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10 battles raging for the hearts and minds of developers

Peter Wayner | Oct. 7, 2014
PHP vs. Node, SQL vs. NoSQL, compiled vs. scripting -- the passionate debates and technical rifts that define programming today.

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Whether you think it's wired into the human mind or an inevitable product of society's formation, dualism defines much of our lives: Communism vs. capitalism. Savory vs. sweet. Passing the ball vs. running the ball in football. Everywhere we look, pairs are locked in an eternal battle, presenting us with myriad opportunities to define ourselves by which side of the line we favor at any given time.

This may be even more evident in the computer industry where technologies -- competing for our hearts, minds, and checkbooks -- define themselves often by the differences they offer from competing solutions. On one side there is X; on the other, definitively not X. And the fanboys line up, taunting and baiting the other side. Without these battles, without these great arguments and choices, the repositories would have merged long ago and we would have moved on, perhaps with a little less innovation than we might otherwise like.

What follows are 10 of the most interesting battles raging among developers today. With each new project we undertake, we're faced with the fundamental questions that underlie the differences in these technologies. Do we favor simplicity or correctness? Open source or corporate support? Brackets or whitespace? Like Yin and Yang, these questions define the great trade-offs enterprise developers face today.

Dev tech battle No. 1: PHP vs. Node.js
Never loved by computer scientists, PHP was embraced by the masses who wanted to add a little intelligence to a website. These hordes have given us amazing frameworks like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and more. Much of the Web is built on PHP.

Now there are cracks in the model. The youngsters are infatuated with Node.js, a server-side mechanism programmed in JavaScript. Suddenly, programmers can write code that runs on either the client or the server. There's no need to learn two languages. Node.js has its idiosyncrasies, but already there are amazing frameworks that offer features on par with the best PHP stacks.

Will the next generation embrace the simplicity of writing JavaScript and only JavaScript? Or will they cling to the ease of embedding code within HTML? Those who like JavaScript will almost certainly move toward Node. Those who want to use the stable stacks from PHP workhorses like WordPress or Drupal will stick out the Node.js storm.

Dev tech battle No. 2: MySQL vs. PostgreSQL
The two great open source databases have been locked in combat for close to two decades with no end in sight. On one side, MySQL has captured the lion's share of the Web's basic workload, thanks in part to its ease of installation and configuration. On the other side, PostgreSQL has long promised a better transaction mechanism for protecting data in the face of glitches. The two have been growing toward one another, as MySQL now offers improved transaction capabilities and PostgreSQL has simplified its startup hurdles.


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