The Ultimate Guide to PHP Frameworks in 2021

Vyom Srivastava, Software Engineer
Vyom Srivastava, Software Engineer
Published: 20.03.2021

According to statistics, PHP is amongst the 10 most popular programming languages in the world. It can be a perfect choice for a lot of projects. However, the success of a project depends not only on the language but also on your choice of tools. So, how do you decide on the best PHP developers for your project? Let’s take a look at the different framework options first - and remember, if you need help selecting the right company, tell us what you need. We can do the work for you and connect you with up to 5 companies within 72h that match your need- all for free.

Basic concepts you need to know

Before diving into the different PHP frameworks, let’s have a refresher of the must-know basic concepts.

MVC

MVC or Model-View-Controller is a software design pattern where the representational logic (View) is kept separate from the business logic (Model and Controller). In other words, you could say the Controller holds all the logic of the application, the Model interacts with the database and View is what the client sees.

Composer

Composer is the dependency/package manager for PHP. It lets you install third-party libraries and their dependencies. To install the below frameworks, you’ll need Composer.

Now let's analyse the 10 most popular PHP frameworks one by one:

Symfony

The first one in this list is Symfony. It is a full-stack modern enterprise-grade PHP framework. What does that mean? It gives you the fundamental building blocks that you need to create custom solutions for your business needs. Giving you the basic foundation, it makes it easy for you to layer exactly what you need on top.

Symfony is a great choice if you want to build something that users can access on the go from their mobile devices. Now, of course, you could take the mobile approach and build a mobile application that can give you access to phone sensors and contact lists, but most web applications don’t have those needs. They just need the user to be able to access the platform, manipulate the data, get what they need done, and then go on with their day.

Symfony provides a huge list of functionalities and counts with a very large active community. The framework is inspired by Ruby on Rails (Ruby), Django (Python), and Spring (Java). It comes with components like HttpFoundation which is used for making HTTP calls, and also includes helpers like Validator which is used to validate the form submissions.

Pros

  • It lets you create high-performance, large-scale projects
  • It comes with a convenient API that you can use to manipulate the file system
  • Improved error controlling
  • It has a full console with arguments and parameters control
  • Error logging
  • Open-source

Cons

  • Difficult to learn and has a non-intuitive flow

Laravel

Laravel is one of the most popular PHP frameworks based on MVC architecture. It comes with a lot of helpers and libraries to make the development easier for you. It uses the components of existing frameworks like Symfony and lets you use them in a much easier and structured way. Therefore, the design of the code remains structured and easy to understand.

Allowing you to build the view part of the website in blade format, Laravel enables the reuse of components from one page to another. The blade is a powerful templating system for Laravel that allows you to run the core PHP code directly in the template. The pages generated using Blade are saved in the cache memory, resulting in a smooth and fast user experience.

To interact with the database Laravel includes Eloquent, which is an ORM-based solution for MySQL. ORM or Object Relational Mapping introduces Object-Oriented Programme styling in MySQL.

Pros

  • The introduction of Blade templating lets views be dynamically manipulated
  • Eloquent makes database interaction much easier
  • It uses Bcrypt Hashing Algorithm for generating the encrypted password
  • Artisan commands allow for easier migrations among other things
  • The framework is capable of running multiple unit tests.

Cons

  • It is difficult to extend the existing classes and libraries
  • Being a lightweight framework, it lacks inbuilt support

CodeIgniter

An extremely lightweight PHP framework, Codelgniter includes libraries for email, database, form validation, and uploading files. It is based on MVC architecture and comes with active records to interact with the database. The framework is easy to understand and learn since it is not as complex as other frameworks such as Symfony.

Being small in size, CodeIgniter is one of the fastest PHP frameworks. The documentation of the framework is also excellent, explaining everything with example code. There are two main components in the CodeIgniter: libraries and helper functions. The libraries are the group of classes, while the helpers are the collection of functions.

To interact with the database, CodeIgniter uses active records which is a modified version of the Active Record Database Pattern. With active records, you can perform any database functionality with just a few lines of code.

Pros

  • The size of this framework is less than 2MB
  • Beginner-friendly
  • Implementation of active records doesn’t require you to learn the lengthy SQL commands
  • One of the fastest frameworks

Cons

  • Not designed for big scalable projects in mind
  • Not a very Object-Oriented framework

Phalcon

Phalcon is another PHP framework based on the MVC architecture. It is a very high-performance PHP framework that was launched in 2012 and is completely open-source. Written in C and PHP, Phalcon is one of the fastest frameworks. It is also notorious for being the first PHP framework to implement Object Relational Mapping in the C language.

The main advantage of using this framework is the speed. You won’t find another PHP framework faster than Phalcon. Its response time for 1000 requests is 0.712 seconds, which is a lot less than the famous PHP frameworks like Laravel which takes about 6.5 seconds.

This framework also uses ORM for interaction with the database and is a loosely coupled MVC framework. It supports both Relational and Non Relational databases.

Pros

  • The fastest PHP framework
  • Open-source
  • Compatible with C language

Cons

  • Complex installation
  • You may also need to have knowledge of C for debugging purposes

Are all these different frameworks getting you mixed up? Remember, if you need help selecting the right company, tell us what you need. We can do the work for you and connect you with up to 5 companies within 72h that match your need- all for free.

Yii

Yii is another open-source PHP framework for rapid development. Yii is an acronym for “Yes it is” and follows a combination of DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself) and MVC standards.

It is a component-based PHP framework meaning you can create small components of code and use them anywhere throughout the project. This framework also supports solid caching.

Being a component-based framework with cache support, Yii is suitable for creating any type of web application such as a forum, CMS and e-commerce websites. Yii also uses the latest features of PHP such as traits and namespaces.

Like Codeigniter, Yii also comes with the support of Active Records to interact with the database. Bootstrap being the most popular CSS framework for making responsive web pages, it is a welcome addition to have right out the box.

Pros

  • Includes Bootstrap
  • User authentication predefined
  • Multi-level caching
  • CSRF token support
  • Support for NoSQL databases
  • Support for the development of RESTful services.

Cons

  • Too dependent on static methods.
  • Steep learning curve

CakePHP

One of the oldest PHP frameworks to provide rapid development of PHP applications in MVC architecture, CakePHP provides developers a rapid and structured workflow without losing flexibility. It also comes with a templating engine for the frontend and supports caching out of the box, as well as supporting legacy PHP versions such as PHP 4 and PHP 5. This framework is also completely open-source and comes with basic testing functionality such as core and custom.

CakePHP supports ORM for database interaction which makes the CRUD operations much easier. The libraries and helpers allow you to apply data sanitisation, as well as allowing you to apply AJAX to improve the user experience, cookie and session handlers, and email functions.

Pros

  • A very active developer community
  • Application scaffolding
  • Helpers for AJAX and JS functions
  • Legacy PHP versions compatible
  • Out-of-the-box testing solutions

Cons

  • Documentation needs improvements
  • Developers can face difficulties during migrations
  • Better suited for older PHP versions

Laminas Project

With more than 570 million installations, Laminas is one of the more popular open-source PHP frameworks. Its components provide minimum interdependency, allowing web applications projects to act as stand-alone applications. This PHP framework was launched in 2006 and follows MVC architecture.

Apart from MySQL, Laminas also supports PostgreSQL and SQLite, among others , as well as including easy session management. This framework provides REST API development support out of the box and is applicable to large scale projects, being one of the most stable PHP frameworks on the market.

Support for testing as a PHPUnit is integrated into Laminas, making testing of your developed web applications much faster.

Pros

  • Support for multiple database technologies
  • REST API development support
  • Code becomes easier to maintain

Cons

  • Steep learning curve
  • Documentation needs improvement
  • The framework is relatively large and is a bit bloated

FuelPHP

FuelPHP was launched in 2014 and follows the HMVC pattern. Initially, this framework was started to adopt the good practices from the most popular PHP frameworks in order to create a superior product.

The framework is relatively new and is entirely developed and improved by a community of contributing developers. This translates into a grass-root driven product with some of the best community support available for a framework product.

FuelPHP can be easily extended which means that you don’t need to update the core files to make any changes. Instead, you can just extend the classes and override them. The View part of this framework can encode the output which means that it is completely secure and capable of avoiding all the cross-site attacks (XSS).

Like Artisan commands in Laravel, FuelPHP also comes with Oil commands. Oil is a command-line utility for FuelPHP which allows you to perform a lot of functionalities like creating basic login/logout fields or doing migrations.

Pros

  • HMVC pattern
  • Flexible framework
  • Very Secure

Cons

  • Low market penetration
  • Less programer availability

PHPixie

Very similar to FuelPHP, PHPixie is also built on HMVC architecture. The goal of PHPixie was to create a high-performance framework for read-only websites. This PHP framework started as a micro framework and gradually became a fully-fledged PHP framework.

PHPixie handles a lot of things differently to other frameworks, which makes it a preferred option among developers for small projects. This framework also supports multiple databases like PostgreSQL, SQLite and MongoDB.

Pros

  • Inbuilt authentication
  • Support for multiple databases
  • ORM library is included

Cons

  • Not a very popular PHP framework and therefore hard to maintain

Slim Framework

As its name suggests, Slim Framework is a very lightweight PHP microframework suitable for rapid web development. Being a micro-framework, the framework is used to create REST APIs.

Slim framework includes CSRF protection, HTTP caching, and third-party integrations. The middleware allows you to add a layer of security between the client and the server, which you can also add as an authentication for the REST API.

Pros

  • Very small in size
  • Preferred for REST API development

Cons

  • Lacks a lot of basic features

Find your perfect PHP framework

To learn a PHP framework, you’ll have to start with the basic concepts of PHP like classes, objects, and databases. We have covered the 10 most popular PHP frameworks which you can use to create web applications.

It all depends on your requirements, though! Most of the frameworks are suitable for any project, but with their varying degrees of difficulty, it is worth understanding which frameworks will be able to resolve your problem the most efficiently. You do not end up implementing a heavy and bloated framework that is meant for very complex projects to resolve a simple internet contact sheet.

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