Notes on Choosing a PHP Framework: A Comparison of CakePHP and the Zend Framework

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UPDATE:Parlez vous Français? Guillaume Rossolini has created a French translation of this article.

Are you considering using a PHP framework for your next project? If so, this article's for you. I've narrowed down my choices to CakePHP and the Zend Framework and have documented my findings here.

Four or five years ago I began researching PHP application frameworks. At the time, the pickings were very slim, especially when compared to those available to Java developers. On the advice of an ex-Coldfusion developer, I settled on the PHP port of Fusebox, the de facto Coldfusion framework. Fusebox 3 provided a convenient set of loose conventions for structuring applications, organizing code, naming files, and controlling flow. It served my development team well and applications we built with it are still up and running.

I took a two-year "break" from development and upon my return I found more PHP frameworks than you can shake a stick at. Now I need to find a solid MVC-based framework and after reading dozens of articles and completing a few tutorials, I've narrowed my focus to CakePHP and the Zend Framework.

Before going further, let it be known that my point of view is that of someone with plenty of application development experience but without a formal IT or CS degree. I can't go on about the merits of one design pattern vs. another. I do, however, understand the need for convention, the advantages of modularity, and the efficiency of easily repeatable processes.

Please note that symfony, Prado, Code Ignitor, and many of the other PHP frameworks all look quite capable of meeting most project needs. If you're a fanboy of another framework, please don't espouse it's merits here. I am, however, interested in hearing about your general experience in learning a framework, particularly in the context of your professional background.

Here's a comparison and a few conclusions after spending a bit of time with both CakePHP and the Zend Framework. Please note that my quality scale range is: poor, fair, good, excellent.

Feature Comparison of CakePHP and the Zend Framework
CakePHP Zend Framework Notes
Each of these licenses is fairly flexible. Carefully consider how your application will be used and distributed. It's also important to consider compatability with 3rd-party extensions included in your application.
4 and 5
5.1.4 or later
I'm curious to know what CakePHP's PHP 4 support plans are. I would wager that Zend's focus on PHP 5 provides it with performance advantages.
CakePHP's documentation is good but Zend's API documentation is more thorough.
Both frameworks have active user communities. In addition to official channels, there are also several 3rd-party community sites easily found through Google. CakePHP has done an excellent job of marketing their framework considering that they don't have the corporate backing that ZF has.
Tutorial/Sample Availability
CakePHP's Bakery provides an extensive collection of user-submitted applications and code samples. The IBM developerWorks CakePHP tutorials and aritcles are excellent. The Zend tutorials I've reviewed are good but require a siginifcant amount of MVC design experience. The ZF beginner's videos, however, are very helpful. CakePHP provides screencasts too.
These points are the biggest distinctions between these frameworks and probably the most important factors when choosing one over the other. CakePHP has very strict naming and code organization conventions while Zend only enforces conventions when employing its MVC capabilities.
PHP file
PHP Array, XML, or

INI files
This difference doesn't seem like a sticking point to me. If you're a fan of build tools like ANT, you might prefer Zend's choice of XML.
Database Abstraction
I may be wrong, but I get the impression that PDO is gaining favor in the PHP community.
Both frameworks take security very seriously and provide authentication and ACL-based authorization. Both approach ACLs in a similar fashion and both provide a high degree of flexibility in creating and applying ACLs.

Out of the box, both frameworks provide data validation and sanitization mechanisms. Zend provides more validation options, but CakePHP's validation is easily extended via PCRE. CakePHP provides a single data sanitization mechanism where Zend provides various filters to run data through.
Both provide file-based caching of pages. Zend supports several cache backends, including APC, SqlLite, and of course, the Zend Platform.
Both provide robust session handling.

Both provide application logging. IMHO, the Zend_Debug class gives ZF the edge in this category.
Coming from a UI design background, templating is of particular interest to me. If you've developed templates for WordPress or Drupal, you'll feel right at home with CakePHP. The Zend Framework requires a bit more work to get templating up and running (see Zend_View and Zend_Layout). It's possible to integrate 3rd party templating engines, like Smarty, with each framework.

Both frameworks provide basic helpers to handle AJAX, forms, and time conversions. CakePHP provides a nice HTML helper which is absent in ZF but ZF provides a wider range of helper classes.

CakePHP comes with built-in support for Prototype and while the current stable release of the ZF doesn't support any specific JavaScript framework. ZF does provide JSON support and the 1.5 release adds AJAX form featues. I'd like to see both provide a wider range of support for 3rd party JavaScript Frameworks, particularly Jquery and YUI.
Web Services

Both provide support for REST and XML-RPC as well as basic XML feed parsing. Zend Framework also provides support for several popular web services including OpenID, Reflection, Akismet, Amazon, Audioscrobbler, Delicious, Flickr, Simpy, StrikeIron, Technorati, and Yahoo.

Both support localization through stadard means (i18n, l10n). CakePHP is adding/improving support in their upcoming 1.2 release. Zend appears to have better support for localization and translation.
Unit Testing
Both frameworks provide support for this feature that far too many of us avoid ;) I have yet to evaluate unit testing support.

Conclusions and Recommendations

I hope to use both of these frameworks soon, but in the short term I'll most likely base an upcoming CMS project on CakePHP. I do plan on using the Zend Framework, if for nothing other than expanding my application design skills, PHP 5 OO knowledge, and understanding of MVC.

CakePHP: Hit the Ground Running Fast

If you are new to MVC, require PHP 4 support, want stricter conventions, or want powerful code generation tools, CakePHP is the choice for you. CakePHP's Scaffolding, Bake, and ACL scripts provide definite advantages when the need to quickly build an application arise.

The Zend Framework: A Model of Flexibility

If you know MVC, need more control over application design, or want built-in support for popular Web services, the Zend Framework is choice for you. The Zend Framework provides a greater degree of flexibility in designing applications that scale effectively in high-performance environments.

The bottom line is that both frameworks are rapidly evolving in response to user demands. Gaps in each are being filled and there seems to be no lack of demand for developers with skills in each framework.

Feel free to share your experience in learning any framework.