Maurice Fonk



A decent amount of my income still comes from writing PHP. It is shameful, I know. Save for a few hardcore, unapologetic fanboys, most people I know see the language as a necessary evil at best, but more likely as expletive deleted. And it is true, PHP is a poorly thought out, pretty outdated, designed-by-committee, inconsistent heap of yet another expletive.

There are more poor languages in heavy use today, JavaScript being a prime example. While being impossible to avoid in the browser, it has also made the leap to the server. Node now powers some of the largest web applications around. All based on JavaScript.


JavaScript is different from PHP though. JavaScript is a language one person did not think about nearly enough, while PHP is a language too many people thought about too much. But that is the language itself. It is easy to focus on that, but by comparing a language in isolation you miss part of the story. Node is popular, in a way, because it is popular. Popularity and a decent package manager combine into a welcoming ecosystem of friendly libraries and tools.

PHP applications written after the advent of Composer are certainly more manageable than those that came before. Writing PHP code isn't so bad nowadays, either. You can definitely avoid some of the bad parts of the language, and when combined with a decent framework, the whole experience can be downright decent.

Flawed Languages

The point being, PHP and JavaScript together touch a large part of all web applications, both in the browser and on the server. These languages are severely flawed, yet new applications are constantly being developed in both. It makes you wonder if the quality of a language matters at all.

Surely it is true that our natural languages aren't perfect. They are imprecise and irregular. Alternatives exist, but are not often sought out. Maybe we do not care about imperfections, once we understand them. I can obviously communicate with you in English, and get my point across just as well as I could in Esperanto (were I to actually speak it).

Beautiful Languages

I love functional languages, their elegance and conciseness make coding in them feel like less of a chore. No matter how much I love Haskell, however, it is not the tool I'd use for powering a web application, if I had to start writing one tomorrow. It might be, in the future, but I have neither the time, nor the energy to spearhead that fight. I have problems to solve, code to write, deadlines to meet.

A beautiful language helps you write beautiful code. Code beauty is not what my clients pay for, though, they tend to care about silly things like usability, performance and price. Sure, beautiful code is easier to maintain, which is a real requirement. Maintainability can also be attained with decent tools, standards, and experience, however. End users do not know, let alone care, about the languages and tools used to create the applications they use. The incentives trickling down from their level are limited to providing tangible improvements to their experience. As long as one tool set can deliver the same experienced quality as another, comparisons tend to end up in flame wars.


I get paid to write PHP. I'm not the only one. It is what others use, and therefore it is what I must use. What with teamwork and such.

There is an "ecosystem", and it votes for PHP through employers' wallets. Good developers are scarce, and they seem to like being divided into language based cliques. An employer looking for a new hire will focus on specific skills, matching that of his current employees, thereby reinforcing its current structure. Actually changing your tool set, at least in an organizational setting, is usually quite out of reach.


Great developers transcend cliques. They understand the parallels between tool sets. They grok abstraction layers, using intricacies from one the next level up. In my experience, they also tend to complain less about imperfect tools. When confronted with poor design they'll say "that is stupid", then simply work around it.

Then again, great developers are rare in the PHP world...