Lamp languages could be lit up as the big suppliers invest in PHP
What is it?
Perl, Python and PHP are the language elements of the Lamp open source development and deployment platform, the others being Linux, Apache and MySQL or Postgres.
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In August, research group Evans Data Corporation reported that the use of all three languages had dropped significantly from a peak two years ago, with many sites planning not to evaluate or use them in future developments. Evans felt the decline was due to the languages' failure to penetrate the enterprise.
However, IBM, Intel, SAP and Oracle are all investing in PHP in particular, with native drivers for DB2, Cloudscape and the Oracle database, and optimisation of PHP for Intel-based hardware. PHP supplier Zend insists that downloads of the language are growing, and Evans concedes that the involvement of large IT suppliers could reverse the long-term decline.
Where did it originate?
Perl first appeared in 1987. Python, based on a language developed to introduce beginners to programming, emerged in 1990. PHP, probably the most widely used of the three, followed in 1994, but was completely rewritten in 1997 by the founders of Zend.
What is it for?
Perl stands for Practical Extraction and Report Language. Designed to produce reports from text files, it now has a wider range of applications including CGI scripts. It is commonly used to bring together multiple types of software and systems.
Python (sometimes called CPython to distinguish it from the pure Java version, Jython) covers a range of internet and systems scripting tasks, but is particularly good for rapid application development.
PHP stands for PHP Hypertext Preprocessor. Mainly used for server-side scripting, PHP is especially good for retrieving and modifying data in different databases. It can connect to any SQL database, but is most widely used with MySQL and PostgreSQL.
What makes it special?
All three languages are free to download, and supported by wide communities which ensure bugs are found and fixed and best practice shared without delay. Although they share features with C and other languages, syntax is less complex, and developers can become productive very quickly. However, all three are evolving into more feature-rich languages that advanced programmers can use for larger and more complex developments.
How difficult is it to master?
You can begin simple coding after an evening with a tutorial, but all three reward longer study and practice. You will need some programming experience; C is probably ideal.
Where is it used?
Linux and Unix distributors, database suppliers and other software suppliers often bundle one or more of these languages with their products. As with all open source technologies, keeping track of usage is impossible, and many organisations may be using Perl, Python or PHP code without even realising it.
What systems does it run on?
Unix, Linux, Windows and Macintosh, although being community-driven, the languages are available for any platform where there is a demand, including operating systems that commercial language providers would not bother supporting.
What is coming up?
Despite continuous tuning by the community, all three are very stable, with up to 10 years between major releases.
Rates of pay
From £20,000 for junior developers, with a mid-range around £32,000.
You can pay for classroom training, with or without other elements of the Lamp platform like MySQL or PostgreSQL, or put together your own free or low-cost package of online tutorials and books.