A string is series of characters, therefore, a character is the same as a byte. That is, there are exactly 256 different characters possible. This also implies that PHP has no native support of Unicode. See utf8_encode() and utf8_decode() for some basic Unicode functionality.

Note: It is no problem for a string to become very large. PHP imposes no boundary on the size of a string; the only limit is the available memory of the computer on which PHP is running.

Syntax

A string literal can be specified in four different ways:

  • single quoted
  • double quoted
  • heredoc syntax
  • nowdoc syntax (since PHP 5.3.0)

Single quoted

The simplest way to specify a string is to enclose it in single quotes (the character ).

To specify a literal single quote, escape it with a backslash (\). To specify a literal backslash, double it (\\). All other instances of backslash will be treated as a literal backslash: this means that the other escape sequences you might be used to, such as \r or \n, will be output literally as specified rather than having any special meaning.

Note: Unlike the double-quoted and heredoc syntaxes, variables and escape sequences for special characters will not be expanded when they occur in single quoted strings.

<?php
echo 'this is a simple string';

echo 'You can also have embedded newlines in
strings this way as it is
okay to do';

// Outputs: Arnold once said: "I'll be back"
echo 'Arnold once said: "I\'ll be back"';

// Outputs: You deleted C:\*.*?
echo 'You deleted C:\\*.*?';

// Outputs: You deleted C:\*.*?
echo 'You deleted C:\*.*?';

// Outputs: This will not expand: \n a newline
echo 'This will not expand: \n a newline';

// Outputs: Variables do not $expand $either
echo 'Variables do not $expand $either';
?>

Double quoted

If the string is enclosed in double-quotes (“), PHP will interpret more escape sequences for special characters:

Escaped characters
Sequence Meaning
\n linefeed (LF or 0x0A (10) in ASCII)
\r carriage return (CR or 0x0D (13) in ASCII)
\t horizontal tab (HT or 0x09 (9) in ASCII)
\v vertical tab (VT or 0x0B (11) in ASCII) (since PHP 5.2.5)
\f form feed (FF or 0x0C (12) in ASCII) (since PHP 5.2.5)
\\ backslash
\$ dollar sign
\” double-quote
\[0-7]{1,3} the sequence of characters matching the regular expression is a character in octal notation
\x[0-9A-Fa-f]{1,2} the sequence of characters matching the regular expression is a character in hexadecimal notation

As in single quoted strings, escaping any other character will result in the backslash being printed too. Before PHP 5.1.1, the backslash in \{$var} had not been printed.

The most important feature of double-quoted strings is the fact that variable names will be expanded. See string parsing for details.

Heredoc

A third way to delimit strings is the heredoc syntax: <<<. After this operator, an identifier is provided, then a newline. The string itself follows, and then the same identifier again to close the quotation.

The closing identifier must begin in the first column of the line. Also, the identifier must follow the same naming rules as any other label in PHP: it must contain only alphanumeric characters and underscores, and must start with a non-digit character or underscore.

WarningIt is very important to note that the line with the closing identifier must contain no other characters, except possibly a semicolon (;). That means especially that the identifier may not be indented, and there may not be any spaces or tabs before or after the semicolon. It’s also important to realize that the first character before the closing identifier must be a newline as defined by the local operating system. This is \n on UNIX systems, including Mac OS X. The closing delimiter (possibly followed by a semicolon) must also be followed by a newline.

If this rule is broken and the closing identifier is not “clean”, it will not be considered a closing identifier, and PHP will continue looking for one. If a proper closing identifier is not found before the end of the current file, a parse error will result at the last line.

Heredocs can not be used for initializing class properties. Since PHP 5.3, this limitation is valid only for heredocs containing variables.

Example #1 Invalid example

<?php
class foo {
public $bar = <<<EOT
bar
EOT;
}
?>

Heredoc text behaves just like a double-quoted string, without the double quotes. This means that quotes in a heredoc do not need to be escaped, but the escape codes listed above can still be used. Variables are expanded, but the same care must be taken when expressing complex variables inside a heredoc as with strings.

Example #2 Heredoc string quoting example

<?php
$str = <<<EOD
Example of string
spanning multiple lines
using heredoc syntax.
EOD;

/* More complex example, with variables. */
class foo
{
var $foo;
var $bar;

function foo()
{
$this->foo = 'Foo';
$this->bar = array('Bar1', 'Bar2', 'Bar3');
}
}

$foo = new foo();
$name = 'MyName';

echo <<<EOT
My name is "$name". I am printing some $foo->foo.
Now, I am printing some {$foo->bar[1]}.
This should print a capital 'A': \x41
EOT;
?>

The above example will output:

My name is "MyName". I am printing some Foo.
Now, I am printing some Bar2.
This should print a capital 'A': A

It is also possible to use the Heredoc syntax to pass data to function arguments:

Example #3 Heredoc in arguments example

<?php
var_dump(array(<<<EOD
foobar!
EOD
));
?>

As of PHP 5.3.0, it’s possible to initialize static variables and class properties/constants using the Heredoc syntax:

Example #4 Using Heredoc to initialize static values

<?php
// Static variables
function foo()
{
static $bar = <<<LABEL
Nothing in here...
LABEL;
}

// Class properties/constants
class foo
{
const BAR = <<<FOOBAR
Constant example
FOOBAR;

public $baz = <<<FOOBAR
Property example
FOOBAR;
}
?>

PHP 5.3.0 also introduces the possibility for Heredocs to use double quotes in declarings:

Example #5 Using double quotes in Heredoc

<?php
echo <<<"FOOBAR"
Hello World!
FOOBAR;
?>

Note:

Heredoc support was added in PHP 4.

Nowdoc

Nowdocs are to single-quoted strings what heredocs are to double-quoted strings. A nowdoc is specified similarly to a heredoc, but no parsing is done inside a nowdoc. The construct is ideal for embedding PHP code or other large blocks of text without the need for escaping. It shares some features in common with the SGML <![CDATA[ ]]> construct, in that it declares a block of text which is not for parsing.

A nowdoc is identified with the same <<< sequence used for heredocs, but the identifier which follows is enclosed in single quotes, e.g. <<<‘EOT’. All the rules for heredoc identifiers also apply to nowdoc identifiers, especially those regarding the appearance of the closing identifier.

Example #6 Nowdoc string quoting example

<?php
$str = <<<'EOD'
Example of string
spanning multiple lines
using nowdoc syntax.
EOD;

/* More complex example, with variables. */
class foo
{
public $foo;
public $bar;

function foo()
{
$this->foo = 'Foo';
$this->bar = array('Bar1', 'Bar2', 'Bar3');
}
}

$foo = new foo();
$name = 'MyName';

echo <<<'EOT'
My name is "$name". I am printing some $foo->foo.
Now, I am printing some {$foo->bar[1]}.
This should not print a capital 'A': \x41
EOT;
?>

The above example will output:

My name is "$name". I am printing some $foo->foo.
Now, I am printing some {$foo->bar[1]}.
This should not print a capital 'A': \x41

Note:

Unlike heredocs, nowdocs can be used in any static data context. The typical example is initializing class properties or constants:

Example #7 Static data example

<?php
class foo {
public $bar = <<<'EOT'
bar
EOT;
}
?>

Note:

Nowdoc support was added in PHP 5.3.0.

Variable parsing

When a string is specified in double quotes or with heredoc, variables are parsed within it.

There are two types of syntax: a simple one and a complex one. The simple syntax is the most common and convenient. It provides a way to embed a variable, an array value, or an object property in a string with a minimum of effort.

The complex syntax was introduced in PHP 4, and can be recognised by the curly braces surrounding the expression.

Simple syntax

If a dollar sign ($) is encountered, the parser will greedily take as many tokens as possible to form a valid variable name. Enclose the variable name in curly braces to explicitly specify the end of the name.

<?php
$juice = "apple";

echo "He drank some $juice juice.".PHP_EOL;
echo "He drank some juice made of $juices."; // Invalid. "s" is a valid character for a variable name, but the variable is $juice.
?>

The above example will output:

He drank some apple juice.
He drank some juice made of .

Similarly, an array index or an object property can be parsed. With array indices, the closing square bracket (]) marks the end of the index. The same rules apply to object properties as to simple variables.

Example #8 Simple syntax example

<?php
$juices = array("apple", "orange", "koolaid1" => "purple");

echo "He drank some $juices[0] juice.".PHP_EOL;
echo "He drank some $juices[1] juice.".PHP_EOL;
echo "He drank some juice made of $juice[0]s.".PHP_EOL; // Won't work
echo "He drank some $juices[koolaid1] juice.".PHP_EOL;

class people {
public $john = "John Smith";
public $jane = "Jane Smith";
public $robert = "Robert Paulsen";

public $smith = "Smith";
}

$people = new people();

echo "$people->john drank some $juices[0] juice.".PHP_EOL;
echo "$people->john then said hello to $people->jane.".PHP_EOL;
echo "$people->john's wife greeted $people->robert.".PHP_EOL;
echo "$people->robert greeted the two $people->smiths."; // Won't work
?>

The above example will output:

He drank some apple juice.
He drank some orange juice.
He drank some juice made of s.
He drank some purple juice.
John Smith drank some apple juice.
John Smith then said hello to Jane Smith.
John Smith's wife greeted Robert Paulsen.
Robert Paulsen greeted the two .

For anything more complex, you should use the complex syntax.

Complex (curly) syntax

This isn’t called complex because the syntax is complex, but because it allows for the use of complex expressions.

Any scalar variable, array element or object property with a string representation can be included via this syntax. Simply write the expression the same way as it would appear outside the string, and then wrap it in { and }. Since { can not be escaped, this syntax will only be recognised when the $ immediately follows the {. Use {\$ to get a literal {$. Some examples to make it clear:

<?php
// Show all errors
error_reporting(E_ALL);

$great = 'fantastic';

// Won't work, outputs: This is { fantastic}
echo "This is { $great}";

// Works, outputs: This is fantastic
echo "This is {$great}";
echo "This is ${great}";

// Works
echo "This square is {$square->width}00 centimeters broad.";

// Works, quoted keys only work using the curly brace syntax
echo "This works: {$arr['key']}";

// Works
echo "This works: {$arr[4][3]}";

// This is wrong for the same reason as $foo[bar] is wrong outside a string.
// In other words, it will still work, but only because PHP first looks for a
// constant named foo; an error of level E_NOTICE (undefined constant) will be
// thrown.
echo "This is wrong: {$arr[foo][3]}";

// Works. When using multi-dimensional arrays, always use braces around arrays
// when inside of strings
echo "This works: {$arr['foo'][3]}";

// Works.
echo "This works: " . $arr['foo'][3];

echo "This works too: {$obj->values[3]->name}";

echo "This is the value of the var named $name: {${$name}}";

echo "This is the value of the var named by the return value of getName(): {${getName()}}";

echo "This is the value of the var named by the return value of \$object->getName(): {${$object->getName()}}";

// Won't work, outputs: This is the return value of getName(): {getName()}
echo "This is the return value of getName(): {getName()}";
?>

It is also possible to access class properties using variables within strings using this syntax.

<?php
class foo {
var $bar = 'I am bar.';
}

$foo = new foo();
$bar = 'bar';
$baz = array('foo', 'bar', 'baz', 'quux');
echo "{$foo->$bar}\n";
echo "{$foo->$baz[1]}\n";
?>

The above example will output:

I am bar.
I am bar.

Note:

Functions, method calls, static class variables, and class constants inside {$} work since PHP 5. However, the value accessed will be interpreted as the name of a variable in the scope in which the string is defined. Using single curly braces ({}) will not work for accessing the return values of functions or methods or the values of class constants or static class variables.

<?php
// Show all errors.
error_reporting(E_ALL);

class beers {
const softdrink = 'rootbeer';
public static $ale = 'ipa';
}

$rootbeer = 'A & W';
$ipa = 'Alexander Keith\'s';

// This works; outputs: I'd like an A & W
echo "I'd like an {${beers::softdrink}}\n";

// This works too; outputs: I'd like an Alexander Keith's
echo "I'd like an {${beers::$ale}}\n";
?>

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