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Professional Ajax
by Nicholas C. Zakas, Jeremy McPeak, Joe Fawcett
March 2007, Paperback

Building the Server-side Validation

The server-side functionality is stored in a file named ValidateForm.php. This file expects a name-value pair to be passed in the query string. The name should be the name of the control whose value is being checked, and the value should be the value of that control. Depending on the name of the control, this page runs the appropriate validation tests on the value. Then, it outputs a simple string in the following format:

<true|false>||<error message>

The first part of this string indicates whether the value is valid (true if it is; false if not). The second part, after the double pipes (||), is an error message that is provided only when the value is invalid. Here are a couple of examples of what the returned string might look like:

false||Invalid date.

The first line represents a valid value; the second represents an invalid date. The code that does the validation is as follows:

    $valid = "false";
    $message = "An unknown error occurred.";

    if (isset($_GET["txtUsername"])) {
        //load array of usernames
        $usernames = array();
        $usernames[] = "SuperBlue";
        $usernames[] = "Ninja123";
        $usernames[] = "Daisy1724";
        $usernames[] = "NatPack";
        //check usernames
        if (in_array($_GET["txtUsername"], $usernames)) {
            $message = "This username already exists.
			 Please choose another.";
        } else if (strlen($_GET["txtUsername"]) < 8) {
            $message = "Username must be at least 8 characters long.";
        } else {
            $valid = "true";
            $message = "";
    } else if (isset($_GET["txtBirthday"])) {
        $date = strtotime($_GET["txtBirthday"]);
        if ($date < 0) {
            $message = "This is not a valid date.";
        } else {
            $valid = "true";
            $message = "";
    } else if (isset($_GET["txtEmail"])) {
           $_GET["txtEmail"])) {
            $message = "This e-mail address is not valid";
        } else {
            $valid = "true";
            $message = "";

    echo "$valid||$message"; ?>

In this file, the first step is to determine which field to validate. This is done using the isset() function to test the $_GET array for a value. If there is a value for a particular field, then the validation commences. For the user name, the value is checked to see if it already exists in an array of user names and then checked to ensure that it is at least eight characters long. The birthday is passed directly into PHP's built-in strtotime() function, which converts a date string in any number of U.S. formats into a UNIX timestamp (the number of seconds since January 1, 1970). If there is an error, this function returns -1, indicating that the string passed in was not a valid date. The e-mail address is checked against a regular expression to ensure that it is in the correct format. This regular expression was devised by John Coggeshall in his article, "E-mail validation with PHP 4," available online at www.zend.com/zend/spotlight/ev12apr.php.

Note that the user names in this example are stored in a simple array and hard-coded into the page. In an actual implementation, the user names should be stored in a database and the database should be queried to determine whether the user name already exists.

The $valid and $message variables are initialized to false and An unknown error occurred. This ensures that if the file is used incorrectly (passing in an unrecognized field name, for example), a negative validation will always be returned. When a positive validation occurs, however, this requires that both variables be reset to appropriate values (true for $valid, an empty string for $message). In the case of a negative validation, only the $message variable has to be set since $valid is already false. The very last step in this page is to output the response string in the format mentioned previously.