Become a PHP Backend Developer- What to look for in a Course?


A lot of positions we have heard about, software engineer, software developer, web developer, etc. but what is a backend developer and if I want to become one, what steps should I follow? Most importantly, I want to do it in PHP, so how to become a PHP developer? Read on; you will get your answers.

What is a Backend Developer?

Even before deciding to use PHP or any other language, you should know what a backend developer is. In each website or app you see, there are two parts, client and server. The client part is what a user interacts with, like pages of the website or the user interface of a website. If we take an example of a login page, there is some logic written which matches your username and password with the credentials you entered while registering to that website, and decides whether to log you in or not depending upon the correctness of your credentials. This logic and after your login, all other logic is written on the server-side, which is also called the “backend”. Similarly, the user interface can be called “frontend”.
By now you must have understood that what a backend developer does, so now we should see how to do backend development in PHP. So what does PHP stand for exactly, sounds like some acronym, isn’t it?

A Little About the Name- PHP

Yes, it is, and PHP stands for Hypertext Pre Processor, but something’s off according to acronym rules, right? This is called a recursive acronym. I do know that PHP started with the name Personal Home Page, but how that changed to this recursive acronym is difficult to tell. Moving on with the accepted full name as Hypertext Pre-processor, it is a server-side scripting language. It can be embedded in HTML pages to execute some logic, and you have a complete dynamic page.

What Should I Know Before Getting into Backend Development?

One thing is clear in backend development, whatever language you choose, basic concepts are almost similar in every language and differences exist only in syntax and some advanced concepts like some specific functions or operators, for example, Union Types in PHP 8.0 to make your development life easier. So, let us start a journey to become a good backend developer. There are some basic requirements of becoming a backend developer:
1- Have a good grasp of the basics of programming
2- Knowledge of client-server architecture
3- Knowledge of networking concepts
4- Basics of security in websites.

1- Have a Good Grasp of the Basics of Programming:

In the start and always it boils down to become a good developer. Logic written anywhere either in client-side or server-side and in any programming language should be bug-free and well tested. You should be well versed with basic programming concepts like operators, witting functions, exception handling, or loops. You should test your code for all edge cases.

2- Knowledge of Client-Server Architecture:

You must know how the web works. This helps you in understanding how your code is going to affect the platform and the network. For example, if you are fetching some data from the database and after modifications want to save it back, do it in the minimum round trips possible. Roundtrips means, the request you make for server access. 

3- Knowledge of Networking Concepts:

You must be well aware of networking concepts like IPs, LAN, WAN and firewalls, and other basic networking concepts so that if any issues are there, you can understand the cause and if needed, explain it further.

4- Basics of Security in Websites:

You must understand what security measures are taken for securing a web application. They may be at the network level, code level, or database level. For example, if you are not using encryption for passwords or using plaintext passwords in your database, it may turn in to a major security breach event someday.
You can add more to the list but the above 4 cover core requirements from programming to deployment and security.

Why PHP? Benefits, Career and the Salary of Backend Developer

As of now, we have covered the very crucial basics of becoming a backend developer. We must have some reasons in favour of using PHP. So if you take an example of python, you may or may not be sure about every hosting provider providing support for it, but with PHP, you don’t need to worry about this, it is widely accepted. Other than that it is free to use and most of the resources which are used along with it, like the server apache and database MySQL are also free.
A tempting reason to switch to PHP is the salary of a PHP programmer and the job profile. In the UK, the average yearly salary for a PHP developer can range from £26000 to £53000 per year. Although this data is taken from Glassdoor, it may vary depending on the role, place, and experience of the developer. 
If you are into web development, you will find PHP almost everywhere. From major e-commerce platforms to best content management systems (for example, WordPress) is based on PHP. Many companies like Google, Amazon, NetApp hire PHP backend developers. If you are a beginner, still a lot of companies are ready to hire PHP developers because in portals and CMS segment, PHP rules. Even if you are into WordPress development, some customizations or the creation of new plugins require good PHP knowledge. There is no shortage of PHP developer jobs, provided that you have your concepts right. Other than these jobs, you can go into custom plugin development for well-known PHP CMS, like WordPress or Joomla if you know how to use PHP.

Resources for Learning PHP

Either driven by the technical aspect or by the salary package provided, you must be thinking about how long will it take to learn PHP and if there are any courses and certifications? So if you have decided to go ahead with the coursed following are the best resources for learning PHP8.0

1- Official PHP Documentation
2- PHP the Right Way

There are other resources as well, which are providing the PHP learning resources, but they either provide 7.x or I could not find the version information properly. So if you want to go ahead with them, please see the following.

3- W3Schools
4- TutorialsPoint
5- Codeacademy and Udemy Courses

Now that we know about what should we learn as a backend developer and why to use PHP for our start, let us go further and be somewhat more specific. Let us see what exactly we should learn to become a PHP backend developer.

Essentials for a PHP Backend Developer

Following is the list of topics we should learn to be a good PHP backend developer and write effective code.

1- PHP Basics:

1-PHP-Basics

As stated above, the basics of any programming language, and in our case, PHP is very important. Further steps don’t matter if you don’t have your basics right. Follow the step by step tutorial as described above, and do write programs even if you fail in your outputs initially. Even when you get outputs, try making your program efficient and always write understandable code

2- Set up a Development Environment:

You must have a practical development environment for learning PHP. Writing code in notepad and running it using apache server is a good idea to start with, but in the real world, no one uses notepad. Because it will take ages to write a slightly complex functionality with a lot of syntax errors etc. Advanced text editors like Visual Studio Code, Sublime Text and Atom, etc. are used for writing the code. Visual Studio Code, with its git integration and IntelliSense facility, helps you a lot in writing code faster.
When you have written the code, you need a server to run it. Having apache server installed is a good idea, and this can be done with a single package named XAMPP which installs Apache server, PHP, and MySQL in one go and even provides as a single management console for all of them.
While setting apache server, you may face some port-related issues, and this happens mostly with Skype installed. So all you have to do is to go to HTTPS.config, change the port number in Listen:80 where 80 is the port number. For example, make it 8080, and if it is not occupied, you will get your server running.
All in one tool like XAMPP make things easier by providing a control panel where you can find config files and check occupied ports with a click of a button.

3- Dive deep into the PHP language:

Once you have set up the environment and done with your basics in PHP, go ahead with advanced concepts in PHP and try creating web pages that are linked. The best idea is to take a concept like e-commerce and think about what is the smallest possible functionality you can work on. In E-commerce, you can see that showing products, details, adding to cart and the checkout are the steps that are crucial to every e-commerce website in the world. You got the idea, work on it.
In PHP or any language, try keeping the logic separate from the user interface as much as possible. Learn about a code architecture like MVC or if that proves advanced for you with all its configurations, start with a basic three-tier architecture. Here in here tier, you have your, database logic, business logic and user interface logic in separate tiers, and you can easily keep things separate when adding or modifying any logic or functionality.

4- Find Out About Testing:

Code written without any tests is deceiving. If it is not tested and deployed, it will create more problems, and eventually, you will end up patching the code which event provides burden and inconsistent code because once deployed, you can’t make your website offline every time for fixing it for obvious business reasons. No one likes a website that goes offline frequently. So try testing your logic as much as possible and if your organization or team allows it, go with TDD (Test Driven Development).

5- Servers (Apache; Nginx):

As written above, a server is required to run your PHP code; Apache is an obvious choice for many web backend developers when working on PHP. Nginx has a faster performance but not as flexible for operating systems other than Linux, for example, Windows.

6-Become Familiar With the Social Data Set 

Information needs a data set that stores and cycles it rapidly. A backend information researcher and a PHP expert should realize how to do it. There are a few alternatives: learn one, and others will look a lot simpler. 

7- Caching:

As a backend developer, knowledge of caching is very important. Caching is a process of temporarily storing data for execution until there is a change. This limits the number of roundtrips significantly to the server hence making the application faster. 

8- Making RESTful APIs:

 

As a backend developer, you will be creating more and more APIs these days because one backend multiple frontends is the mantra of today’s application development. You can have running the same application running on desktop, web mobile, and tab. So APIs enable a backend developer to reuse his logic for every platform and then return data in JSON from where the front end developer picks up the data and shows it in his user depending on a platform like web, mobile, or desktop.

9- Authentication/Authorization Methodologies: 

You will need to learn good practices for authentication and authorization of a user. You can manage all things using good old sessions, but in today’s API driven world knowledge of any authentication provider framework like Okta’s OAuth will be good. Apart from that, you will need to learn about how to use social media login as well.

10- Using Docker:

Docker is an OS virtualizing platform for shipping your code. Sounds too much technical, right? So in simple word Docker bundles your code along with the environment you use, or target to use ad you are ready to deploy your code without making too many changes in the target platform.
For example, if you have three versions of your apps and they require specific environments, what Docker does that it bundles each of your apps in a container with their environment and they can run parallel to each other without too many configuration changes at the host. Obviously, this requires some knowledge and detailed steps but, you have one point to modify and configure, not all of your apps.
This may not sound necessary from the development point of view, but when deploying and running things, it is a great time and thus a cost saver.

I have given some resources above for learning PHP but a development-oriented PHP course is required for complete coverage of required topics. There are a lot of online courses for Learning PHP for backend development. You can find a lot of them on Udemy or Coursera. I am not going to recommend anything here because everyone has his style of learning so what I suggest best may not be suitable for you. Exploring these platforms will provide you with options ranging from beginner to expert level in PHP web development.

How Much Time Does it Take?

The average time taken to learn PHP and MySQL (you will need one database at least) is somewhere 6-7 months and this is the time after which you will be able to develop any small project like a dynamic website or start thinking in the direction of an e-commerce website. Properly learning things takes time and always pays off when you start working on bigger projects. When you have clear basics and know how to write efficient and clear code, this will benefit you in your job, and you will have a very clear idea about the task or functionality you are going to write code for.

What is Expected From a PHP Backend Developer (Minimum Requirements)

A typical PHP backend developer job description may look like this:

  • Good knowledge of SQL and related databases, with an inclination for those with MySQL experience. 
  • Great information on the fundamental PHP 7/8. 
  • Experience constructing or maintaining a CMS. 
  • Experience in MVC architecture and frameworks like Laravel. 
  • A good understanding of System Design. 
  • Experience with code versioning tools, preferably Git.

So we can see that career prospects are bright for any PHP developer and salary packages are good enough to tempt you to learn the required topics for backend development in PHP. How fast you go and how far you go, that always depends upon you, but these are the basic steps you have to follow and topics you will have to learn for getting into the direction of becoming a PHP backend developer. With its easier learning curve, PHP always is the go-to language for most of the web portal's backend these days.

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