

The same is shown by the recent study at Sitepoint, showing Laravel having over 25% of the popularity votes, Phalcon almost 17%, Symfony2 over 10%, CodeIgniter and Yii having 7.62%. PHP Framework Market Share 2014

But we understand that a PHP framework is more of a preference for the web developer and that in the market today there are many strong products.

8 Awesome WordPress Web Apps Paving the Way for WordPress as a SaaS Platform

Sometimes you need a web app and don’t have the time, skill, or budget to do custom development. Developing from scratch can be the solution for many problems, but it can take much longer than starting from an existing code base.

WordPress was originally designed as a blogging platform, and it continues to be well known for that. However, it has evolved into a fully fledged content management system (CMS) and, for some purposes, can even produce a solid web application – quickly, and at a significantly lower budget than custom development.

This article will introduce the idea of building a web app on WordPress, show you why you might consider it, examine some tools for building web apps in WordPress, then look at some great examples of what is possible.

Why Use WordPress for Web Apps?

Web apps can be custom coded from scratch, and many developers remain purists who feel that’s the only way to go. However, web application frameworks have been developed to help make the process of building web apps easier.

Ideally, building a web app would be quick to start, so you could get going and take advantage of some common built-in functionality. Wikipedia defines a Web Application Framework as:

…a software framework that is designed to support the development of web applications including web services, web resources and web APIs. Web frameworks aim to alleviate the overhead associated with common activities performed in web development. For example, many web frameworks provide libraries for database access, templating frameworks and session management, and they often promote code reuse.

With that in mind, it’s not hard to see how some people started to look at WordPress as a possible web application framework to help them build web apps. Though not specifically designed for that, WordPress has several features that make it a solid choice for your web apps, for example:

  1. Security, user registration and login: WordPress has user roles, which by default belong to one of five access levels, and can be assigned to different capabilities (e.g. edit posts).
  2. Database and URL mapping: WordPress enables you to easily connect to its database and run queries. You can modify how URLs are generated using pretty permalinks and add or modify the rewrite rules.
  3. Theming: WordPress themes offer a very flexible means of designing pages for your app.

WordPress isn’t always going to be the best tool for all types of web apps. It can work well for simple CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete) apps, and more complex functionality like calendar bookings, for example, can be done by integrating existing plugins. In general, projects related to publishing some form of content online may be possible candidates for using WordPress, especially where you want to use the same content across multiple products (e.g. website, mobile app etc.).

Tools for Building Web Apps in WordPress

While WordPress does offer built-in features we can use for web apps, you may require additional functionality. The built-in page and post structures can be used for a lot of things, but if you need custom data and fields to be added, searched or queried, manipulated, and displayed, some additional work is needed. Fortunately, tools do exist to help expand on WordPress’ native capabilities.

WordPress does have custom data capabilities in the form of custom fields, post types and taxonomies, but tools for working with them have been left up to plugins. Here are a few that have proven quite useful in moving WordPress away from simple blogging:

1. Advanced Custom Fields

Advanced Custom Fields plugin

Available for free in the WordPress repository, Advanced Custom Fields (ACF) has been a long-standing favorite of developers for adding custom data functionality to WordPress. It provides a way to visually create custom data fields of various types (e.g. checkboxes, images, relationships) and easily load data through a simple API. It uses the built-in custom post types and metadata and so is easy to use and fast. For more content types and the ability to add options pages, you’ll need to purchase a licence for ACF Pro (which starts at $25).

2. Piklist

Piklist Framework

Billed as a rapid development framework for WordPress, Piklist enables you to easily create custom post types and taxonomies, add metaboxes and metafields to all the WordPress data types (posts, pages, media etc.), and create settings pages and widgets. The Piklist Framework can be downloaded for free from the WordPress repository.

3. Gravity Forms

Gravity Forms

Gravity Forms is an advanced form builder, and includes a lot of functionality that can help with web apps. You can create forms to do CRUD operations on posts, pages and custom post types, as well as take advantage of functionality like commerce, scheduling and logic. Gravity Forms starts at $39 for a personal licence which doesn’t include any of the add-ons.

4. Toolset

Toolset Types plugin

Toolset enables you to add custom types and fields to the WordPress admin and create ‘parent/child’ relationships between different types, to build relational-type databases. You can create custom page templates and archives for displaying searchable custom data. It also includes built-in functionality for creating front end forms for submitting content and editing. The Types plugin is free, but access to more advanced functionality requires purchasing the full Toolset (starts at $149).

5. WordPress REST API

WordPress REST API plugin logo

No discussion about using WordPress for web apps would be complete without considering the REST API, especially with a non-WordPress front end. Finally moving from the outskirts as a plugin into WordPress core, the REST API is changing the way apps interact with the WordPress back end, as shown in the recently released Calypso desktop app. We will be seeing more development in this area going forward as the code matures.

8 Awesome Web Apps Built on WordPress

Now that you have a broad understanding of how WordPress can be used as a web app framework and have familiarised yourself with a few of the plugins that can make life a lot easier in the process, let’s explore six awesome web apps built on WordPress that showcase just how capable the world’s favorite CMS is!

1. Train.rs

Trainrs web app

Train.rs provides a totally custom WordPress admin for managing personal trainers’ business.

Train.rs provides online business management for personal trainers. It uses WordPress as a foundation to give users hosted websites with customized administration of clients, training schedules, and billing. With the focus on users and custom data, WordPress makes easy work of this app.

2. YouTooCanRun

The YouTooCanRun homepage.

YouTooCanRun is a custom WordPress solution for managing the organization of marathon races, including paid registration of participants, generation of bib numbers and management of the event. It uses a combination of the Event Espresso and WooCommerce plugins to provide the needed functionality. As most of the functionality required was standard event and commerce behaviour, a WordPress solution combining plugins was perfect.

3. Pressbooks

Pressbooks web app

Pressbooks manages book content and prepares it for publishing.

Pressbooks is online book production software. They have both a hosted version and a WordPress plugin. You can create your book online and then export to various file formats for book publishing. The tool is built in WordPress using customized admin screens for managing book information, for example. Pressbooks focuses on content, so WordPress is a great tool for this.

4. Focused on Fit

The Focused On Fit homepage.

Focused on Fit is an online fitness community built on WordPress. Interesting features include a database of food and recipes with nutritional facts, and the ability to log your meals and exercise and track your progress towards your goals. It goes further and uses the REST API to pull that data into mobile apps for use on the go. The social aspect and user management makes this a good use case for WordPress.

5. StudyChurch

The StudyChurch homepage.

StudyChurch is a web app designed to help small church groups work through study materials together. It pieces together several WordPress plugins, such as BuddyPress, and a forum to enable users to write lessons that are available to group members who can then discuss and collaborate on the answers. With the focus on users management and content, this is a great use case for WordPress.

6. Nomadbase

NomadBase web app

The REST API powers this app as it pulls together location data for digital nomads.

Nomadbase is a real time map for digital nomads. Using location data from your social media apps (Facebook, Swarm, Twitter or Instagram), users’ past, present and future positions are shown on a city-level to other nomads to encourage connections and interactions. It is built using the REST API with a React and Leaf front end. This is an interesting use case for WordPress, focused on user data.

7. Code Cavalry

The Code Cavalry homepage.

Code Cavalry enables coding novices and web designers to connect with experts over Google Hangouts to solve problems. Though based in WordPress, the app interacts with Firebase through AngularJS. The developer outlines the approach taken in The Road to Code Cavalry. The focus of this app is the users and so using WordPress gave a good head start in development.

8. Hello Bar

The Hello Bar homepage.

Hello Bar is a ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS) platform designed to help users monetize their websites by building an email list. It provides you with ways to promote content, get more subscribers and measure and test the effectiveness of your campaigns. For more detailed information on how the team approached the development of Hello Bar you can check out the series of articles they wrote. They took advantage of WordPress’ built-in user management with custom themes and plugins to provide an experience that looks nothing like WordPress.

Conclusion

While WordPress is not perfect or suited for all web application needs, it can be a very useful tool for certain types of web apps. Stop thinking of it just as a blogging platform and you can start to see the possibilities for using its existing structure to help bring a web app to life quickly and under budget.

We have provided you with several examples of web apps built on WordPress which should have provided some inspiration and food for thought as to how you can use WordPress for more than just basic websites.

Have you built a web app using WordPress? Please share your favorite tools and tips that we may have missed in the comments section below!

Article thumbnail image by ideyweb / shutterstock.com

Article thumbnail image by Tom Ewer / elegantthemes.com