LAMP, which stands for Linux-Apache-MySQL-PHP, has become a very popular web development platform over the last several years. New platforms like Ruby on Rails, ASP.Net and J2EE have been rising stars in web development. So is LAMP still a popular choice for web development? Not only is LAMP as popular as always, but it should be popular for the many benefits it provides over other platforms.
Naturally, cost is the first item to consider when comparing the open source LAMP stack to commercial platforms like J2EE or ASP.Net. Open source products are free for download which makes the software itself less expensive. However, cost goes beyond the actual cost of the software and development tools. LAMP will often run on much less powerful software and is commonly available on inexpensive web hosting accounts. J2EE and ASP.Net require more powerful hardware and is typically only available on premium hosting packages.
I have read a number of analysts talk about missed opportunity cost with LAMP. Their argument is that while it might be easier to build your application in LAMP, once that application becomes popular, LAMP is unable to scale well and you miss opportunities with your application. They claim that this cost is much higher than the cost to build an application and makes LAMP inferior to ASP.Net or J2EE. It has been my experience, however, that poor scalability is rarely related to platform but instead to poor development. Code that cannot scale is often the mark of an amateur developer and I’ve seen just as much poorly scaling code written in Java or ASP. In fact, and I have a strong bias on this subject, a huge amount of the poorly scaling code that I have seen was written by “offshore” teams, who in my experience code by “copy and paste”.
Another factor leading to the security of the LAMP stack is its very wide deployment. The popularity of the LAMP stack helps to make it more secure because there are more web hosts running the software. This means it has been tested a lot more thoroughly in the real world of the Internet.
This is not to say, of course, that LAMP has never had security lapses or problems. However, more often than not, poor security in LAMP applications has more to do with unskilled developers not following best practices or system administrators unfamiliar with the LAMP stack misconfiguring the software.
The LAMP stack also provides a great deal of flexibility. Developers appreciate a platform that allows them to make choices that fit their own development style. LAMP remains a popular choice because it offers this flexibility. Developers can chose from several available frameworks or choose to build their own. Other platforms typically include their own framework with no choice of alternate frameworks. For example, the .NET framework is the framework built into ASP. Likewise J2EE is a Java based framework and Rails is the standard Ruby framework. With PHP, developers can choose from CakePHP, CodeIgniter, Zend Framework and many, many more.
Developers gain additional flexibility with the LAMP stack because they have full access to the source code. There are a number of ways that the components of the LAMP stack can be modified to meet the needs of an application. For example, the Apache web server supports loadable modules which can affect how the web server processes request. This allows developers to decide where in the stack they want to perform different processes. Using a loadable module, authentication could occur within Apache or a developer might handle it in PHP. The LAMP stack maximizes choice for the developer.
LAMP is also extremely stable and scalable. As new versions of the individual components are released the backward compatibility is typically very good. Developers rarely have to rewrite code because a new version requires it. The modular nature of the LAMP stack makes it highly configurable. Additionally, support for scaling applications up has greatly improved in recent years. It is possible to build LAMP applications that are just as scalable and robust as applications built on commercial technologies such as ASP.Net or J2EE.
Finding skilled developers for LAMP can be both harder and easier. The free and prevalent nature of LAMP lowers the barriers to entry for new developers which means that there are many more LAMP developers than other platforms. However, ASP.Net and J2EE both have certification programs that serve to demonstrate a developer’s familiarity with best practices. It can be difficult at times for a hiring manager to determine how well a LAMP developer is verse in best practices.
I mentioned earlier that other platforms have much less choice than LAMP in terms of framework and other components. While I see this as a drawback, it does make them useful to large companies who are using large collaborative teams to build applications. This is because the developers will all have a common frame of reference and a similar why of doing things. This would be the way they were trained in order to obtain certification. With LAMP, you might have team members that come from very different development philosophies. This can make team development with LAMP trickier. As a result, LAMP is a highly popular platform for sites being built by single developers or small teams.
The need for rapid prototyping makes LAMP particularly attractive. The LAMP stack is an excellent platform for rapidly building and prototyping applications. The ability to quickly build working applications that will run on low cost hardware is one of LAMP’s biggest strengths. The recent popularity of “lean start ups” will continue to drive the popularity of the platform. Essentially, lean start up means that a new web application is built as a prototype and launched before investors will commit to funding a new company. The need to quickly build a stable application in order to attract investors makes LAMP a necessity for many small start ups.
LAMP remains a popular web development technology for a number of reasons. The low cost and low barrier to entry makes LAMP a popular choice for many developers. LAMP is secure, stable and scalable which makes it a fine choice for enterprise applications. The ability for small teams to rapidly build stable applications makes LAMP ideal for lean start ups. LAMP’s popularity is sure to remain high due to its flexibility as the web itself evolves and places new demands on developers.