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What Does PHP Stand for and Why is it Used?

written by: Sam OBrien•edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 6/30/2011

If you'd like answers to the questions, "What is PHP?" and "What does PHP stand for?", you'll find your answers here.

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    What does PHP stand for?

    What does PHP stand for? It originally stood for "Personal Home Page" and it was created by Rasmus Lerdorf in 1994 as a means of keeping track of visitors to his resume that he had published online. The usefulness of PHP was swiftly recognized and it began to be employed for more professional tasks. PHP was soon widely adopted and it came to stand for "PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor."

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    What Is PHP?

    PHP is a computer programming language, but many prefer to refer to it as a scripting language. Programming languages are used primarily to code or write what are known as stand-alone applications. A word processing program would be an example of a stand-alone application. PHP is rarely used to write these, however the application PHPMyAdmin is one example which was written in the PHP language. You might not be familiar with what that is if you don't work in web development.

    PHP is more frequently used to write what are known as scripts. Technically, scripts are programs, but they're usually referred to as scripts because they tend to contain much fewer lines of code than independent applications. Also, scripts are typically embedded into other languages such as Extensible Hypertext Mark-Up Language (XHTML). Web documents are written in this language. Because of the need for web sites to be dynamic and to display or accept enormous amounts of information, also called data, scripting languages such as PHP are frequently used. You may have heard the term "server side scripts." PHP is used to write scripts to be run on a server. Servers are special computers dedicated to processing large amounts of data very rapidly and efficiently for any number of client computers. Data driven web sites are driven by or supplied with information stored in a database and which can be called on demand to display in a web browser.

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    Real World Examples of the Use of PHP

    When you visit web sites at which you can sign up for a membership by registering so that later you can sign in and participate in activities offered by the site, PHP is one of a number of languages in which those pages might be written. Your registration information, username, password, etc. are processed and stored in a table in a database. Forums, calendars, and even some simple web-based games are written in PHP.

    You might want to begin scanning the file extension of the web pages you visit in order to get an idea of the sites that make use of this technology. Keep in mind, however, that not all pages that are truly written in PHP actually end in the .php file extension. The use of other extensions is often for the purpose of hiding the real scripting or programming language name from the public among which malicious hackers hide.

    The article, "What Are the Benefits of Using PHP?" focuses on why this language has grown to enjoy international popularity. If you're interested in learning the language, you might want to read, "PHP Tutorials for Dummies."