PHP has been a pillar of web development for decades. With its easy integration into HTML and massive community support, it’s no wonder PHP remains one of the most popular languages for building dynamic websites.
But barebones PHP can only take you so far. To build a serious web application, most devs will lean on a framework like Laravel or Symfony. Frameworks speed up development and help you follow best practices out of the box.
In this post, we’ll break down the most popular PHP frameworks so you can pick the right tool for your next web project.
Table of Contents
Laravel is the most widely used PHP framework today. Its elegant syntax and robust feature set have made Laravel a go-to for both new and experienced developers.
Some of the highlights include:
- Authentication system – Laravel makes implementing login, registration, password reset, etc. a breeze.
- Route handling – Easily define application routes and link them to controllers/views with expressive syntax.
- Templating – Laravel’s Blade templating engine allows you to build reusable page templates with inheritance and components.
- Migrations – Database schema changes are a snap with database migrations. Laravel tracks changes and allows easy version control.
- Eloquent ORM – The Eloquent ORM provides a beautiful ActiveRecord implementation for working with your database.
Laravel offers many more features like queues, mail, localization, and caching out of the box. It’s no wonder massive sites like Netflix and Yahoo! Finance use Laravel.
For new developers, Laravel is easy to pick up because it closely follows established MVC patterns. The documentation is fantastic as well. Laravel is a great choice for your first PHP framework.
If Laravel isn’t flexible enough, give Symfony a try. Symfony is a robust framework aimed at large enterprise projects.
- Component architecture – Symfony is comprised of decoupled components like Form, HttpKernel, and Translation. Use what you need.
- Customizability – Tweak everything to suit your project’s needs. Symfony gives you total control.
- Reusable bundles – Install third-party bundles to quickly integrate features. Bundles exist for authentication, CMS’s, API’s, and more.
The Symfony ecosystem is massive, with a dedicated company backing the framework. Finding solutions and troubleshooting issues is easy with such an active community.
High-profile sites built on Symfony include Mozilla, Dailymotion, and Vogue Magazine. The sky’s the limit with Symfony’s flexibility.
Symfony does have a steeper learning curve than other frameworks. Be prepared to read through dense documentation and muddy through configuration hell. But for complex apps, Symfony can’t be beat.
When lightweight and simplicity are the name of the game, check out CodeIgniter.
CodeIgniter impresses with:
- Tiny footprint – Get a complete MVC framework in a 2MB download. CodeIgniter is lean and fast.
- Zero configuration – Get rolling right away. CodeIgniter requires nearly zero configuration out of the box.
- Loose coupling – CodeIgniter has a very loose coupling between components. Swap out any library seamlessly.
The lightweight nature makes CodeIgniter perfect for new developers getting started. The simple syntax and logical flow make it easy to build your first PHP app quickly.
Since configuration needs are minimal, CodeIgniter suits smaller apps well. Large and complex systems may outgrow CodeIgniter’s simplistic approach, however.
CodeIgniter has powered thousands of sites and apps across its tenure, including ratings giant Yelp!
Yii brands itself as a “high-performance” PHP framework. It’s built for speed and efficiency.
Yii’s strengths include:
- Sophisticated caching – Yii implements intricate multi-level caching strategies out of the box. Speed things up.
- Easy extendability – Yii utilizes components heavily and makes building your own a breeze. Customize anything.
- Code generation – Quickly scaffold database models, forms, CRUD pages, and more with Gii code generator.
Large sites like Walmart, Baidu, and Lenovo have used Yii’s performance and scalability to handle enormous amounts of traffic.
The extensive use of components makes Yii very flexible. But it can make the framework feel fragmented at times. Be prepared for a moderate learning curve.
Zend Framework (now known as Laminas) takes a traditional object-oriented approach. With a focus on reusability and flexibility, Zend powers custom web and API projects.
- Loose coupling – Components are highly independent and usable in any app. Pick and choose.
- Enterprise features – Robust tools for APIs, authentication, data management, and more.
- Strong support – Backed by Rogue Wave Software and trusted across industries.
Zend is great for building custom business and enterprise applications. Financial institutions like BNP Paribas and Israeli banks rely on Zend for critical apps.
Those looking for an all-in-one framework may find Zend too a la carte. Be prepared to put in legwork integrating components. But the control is unparalleled.
If raw speed is essential, check out Phalcon. It takes a radically different approach than other frameworks:
- C extension – Phalcon is implemented as a PHP C extension rather than PHP code. This offers huge performance gains.
- Full-stack – Provides all common framework functionality in a tightly integrated package.
- Loose coupling – Interfaces and dependency injection provide flexibility despite tight integration.
Phalcon is well-suited for lean microservices and APIs. Companies like Coca-Cola, Uber, and NASDAQ have used Phalcon to reduce server load.
The C extension aspect gives Phalcon a steep learning curve though. Also, being in C makes it harder to tweak and extend compared to PHP-based frameworks.
But for the raw speed, Phalcon is worth a look.
When you just need simple APIs fast, consider Slim:
- Lightweight – Slim clocks in at about 1MB installed. It’s ultra lean.
- HTTP focused – Craft HTTP and REST APIs painlessly. No unnecessary fluff.
- Easy integration – Use any library you want. Slim won’t get in your way.
If your project is primarily HTTP APIs, Slim cuts through the noise. Add middleware and libraries for database, templates, sessions, etc.
Popular services like Cachet, Politico, and Mailgun API have used Slim for its REST capabilities.
For full MVC sites, Slim may leave you wanting more. But for APIs, Slim is perfect.
CakePHP takes the opposite approach of Slim, aiming to provide a one-stop-shop MVC framework:
- Rapid development – Get started fast with its out-of-the-box functionality and code generation.
- Clear conventions – CakePHP enforces strict MVC conventions, making applications highly structured.
- Lightweight – Despite robust features, CakePHP focuses on good performance.
Top brands like Express, BMW, and Hyundai have used CakePHP to build feature-rich applications quickly.
CakePHP’s conventions do have a learning curve though. Expect to refer to documentation frequently starting out. But for rapidly scaffolding an application, check out CakePHP.
Like Slim, Flight aims to be a simple PHP framework without bloat:
- Minimalist – Flight provides routing and request handling without extras you may not need.
- Easy configuration – Get up and running with just a few lines of code.
- Great for APIs – Flight shines for crafting JSON APIs and microservices.
Flight works great for small apps and APIs where you don’t want complex framework overhead. Many community projects use Flight for its simplicity.
But the minimalism comes at the cost of not including batteries. Be prepared to pull in your own template engine, ORM, etc.
PHP frameworks offer huge productivity and organization boosts over plain PHP. Each framework we covered has its own strengths:
- Laravel – Elegant and easy to use. Great for new developers.
- Symfony – Extremely flexible for large, complex apps.
- CodeIgniter – Lightning fast and zero configuration.
- Yii – Built for high performance at scale.
- Zend – Fully customizable for enterprise apps.
- Phalcon – Insanely fast. Perfect for microservices.
- Slim – Simple and focused on APIs.
- CakePHP – Rapidly build full MVC apps.
- Flight – Minimalist and fast for small projects.
Evaluate your project’s unique needs. Are you a solo developer building a simple CRM? Grab CodeIgniter. Do you need high performance JSON APIs? Phalcon or Slim may be your best bet.
The only wrong choice is no framework at all. Frameworks save tons of time and organize your sprawling PHP codebase. Give Laravel, Symfony, or another popular framework a shot for your next web project!