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October 5, 2023

PHP Basics: 5 Steps to Improve Your Skills

PHP Development

Want to learn the PHP basics? You're in the right place. In this blog, I'll walk through how to get started as a beginner PHP developer, starting from the fundamental concepts of programming to the nuances of PHP language syntax and semantics. We'll also have a look at what’s involved in setting up your local development environment and discuss getting hands-on experience through small PHP projects. In addition, we'll share some valuable insights on seeking expert training to further hone your skills. Let's dive in!

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Is PHP Worth Learning?

Yes, PHP is worth learning as it is an excellent starting point for those interested in programming due to its simplicity, versatility, and broad usage. PHP is a server-side scripting language primarily used for web development, which makes it highly relevant in the digital age. Its syntax is uncomplicated, making it beginner-friendly. 

Furthermore, PHP's ubiquity ensures a vast community of developers, which means better support, abundant resources, and numerous learning materials. It also integrates seamlessly with various databases and HTML, providing a holistic understanding of web development. In short, learning PHP basics lays a solid foundation for mastering the basic concepts of programming.

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How to Learn PHP Basics

Here’s a list of the five steps we'll cover today that will help you learn the PHP basics:

  1. Learn the Fundamental Concepts of Programming
  2. Study PHP Language Syntax and Semantics
  3. Set Up a Local Development Environment
  4. Build Small, Meaningful PHP Projects
  5. Seek Out Expert Training 

1. Learn the Fundamental Concepts of Programming

The first fundamental concept in computer programming is understanding the structure and syntax of a programming language. This includes knowing how to declare variables, define functions, use loops, conditionals, and data structures, among others. It's essential to understand how to write clean and efficient code. This skill also includes understanding the principles of object-oriented programming (OOP) such as encapsulation, inheritance, polymorphism, and abstraction. OOP allows you to create modular programs and reusable code, making programming more efficient and manageable.

The second key concept is algorithms and data structures. An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure to solve a particular problem, while a data structure is a specific way of organizing and storing data in a computer so that it can be used efficiently. Understanding algorithms and data structures can help you write code that is optimized and efficient, which is especially important in large, complex systems. Additionally, knowing how to debug and test your code is another fundamental aspect of programming. This involves identifying and fixing errors or bugs in your code, and validating the functionality of your program to ensure it behaves as expected.

PHP is a great way to grasp the fundamentals of computer programming due to its simplicity and practicality. As an interpreted language, it allows you to see the results of their code instantly, promoting a hands-on, learn-as-you-go experience. Furthermore, PHP's syntax is straightforward and logical, which aids in understanding variables, loops, and conditionals. Its object-oriented programming support also introduces you to more advanced concepts. Moreover, PHP's wide use in web development provides a real-world context for learning, which helps to solidify these fundamentals in a practical, applicable way.

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2. Study PHP Language Syntax and Semantics

The next step is to get a firm grasp of the PHP language syntax and usage. Here are some actions you can take to lead you in the right direction:



Start With Basics

Begin with understanding the basic syntax of PHP. Learn how to create PHP files, how to embed PHP code into HTML files, and understand PHP tags.

Practice PHP Variables and Data Types

Practice using different variables and data types. Understand the difference between integers, strings, floats, booleans, arrays, and other data types.

Understand PHP Operators

PHP has several different types of operators (arithmetic, assignment, comparison, logical, etc.). Make sure you understand how each of them works.

Control Structures

Learn how to use control structures such as `if - else`, `switch`, `while`, `for`, and `foreach` loops.

Functions and Arrays

Understand how to create functions and use arrays. This includes surveying the built-in PHP functions, creating user-defined functions, and working with arrays.

Study PHP Forms and User Input

PHP is often used to gather user input through forms. Learn how to create forms, get user input, and process it.


PHP and MySQL often work together in web development. Learn how to connect PHP with a MySQL database, send queries, and retrieve results.

Error Handling

Learn how to handle errors and exceptions in PHP.

Explore Advanced Topics

Once you have a firm grasp on the basics, explore more advanced topics such as PHP sessions, cookies, file handling, and object-oriented PHP.

The most important rule is this: Practice, Practice, Practice! The best way to learn PHP syntax and semantics is through constant practice. Write code every day, work on small projects, and gradually challenge yourself with more complex projects. 

Also, if you're stuck, don't hesitate to ask for help. There are many online forums and communities, like Stack Overflow, where you can ask questions and learn from others' experiences. And don’t forget the PHP online language reference guide. Not only does this website document all PHP functions, but it also gives you usage examples to help you learn quickly.

3. Set Up a Local Development Environment

In order to get a head start in PHP development, you should set up a PHP development environment on your computer, allowing you to create and manage PHP applications. Here's what goes into a PHP development environment:

  1. PHP Interpreter: This is a piece of software that can execute PHP scripts. You can download and install the PHP engine by following the installation instructions found here.
  2. Web Server: PHP is a server-side language, so you need a web server to run your PHP scripts. Apache and Nginx are popular options.
  3. Database Server: PHP often interacts with databases, so you'll need a database server. MySQL and PostgreSQL are commonly used.
  4. Text Editor or Integrated Development Environment (IDE): You'll need a place to write your PHP code. Simple text editors like Geany, the Mac TextEdit or Windows Notepad can suffice, but an IDE like VSCode, PHPStorm or NetBeans offer additional features like debugging and autocompletion.
  5. Browser: Since PHP is used for web development, you'll need a web browser to view your PHP web pages.
  6. Version Control System (VCS): A VCS like Git or HelixCore helps keep track of changes made to your code and facilitates collaboration with others.

For beginners, tools like XAMPP bundle the PHP interpreter, Apache, and MariaDB (a database server that’s compatible with MySQL) together for easy setup. The nice thing about XAMPP is that there are versions you can download for Windows, Linux, or Mac.

4. Build Small and Meaningful PHP Projects

Building small, meaningful PHP projects is an excellent method for learning PHP basics, as it provides a context in which to apply theoretical knowledge. When you start a project, you are forced to think more strategically about the language, considering its syntax, semantics, and structure in ways that you wouldn't in a more passive learning environment. The project-based approach also makes the learning process more engaging and relevant. As you build your PHP projects, you'll be able to see firsthand how different code constructs work together to create a functioning application.

Meaningful projects often cover a wide range of concepts and principles, from simple variables and control structures to more complex topics like object-oriented programming and database interactions. By working on a project, you'll get to practice these concepts in an integrated manner, which can help solidify your understanding. Also, while developing these projects you'll likely encounter errors and bugs, which are valuable learning opportunities. Debugging your code will enhance your problem-solving skills and deepen your understanding of the PHP language.

Small PHP projects provide a tangible measure of your learning progress. Unlike abstract exercises, a completed project offers a sense of accomplishment, reinforcing your motivation to learn. Over time, you can build a portfolio of these projects, which not only demonstrate your growing proficiency in PHP but also serve as a showcase of your skills for potential employers.

It’s extremely important to recognize that the projects you create need to be meaningful. If a project has no personal significance to you, your motivation level will inevitably decline, and ultimately you’ll drop the project. Building meaningful projects is a practical, engaging, and rewarding way to learn the basics of the PHP language.

5. Seek Out Expert Training

Investing in expert training for PHP basics is crucial for a swift and comprehensive learning experience. Expert trainers have a deep understanding of the language and its nuances, having worked extensively on real-world projects. They can provide a structured learning plan that covers PHP's core concepts in a logical and efficient manner. This structured approach prevents you from getting overwhelmed by the vast PHP landscape, and it ensures that you grasp the fundamentals before moving on to more complex topics.

Another reason why expert training is the best way to learn PHP basics is the opportunity for hands-on experience. Experts often provide practice exercises and projects that enable learners to apply what they've learned. This practical experience is invaluable in solidifying knowledge and building your confidence. It also prepares you for the kind of tasks you'll encounter when developing real-life PHP applications. 

Expert training offers you personalized guidance and feedback, something self-study resources can't provide. Trainers can identify and correct misunderstandings or mistakes that might otherwise go unnoticed. They can also answer specific questions, provide advice tailored to the your goals, and guide you through difficult concepts or tasks. This personalized attention speeds up the learning process and helps you become proficient in PHP much faster than you would on your own.

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Final Thoughts

There are plenty of resources that supplement all of the things we covered in this article. Here are just a few that are available to you free of charge:

  • To help you learn PHP basics, check out this course.
  • If you get stuck setting up your own PHP development, check out our free course on that topic.
  • Our on-demand course on interactive web forms will provide a tremendous boost to your learning path.
  • If you aren’t sure about how to start a small project, check out this blog PHP beginner projects.
  • Another potential resource is ChatGPT. Although this generative AI tool isn’t perfect, by asking it the right questions, you might be able to get it to generate useful starting PHP code.

Obviously, as a trainer for Zend Education, my bias and preference is for instructor-led training. However there are plenty of other options these days. Whatever path you take, see you at the top of the PHP stack!

Explore Our PHP Training Options

From free, beginner-level courses to advanced courses that can take your skills from theoretical to applied, Zend offers a full range of PHP training options for PHP developers of all skill levels.

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Additional Resources

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