PHP

1.What do you need?

In this tutorial we assume that your server has activated support for PHP and that all files ending in .php are handled by PHP. On most servers, this is the default extension for PHP scripting  files, but ask your server administrator to be sure. If your server supports PHP, then you do not need to do anything. Just create your .php files, put them in your web directory and the server will automatically parse them for you. There is no need to compile anything nor do you need to install any extra tools. Think of these PHP-enabled files as simple HTML files with a whole new family of magical tags that let you do all sorts of things.

Let us say you want to save precious bandwidth and develop locally. In this case, you will want to install a web server such as Apache, xampp, wamp and of course  PHP. You will most likely want to install a database as well, such as  MySQL.

If you choose to go on the simpler route, then locate a pre-configured package for your operating system, which automatically installs all of these with just a few mouse clicks. It is easy to setup a web server with PHP support on any operating system, including MacOSX, Linux and Windows. On Linux, you may find  rpmfind and  PBone helpful for locating RPMs. You may also want to visit  apt-get to find packages for Debian.

Design your first PHP-enabled page

Create a file named hello.php and put it in your web server’s root directory (DOCUMENT_ROOT) with the following content:

Example #1 your first PHP script: hello.php

<html>
<head>
<title>PHP Test</title>
</head>
<body>
<?php
 echo '<p>Hello World</p>''<br/>';
  echo     ‘<p>My name is michael</p>’ ;
 ?>
</body>
</html>

Use your browser to access the file with your web server’s URL, ending with the /hello.php file reference. When developing locally this URL will be something like http://localhost/hello.php or http://127.0.0.1/hello.php but this depends on the web server’s configuration. If everything is configured correctly, this file will be parsed by PHP and the following output will be sent to your browser:

<html>
 <head>
  <title>PHP Test</title>
 </head>
 <body>
 <p>Hello World</p>
 </body>
</html>

This program is extremely simple and you really did not need to use PHP to create a page like this. All it does is display: Hello World using the PHP echo statement. Note that the file does not need to be executable or special in any way. The server finds out that this file needs to be interpreted by PHP because you used the “.php” extension, which the server is configured to pass on to PHP. Think of this as a normal HTML file which happens to have a set of special tags available to you that do a lot of interesting things.

If you tried this example and it did not output anything, it prompted for download, or you see the whole file as text, chances are that the server you are on does not have PHP enabled, or is not configured properly. Ask your administrator to enable it for you using the Installation chapter of the manual. If you are developing locally, also read the installation chapter to make sure everything is configured properly. Make sure that you access the file via http with the server providing you the output. If you just call up the file from your file system, then it will not be parsed by PHP. If the problems persist anyway, do not hesitate to use one of the many  PHP support options.

The point of the example is to show the special PHP tag format. In this example we used <?php to indicate the start of a PHP tag. Then we put the PHP statement and left PHP mode by adding the closing tag, ?>. You may jump in and out of PHP mode in an HTML file like this anywhere you want. For more details, read the manual section on the basic PHP syntax.

Useful thing

Let us do something more useful now. We are going to check what sort of browser the visitor is using. For that, we check the user agent string the browser sends as part of the HTTP request. This information is stored in a variable. Variables always start with a dollar-sign in PHP. The variable we are interested in right now is $_SERVER[‘HTTP_USER_AGENT’].

Note:

$_SERVER is a special reserved PHP variable that contains all web server information. It is known as a superglobal. See the related manual page on superglobals for more information. These special variables were introduced in PHP » 4.1.0. Before this time, we used the older $HTTP_*_VARS arrays instead, such as $HTTP_SERVER_VARS. Although deprecated, these older variables still exist. (See also the note on old code.)

To display this variable, you can simply do:

Example #1 Printing a variable (Array element)

<?php
echo $_SERVER['HTTP_USER_AGENT'];
?>

A sample output of this script may be:

Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1)

There are many types of variables available in PHP. In the above example we printed an Array element. Arrays can be very useful.

$_SERVER is just one variable that PHP automatically makes available to you. A list can be seen in the Reserved Variables section of the manual or you can get a complete list of them by looking at the output of the phpinfo() function used in the example in the previous section.

You can put multiple PHP statements inside a PHP tag and create little blocks of code that do more than just a single echo. For example, if you want to check for Internet Explorer you can do this:

Example #2 Example using control structures and functions

<?php
if (strpos($_SERVER['HTTP_USER_AGENT'], 'MSIE') !== FALSE) {
echo 'You are using Internet Explorer.<br />';
}
?>

A sample output of this script may be:

You are using Internet Explorer.<br />

Here we introduce a couple of new concepts. We have an if statement. If you are familiar with the basic syntax used by the C language, this should look logical to you. Otherwise, you should probably pick up an introductory PHP book and read the first couple of chapters, or read the Language Reference part of the manual.

The second concept we introduced was the strpos() function call. strpos() is a function built into PHP which searches a string for another string. In this case we are looking for ‘MSIE’ (so-called needle) inside $_SERVER[‘HTTP_USER_AGENT’] (so-called haystack). If the needle is found inside the haystack, the function returns the position of the needle relative to the start of the haystack. Otherwise, it returns FALSE. If it does not return FALSE, the if expression evaluates to TRUE and the code within its {braces} is executed. Otherwise, the code is not run. Feel free to create similar examples, with if, else, and other functions such as strtoupper() and strlen(). Each related manual page contains examples too. If you are unsure how to use functions, you will want to read both the manual page on how to read a function definition and the section about PHP functions.

We can take this a step further and show how you can jump in and out of PHP mode even in the middle of a PHP block:

Example #3 Mixing both HTML and PHP modes

<?php
if (strpos($_SERVER['HTTP_USER_AGENT'], 'MSIE') !== FALSE) {
?>
<h3>strpos() must have returned non-false</h3>
<p>You are using Internet Explorer</p>
<?php
} else {
?>
<h3>strpos() must have returned false</h3>
<p>You are not using Internet Explorer</p>
<?php
}
?>

A sample output of this script may be:

<h3>strpos() must have returned non-false</h3>
<p>You are using Internet Explorer</p>

Instead of using a PHP echo statement to output something, we jumped out of PHP mode and just sent straight HTML. The important and powerful point to note here is that the logical flow of the script remains intact. Only one of the HTML blocks will end up getting sent to the viewer depending on the result of strpos(). In other words, it depends on whether the string MSIE was found or not.

Dealing with Forms

One of the most powerful features of PHP is the way it handles HTML forms. The basic concept that is important to understand is that any form element will automatically be available to your PHP scripts. Please read the manual section on Variables from external sources for more information and examples on using forms with PHP. Here is an example HTML form:

Example #1 A simple HTML form

<form action="action.php" method="post">
 <p>Your name: <input type="text" name="name" /></p>
 <p>Your age: <input type="text" name="age" /></p>
 <p><input type="submit" /></p>
</form>

There is nothing special about this form. It is a straight HTML form with no special tags of any kind. When the user fills in this form and hits the submit button, the action.php page is called. In this file you would write something like this:

Example #2 Printing data from our form

Hi <?php echo htmlspecialchars($_POST['name']); ?>.
You are <?php echo (int)$_POST['age']; ?> years old.

A sample output of this script may be:

Hi Michael. You are 22 years old.

Apart from the htmlspecialchars() and (int) parts, it should be obvious what this does. htmlspecialchars() makes sure any characters that are special in html are properly encoded so people can’t inject HTML tags or Javascript into your page. For the age field, since we know it is a number, we can just convert it to an integer which will automatically get rid of any stray characters. You can also have PHP do this for you automatically by using the filter extension. The $_POST[‘name’] and $_POST[‘age’] variables are automatically set for you by PHP. Earlier we used the $_SERVER superglobal; above we just introduced the $_POST superglobal which contains all POST data. Notice how the method of our form is POST. If we used the method GET then our form information would live in the $_GET superglobal instead. You may also use the $_REQUEST superglobal, if you do not care about the source of your request data. It contains the merged information of GET, POST and COOKIE data. Also see the import_request_variables() function.

You can also deal with XForms input in PHP, although you will find yourself comfortable with the well supported HTML forms for quite some time. While working with XForms is not for beginners, you might be interested in them. We also have a short introduction to handling data received from XForms in our features section.

Using old code with new versions of PHP

Now that PHP has grown to be a popular scripting language, there are a lot of public repositories and libraries containing code you can reuse. The PHP developers have largely tried to preserve backwards compatibility, so a script written for an older version will run (ideally) without changes in a newer version of PHP. In practice, some changes will usually be needed.

Two of the most important recent changes that affect old code are:

  • The deprecation of the old $HTTP_*_VARS arrays (which need to be indicated as global when used inside a function or method). The following superglobal arrays were introduced in PHP » 4.1.0. They are: $_GET, $_POST, $_COOKIE, $_SERVER, $_FILES, $_ENV, $_REQUEST, and $_SESSION. The older $HTTP_*_VARS arrays, such as $HTTP_POST_VARS, also exist. As of PHP 5.0.0, the long PHP predefined variable arrays may be disabled with the register_long_arrays directive.
  • External variables are no longer registered in the global scope by default. In other words, as of PHP » 4.2.0 the PHP directive register_globals is off by default in php.ini. The preferred method of accessing these values is via the superglobal arrays mentioned above. Older scripts, books, and tutorials may rely on this directive being on. If it were on, for example, one could use $id from the URL http://www.example.com/foo.php?id=42. Whether on or off, $_GET[‘id’] is available.
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