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PHP vs. HTML—what’s the difference? To start, HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) is a markup language, and PHP is a server-side scripting language. Where HTML is the backbone of all web development and one of the most fundamental technologies used in front-end web development, PHP scripts execute on the back-end, manipulating data on the server and outputting content to a webpage based on a user’s inputs. Together they make dynamic websites possible.

Both languages were created with the web in mind, and together they’re two of the most ubiquitous building blocks on the web. While they often work in tandem, they do play very different roles. Let’s explore how these two languages power and organize web technology.

What is PHP?

PHP is like the machinery behind a dynamic website. PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) is a general purpose scripting language that became the de facto server-side language of choice for web developers since 1995. Today, a majority of sites on the web run on PHP, due in large part to its popularity as the language of choice for back-end of content management systems (CMS) like WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla. Whether it’s for a simple blog or a small business owner looking to set up a professional landing page, a CMS is usually the quickest, cheapest way to set up an online presence, so PHP developers are often in high demand.

A PHP script will be linked to from an HTML file, which serves as the foundation of a site. It’s also most commonly known as the P in the LAMP software stack.

What is HTML?

HTML is the structure and backbone of a website. HTML is one of the big three core components of the web, alongside other front-end technologies CSS and JavaScript, and it plays a part in the front-end code of nearly every website on the web. The general layout or way in which content is displayed in a browser is described via HTML—all the static structure, organization, and content.

HTML files use “tags” to tell a browser how to display specific pieces of text, then all other dynamic aspects of a site can be embedded into that file—e.g., a PHP script to add interactivity, server-side scripts that connect the site to the database, and CSS files that add stylistic elements. These files can all be linked out of the HTML file, making it like the backbone of the site’s code.

PHP vs HTML: Major Similarities

While they’re designed to tackle development on opposite ends of the web development spectrum, they do share a few similarities.

  • Both are compatible with most browsers
  • Both can integrate with AJAX for dynamic websites, HTML on the front-end and PHP on the back-end
  • Both have a huge talent pool of developers worldwide

PHP vs JavaScript: Major Differences

For many developers, the answer is obvious—HTML is the backbone of front-end web development, and PHP is the most popular server-side script. The skills are often shared by developers but on their own, they tackle very different responsibilities in development.

  • PHP is a general purpose, interpreted, programming language; HTML is a markup language. The reason HTML is not considered a programming language, is because it cannot perform computations like 1 + 1 = 2. It is really a standard for marking up a document the way a writer might markup a manuscript.
  • PHP is a back-end technology; HTML is a front-end technology.

When Should You Use PHP or HTML?

HTML is typically used for the client-side, and PHP is used for server-side programming, which means it’s likely they’ll both be used on the same project. HTML is all about organizing and controlling how the content on your website is displayed, while PHP works on the back end to provide the logic that powers and populates the content your HTML is displaying. With this in mind, it’s safe to assume your site will require some HTML no matter what, and, if you have a PHP backend, the two technologies will interface to bring your dynamic website to life.