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Server-side Technologies

While web development has traditionally focussed primarily on the “front end” or client side, and associated technologies like CSS, JavaScript and HTML, increasingly, web sites and applications also involve sophisticated back end programming.

In this section, we asked about server side languages, frameworks and technologies respondents used. It included questions about server hardware, server operating systems, web servers, database systems, and backend programming languages and frameworks.

For this survey, we also asked a number of questions regarding the use of “cloud computing” resources. We’ve separated these into a new, final section of the report.

Server Hardware and Software

This year, a slightly higher percentage of respondents nominated “shared servers” (32% up from 30%) over “dedicated servers” (31% down from 35%) as the type of server hardware their sites are hosted on. This may reflect a small change in the type of respondent, with a slightly higher representation of freelancer (21% this year up from 18% in the last survey). Or, it may reflect a rise in the use of cloud based hosting, as the response “shared servers” is the best fit for those using cloud based hosting among the responses on offer. The other responses remained more or less the same. We asked about respondents use of “cloud computing” later in the survey, and we cover this in the last section of the report.

When it comes to server software, Apache continues to dominate at just under 70%, IIS remains more or less steady at 21%, while no other servers come in at much above 3%. Noteworthy is Nginx, which was not among the list of possible responses, but which 3.5% of respondents noted when asked which other servers they use.

The rank of server operating systems also remained steady, with Linux at 63% (up from 59%), Windows are 25% (down a little from 28%), Unix also down a little (14% compared with 17%) and Mac OS also down slightly (4.4% down from 5.6%).

What type of hardware do your sites run on?

Answer Count %
Dedicated servers managed by you or your company 446 31.81%
Dedicated co-located servers 217 15.48%
Shared servers 452 32.24%
Don’t know 75 5.35%
Other 48 3.42%
Answer Count %
Dedicated servers managed by you or your company 433 35.09%
Dedicated co-located servers 189 15.32%
Shared servers 368 29.82%
Don’t know 62 5.02%
Other 40 3.24%

What server software is used to serve your sites?

Answer Count %
Apache 979 69.83%
IIS 290 20.68%
GWS 7 0.5%
lighthttpd 48 3.42%
Nginx 54 3.5%
Other 103 7.35%
Don’t know 113 8.06%
Answer Count %
Apache 849 68.80%
IIS 280 22.69%
GWS 5 0.41%
lighthttpd 68 5.51%
Don’t know 115 9.32%
Other 81 6.56%

Which operating system(s) do your servers run?

Answer Count %
Linux 881 62.84%
Unix 196 13.98%
Windows 352 25.11%
Mac OS X 61 4.35%
Don’t know 119 8.49%
Other 26 1.85%
Answer Count %
Linux 725 58.75%
Unix 206 16.69%
Windows 343 27.80%
Mac OS X 69 5.59%
Don’t know 113 9.16%
Other 26 2.11%

As we noted in our last report

When asked “What database systems do you use?”, only 3.4% of respondents replied “none” – further emphasizing the increasing move away from static page based sites to dynamic sites.

This year, even fewer respondents (under 3%) answered none to this question.

As with other aspects of backend systems we’ve seen, there’s a noteworthy similarity to the results here compared with last year as well. The different systems maintain the same ranking, with only the response “Oracle” changing by more than around a percent.

One area we might expect some dynamism on the backend is with databases, particularly given the attention paid to “NoSQL” in recent times. While we did not give an option of any well known NoSQL database among the responses to the question “What database systems do you use?”, respondents did have the option of noting the other databases they use. Here, CouchDB and MongoDB were noted 9 times each, and Cassandra 3 times, suggesting that adoption by our respondents of NoSQL databases as yet is not matching the attention paid to them. It will be interesting to keep an eye on this in subsequent surveys.

What database systems do you use?

Answer Count %
none 40 2.85%
MySQL 987 70.4%
Microsoft SQL Server 284 20.26%
Oracle 95 6.78%
PostgreSQL 144 10.27%
Other 88 6.28%
Answer Count %
none 42 3.40%
MySQL 869 70.42%
Microsoft SQL Server 271 21.96%
Oracle 113 9.16%
PostgreSQL 128 10.37%
Other 80 6.48%
Back end Programming languages and Frameworks

This survey, even fewer respondents replied replied “none”, to the question about which back end programming languages they use, which also emphasizes the increasingly dynamic nature of web sites we noted given the very high percentage of developers who use JavaScript, and database systems.

In the tables and charts below, the aberation of JavaScript appearing as a language used by 55% of respondents in 2008, and only 7% this survey can be put down to confusion in the wording of the question last year. Clearly, many respondents thought the question applied to all languages they use, not just those on the back end. We ensured this mistake was not repeated this year.

Among the popular languages we offered as responses, PHP and ASP.NET remained steady at the top of the rankings, Ruby increased in popularity somewhat, though not dramatically, Perl and Java saw a slight decrease, while ASP and ColdFusion both saw noticeable drop offs.

On the server which programming languages do you use?

Answer Count %
ASP 98 6.99%
ASP.NET 226 16.12%
ColdFusion 68 4.85%
Java 158 11.27%
JavaScript 97 6.92%
Perl 102 7.28%
PHP 875 62.41%
Python 157 11.2%
Ruby 224 15.98%
None 44 3.14%
Answer Count %
ASP 144 11.67%
ASP.NET 208 16.86%
ColdFusion 88 7.13%
Java 152 12.32%
JavaScript 680 55.11%
Perl 103 8.35%
PHP 778 63.05%
Python 187 15.15%
Ruby 178 14.42%
None 43 3.48%
Other 43 3.48%

The use of these languages increasingly goes hand in hand with frameworks. These frameworks are language specific – and for some languages, such as PHP, there may be more than one widely used framework.

Again this year, 31% (up a fraction from 30%) of respondents answered that they use no framework for back end development. In comparison, we saw that fewer than 5% of respondents who use JavaScript but who don’t use frameworks.

Of those who do use frameworks, 14% (up fractionally) use Ruby on Rails (despite Ruby being quite a way down the list of languages, this is the single most used framework. This may be due to the fact that most Ruby developers likely started using the language because of the Rails framework.) A small number (1.2%) use the Sinatra framework (another Ruby Framework)

The Python framework Django stays at number 2, though down markedly from 11% to 6.6%, while the PHP framework Zend is steady at a little over 6%. The other commonly uses PHP framework CakePHP, drops from 6% to 4%.

Last year, the PHP framework CodeIgniter from Ellis Labs was mentioned by 1% of respondents. This year, although once again respondents had to include it in a list of “other” frameworks, was mentioned by over 6% of respondents. This puts CodeIgniter only slightly behind Zend, and in fourth place of all libraries. It may be that members of the CodeIgniter community
stacked the results, but a little digging doesn’t immediately indicate that this was the case. CodeIgniter has certainly gained increasing attention, and EllisLabs have long had a fanatical community around ExpressionEngine, which it seems is translating to CodeIgniter as well.

Node.js has recently also been gaining some attention, and so we added this to our list of possible responses this year. As yet, with around 1% of respondents using it, the interest is not being reflected in uptake. But JavaScript on the serverside is gaining considerable attention, and it will be interesting to track how node.js and other serverside JavaScript libraries, as well as use of JavaScript on the server more generally fare in coming surveys.

Which back-end frameworks do you use for development?

Framework Count %
None 433 30.88%
CakePHP 56 3.99%
CherryPy 4 0.29%
Django 93 6.63%
Ext GWT 2 0.14%
Ruby on Rails 202 14.41%
Struts 27 1.93%
Zend framework 88 6.28%
node.js 17 1.21%
Developed internally 242 17.26%
Other 256 18.26%
Answer Count %
None 367 29.74%
CakePHP 75 6.08%
CherryPy 3 0.24%
Django 133 10.78%
Ext GWT 4 0.32%
Ruby on Rails 164 13.29%
Struts 23 1.86%
Zend framework 79 6.40%
Developed internally 241 19.53%
Other 199 16.13%

Of all the areas of the survey, this one saw the least change over the year between the two surveys. The effort and investment to change back end infrastructure, coupled with the relative stability of the back end in comparison with front end technologies and browsers is resulting in much less year on year change than we’ve seen in relation to markup, presentation, scripting and rich media. It remains to be seen whether the NoSQL “movement”, the rise of serverside JavaScript, and “Cloud Computing” shake up this currently stable aspect of the web development world.


We’ll cover respondents use of “cloud computing” resources as part of their development.

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I had an absolute blast, learnt so much, and met so many great people

Carmen Chung Software engineer, Valiant Finance