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Variables From External Sources

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 few ways to access this information, for example:

Example #1 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!" />

There are only two ways to access data from your HTML forms. Currently available methods are listed below:

Example #2 Accessing data from a simple POST HTML form

echo $_POST['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 a URL). So, for example, contains GET data which is accessible with $_GET['id']. See also $_REQUEST.


Dots and spaces in variable names are converted to underscores. For example <input name="a.b" /> becomes $_REQUEST["a_b"].

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 #3 More complex form variables

if ($_POST) {
htmlspecialchars(print_r($_POST, true));
<form action="" 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>
</select><br />
<input type="submit" value="submit me!" />

Note: If an external variable name begins with a valid array syntax, trailing characters are silently ignored. For example, <input name="foo[bar]baz"> becomes $_REQUEST['foo']['bar'].

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 » RFC 6265. 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 as well as in $_REQUEST. See the setcookie() manual page for more details and examples.

Note: As of PHP 7.2.34, 7.3.23 and 7.4.11, respectively, the names of incoming cookies are no longer url-decoded for security reasons.

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

("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 #4 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:

.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.

HTTP being a text protocol, most, if not all, content that comes in Superglobal arrays, like $_POST and $_GET will remain as strings. PHP will not try to convert values to a specific type. In the example below, $_GET["var1"] will contain the string "null" and $_GET["var2"], the string "123".



Version Description
7.2.34, 7.3.23, 7.4.11 The names of incoming cookies are no longer url-decoded for security reasons.

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User Contributed Notes 2 notes

16 years ago
The full list of field-name characters that PHP converts to _ (underscore) is the following (not just dot):
chr(32) ( ) (space)
chr(46) (.) (dot)
chr(91) ([) (open square bracket)
chr(128) - chr(159) (various)

PHP irreversibly modifies field names containing these characters in an attempt to maintain compatibility with the deprecated register_globals feature.
krydprz at iit dot edu
19 years ago
This post is with regards to handling forms that have more than one submit button.

Suppose we have an HTML form with a submit button specified like this:

<input type="submit" value="Delete" name="action_button">

Normally the 'value' attribute of the HTML 'input' tag (in this case "Delete") that creates the submit button can be accessed in PHP after post like this:


We of course use the 'name' of the button as an index into the $_POST array.

This works fine, except when we want to pass more information with the click of this particular button.

Imagine a scenario where you're dealing with user management in some administrative interface. You are presented with a list of user names queried from a database and wish to add a "Delete" and "Modify" button next to each of the names in the list. Naturally the 'value' of our buttons in the HTML form that we want to display will be "Delete" and "Modify" since that's what we want to appear on the buttons' faceplates.

Both buttons (Modify and Delete) will be named "action_button" since that's what we want to index the $_POST array with. In other words, the 'name' of the buttons along cannot carry any uniquely identifying information if we want to process them systematically after submit. Since these buttons will exist for every user in the list, we need some further way to distinguish them, so that we know for which user one of the buttons has been pressed.

Using arrays is the way to go. Assuming that we know the unique numerical identifier of each user, such as their primary key from the database, and we DON'T wish to protect that number from the public, we can make the 'action_button' into an array and use the user's unique numerical identifier as a key in this array.

Our HTML code to display the buttons will become:

<input type="submit" value="Delete" name="action_button[0000000002]">
<input type="submit" value="Modify" name="action_button[0000000002]">

The 0000000002 is of course the unique numerical identifier for this particular user.

Then when we handle this form in PHP we need to do the following to extract both the 'value' of the button ("Delete" or "Modify") and the unique numerical identifier of the user we wish to affect (0000000002 in this case). The following will print either "Modify" or "Delete", as well as the unique number of the user:

= array_keys($_POST['action_button']);
echo (
$_POST['action_button'][$submitted_array[0]] . " " . $submitted_array[0]);

$submitted_array[0] carries the 0000000002.
When we index that into the $_POST['action_button'], like we did above, we will extract the string that was used as 'value' in the HTML code 'input' tag that created this button.

If we wish to protect the unique numerical identifier, we must use some other uniquely identifying attribute of each user. Possibly that attribute should be encrypted when output into the form for greater security.

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