PHP frameworks are like onions because they make you cry. No, I mean they are like onions because they have layers, that's what I meant.

Jokes aside, PHP frameworks do have layers and, if you don't have much knowledge of them, the subject may lead to tears. In this post, we will discuss the details of PHP framework technologies and eliminate some of the ambiguity surrounding them.

We will also discuss why they are helpful for your team's workflow and why you should incorporate them into your team projects. Additionally, we will talk about their pros and cons and some of the most popular PHP frameworks in the industry.

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What is a PHP framework?

A PHP framework is built on the open-source language PHP and offers built-in features to improve your software development lifecycle. These features increase development speed and improve performance within your team by lowering the workload of your developers.

PHP has been around for many years, and as a result, it is extremely robust. For everything from computer programming, to software and web development, PHP is a cornerstone in the development community. Developers use it to create desktop applications, games, command-line scripting, automation services, and much more.

Given the wide variety of its use, it has a decent learning curve — enter PHP frameworks. These frameworks ease the learning curve by providing pre-built software, rules, and platforms to build your software.

Why use a PHP framework?

PHP frameworks provide multiple benefits that improve your development pipeline. These improvements cover everything from security to productivity within your organization. Each of these frameworks has different focuses — some may focus on development workflow, and others may focus on scalability.

One perk that all of these frameworks offer is excellent security which is vital for software development. Maintaining security from the beginning of your development pipeline is akin to a DevSecOps approach which leads to improved performance.

Drawbacks of Using a PHP Framework (Cons?)

There are a few drawbacks to using a PHP framework for your software development teams. The first is an increase in programming restrictions — in fact, you can do far more with PHP if you don't use a framework. The downside is an increase in programming complexity, requiring far more manual programming to accomplish your goals.

Another drawback is that with each framework comes a learning curve to understanding how to interact and use that specific framework. This learning curve is not nearly as big a problem as learning an entirely new programming language but it is still worth considering.

11 Best PHP Frameworks

Let's discuss some of the best PHP frameworks and their overall difficulty, considering aspects like, getting started, learning the language and syntax, and complexity. (Easy, Moderate, Difficult)

1. Fat-Free Framework

Image of Fat Free Framework homepageImage of Fat Free Framework features

The philosophy behind the framework and its approach to software architecture is towards minimalism in structural components, avoiding application complexity, and striking a balance between code elegance, application performance, and programmer productivity.

Fat-Free Framework or “F3,” is a great place to start when learning how to implement a PHP framework to your team workflow. F3 is a micro-framework that aims to strike a balance between useful, simple, and fast. This framework also supports the use of multiple database languages for variety and flexibility.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Highlight: Simple and fast
  • Drawback: It will require more module setup

2. Slim

Image of Slim homepageImage of Slim example code

Slim is a PHP micro-framework that helps you quickly write simple, yet powerful, web applications and APIs. Slim is a micro-framework for receiving and returning HTTP calls, stripped down to its most essential features to support simplistic use.

Slim is a very fast framework due to its lack of third-party dependencies and is suited best for developing small apps and APIs. This framework is easy to use and set up, having you “hello World” ready in just a few minutes, and is considered one of the best PHP frameworks around.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Highlight: Very easy to learn, good support available
  • Drawback: Best for smaller applications

3. PHPixie

Image of CodeIgniter homepageImage of PHPixie features

PHPixie started as a micro framework and has gradually grown to be one of the most popular full-stack PHP frameworks while retaining its high performance. This framework was initially created for read-only websites and applications. PHPixie uses the HMVC design pattern, and as such is fast and reliable.

As a drawback, this framework is relatively new and has fewer modules and less community support. It’s easy to get started and easy to use PHPixie, however, if you run into problems you may find yourself at a roadblock with very little help.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Highlight: Easy to setup
  • Drawback: Less support and not quite as robust as other options on this list

4. CodeIgniter

Image of CodeIgniter homepageImage of CodeIgniter features

CodeIgniter is a powerful PHP framework with a very small footprint, built for developers who need a simple and elegant toolkit to create full-featured web applications. This framework is made for fast startup and minimal asset overhead. This reduced footprint allows for wicked fast setup and better runtime speeds for your projects.

This framework is probably one of the most comprehensive frameworks on this list. It provides only the basics but is extremely extensible allowing you to do almost anything you need. It also offers security features and promotes the MVC architecture, but is not limited to it.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Highlight: Ideal for beginners, good documentation available
  • Drawback: Not a good choice for security

5. Laravel

Image of Laravel homepageImage of Laravel ecosystem

Laravel is a web application framework with expressive, elegant syntax. Laravel is one of the world's most popular open-source frameworks and is B2B ready. It was created to offer a framework that provides features that CodeIgniter doesn’t, such as user authentication.

Laravel includes security features to protect against SQL injection and Cross-Site Forgery Requests (CSFR), workflow tools such as asset compilers, and a command-line interface (CLI). This framework focuses on improving workflow efficiency making it a useful tool for your team, but the added features make it a little harder to learn.

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Highlight: Suitable for any needs from small to large applications
  • Drawback: A bit more complex to use, better for large projects

6. Laminas

Image of Laminas homepageImage of Laminas features

Laminas, previously known as “Zend Framework” is a collection of professional PHP packages with more than 570 million installations. This framework has been around for a very long time and has a massive community of developers and users that support this framework.

Due to its long life, Laminas has a robust amount of features that have been added and incorporated which steepens the learning curve. On the other hand, this framework has been around so long it is constantly being updated with optimization and efficiency changes.

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Highlight: Flexible, robust, and has a massive community base
  • Drawback: Exceedingly steep learning curve for mobile developers

7. Cake PHP

Image of CakePHP homepageImage of CakePHP features

CakePHP is designed to make common web-development tasks simple and easy. CakePHP 4 is a web development framework running on PHP 8.1. CakePHP is built for simplicity and has a large and growing number of features.

Installation is simple and only requires a running web server and a copy of the framework installed to get started. With its extensibility, this framework can meet the needs of almost any project including but not limited to, security, user authentication, fast builds, and more.

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Highlight: Easy to use, beginner-friendly, robust features
  • Drawback: Can be a little complex to navigate due to its many features.

8. Yii

Image of Yii homepageImage of Yii features page

Yii is a high-performance, component-based PHP framework for rapidly developing modern web applications. The name Yii (pronounced Yee or [ji:]) means "simple and evolutionary" in Chinese. It can also be thought of as an acronym for “Yes It Is!”

Because Yii is component-based and designed to be suitable for any kind of web application including CMS, e-commerce, and even single-page apps (SPAs). It offers excellent support and is highly customizable, making it the perfect tool for any team. However first-timers beware, there is a lot to learn with this framework.

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Highlight: Highly extensible and amazing support
  • Drawback: Steep learning curve

9. Phalcon

Image of Phalcon homepageImage of Phalcon basic features

Phalcon is an open-source, full-stack framework for PHP, written as a C-extension. It’s optimized for high performance and its unique architecture allows the framework to always be memory resident — it remains in memory consistently. What this means is it is able to offer its functionality whenever it's needed, without expensive file stats and file reads that traditional PHP frameworks employ.

There is no need to learn any C programming language in order to use Phalcon, it is easy to install and is capable of handling any type of project up to an enterprise level. Be aware, however, that the developers are often slow to make patch updates in response to submitted issues. This could leave your project at a halt, or force implementation of “hacky” fixes.

  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Highlight: Builds extremely fast applications
  • Drawback: Developers often respond to bugs and issues slowly

10. FuelPHP

Image of FuelPHP homepage banner

Image of FuelPHP details

FuelPHP is a simple, flexible, community-driven, PHP 5 web framework. It was born out of frustrations with the currently available frameworks and developed with support from a community of developers. FuelPHP is extremely portable, works on almost any server, and prides itself on clean syntax.

This framework is capable of end-to-end web solutions, offering some of the highest security standards and methods beyond what most frameworks do. The drawback here is that this framework is relatively new and as such has a smaller community and support, which may lead to a steeper learning curve.

  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Highlight: Great security and good for end-to-end development
  • Drawback: Less support and steeper learning curve

11. Symfony

Image of Symfony homepage

Image of Symphony ecosystem page

Symfony is a set of PHP components, a web application framework, a philosophy, and a community — all working together in harmony. This framework has been around for a long time and is reliable and mature. Symfony also follows PHP and web standards to the exact letter, relieving concerns of being compliant throughout the development process.

This framework is best suited for larger enterprise-level projects, it is very flexible and is capable of integrating with larger projects such as Drupal. Symfony and Laravel have a lot of commonalities, however, the defining point is that Symfony is built with experienced developers in mind.

  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Highlight: Boasts extreme control and flexibility, enterprise-ready
  • Drawback: Steep learning curve, slower than other frameworks

Choosing the Best PHP Framework

Choosing the best frameworks for your team can be a little stressful, but being properly informed will help. Let's wrap up by going through some tips on choosing the best one to fit your needs.

Popularity and Community

Using a framework that has a large community often means you'll struggle less when looking for answers to common questions. It also means that you will be more likely to find answers to less common questions.

Culture

Finding a framework that matches the ideals and culture of your organization is a frequently overlooked concept. The importance of matching culture should not be underestimated, if a framework does not meet your organization's goals and ideals, look elsewhere.

Sustainability

Sustainability matters because it determines if the framework you are using will still be around later. Not much is worse than rebuilding a project because a framework is no longer in production and thus contains outdated information or technology.

Sustainability matters concerning the scalability of your project. As your project grows, will the framework you are using continue to sustain it?

Software and Technology Support

Using a framework that offers greater flexibility is nice, but be sure to consider the level of support offered with it. Ensure the framework you choose offers good software and technical support so that your development process is not halted due to roadblocks that you cannot surmount.

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Originally published Nov 30, 2021 7:00:00 AM, updated November 30 2021

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