Symfony vs Laravel: what’s the difference?

Symfony and Laravel are the most popular PHP frameworks. They are both fully developed and have been tested in the field. However, both come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. We’ll explain how PHP frameworks work and whether Laravel or Symfony is the better choice for your project.

What is PHP and what are PHP frameworks?

PHP was released in the mid-1990s, and it was the first dedicated web programming language. The language was initially known as ‘Personal Home Page Tools’ and it made it possible to assemble a HTML document on a server in a straightforward manner.

HTML documents form the basis of information found online. HTML tags provide structure to the contents of a webpage. HTML becomes interesting when dynamic content is programmed into the static structure. This is what makes PHP revolutionary. The language can be embedded in HTML and other text documents. The static structure remains intact, while the dynamic information is inserted using special PHP tags. For example, the name of a user can be displayed in the welcome message:

<h1>
    Welcome back, <?php echo $user ?>
</h1>
PHP
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The demand for web application features such as database connectivity, user authentication, and form validation led to the formation of PHP web frameworks. PHP is somewhere between a programming library and a content management system, which makes the layers and components suitable for assembling larger systems. In addition to Laravel and Symfony, there are several other fully developed PHP frameworks including:

  • CakePHP, 2005
  • Symfony, 2005
  • CodeIgniter, 2006
  • Laminas Project, formerly Zend Framework, 2006
  • Yii, 2008
  • Laravel, 2011

Symfony vs Laravel

The PHP web frameworks Laravel and Symfony have a lot in common. Both were developed as open-source projects and they are suitable for creating server-based web applications. Laravel and Symfony use the Model-View-Controller (MVC) pattern to separate critical concerns. Web application requests are processed by a controller. The controller manages the model’s data and presents it on the View:

  • Model: data model and management
  • View: user interface
  • Controller: interface between model and view

Laravel and Symfony have been monumental in the development of the PHP ecosystem. Important PHP-based technologies have been developed from both frameworks, which are **** also used in other projects. Symfony is known for its modular structure of decoupled components. Yii and Laravel are other PHP frameworks which use Symfony components.

Composer offers a solid basis for package management for PHP projects in Laravel and Symfony. In addition to the actual framework, other components can be installed and managed. Composer is available on all server operating systems, so you can use PHP with Composer on Ubuntu or PHP Composer in IONOS webhosting packages.

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Now, let’s take a look at the framework versions Laravel 4+ and Symfony 2/3, which have a completely different structure than that of the older versions. The following table shows the features of Laravel and Symfony in detail:

Features Symfony Laravel
Templating Twig Blade
ORM Doctrine Eloquent
CLI bin/console artisan
Configuration YAML PHP

Templating in Laravel and Symfony

PHP’s idea of the template as a template combining static and dynamic components was revolutionary. Prior to this, all HTML code had to be programmed using string concatenation of static parts and dynamically generated values. This approach was time consuming and prone to errors as it was difficult to keep track of.

Besides embedding code in static text, the ‘Include’ command contributed significantly to PHP’s success. This command makes it possible to put together a page from several set pieces. This allows users to have consistent layouts, such as multiple pages with different content but with the same navigation menu.

Templating involves creating HTML documents from static templates and dynamic components. Using PHP as a template language is not recommended. There is not enough separation of concerns since HTML, PHP, SQL, CSS and JavaScript can be mixed within a PHP file. Furthermore, security vulnerabilities can result from SQL injection and cross-site scripting (XSS).

Laravel and Symfony have their own template languages to avoid any unwanted effects. These take data and render HTML. This ensures a clean separation of concerns, whereby **** the output is automatically adjusted by escaping. This prevents code injection. The generated PHP or HTML documents can be cached.

Symfony’s template language is called Twig and it allows complex document families to be created, including layouts, partials and components. Twig includes many useful filters and functions and relies on a simple syntax. Let’s create a list of users:

<h1>Users</h1>
<ul>
    {% for user in users %}
        <li>{{ user.name }}</li>
    {% endfor %}
</ul>
twig

Laravel relies on its specially developed template language Blade. Unlike Twig, Blade templates may contain arbitrary PHP code. Just like in Twig, the expressions in the double curly brackets are evaluated and the result is output. This is the same example in Blade:

<h1>Users</h1>
<ul>
    @foreach ($users as $user)
        <li>{{ $user->id }}</li>
    @endforeach
</ul>
blade

Web applications in Laravel and Symfony

Templates are sufficient for informative websites which do not require functionality. When requested, a page is put together on the server and delivered to visitors. You already have a passable solution if you were provided with a cache layer. However, web applications require a more advanced solution.

A classic Web 2.0 web application usually requires that users are able to log in, create and modify content. Or in other words, a database application with essential CRUD database operations is needed. This should work in a meaningful way for multiple users, therefore requiring various approaches to authentication, rights management, and session management.

PHP contains the necessary building blocks. The language provides functions to access cookies, manage sessions and much more. The connection to a database, the execution of queries and the access to the values of the HTTP request can also be handled. However, smaller abstract low-level functions and global variables like $_GET, $_POST and $_COOKIE are used by default.

In the past, development teams tended to recreate the wheel with each new web application. This led to multiple in-house developments, which were negatively affected by security gaps and missing documentation. A standardised approach was missing, or rather a solid construction kit containing the necessary functioning components. Web development frameworks began to emerge at this point as a result.

Object-relational mapping (ORM) acts as an interface between object-oriented code and a relational database. A web app thrives on user interactions and data that changes over time. Usually, the application layer is written in an object-oriented programming language, while the storage layer is based on a relational database. Laravel and Symfony come with their own ORM implementation.

The ORM used in Symfony is called Doctrine and it is managed as an independent project. Doctrine is based on the Data Mapper pattern, and it includes several components. There is also a caching layer in addition to the ORM. Laravel’s ORM Eloquent follows the Active Records pattern, and it is considered easier to use. Both ORMs can be connected to a variety of different database backends.

App Scaffolding in Laravel and Symfony

Laravel and Symfony have their own command-line interface (CLI) for project management on board. The CLI can be used for app scaffolding. This is the automated construction of project structures, such as Model-View-Controller components or database models.

Laravel’s CLI ‘artisan’ and Symfony’s ‘bin/console’ command contain a variety of useful commands. Logically, an existing Laravel or Symfony app is required before the CLI can be accessed. Composer is usually used for a Laravel or Symfony app installation.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of Laravel and Symfony?

Laravel and Symfony are both well-developed web frameworks. Laravel is considered simpler and better suited for smaller projects. Its flat learning curve and fast results have contributed to the success of this popular PHP framework.

Symfony is famous for its decoupled components. These can be used together as a web framework, or individually as part of self-created software. While Laravel focuses on simplicity, Symfony offers more flexibility. This makes the framework more suitable for complex projects with special requirements.

We have summarised the pros and cons of Symfony and Laravel in the following table:

Aspect Symfony Laravel
Scope of functions +++ ++
Maturity +++ +++
Simplicity + ++
Flexibility +++ +
Operability + +++
Community ++ +++
Summary

When is each framework suitable? Put simply, Laravel is the better choice for beginners and smaller projects. Symfony is modular and can be adapted to different conditions, making it more suitable for complex applications.