Chapter 38. Handling file uploads

Table of Contents
POST method uploads
Error Messages Explained
Common Pitfalls
Uploading multiple files
PUT method support

POST method uploads

This feature lets people upload both text and binary files. With PHP's authentication and file manipulation functions, you have full control over who is allowed to upload and what is to be done with the file once it has been uploaded.

PHP is capable of receiving file uploads from any RFC-1867 compliant browser (which includes Netscape Navigator 3 or later, Microsoft Internet Explorer 3 with a patch from Microsoft, or later without a patch).

Related Configurations Note: See also the file_uploads, upload_max_filesize, upload_tmp_dir, post_max_size and max_input_time directives in php.ini

PHP also supports PUT-method file uploads as used by Netscape Composer and W3C's Amaya clients. See the PUT Method Support for more details.

Example 38-1. File Upload Form

A file upload screen can be built by creating a special form which looks something like this:

<!-- The data encoding type, enctype, MUST be specified as below -->
<form enctype="multipart/form-data" action="__URL__" method="POST">
    <!-- MAX_FILE_SIZE must precede the file input field -->
    <input type="hidden" name="MAX_FILE_SIZE" value="30000" />
    <!-- Name of input element determines name in $_FILES array -->
    Send this file: <input name="userfile" type="file" />
    <input type="submit" value="Send File" />

The __URL__ in the above example should be replaced, and point to a PHP file.

The MAX_FILE_SIZE hidden field (measured in bytes) must precede the file input field, and its value is the maximum filesize accepted. This is an advisory to the browser, PHP also checks it. Fooling this setting on the browser side is quite easy, so never rely on files with a greater size being blocked by this feature. The PHP settings for maximum-size, however, cannot be fooled. This form element should always be used as it saves users the trouble of waiting for a big file being transferred only to find that it was too big and the transfer failed.

Note: Be sure your file upload form has attribute enctype="multipart/form-data" otherwise the file upload will not work.

The global $_FILES exists as of PHP 4.1.0 (Use $HTTP_POST_FILES instead if using an earlier version). These arrays will contain all the uploaded file information.

The contents of $_FILES from the example form is as follows. Note that this assumes the use of the file upload name userfile, as used in the example script above. This can be any name.


The original name of the file on the client machine.


The mime type of the file, if the browser provided this information. An example would be "image/gif".


The size, in bytes, of the uploaded file.


The temporary filename of the file in which the uploaded file was stored on the server.


The error code associated with this file upload. This element was added in PHP 4.2.0

Files will, by default be stored in the server's default temporary directory, unless another location has been given with the upload_tmp_dir directive in php.ini. The server's default directory can be changed by setting the environment variable TMPDIR in the environment in which PHP runs. Setting it using putenv() from within a PHP script will not work. This environment variable can also be used to make sure that other operations are working on uploaded files, as well.

Example 38-2. Validating file uploads

See also the function entries for is_uploaded_file() and move_uploaded_file() for further information. The following example will process the file upload that came from a form.

// In PHP versions earlier than 4.1.0, $HTTP_POST_FILES should be used instead
// of $_FILES.

$uploaddir = '/var/www/uploads/';
$uploadfile = $uploaddir . basename($_FILES['userfile']['name']);

if (
move_uploaded_file($_FILES['userfile']['tmp_name'], $uploadfile)) {
"File is valid, and was successfully uploaded.\n";
} else {
"Possible file upload attack!\n";

'Here is some more debugging info:';



The PHP script which receives the uploaded file should implement whatever logic is necessary for determining what should be done with the uploaded file. You can, for example, use the $_FILES['userfile']['size'] variable to throw away any files that are either too small or too big. You could use the $_FILES['userfile']['type'] variable to throw away any files that didn't match a certain type criteria. As of PHP 4.2.0, you could use $_FILES['userfile']['error'] and plan your logic according to the error codes. Whatever the logic, you should either delete the file from the temporary directory or move it elsewhere.

If no file is selected for upload in your form, PHP will return $_FILES['userfile']['size'] as 0, and $_FILES['userfile']['tmp_name'] as none.

The file will be deleted from the temporary directory at the end of the request if it has not been moved away or renamed.

Example 38-3. Uploading array of files

PHP supports HTML array feature even with files.

<form action="" method="post" enctype="multipart/form-data">
<input type="file" name="pictures[]" />
<input type="file" name="pictures[]" />
<input type="file" name="pictures[]" />
<input type="submit" value="Send" />
foreach ($_FILES["pictures"]["error"] as $key => $error) {
    if (
$error == UPLOAD_ERR_OK) {
$tmp_name = $_FILES["pictures"]["tmp_name"][$key];
$name = $_FILES["pictures"]["name"][$key];
move_uploaded_file($tmp_name, "data/$name");