Windows vs. Linux: Which is the Better OS for PHP Development?

Ever wondered if there is any difference between Windows and Linux with respect to the development of PHP applications? 

A question I hear often is, “Can I develop applications on Windows and hosting on Linux?”. It’s a common question because many developers  have a fear of dealing with an unknown operating system and end up opting for hosting that runs the same OS that their local machines have.

I decided to write this article to help clarify a bit more the difference between the two types of hosting.

Important:  When I refer to Linux, I’m not only talking about one Unix-like system but about other systems, such as macOS, FreeBSD, OpenSolaris, etc.

Linux or Windows?


Many developers, especially beginners, are a little afraid to choose Linux hosting, especially when using Windows, either for fear of not knowing how to solve problems on the server or by pure ignorance.

The fact is that, as a programmer, it is unlikely that you will be directly responsible for server maintenance, which makes the choice of a virtually irrelevant operating system most of the time (taking into account the “put the application online”). Now you may be wondering: “If it makes no difference, can I choose anyone?”. The simplest and quickest answer is cost.

Most Linux distributions do not include the cost of licenses, meaning you do not have to pay to use them. This, in a way, reduces those costs, which can result in more affordable values for those who hire the services (but not always). I also believe that it is important to highlight “security”. The probability of a Linux server being infected with a virus or malware is much smaller than that of a Windows server.

In my humble opinion, the only reason you would have to choose a Windows hosting is if you use Microsoft technologies such as .NET, Access, and FrontPage. If you administer the server, you also have access to the Windows graphical user interface.

Can I develop it in Windows and host it on Linux  or vice versa?

The answer is yes! However, you should be very attentive to some differentiating details, which I will list below. Most of them relate to the file system. It is necessary that you are aware of it.

  1. File system

File systems, structures in which data is stored in the system, behave differently on Windows and Linux. I suggest you always develop it in a Linux environment because it has a larger number of specifications.

One of the first things to note is the issue of file permissions. On Linux, the permissions system is different from Windows. The permissions are changed with the command chmod and are usually formed by 3 numbers indicating the relationship with the file owner, the group, and other users. The files can be writable, read, and executed in any combination, and how they will behave depends directly on these permissions. When you run some specific commands or need to manipulate or perform reading files, you may run into permission problems.

There is also a difference in directory separators. While Unix-like systems use the forward slash (/) to separate directories, in Windows, the backslash (\) character is used. It is essential to be aware of this because, in Linux, backslash plays a different role (escape characters). To resolve this problem in a simple way, there is a predefined constant in PHP called DIRECTORY_SEPARATOR. It will return to the separator character that is in the appropriate directories of the operating system that is running the application.

Related to directories, there is a parting of the ways when you need to specify more than one directory on the same string ( / first / directory: / second / directory ). In Linux, this is done with the character, and in Windows ; . The constant that references this character is PATH_SEPARATOR, available for PHP.

  1. Command Line

For obvious reasons, how the command line works also changes between operating systems. This will directly influence the way you develop your scripts and send commands to the terminal by means of functions like exec ().

Commands sent to the terminal in Linux are run directly on the bash with the user who is running the web server. In Windows, the command is run with cmd / c your_command. Keep this in mind when putting together their routines.

  1. Textual Characters

The line break is another factor that changes from one operating system to another. When you write plain text files and need to jump from one line to another, you may find it difficult. On Linux, the line break occurs with LF (line feed), represented by the character \ n. Some older systems use CR (carriage return), with the character \ r. In Windows, this is done with a combination of the two CR + LF, or \ r \ n. Also, there is a predefined constant to return with the proper line break. It’s called PHP_EOL (end of line) and has been available since PHP 5.0.2.

  1. Using a VM to test the application before deployment

If you have a lot of differences between the development machine and the target machine, I suggest you use an intermediate machine before putting the application into production.

A simple way to do this is by using a VM (Virtual Machine) that has exactly the same settings as the production server. That way, you do not risk the application in an environment in the “real world” just to test their impact.

You can also use a sandbox within your main server, but I do not recommend you do that. It is better to leave separate things.

And then? What do I choose?

  • Ease of Use: Windows is known for its user-friendly interface, making it accessible for developers who are more comfortable with GUI-based environments. Setting up PHP, MySQL, and Apache on Windows is relatively straightforward, thanks to packages like XAMPP and WAMP.
  • IDE Support: Windows offers a wide range of integrated development environments (IDEs) like PHPStorm, Visual Studio Code, and NetBeans, which can streamline PHP development. These IDEs provide robust debugging and coding tools.
  • Compatibility:

Many PHP applications are designed to work seamlessly on Windows servers. If you’re developing applications primarily for a Windows-based environment, it may be convenient to use Windows for development to ensure compatibility.

  • Commercial Software: If your PHP development project requires the use of specific commercial software or tools that are only available on Windows, this could influence your choice.
  • Open-Source: Linux is open-source, which means you have more control over your development environment. You can customize your Linux distribution to meet your exact requirements, eliminating unnecessary overhead.
  • Server-Grade Performance: Linux is the dominant choice for web servers, and for a good reason. It offers excellent performance, stability, and security, which are crucial factors for PHP development. Many hosting environments also use Linux, so developing on a similar platform can streamline deployment.
  • Command-Line Tools: Linux provides powerful command-line tools and package managers like apt and yum, which can simplify PHP development tasks, including package installation and configuration.
  • Cost Efficiency: Linux is free to use, which can be a significant cost-saving factor for individuals and organizations. You can set up a development environment without incurring additional licensing fees.

Final Say

I sincerely hope that by now you already have enough information to make your choice. If you do not, I think it would be a good idea to research a little more about it on Google.

If you want to know my recommendation for the choice of an environment to host your application, I suggest Linux for all the facts cited. Even if you want to use a VPS, learning Linux commands will only further contribute to your career and development as a professional.

Did I miss something? Do you want to suggest any improvement? Leave a comment.

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FAQ on Windows Vs Linux

Which operating system is more cost-effective for PHP development, Windows or Linux?

The cost-effectiveness of Windows versus Linux depends on your specific needs. Linux is generally more cost-effective for server deployment due to its stability and performance. However, Windows may be more cost-effective if you require specialized commercial software for your development workflow.

Can I develop PHP applications on Windows and then deploy them on a Linux server?

Yes, you can develop PHP applications on Windows and deploy them on a Linux server. However, it’s essential to test your application thoroughly on the target Linux environment to ensure compatibility and performance.

What factors should I consider when choosing between Windows and Linux for PHP development?

Consider factors such as your familiarity with the operating system, the tools and applications you require, the type of project you’re working on (e.g., web server deployment), and your performance and security needs.

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