Comparing Laravel, CodeIgniter, & CakePHP

Today I received a comment on my Laravel Auto-Generating Named Routes post that I felt deserved its own post.

Matthew Schenker wrote I see you’ve worked with CakePHP and CodeIgniter, and now you’re mentioning Laravel. I’ve been happily using CodeIgniter for a while now, but lately I see a lot of people mentioning (and loving) Laravel. I’m not looking for one of those “which is best” answers. Long ago, I learned that this is not a good way to look at various frameworks. But I’m curious — what are your general impressions when comparing these three frameworks?

CakePHP, CodeIgniter, and Laravel are all great frameworks in their own rights. They each have their pros and cons which I will cover here. Bear in mind that these are my opinions and forming your own by messing a bit with them is always the best policy. And as mentioned in Matthew’s comment, this is not an “OMG FRAMEWORK X IS TEH BESTEST!!!1!” post.

CakePHP
Cake, if I recall correctly, was one of the first PHP frameworks around back when spaghetti code was standard. The idea behind Cake was to make developing applications fast (ie, “convention over configuration”) by cutting down on how much code the developer needed to write. Less time working means more time making money.

Pros

  • Built-in ORM which I’ve always really enjoyed. I really like how the results are in $post[‘Post’][‘field’] format. Building queries is really simple and you can fetch (for example) a blog post and all of its comments in one or two lines of code.
  • Reverse routing. This makes maintaining links in an application so much easier. This means if you change a controller’s name at some point, instead of search/replacing 200 instances of “admin/foo” with the new “admin/bar” (and hoping you didn’t miss one) you simply update the route in one place. Any links using the reverse route array will automatically point to the right spot at runtime.
  • Big community. Because Cake had been around so long you can find the answer for pretty much any question you come up with. If you can’t? They have their own website where you can submit questions, as well as (I believe) a mailing list.
  • Plugins. This makes re-using code super simple and help keep the app folder clean (if, for example, you are distributing an app that uses modules).

Cons

  • Incredibly slow. Recent versions of Cake (2.2.x as of this post) are much faster and more efficient than previous versions, but  it is still one of the slowest frameworks. I am personally not sure how well it holds up when an app of it gets slammed with tons of hits. I am aware that Mozilla’s plugin site runs on an (old) version of Cake, as does Cake’s own bakery and Q&A sites, which all seem to run fine. I suspect it’s a balance between caching and server fine-tuning.
  • TONS of lines of code. Some developers don’t care what’s going on under the hood; I like to be able to quickly find out how/why something works the way it does. The code is well documented but there’s just so much of it it can be overwhelming.
  • Occasionally, you need to use code to reign in just how much it does. For example, my first step is to open my AppModel and set $recursive = -1 and adding Containable to Behaviors to prevent it from auto-grabbing related models and letting me tell it what I need.
  • Autoloading can be awkward. In recent versions of Cake they’ve introduced lazy loading in the form of  App::uses. Then, if you need to have access to (for example) the Model class, you do something like App::users(‘Model’, ‘Data/Model’) at the top of the file. This is, IMO, clumsy and no better than doing a require CORE_PATH.’Data/Model/Model.php’;

Conclusion: Personally, I use Cake if I need to put together a dynamic site quickly that I don’t foresee getting a lot of hits (like for a local restaurant, for example).

CodeIgniter
I’ve mentioned on here before that CI was the first framework I ever used and helped me finally understand the concept of OO programming. It’s certainly popular, and has been around a similar amount of time as Cake.

Pros

  • Super easy to set up and use. This makes the entry level for a newer PHP developer much lower.
  • Extremely well-documented, with examples in a lot of places to illustrate usage.
  • Extremely fast.
  • Huge community. As with Cake, since CI has been around so long you can almost always find your answer via Google, CI forums, or their IRC channel. This also means there’s lots of code contribution to help get things done (like Paypal libraries, etc)
  • Sparks, the “hub” where CI packages go to hang out and be used.

Cons

  • No modular separation by default. This is a big deal for me as I prefer keeping my code as separated as possible. There is Modular Extensions, which does the job, but I’ve never been 100% satisfied with it.
  • Since 2.x broke CI has been 5.1.6+ for its minimum PHP version, but the whole $this->library, procedural function helpers, and extending a class by prefixing MY_ in front of it way of doing things just doesn’t work well for me. Perhaps this will change in 3.0? *shrugs*
  • I personally have to extend way too many core files to get CI working the way I like it. The more you modify the core, the more you have to maintain later. I’d rather be coding something productive.

Conclusion: CodeIgniter is a fantastic framework for getting the hang of PHP and OO coding and for knocking a small site together fairly quickly with low overhead.

Laravel
Laravel is still in its early days compared to the “grandpas” of the framework world (I believe it was first introduced in 2011), but it has already gathered quite a following.

Pros

  • Modularity is built in via “bundles”, making it really easy to drop in/reuse code across application
  • Eloquent ORM is a simple, super fast ORM that makes working with database relations easy
  • Very configurable and extendable. I can set up apps with the folder structure the way I like it and how it works best for me.
  • Blade template engine. Very fast (compiles to PHP then caches the results) and very extendable. So easy to add new features without hacking the core.
  • Artisan (CLI). Before I started using Laravel I had zero use for CLI tools like migrations and tasks. It’s so easy to create both of those things with Artisan that I can’t believe I waited so long to try it out!
  • Reverse routing!
  • Excellent documentation.

Cons

  • It’s still quite new which can mean some instability with the code. However, since 3.x’s release (and certainly since 3.2.x’s, the most current as of this post) this has slowed down quite a bit.
  • Laravel’s core files are all within (at least) the Laravel namespace and not all of the files in core use a namespace slash ( a \ ) in front of a call to another core file, which makes extending some classes a bit trickier. This is not a huge issue and one not every developer will need to worry about.
  • Routing can feel a little odd sometimes. In my dynamic controller routing post I showed the workaround I used to dynamically route to an add function in any controller. I have not dug deep enough into the semantics of Laravel’s routing methods to understand why such a workaround is necessary but it does add another layer of complexity, IMO.
  • Because of its newness the options for finding answers are still limited in comparison to CakePHP and CodeIgniter. However, the forums and IRC seem to be quite active with helpful people, so usually the answer is findable.

Conclusion: Laravel is currently my framework of choice. Its coding style meshes the best with my own which makes developing much quicker for me.

So there you have it! A personal comparison of 3 big players in the PHP framework world. As always, the best framework for you is the one that you code best in. The “Cons” foreach 😉 framework are my personal beefs with each of them and should be taken with a grain of salt. The best advice I can give is to try them each on for size and see which you like best.