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PHP Pocket Reference
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Embedding PHP in HTML

You embed PHP code into a standard HTML page. For example, here's how you can dynamically generate the title of an HTML document:

<HTML><HEAD><TITLE><?echo $title?></TITLE>

The <?echo $title?> portion of the document is replaced by the contents of the $title PHP variable. echo is a basic language statement that you can use to output data.

There are a few different ways that you can embed your PHP code. As you just saw, you can put PHP code between <? and ?> tags:

<? echo "Hello World"; ?>

This style is the most common way to embed PHP, but it is a problem if your PHP code needs to co-exist with XML, as XML may use that tagging style itself. If this is the case, you can turn off this style in the php3.ini file with the short_open_tag directive. Another way to embed PHP code is within <?php and ?> tags:

<?php echo "Hello World"; ?>

This style is always available and is recommended when your PHP code needs to be portable to many different systems. Embedding PHP within <SCRIPT> tags is another style that is always available:

<SCRIPT LANGUAGE="php"> echo "Hello World"; 

One final style, where the code is between <% and %> tags, is disabled by default:

<% echo "Hello World"; %>

You can turn on this style with the asp_tags directive in your php3.ini file. The style is most useful when you are using Microsoft FrontPage or another HTML authoring tool that prefers that tag style for HTML embedded scripts.

You can embed multiple statements by separating them with semicolons:

echo "Hello World";
echo "A second statement";

It is legal to switch back and forth between HTML and PHP at any time. For example, if you want to output 100 <BR> tags for some reason, you can do it this way:

<? for($i=0; $i<100; $i++) { ?>
<? } ?>

When you embed PHP code in an HTML file, you need to use the .php3 file extension for that file, so that your web server knows to send the file to PHP for processing. Or, if you have configured your web server to use a different extension for PHP files, use that extension instead.

When you have PHP code embedded in an HTML page, you can think of that page as being a PHP program. The bits and pieces of HTML and PHP combine to provide the functionality of the program. A collection of pages that contain programs can be thought of as a web application.

Including Files

An important feature of PHP is its ability to include files. These files may contain additional PHP tags. When you are designing a web application, it can be useful to break out some common components and place them in a single file. This makes it much easier to later change certain aspects in one place and have it take effect across the entire application. To include a file, you use the include keyword:

$title="My Cool Web Application";
include ""; 

The file might look as follows:

<TITLE><?echo $title?></TITLE>

This example illustrates two important concepts of included files in PHP. First, variables set in the including file are automatically available in the included file. Second, each included file starts out in HTML mode. In other words, if you want to include a file that has PHP code in it, you have to embed that code just as you would any PHP code.

Language Syntax

Variable names in PHP are case-sensitive. That means that $A and $a are two distinct variables. However, function names in PHP are not case-sensitive. This applies to both built-in functions and user-defined functions.

PHP ignores whitespace between tokens. You can use spaces, tabs, and newlines to format and indent your code to make it more readable. PHP statements are terminated by semicolons.

There are three types of comments in PHP:

/* C style comments */
// C++ style comments
# Bourne shell style comments

The C++ and Bourne shell style comments can be inserted anywhere in your code. Everything from the comment characters to the end of the line is ignored. The C-style comment tells PHP to ignore everything from the start of the comment until the end-comment characters are seen. This means that this style of comment can span multiple lines.


In PHP, all variable names begin with a dollar sign ($). The $ is followed by an alphabetic character or an underscore, and optionally followed by a sequence of alphanumeric characters and underscores. There is no limit on the length of a variable. Variable names in PHP are case-sensitive. Here are some examples:


In PHP, unlike in many other languages, you do not have to explicitly declare variables. PHP automatically declares a variable the first time a value is assigned to it. PHP variables are untyped; you can assign a value of any type to a variable.

Dynamic Variables

Sometimes it is useful to set and use variables dynamically. Normally, you assign a variable like this:

$var = "hello";

Now let's say you want a variable whose name is the value of the $var variable. You can do that like this:

$$var = "World";

PHP parses $$var by first dereferencing the innermost variable, meaning that $var becomes "hello". The expression that is left is then $"hello", which is just $hello. In other words, we have just created a new variable named hello and assigned it the value "World". You can nest dynamic variables to an infinite level in PHP, although once you get beyond two levels, it can be very confusing for someone who is trying to read your code.

There is a special syntax for using dynamic variables inside quoted strings in PHP:

echo "Hello ${$var}";

This syntax is also used to help resolve an ambiguity that occurs when variable arrays are used. Something like $$var[1] is ambiguous because it is impossible for PHP to know which level to apply the array index to. ${$var[1]} tells PHP to dereference the inner level first and apply the array index to the result before dereferencing the outer level. ${$var}[1], on the other hand, tells PHP to apply the index to the outer level.

Dynamic variables may not initially seem that useful, but there are times when they can shorten the amount of code you need to write to perform certain tasks. For example, say you have an associative array that looks like this:

$array["abc"] = "Hello";
$array["def"] = "World";

Associative arrays like this are returned by various functions in the PHP modules. mysql_fetch_array( ) is one example. The indices in the array usually refer to fields or entity names within the context of the module you are working with. It can be handy to turn these entity names into real PHP variables, so you can refer to them as simply $abc and $def. This can be done as follows:

while(list($index,$value) = each($array)) {
  $$index = $value;

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