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What's in a Name
So what does PHP stand for? The abbreviation "PHP" stands for PHP Hypertext Preprocessor. It is a recursive abbreviation, which means that the first letter actually stands for PHP. This is a common occurrence in the tech world. Other examples are WINE (WINE is not an emulator), GNU (GNU's not Unix), and LAME (LAME Ain't an MP3 Encoder). However, PHP didn't always stand for PHP Hypertext Preprocessor.
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According to the History of PHP, the first version of PHP was created by Rasmus Lerdorf in 1995. It was created as a set of Perl scripts which he called Personal Home Page Tools. Later the tools were rewritten in C in order to give them more functionality. This set of tools was called PHP/FI or Personal Home Page/Form Interpreter. PHP/FI went through two revisions before it was completely rewritten by Andi Gutmans and Zeev Suraki in 1997. PHP version 3.0 was the first version to carry the name PHP Hypertext Preprocessor. It was also the first version to have support for different databases, protocols and APIs.
PHP has since gone through two more revisions. In 2000, PHP 4 was released based on the Zend Engine. The Zend Engine is an open source scripting engine also developed by Andi Gutmans and Zeev Suraki. This version provided support for more web servers and more secure ways to handle user input.
In 2004, PHP 5 was released with performance enhancements and increased support for object oriented programming. Currently, PHP 6 is under development with source packages available from the PHP website
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PHP Hypertext Preprocessor
The term "Hypertext Preprocessor" says that PHP is meant to be used to process web pages or HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) documents. It can be used for many different purposes such as processing web forms, sending email, handling files, and interacting with a database such as MySQL. Since it is so widely used, it is part of two widely used acronyms--LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) and WAMP (Windows, Apache, MySQL and PHP). The LAMP stack is the most used open source web development stack today. All parts of it are licensed under various open source licenses and are free for anyone to download and use.
PHP is a very robust language, but it is still relatively easy to learn. Beginners can create dynamic web pages with a few lines of code. On the other hand, it is hearty enough to create websites such as Facebook and Yahoo! and is the language used to create both Wordpress and Joomla.
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Although PHP is a popular web development language, it can be used in other capacities as well. It can be used as a command line language and to create client side graphical interfaces. For instance, you can create a client side interface to access a non web-based MySQL database.
These uses make PHP a good general purpose scripting language to learn. No matter what the name is.