How to Move Your Legacy PHP Application to Laravel?

Arlind Musliu Portrait
Arlind Musliu

November 28, 2023 · 9 min read · 1,996 views

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Setting the Stage for a Laravel Transformation

You've got a legacy PHP application. Much like an old trusty car, it's been your digital transport from point A to point B over countless coding miles. However, in an era where technology speeds by faster than a racing coupe on its victory lap, your old reliable ride isn't quite cutting it on the information superhighway anymore. It's high time you shifted gears to a Laravel-powered supercar, one that promises to turbocharge your application's performance and sleekly conforms to today's web standards.

Upgrading to Laravel isn't just about keeping up appearances, though—it's about stability, security, and speed. In this guide, we’ll give you a roadmap for transferring your antique code to a shiny Laravel framework without missing a turn. Buckle up; it's going to be quite the ride!

Whether you're experienced in development or new to Laravel, this article provides valuable insights when transitioning a legacy PHP application to Laravel. For beginners, we recommend our article series Laravel for Beginners to grasp the fundamentals of this powerful framework. By combining insights from both resources, you'll be ready to modernize your application with Laravel's advanced features and practices.

Mapping Out Your Laravel Journey

Before you hit the road, you've got to map out your trip. Here's how to draw the map for a smooth transition from legacy PHP to Laravel:

  • Feature Audit: Pop the hood and examine every inch of your app. Determine which features are compatible with Laravel and which may need some tweaking. For example, if your legacy application uses custom outdated authentication methods, you can leverage Laravel's built-in authentication system to enhance security and user management.

  • External Dependencies: Are there third-party components or APIs tied to your app? Check their compatibility with Laravel and whether alternative solutions exist. For instance, if your application relies on a specific payment gateway API, research Laravel packages that provide seamless integration for that, or consider using popular payment processors.

  • Database Considerations: Will your data need a touch-up to fit Laravel’s elegance? Laravel offers support for multiple database management systems, including MySQL, PostgreSQL, SQLite, and SQL Server. If your current database structure needs some adjustments to align with Laravel's conventions, you can use Laravel's migration feature.

  • Human Resources: Who's on board? Do you need to hire Laravel experts, or is your team ready to upskill?

Embarking on the Laravel Route

Just like ensuring your vehicle is tuned up before a long journey, setting up your development environment for Laravel is crucial.

  • Composer Installation: Composer and Laravel are like GPS and cars—they’re made for each other. Make sure they're in sync. By having Composer set up correctly, you can easily add and update packages, making it easier to integrate third-party libraries and components into your Laravel application.

  • Laravel Setup: Create a fresh Laravel install in a new directory. It's the starting line for your modernization marathon. By starting with a clean Laravel install, you can build your application on a solid foundation and leverage Laravel's features from the get-go.

  • Development Environment: Raise the comfort level with either Laravel Valet, Herd, or Sail. These are Laravel's development environments designed for easy management. By selecting the right development environment, you can enhance productivity and collaboration among team members working on the Laravel migration project.

Shifting to Laravel's Infrastructure

Okay, your environment is jazzed up and ready. Now what? It's time to get your hands dirty.

  • Directory Architecture: Laravel has its way of doing things. Populating the directory structure correctly will save heaps of trouble later on. Place your controllers in the app/Http/Controllers directory, models in the app/Models directory, and views in the resources/views directory. This structured approach will help you navigate and maintain your codebase more effectively.

  • Routing: Just as you plan your travel route, web routes in Laravel are essential. Lay them out clearly, so your web traffic doesn't hit any potholes. For example, use Laravel's route parameters to capture dynamic values from the URL and pass them to the controller method for processing.

Refine Your Handling with Controllers and Middleware

You wouldn't dream of a swanky sports car without elite control—this is where Laravel's controllers and middleware engineering come into play.

  • Controllers: Rather than stuffing all the navigational smarts in your route files, move them into sleek "controller" classes, like optimizing your car's driving dynamics. For example, create a UserController class to handle user-related actions such as registration, login, and profile management.

  • Middlewares: Imagine middleware as customizable performance filters for your apps—like adjusting your car's suspension for the track day ahead. Middleware offers a convenient method for examining and refining incoming HTTP requests within your application.

  • Requests: Managing HTTP requests within Laravel's Illuminate\Http\Request class is akin to having a sophisticated onboard computer that responds to your every command with finesse.

  • Controllers vs. Models: You may need to shift gears; Laravel encourages a separation of concerns and adhering to good software architecture principles. This could mean redistributing some of the legacy logic under the hood.

Steering Your Database into Laravel's Lane

  • Migrations: Migrations in Laravel serve as blueprints for defining and managing your database structure. By creating migration files, you can easily track and apply changes to your database schema, ensuring consistency and version control. When migrating your legacy database to Laravel, generate migrations to replicate the existing structure and modify it as needed to align with Laravel's conventions and best practices.

  • Eloquent: This is Laravel's ORM and it's a beauty, but you'll need to transition your legacy database code into Eloquent models and relationships. Eloquent is a powerful tool for interacting with your database using PHP objects and models.

Giving Your App the Laravel Look

The look of your application can't be left in the dust. Embrace Laravel's intuitive templating engine:

  • Blade Templates: Laravel's Blade templating engine provides a powerful and intuitive way to create dynamic and reusable views. Convert your PHP views into Blade templates. They're like a breath of fresh air for your UI.

  • Vue.js Integration: If you're feeling adventurous, sprinkle in the Vue.js magic for an even more responsive user experience. Vue.js is a progressive JavaScript framework that enables you to build dynamic and responsive user interfaces with ease.

  • Inertia.js and React for the Aerodynamics Edge - To truly aerodynamically optimize your app, pairing Inertia.js with React is like fitting an active spoiler - both cutting-edge and strikingly efficient, a must for those serious about capturing pole position. Inertia.js is a modern tool that allows you to build server-driven SPAs using Laravel on the backend and JavaScript frameworks like React on the frontend.

Your assets need to be compiled just right, and Vite is the mechanic shop for all your front-end needs. Make sure your frontend packages are compatible with Vite before migrating.

The Victory Lap: Testing Your Tuning

  • Unit Tests with PHPUnit: Laravel's built-in PHPUnit testing acts like a trusty co-pilot, ensuring every feature performs correctly before you take the app onto the information superhighway.

  • Pest: Pest is the refinement tool that accentuates the joy of testing PHP. Think of it as the detailing that brings out the gleam before the big race day. It's becoming increasingly popular every day, and it might not be long before PEST is used more often than PHPUnit.

  • Debugging Tools: Tools like Laravel Telescope and Tinkerwell can help you find the needle in the haystack, should something go awry.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why migrate to Laravel?

Migrating to Laravel offers improved performance, enhanced security, and access to modern features and tools. Laravel's efficient routing system, caching mechanisms, and optimized database queries can significantly improve the performance of your application. Laravel also provides built-in security features such as CSRF protection, secure authentication, and encryption. Additionally, Laravel offers a wide range of features and tools that can streamline development, such as an ORM system, a powerful template engine, and a robust testing suite.

How long does it take to move a legacy PHP application to Laravel?

Times vary based on the complexity of your project. There's no quick pit stop for a job like this—it’s a race that requires endurance.

Can Laravel run alongside legacy PHP during the transition?

Absolutely! You can put your new Laravel app on a staging server and test the functionality there before jumping in.

Should you refactor all your legacy code before moving to Laravel?

Not at all. It's more like replacing parts gradually. Prioritize areas with the greatest potential for performance boosts or security benefits.

How difficult is it to learn Laravel if you're familiar with PHP?

It's like upgrading to a sports car with all the latest tech. There's a learning curve, but it's made for PHP developers, so you’ll pick it up in no time.

How do I identify dependencies and third-party libraries?

To identify dependencies and third-party libraries, you should make a list of all external libraries and APIs used by the legacy application, check their compatibility with Laravel, and find alternatives for deprecated libraries.

How do I prepare the database for migration?

To prepare the database for migration, you should analyze the database schema, migrate the data to a new database, and test data integrity and compatibility.


Congratulations, you've crossed the finish line! Modernizing your legacy PHP application to Laravel isn't about mere survival on the digital speedway; it's about thriving, with a robust, secure, and sophisticated application that's built for the future. Safe travels on the Laravel highway, and don't forget to enjoy the ride!

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Arlind Musliu Portrait
Arlind Musliu

Cofounder and CFO of Lucky Media


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