Popular PHP MVC Frameworks

As PHP has evolved into the lingua franca of web application development, so has its sophistication in terms of development methodologies and platforms. So it’s not surprising that the preferred approach in implementing software with PHP these days is to follow a model-view-controller (MVC) development framework. While this design pattern has been a popular in architecting desktop software for some time now, the relatively recent coupling of PHP with MVC has given rise to a myriad of frameworks that address the varying needs and preferences within the PHP developer community. Though many different implementation of MVC for PHP exist, they all share the core benefits of MVC: the separation of application logic from presentation, making application code cleaner and better structured. Furthermore, MVC makes software maintenance easierespecially in the case of multi-developer environments.

The following are three popular PHP MVC frameworks and their attributes, strengths, and application scenarios.


Known for its speed, small footprint, and mild learning curve, CodeIgniter is a favorite framework of developers just getting up-to-speed with MVC. It is easy to configure and relatively free of strict requirements and dependenciesfor this reason, developers working in shared hosting environments like using CodeIgniter. Its elegance and simplicity, however, is seen by more advanced PHP developers as its limitation: sparse documentation, lack of libraries/modules, and no ORM support make it too simplistic for business or enterprise-level PHP application development. That being said, it is a godsend for developers learning the ropes of MVC frameworks and object-oriented PHP, and allows one to build a fast, well-structured PHP application in a short amount of time.

Despite its popularity, at the time of this writing CodeIgniter is in the midst of a transition. EllisLabs, the creators of the framework, is in the process of transitioning CodeIgniter out of its domain. Until it finds a new home, the future of this popular framework is uncertain.


Yii stands for “Yes it is,” which describes the framework’s flexibility in terms of features and applications in various use cases. Yii is known for its exceptional performance, speed, and securityindeed, many developers have adopted this framework for building complex business applications and high performance/high availability web sites. It has a large developer community and subsequently a large library of 3rd party extensions and plugins for rapid application development. A particular feature of Yii that is held in high-regard by developers is the extensive use of wizards for automating application development and code creation. These wizards automate tasks such as creating interfaces and building data structures through easy-to-use modules that can be run either through the command line or through a web interface.

The tradeoff for these attributes is a steeper learning curve, especially when compared to more rudimentary frameworks such as CodeIgniter. Yii is considered by many to be one of the harder PHP frameworks to learn, despite great documentation and a large developer community. And despite its robustness, Yii has still some ways to go before large businesses and enterprises adopt it as the PHP MVC platform of choice. That being said, Yii is built to work easily with other frameworks such as Zendallowing for cross-platform integration and code use.

Zend 2

Arguably the most robust PHP MVC framework, Zend was largely responsible for pushing PHP into the enterprise realm as a serious technology for business-level application deployment. Zend 2 developers have at their disposal an amazing array of components and libraries for building feature rich, complex web applications. It is well documented and has a large, devoted developer community contributing to the framework’s livelihood and ecosystem. Indeed, many of the Fortune 500 have embraced Zend 2 for building their mission-critical applicationsit’s safe to say that it stand strong long after many of the other PHP MVC frameworks have fallen to the wayside. Zend 2 is stable, widely-used, and worth learning if one’s desire is to build rock-solid enterprise applications.

Zend 2 can be problematic when deployed in hosted environments, as configuration requirements are numerous. Most Zend 2 developers choose to select a web host that supports the platform natively, thereby mitigating this issue. A steep learning curve is also inherent of Zend 2, and PHP MVC novices may find picking up this framework a daunting experience. Of particular difficulty to beginners is acquiring a grasp of Zend’s strict set of rules, guidelines, and naming conventions. This proves to be a huge development benefit down the road, however because of these constraints, maintenance of a PHP application built with Zend 2 is far easier, as applications are easier to understand within a Zend 2 construct.

In short, a wide variety of PHP MVC platforms exist; these three invariable top the list, though the order depends largely on application use-case and developer skill set. As the saying goes, each tool suits a different task uniquely. Building a simple web site or application with Zend 2 would most likely be overkillsimilarly, using CodeIgniter to build mission-critical enterprise software would also be a mistake.

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