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How to Upload a File in PHP (With an Example)

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In this article, I’ll explain the basics of file upload in PHP. Firstly, we’ll go through the PHP configuration options that need to be in place for successful file uploads. Following that, we’ll develop a real-world example of how to upload a file.

Configure the PHP Settings

There are a couple of PHP configuration settings that you'll want to check beforehand for successful file uploads. In this section, we’ll go through every important option in regards to PHP file upload. These options can be configured in the php.ini file.

If you're not sure where to find your php.ini file, you can use the php_ini_loaded_file() to locate it. Just create a PHP file on your server with the following line, and open it from the browser.

Here's an excerpt from a setup file with some useful defaults.

The Key Settings

file_uploads

The value of the file_uploads directive should be set to On to allow file uploads. The default value of this directive is On.

upload_max_filesize

The upload_max_filesize directive allows you to configure the maximum size of the uploaded file. By default, it's set to 2M (two megabytes), and you can override this setting using the .htaccess file as well. Two megabytes isn't very much by today's standards, so you might have to increase this. If you get an error that file exceeds upload_max_filesize when you try to upload a file, you need to increase this value. If you do, be sure to also increase post_max_size (see below).

upload_tmp_dir

Sets a temporary directory which will be used to store uploaded files. In most cases, you don't need to worry about this setting. If you don't set it, the system default temp directory will be used.

post_max_size

The post_max_size directive allows you to configure the maximum size of POST data. Since files are uploaded with POST requests, this value must be greater than what you've set for the upload_max_filesize directive. For example, if your upload_max_filesize is 16M (16 megabytes), you might want to set post_max_size to 20M.

max_file_uploads

It allows you to set the maximum number of files that can be uploaded at a time. The default is 20, a sensible amount.

max_input_time

It's the maximum number of seconds a script is allowed to parse the input data. You should set it to a reasonable value if you're dealing with large file uploads. 60 (60 seconds) is a good value for most apps.

memory_limit

The memory_limit directive indicates the maximum amount of memory a script can consume. If you're facing issues when uploading large files, you need to make sure that the value of this directive is greater than what you've set for the post_max_size directive. The default value is 128M (128 megabytes), so unless you have a very large post_max_size and upload_max_filesize, you don't need to worry about this.

max_execution_time

It's the maximum number of seconds a script is allowed to run. If you're facing issues when uploading large files, you can consider increasing this value. 30 (30 seconds) should work well for most apps.

Now let's build a real-world example to demonstrate file upload in PHP.

Create the HTML Form

Once you’ve configured the PHP settings, you're ready to try out the PHP file upload capabilities.

Our GitHub repo has some sample code which I'm going to discuss throughout this article. So, if you want to follow along, go ahead and download it from GitHub.

We’re going to create two PHP files: index.php and upload.php. The index.php file holds code which is responsible for displaying the file upload form. On the other hand, the upload.php file is responsible for uploading a file to the server.

Also, a file will be uploaded in the uploaded_files directory, so you need to make sure that this folder exists and is writable by the web-server user.

In this section, we’ll go through the key parts of the index.php file.

Let’s take a look at the index.php file on GitHub:

You can use the following CSS to give the form a more appealing look.

The CSS basically hides the original file input and styles its accompanying span and label elements.

Although it may look like a typical PHP form, there’s an important difference in the value of the enctype attribute of the <form> tag. It needs to be set to multipart/form-data since the form contains the file field.

The enctype attribute specifies the type of encoding which should be used when the form is submitted, and it takes one of the following three values:

  • application/x-www-form-urlencoded: This is the default value when you don’t set the value of the enctype attribute explicitly. In this case, characters are encoded before it’s sent to the server. If you don’t have the file field in your form, you should use this value for the enctype attribute.
  • multipart/form-data: When you use the multipart/form-data value for the enctype attribute, it allows you to upload files using the POST method. Also, it makes sure that the characters are not encoded when the form is submitted.
  • text/plain: This is generally not used. With this setting, the data is sent unencoded.

Next, we output the file field, which allows you to select a file from your computer.

Apart from that, we’ve displayed a message at the top of the form. This message shows the status of the file upload, and it’ll be set in a session variable by the upload.php script. We’ll look more at this in the next section.

So that sums up the index.php file. In the next section, we’ll see how to handle the uploaded file on the server side.

Create the Upload Logic

In the previous section, we created the HTML form which is displayed on the client side and allows you to upload a file from your computer. In this section, we’ll see the server-side counterpart which allows you to handle the uploaded file.

Pull in the code from the upload.php file on GitHub. We’ll go through the important parts of that file.

In the upload.php file, we've checked whether it’s a valid POST request in the first place.

In PHP, when a file is uploaded, the $_FILES superglobal variable is populated with all the information about the uploaded file. It’s initialized as an array and may contain the following information for successful file upload.

  • tmp_name: The temporary path where the file is uploaded is stored in this variable.
  • name: The actual name of the file is stored in this variable.
  • size: Indicates the size of the uploaded file in bytes.
  • type: Contains the mime type of the uploaded file.
  • error: If there’s an error during file upload, this variable is populated with the appropriate error message. In the case of successful file upload, it contains 0, which you can compare by using the UPLOAD_ERR_OK constant.

After validating the POST request, we check that the file upload was successful.

You can see that the $_FILES variable is a multi-dimensional array, the first element is the name of the file field, and the second element has the information about the uploaded file, as we’ve just discussed above.

If the file upload is successful, we initialize a few variables with information about the uploaded file.

In the above snippet, we’ve also figured out the extension of the uploaded file and stored it in the $fileExtension variable.

As the uploaded file may contain spaces and other special characters, it’s better to sanitize the filename, and that’s exactly we’ve done in the following snippet.

It’s important that you restrict the type of file which can be uploaded to certain extensions and don’t allow everything using the upload form. We’ve done that by checking the extension of the uploaded file with a set of extensions that we want to allow for uploading.

Finally, we use the move_uploaded_file function to move the uploaded file to the specific location of our choice.

The move_uploaded_file function takes two arguments. The first argument is the filename of the uploaded file, and the second argument is the destination path where you want to move the file.

Finally, we redirect the user to the index.php file. Also, we set the appropriate message in the session variable, which will be displayed to users after redirection in the index.php file.

How It All Works Together

Don't forget to create the uploaded_files directory and make it writable by the web-server user. Next, go ahead and run the index.php file, which should display the file upload form which looks like this:

File Upload UIFile Upload UIFile Upload UI

Click on the Browse button—that should open a dialog box which allows you to select a file from your computer. Select a file with one of the extensions allowed in our script, and click on the Upload button.

That should submit the form, and if everything goes well, you should see the uploaded file in the uploaded_files directory. You could also try uploading other files with extensions that are not allowed, and check if our script prevents such uploads.

Resolving Common Errors

A lot of things can go wrong during a file upload which might result in errors. You can check the exact error that occurred during the upload using $_FILES['uploadedFile']['error']. Here is the explanation of those errors:

File Is Too Large

UPLOAD_ERR_INI_SIZE and UPLOAD_ERR_FORM_SIZE occur when the size of an uploaded file is more than the value specified in php.ini or the HTML form respectively. You can get rid of this error by increasing the upload size limits or letting users know about them beforehand.

Temporary Folder Is Missing

UPLOAD_ERR_NO_TMP_DIR is reported when the temporary folder to upload the file is missing. UPLOAD_ERR_NO_FILE is reported when there is no file to upload.

Partial Upload or Can't Write to Disk

You will get UPLOAD_ERR_PARTIAL if the file could only be uploaded partially and UPLOAD_ERR_CANT_WRITE if the file could not be written to the disk.

A PHP Extension Stopped the File Upload

Sometimes, you will get the error UPLOAD_ERR_EXTENSION because some extension stopped the file upload. This one will require more investigation by you to figure out which extension caused the problem.

Here is the full code from upload.php which will show users a message on the upload page in case of success or failure of the upload. The information about the success or failure of the upload is stored in the $_SESSION['message'].

Learn PHP With a Free Online Course

Today, we discussed the basics of file upload in PHP. In the first half of the article, we discussed the different configuration options that need to be in place for file upload to work. Then we looked at a real-world example which demonstrated how file upload works in PHP.

If you want to learn more PHP, check out our free online course on PHP fundamentals!

In this course, you'll learn the fundamentals of PHP programming. You'll start with the basics, learning how PHP works and writing simple PHP loops and functions. Then you'll build up to coding classes for simple object-oriented programming (OOP). Along the way, you'll learn all the most important skills for writing apps for the web: you'll get a chance to practice responding to GET and POST requests, parsing JSON, authenticating users, and using a MySQL database.

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