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PHP Crash Course

This chapter is from the book

Embedding PHP in HTML

Under the <h2> heading in your file, add the following lines:

  echo '<p>Order processed.</p>';

Save the file and load it in your browser by filling out Bob’s form and clicking the Submit Order button. You should see something similar to the output shown in Figure 1.2.

Figure 1.2

Figure 1.2 Text passed to PHP’s echo construct is echoed to the browser

Notice how the PHP code you wrote was embedded inside a normal-looking HTML file. Try viewing the source from your browser. You should see this code <!DOCTYPE html>

    <title>Bob's Auto Parts - Order Results</title>
    <h1>Bob's Auto Parts</h1>
    <h2>Order Results</h2>
    <p>Order processed.</p>

None of the raw PHP is visible because the PHP interpreter has run through the script and replaced it with the output from the script. This means that from PHP you can produce clean HTML viewable with any browser; in other words, the user’s browser does not need to understand PHP.

This example illustrates the concept of server-side scripting in a nutshell. The PHP has been interpreted and executed on the web server, as distinct from JavaScript and other client-side technologies interpreted and executed within a web browser on a user’s machine.

The code that you now have in this file consists of four types of text:

  • HTML

  • PHP tags

  • PHP statements

  • Whitespace

You can also add comments.

Most of the lines in the example are just plain HTML.

PHP Tags

The PHP code in the preceding example began with <?php and ended with ?>. This is similar to all HTML tags because they all begin with a less than (<) symbol and end with a greater than (>) symbol. These symbols (<?php and ?>) are called PHP tags. They tell the web server where the PHP code starts and finishes. Any text between the tags is interpreted as PHP. Any text outside these tags is treated as normal HTML. The PHP tags allow you to escape from HTML.

There are actually two styles of PHP tags; each of the following fragments of code is equivalent:

  • XML style

    <?php echo '<p>Order processed.</p>'; ?>

    This is the tag style that we use in this book; it is the preferred PHP tag style. The server administrator cannot turn it off, so you can guarantee it will be available on all servers, which is especially important if you are writing applications that may be used on different installations. This tag style can be used with Extensible Markup Language (XML) documents. In general, we recommend you use this tag style.

  • Short style

  • <? echo '<p>Order processed.</p>'; ?>

    This tag style is the simplest and follows the style of a Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) processing instruction. To use this type of tag—which is the shortest to type—you either need to enable the short_open_tag setting in your config file or compile PHP with short tags enabled. You can find more information on how to use this tag style in Appendix A. The use of this style is not recommended for use in code you plan to distribute. It will not work in many environments as it is no longer enabled by default.

PHP Statements

You tell the PHP interpreter what to do by including PHP statements between your opening and closing tags. The preceding example used only one type of statement:

echo '<p>Order processed.</p>';

As you have probably guessed, using the echo construct has a very simple result: It prints (or echoes) the string passed to it to the browser. In Figure 1.2, you can see the result is that the text Order processed. appears in the browser window.

Notice that there is a semicolon at the end of the echo statement. Semicolons separate statements in PHP much like periods separate sentences in English. If you have programmed in C or Java before, you will be familiar with using the semicolon in this way.

Leaving off the semicolon is a common syntax error that is easily made. However, it’s equally easy to find and to correct.


Spacing characters such as newlines (carriage returns), spaces, and tabs are known as whitespace. As you probably already know, browsers ignore whitespace in HTML, and so does the PHP engine. Consider these two HTML fragments:

<h1>Welcome to Bob's Auto Parts!</h1><p>What would you like to order today?</p>


<h1>Welcome             to Bob's
Auto Parts!</h1>
<p>What would you like
to order today?</p>

These two snippets of HTML code produce identical output because they appear the same to the browser. However, you can and are encouraged to use whitespace sensibly in your HTML as an aid to humans—to enhance the readability of your HTML code. The same is true for PHP. You don’t need to have any whitespace between PHP statements, but it makes the code much easier to read if you put each statement on a separate line. For example,

echo 'hello ';
echo 'world';


echo 'hello ';echo 'world';

are equivalent, but the first version is easier to read.


Comments are exactly that: Comments in code act as notes to people reading the code. Comments can be used to explain the purpose of the script, who wrote it, why they wrote it the way they did, when it was last modified, and so on. You generally find comments in all but the simplest PHP scripts.

The PHP interpreter ignores any text in comments. Essentially, the PHP parser skips over the comments, making them equivalent to whitespace.

PHP supports C, C++, and shell script–style comments.

The following is a C-style, multiline comment that might appear at the start of a PHP script:

/* Author: Bob Smith
   Last modified: April 10
   This script processes the customer orders.

Multiline comments should begin with a /* and end with */. As in C, multiline comments cannot be nested.

You can also use single-line comments, either in the C++ style:

echo '<p>Order processed.</p>'; // Start printing order

or in the shell script style:

echo '<p>Order processed.</p>'; # Start printing order

With both of these styles, everything after the comment symbol (# or //) is a comment until you reach the end of the line or the ending PHP tag, whichever comes first.

In the following line of code, the text before the closing tag, here is a comment, is part of a comment. The text after the closing tag, here is not, will be treated as HTML because it is outside the closing tag:

// here is a comment ?> here is not

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