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Top 10 Lightweight Frameworks for PHP Development

  • By Jason Gilmore
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6. Orinoco

Orinoco identifies itself as a "full stack yet lightweight MVC framework." Like the other solutions discussed in this article, it offers customizable routes and an integrated ORM solution. Although development activity seems to have tailed off in late 2009, I've opted to mention Orinoco as the companion tutorial seems to indicate that a portion of the accompanying source code serves as an interesting example of how to create a simple ORM solution. Hopefully we'll see further project activity in 2010!

7. No-Framework PHP MVC Framework

Although the "framework" mentioned here isn't an official project, and in fact is the outcome of an argument against using frameworks by none other than PHP project founder Rasmus Lerdorf, I thought it sufficiently interesting to mention because Lerdorf actually demonstrates the power of PHP by using a blog entry to create a lightweight framework, which he calls the "No-Framework PHP MVC Framework." The post offers some rather interesting insight into how you can easily create powerful framework features using relatively short snippets of PHP code. It's well worth reading given the source.

8. Simple PHP Framework

It's fortuitous that the Simple PHP Framework alphabetically follows the aforementioned No-Framework PHP MVC Framework as the latter apparently was the inspiration for the former, with Active Record support thrown in for good measure. Although no documentation currently exists, project founder Tyler Hall mentions its adoption within Yahoo! for an unnamed project, making Simple PHP Framework worthy of inclusion within this list.

9. Yii

The Yii framework is the brainchild of Qiang Xue, the noted developer behind another popular framework named Prado. The founder leveraged his considerable experience and knowledge to create and foster this high-profile project. Accordingly, although classifying itself as a lightweight framework, Yii is packed with enterprise-level features, among them theming capabilities, unit and functional testing integration, logging, and the ability to generate code and manage websites via a console interface.

Although less than 2 1/2 years old, Yii already sports an active extension repository consisting of 200 extensions. Among them you'll find solutions for adding a WYSIWYG editor, integrating jQuery widgets, and even turning Yii into a content management system.

Unlike most of the other frameworks discussed here, the Yii developers highlight a long list of websites powered by the framework. Peruse this list to obtain a better understanding of the framework's capabilities.

10. Zend Framework

Surely I included this entry by mistake. right? With the 1.10.3 minimal release weighing in at 31MB (roughly 738 times larger than the aforementioned Fat-Free framework), how could the Zend Framework possibly be considered lightweight? I've included the Zend Framework precisely to clear up a common misconception about at least some of the more established framework solutions: its "use-at-will" architecture means you should think of the Zend Framework more as a smorgasbord buffet. Although almost 100 components are bundled with the framework, you aren't required to even use it as a framework in the traditional sense. Instead, you can selectively take advantage of components as you see fit. For instance, the Zend_Mail component happens to offer a pretty convenient solution for formatting and sending e-mail, meaning you can simply incorporate that standalone component into your custom web application (or for that matter, an application running any of the frameworks mentioned in this article).

In fact, one of the lightweight frameworks described in this article will suffice for the implementation of one of your projects, consider regularly perusing the Zend Framework Reference Guide for easy ways to implement features not yet offered by your selected framework -- saving you even more time!


True to the community's roots, PHP developers around the globe have once again managed to offer users more solutions than can be counted on an Oregon logger's hands. With so many possibilities, surely one of the aforementioned frameworks will strike your fancy. If not, or if you've found another solution, tell us about it in the comments!

About the Author

Jason Gilmore is the founder of EasyPHPWebsites.com. He also is the author of several popular books, including "Easy PHP Websites with the Zend Framework", "Easy PayPal with PHP", and ""Beginning PHP and MySQL, Third Edition".

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This article was originally published on April 24, 2010

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