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Web Designer's Notebook

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Design Trends April 26th, 2010
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PHP Basics: Playing With Strings

PHP Basics Strings This tutorial is for PHP beginners wanting to learn some basic functions in PHP. Its focus is on functions used to manipulate and display strings. The tutorial explains how to extract substrings from longer strings, replace substrings within a string and explode a string into an array, as well as other things. The structure of the tutorial explains each function, shows a working example and then suggests practical ways in which to use them.

Sub strings


substr() is used to remove or grab sections of a string. If your string is “Use the force Luke” and you just want to grab the word “force” then substr() is what you need.

substr(string, begin, end);
// string is your original string, in this case 'Use the force Luke'.
// begin is the starting character index.
// end is the number of characters to grab.
// The character at the start of the original string is index 0, so the f of force would be character index 8.

echo substr('Use the force Luke', 8, 5);
// Prints out - force
echo substr('Use the force Luke', 4);
// Prints out - the force Luke
echo substr('Use the force Luke', -4, 4);
// Prints out - Luke


substr_replace is very similar to substr(), but you don't just remove a section of string you replace it with something else.

substr(string, replacement, begin, end);

echo substr_replace('Use the force Luke', 'lightsaber', 8, 5);
// Prints out - Use the lightsaber Luke


strlen() tells you how many characters are in a string.


echo strlen('Use the force Luke');
// Prints out - 18

Practical Examples

Character Limit of 20 on a string:
$string = 'I have got a bad feeling about this.';
$string = substr($string, 0, 20);
echo $string;
// Prints out - I have got a bad fee

Remove Last 3 characters of a string:
$string = 'I have got a bad feeling about this.';
$string = substr($string, 0, strlen($string) - 3);
echo $string;
// Prints out - I have got a bad feeling about th

Always making a word plural (checking to see whether the last letter of a string is an 's' and if not adding one).
$string = 'parrot';
$last_letter = substr($string, -1);
if ($last_letter != 's') {
      $string = $string . 's';
echo $string;
// Prints out - parrots

note - != means 'does not equal' and a dot adds two strings together, so “hell”. “o” would be “hello”.

String Replacing


str_replace() is similar to substr_replace. With str_replace() you specify the actual string you want to remove, not the character indexes.

str_replace(substring, replacement, string, n);
// n is the number of times to replace

$string = 'Grido shot first';
echo str_replace('Grido', 'Han', $string);
// Prints out – Han shot first

Practical Examples

Getting rid of all occurrences of a bad word in a string.
$string = 'These are swear words - balls blast and bugger';
$bad_word = 'balls ';
$string = str_replace($bad_word, '', $string );
echo $string;
//Prints out - These are swear words - blast and bugger

Getting rid of the first 3 occurrences of a bad word in a string.
$count = 3;
$string = str_replace($bad_word, '', $string, $count );

Deleting swear words in a string.
$swear_words = array('bugger', 'balls', 'blast');
$string = str_replace($swear_words, '*[email protected]%', $string);

// Prints out - These are swear words - *[email protected]% *[email protected]% and *[email protected]%

note – str_replace() is a great little function but it is only practical for small sentences. For larger paragraphs you may need to look into regular expressions.

Uppercase or Lowercase


strtoupper() makes all characters in a string uppercase.


echo strtoupper('UsE thE foRce LUKe');
// Prints out – USE THE FORCE LUKE


strtolower() makes all characters in a string lowercase.


echo strtolower('UsE thE foRce LUKe');
// Prints out – use the force luke


ucwords() makes the first letter of each word in a string uppercase.


echo ucwords('use the force luke');
// Prints out – Use The Force Luke

Practical Examples

Converting a string into the title of a page. What we need to do here make a function that converts the whole string to lowercase, then capitalizes each word but not words that shouldn't be capitalized like 'and', 'of', 'the', 'or'. Lastly we need to make sure the first letter of the string is definitely a capital.

Function make_title($string) {
// make string lowercase
      $string = strtolower($string);
// capitalize all words
      $string = ucwords($string);
// replace certain words back to lowercase
      $lowercase_words = array('and ', 'the ', 'of ', 'an ', 'or ', 'a ');
      $uppercase_words = array('And ', 'The ', 'Of ', 'An ', 'Or ', 'A ');
      $string = str_replace($uppercase_words, $lowercase_words, $string);
// make sure first letter of string is a capital
      return ucfirst($string);

echo make_title('This is the title of my page');
// Prints out – This Is the Title of My Page

note – ucfirst() makes the first letter of a string capital.

Implode and Explode


explode() splits up a string into pieces and makes an array with those pieces.

explode(seperator, string);
// seperator is the character or string that will trigger a split, usually a comma or full stop.

$string = 'banana, apple, orange, strawberry, plum';
$array = explode(',', $string);
echo $array[0];
// Prints out - banana

Now, $array is an array with five values :
      [0] => banana
      [1] => apple
      [2] => orange
      [3] => stawberry
      [4] => plum


implode() does the opposite of explode(). If we use the array we made with explode() above we can convert it back to a string.

implode(seperator, array);

$string = implode(',', $array);
echo $string;
// Prints out - banana, apple, orange, strawberry, plum

Other Useful String Functions


trim() trims white space from a string.

$string = '     white space either side of this         ';
echo trim($string);
// Prints out – white space either side of this


strip_tags() strips a string of any html tags or php tags.
strip_tags(string, allowable tags);

$string = '<p>I am a p tag, </p><!-- I am a comment --><a href=”#”>I am an anchor tag, </a>';
echo strip_tags($string);
// Prints out – I am a p tag, I am an anchor tag,
echo strip_tags($string, '<p><a>');
// Prints out – <p>I am a p tag, </p><a href=”#”>I am an anchor tag, </a>


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