php

AJAX & PHP – A GET and POST Server

When we’re building modern single-page web applications, or when we’re building native mobile and desktop applications, we need an API that accepts and returns data in formats other than HTML. URL encoded data is a common format for sending data to servers, and JSON is common for sending data from a server to a client.

In this tutorial, we will send URL encoded data to an HTTP server that returns JSON data to a client.

You can view the completed code from this tutorial here: https://gist.github.com/meech-ward/f72d101c400692da703fef920355f149

AJAX and HTTP

Before reading, check out this short video on AJAX and HTTP: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDo3hBL1rfA

Basic GET

When our application needs to get some new data, maybe a new image or search result, we will create a GET request.

Let’s start with a basic example of a php script that serves some JSON. This example mimics the kanye.rest api and serves up random Kanye West Quotes.

Server kanye.php

<?php

// 1
$quotes = [
  "Pulling up in the may bike", 
  "If I don't scream, if I don't say something then no one's going to say anything.", 
  "I wish I had a friend like me", 
  "Style is genderless", 
  "Believe in your flyness...conquer your shyness.", 
  "Sometimes you have to get rid of everything"
];

$randomQuote = $quotes[array_rand($quotes)]; // 2
$data = ["quote" => $randomQuote]; // 3

// 4
header("Content-type: application/json");
echo json_encode($data);
  1. Create an array of quotes.
  2. Select a random quote from the array.
  3. Create an associative array with the random quote.
  4. Echo the quote as JSON.

If this file is named kanye.php, we can run php -S 0.0.0.0:8080 from within the directory and access the api by going to localhost:8080/kanye.php in a web browser.

The api will return a random quote as a JSON object:

{
  "quote": "Style is genderless"
}

Client

Now we need a client to display this quote.

Note:


The client-side examples in this post will all be using jQuery and $.ajax to make HTTP requests.
<script src="https://code.jquery.com/jquery-3.4.1.min.js"></script>
<script>
function updateQuote() {
  $.ajax({
    type: "GET",
    url: "kanye.php"
  }).then(data => {
    $('<p>')
      .text(data.quote)
      .appendTo(body);
  }).catch(error => {
    console.log("ERROR", error);
  });
}

$(body).on('click', updateQuote);
</script>

Every time the body is clicked, a GET request is sent to the kanye.php file which returns a new quote JSON object. We can then create a new p tag and set its text to the JSON object’s quote.

Form GET

The previous GET request was an overly simplified example. Usually, we want to specify some parameters when making a GET request. For example, when we shop on Amazon, we don’t just see random products show up—our GET request includes data about what we’re searching for.

https://www.amazon.ca/s?k=kanye+west

The k=kanye+west part of the url is the extra data that we’re sending with the get request. The server can then access this data and show relevant results.

For our quote server, we will allow a client to specify the index of a quote to be served. So if someone wanted the third quote, they could pass an index of 2 in the url like this:

http://localhost:8080/kanye.php?index=2

Server

<?php

$quotes = [
  "Pulling up in the may bike", 
  "If I don't scream, if I don't say something then no one's going to say anything.", 
  "I wish I had a friend like me", 
  "Style is genderless", 
  "Believe in your flyness...conquer your shyness.", 
  "Sometimes you have to get rid of everything"
];

if (isset($_GET['index'])) {
  $index = $_GET['index'];
} else {
  $index = array_rand($quotes);
}

$data = ["quote" => $quotes[$index]];

header("Content-type: application/json");
echo json_encode($data);

We are checking if the index parameter has been added to the URL using the $_GET superglobal. If it has been set, then we use it as the index, otherwise, we use a random index.

PHP Superglobals

For more information on PHP Superglobals, read the following post on w3schools.

https://www.w3schools.com/php/php_superglobals.asp

Client

Making a GET request with query parameters from the client could look something like this:

<form id="quoteForm">
  <input type="number" name="index">
  <input type="submit" value="Submit">
</form>
function updateQuote(data) {
  $.ajax({
    type: "GET",
    url: "kanye.php",
    data: data
  }).then(data => {
    console.log(data.quote);
  }).catch(error => {
    console.log("ERROR", error);
  });
}

$("#quoteForm").on("submit", function(event) {
  event.preventDefault();
  const data = $(this).serialize(); // index=#
  updateQuote(data);
});

Calling .serialize() on the form will url encode the data. Then we add that data to the ajax request which jQuery will send to the server in the url of the GET request.

You an see an example of the jQuery .serialize() function at the demo section on the following page: https://api.jquery.com/serialize/

GET VS POST

Read the following article that describes the differences between a GET and a POST request.

https://www.w3schools.com/tags/ref_httpmethods.asp

We use a GET request any time that we’re getting some data and we’re not making any updates to any resources on the server. A GET request is safe in that you can make as many GET requests as you want, and no resources should be modified as a consequence.

A POST request on the other hand is not safe. A POST request can create, update and delete resources. Resources are usually database entries like user accounts or posts.

POST

We wouldn’t use a POST request to get quotes from the server, but we would use a POST request to create a new quote or update existing quotes.

Let’s look at the client-side code first this time.

Client

<form id="quoteForm">
  <input type="text" name="quote">
  <input type="submit" value="Submit">
</form>
$.ajax({
  type: "POST",
  url: "kanye.php",
  data: data
}).then(data => {
  console.log(data);
}).catch(error => {
  console.log("ERROR", error);
});
}

$("#quoteForm").on("submit", function(event) {
  event.preventDefault();
  const data = $(this).serialize();
  createQuote(data);
});

We have a form that has a quote input. When the form is submitted, a POST request is made to the server that contains the quote data.

Server

// 1
if ($_SERVER['REQUEST_METHOD'] == 'POST') {

  $quote = $_POST["quote"]; // 2

  // 3
  $file = fopen("quote.txt", "w");
  fwrite($file, $quote);
  fclose($file);

  // 4
  header("Content-type: application/json");
  echo json_encode(["message" => "Successfully added quote"]);

} else if ($_SERVER['REQUEST_METHOD'] == 'GET') {
  ...
  1. Check if the request was a POST request.
  2. The server receives the quote data in the $_POST superglobal.
  3. A new text file is created with the quoted text inside of it. In this example there is no database, so a text file works for demonstration purposes.
  4. A success message is sent back to the client. A response must always be sent at the end of an HTTP request.

Note:


We are passing "quote" to the $_POST superglobal because the name of the input is quote <input type="text" name="quote">. If we changed the name of the input to something else, like pancakes,<input type="text" name="pancakes">, then we would also have to use that on the server $_POST["pancakes"]. Essentially, the server will access the form value using it’s name.

Summary

Client-side apps will make GET and POST requests to a server to get and manipulate data. Using PHP, we can create scripts that respond to these requests appropriately.

Full Code Example: https://gist.github.com/meech-ward/f72d101c400692da703fef920355f149

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