Learning PHP: How and Where to Start

I remember the first time I opened up a WordPress theme file. I didn’t understand a lick of PHP, and my eyes glazed over the code. To be honest, I was horrified and nearly abandoned learning PHP and how to theme for WordPress.

You see, I’m a designer and programming is not my strong suit. If you’re anything like me, even knowing where to begin learning PHP is a challenge.

PHP is the essence of WordPress. Sure, we’re seeing a push toward block-based layouts (full-site editing, anyone?), but PHP is still at the heart of WordPress Core, and it will be for the foreseeable future. That means learning PHP is still a great goal, especially if you’re starting any kind of WordPress development. Learning PHP can empower you to handle everything from making little tweaks to creating a full-fledged theme.

Even though I still don’t consider myself a PHP whiz, I do work with many at The Events Calendar. I polled some folks around the virtual office and received lots of suggestions for learning PHP. Here are some excellent resources to guide you as you get started with PHP, whether you’re looking for a quick reference, a hands-on course, or a good old-fashioned paperback.


PHP.net website.

PHP Manual

This is the official documentation site for PHP. It’s not light reading, but it’s perfect for reference.

PHP: The Right Way Websoite

PHP: The Right Way

This site is a perfect quick reference, including coding standards and best practices.

PHP The Wrong Way website.

PHP: The Wrong Way

Pretty much the antithesis of PHP: The Right Way, which is another great way to learn.

Modern PHP Cheat Sheet website

Modern PHP Cheat Sheet

The perfect quick lookup for all things PHP, from arrays to types and everything in between.

PHP quick reference website

PHP Quick Reference

Another PHP cheat sheet, this time providing the syntax for common code patterns and use cases.

Online courses

The Educative website for PHP


There’s a free trial available for 71 PHP lessons, or you can purchase a full month for about $17.

PHP Enthusiast website.


Here’s a completely free collection of courses that are nicely broken out into topics.

Code academy landing page for their PHP course.


Codecademy is free and always has tons of courses on just about anything.

Codementor PHP Course


A collection of PHP projects you can use to build up your Portfolio, with a community and mentors available.



Jon Duckett always puts out great books, whether it’s covering HTML, CSS, JavaScript… or PHP.

Learning PHP

David Sklar wrote the essential reading for beginning PHP development.

The cover of the Programming PHP book.

Programming PHP

Kevin Tatroe and Peter MacIntyre go over the fundamentals for creating dynamic web pages.

Learn PHP 8 book cover.

Learn PHP 8

A more updated look at modern PHP practices (at least at the tine of this writing) that covers PHP 8.

Article tutorials


A free interactive PHP lesson that covers everything all the basics, from arrays to exceptions.


“PHP articles, quick start tutorials, and scripts that will help to you learn PHP quickly.”

Learn PHP in Y Minutes

Clever title! The entire tutorial is in the form of a giant PHP snippet to illustrate the basics.

PHP in Five Minutes page.

Learn PHP 8 in 5 Minutes

Ulugbek Miniyarov’s tutorial is a fine balance of quick reference and thorough explanations that covers a lot of ground.

Video tutorials


The freeCodeCamp team has a free 5-hour video tutorial that covers PHP and WordPress.

PHP Developer roadmap

The Codeholic has a “roadmap” on GitHub for becoming a PHP developer in this 21-part series.

PHP: Front to Back

An extensive 22-part series on YouTube. It’s a little dated (2017), but a great collection nonetheless.

The Net Ninja

If 22 videos weren’t enough, try this 42-part series that also goes deep into MySQL databases.