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Variables from outside PHP

HTML Forms (GET and POST)

When a form is submitted to a PHP script, the information from that form is automatically made available to the script. There are many ways to access this information, for example:

Example 7-8. A simple HTML form

<form action="foo.php" method="POST">
    Name:  <input type="text" name="username"><br>
    Email: <input type="text" name="email"><br>
    <input type="submit" name="submit" value="Submit me!">

Depending on your particular setup and personal preferences, there are many ways to access data from your HTML forms. Some examples are:

Example 7-9. Accessing data from a simple POST HTML form

// Available since PHP 4.1.0

   print $_POST['username'];
   print $_REQUEST['username'];

   import_request_variables('p', 'p_');
   print $p_username;

// Available since PHP 3.  As of PHP 5.0.0, these long predefined
// variables can be disabled with the register_long_arrays directive.

   print $HTTP_POST_VARS['username'];

// Available if the PHP directive register_globals = on.  As of 
// PHP 4.2.0 the default value of register_globals = off.
// Using/relying on this method is not preferred.

   print $username;

Using a GET form is similar except you'll use the appropriate GET predefined variable instead. GET also applies to the QUERY_STRING (the information after the '?' in an URL). So, for example, contains GET data which is accessible with $_GET['id']. See also $_REQUEST and import_request_variables().

Note: Superglobal arrays, like $_POST and $_GET, became available in PHP 4.1.0

As shown, before PHP 4.2.0 the default value for register_globals was on. And, in PHP 3 it was always on. The PHP community is encouraging all to not rely on this directive as it's preferred to assume it's off and code accordingly.

Note: The magic_quotes_gpc configuration directive affects Get, Post and Cookie values. If turned on, value (It's "PHP!") will automagically become (It\'s \"PHP!\"). Escaping is needed for DB insertion. See also addslashes(), stripslashes() and magic_quotes_sybase.

PHP also understands arrays in the context of form variables (see the related faq). You may, for example, group related variables together, or use this feature to retrieve values from a multiple select input. For example, let's post a form to itself and upon submission display the data:

Example 7-10. More complex form variables

if (isset($_POST['action']) && $_POST['action'] == 'submitted') {
    print '<pre>';
    print '<a href="'. $_SERVER['PHP_SELF'] .'">Please try again</a>';

    print '</pre>';
} else {
<form action="<?php echo $_SERVER['PHP_SELF']; ?>" method="POST">
    Name:  <input type="text" name="personal[name]"><br>
    Email: <input type="text" name="personal[email]"><br>
    Beer: <br>
    <select multiple name="beer[]">
        <option value="warthog">Warthog</option>
        <option value="guinness">Guinness</option>
        <option value="stuttgarter">Stuttgarter Schwabenbräu</option>
    <input type="hidden" name="action" value="submitted">
    <input type="submit" name="submit" value="submit me!">

In PHP 3, the array form variable usage is limited to single-dimensional arrays. In PHP 4, no such restriction applies.

IMAGE SUBMIT variable names

When submitting a form, it is possible to use an image instead of the standard submit button with a tag like:

<input type="image" src="image.gif" name="sub">

When the user clicks somewhere on the image, the accompanying form will be transmitted to the server with two additional variables, sub_x and sub_y. These contain the coordinates of the user click within the image. The experienced may note that the actual variable names sent by the browser contains a period rather than an underscore, but PHP converts the period to an underscore automatically.

HTTP Cookies

PHP transparently supports HTTP cookies as defined by Netscape's Spec. Cookies are a mechanism for storing data in the remote browser and thus tracking or identifying return users. You can set cookies using the setcookie() function. Cookies are part of the HTTP header, so the SetCookie function must be called before any output is sent to the browser. This is the same restriction as for the header() function. Cookie data is then available in the appropriate cookie data arrays, such as $_COOKIE, $HTTP_COOKIE_VARS as well as in $_REQUEST. See the setcookie() manual page for more details and examples.

If you wish to assign multiple values to a single cookie variable, you may assign it as an array. For example:

  setcookie("MyCookie[foo]", "Testing 1", time()+3600);
  setcookie("MyCookie[bar]", "Testing 2", time()+3600);

That will create two separate cookies although MyCookie will now be a single array in your script. If you want to set just one cookie with multiple values, consider using serialize() or explode() on the value first.

Note that a cookie will replace a previous cookie by the same name in your browser unless the path or domain is different. So, for a shopping cart application you may want to keep a counter and pass this along. i.e.

Example 7-11. A setcookie() example

if (isset($_COOKIE['count'])) {
    $count = $_COOKIE['count'] + 1;
} else {
    $count = 1;
setcookie("count", $count, time()+3600);
setcookie("Cart[$count]", $item, time()+3600);

Dots in incoming variable names

Typically, PHP does not alter the names of variables when they are passed into a script. However, it should be noted that the dot (period, full stop) is not a valid character in a PHP variable name. For the reason, look at it:
$varname.ext;  /* invalid variable name */
Now, what the parser sees is a variable named $varname, followed by the string concatenation operator, followed by the barestring (i.e. unquoted string which doesn't match any known key or reserved words) 'ext'. Obviously, this doesn't have the intended result.

For this reason, it is important to note that PHP will automatically replace any dots in incoming variable names with underscores.

Determining variable types

Because PHP determines the types of variables and converts them (generally) as needed, it is not always obvious what type a given variable is at any one time. PHP includes several functions which find out what type a variable is, such as: gettype(), is_array(), is_float(), is_int(), is_object(), and is_string(). See also the chapter on Types.

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