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How to work with PHP escape quotes

December 7th, 2023

4 min read

PHP content escaping a page, representing the PHP escape quote process

Written by

Joe Robinson

Category

Developer Insights

PHP is valuable to know about, despite its age. Why? Because PHP controls essential processes online, every day. Without an understanding of what characters PHP can and can’t parse, you can easily introduce an error into your scripts, especially if you’re just starting to learn the language. Specifically, if you want to easily escape quotes in PHP, there’s a lot to consider.

When you’re using PHP to escape quotes, there’s one key way to handle them: use the backslash “\” character. But there’s more to consider.

This article explores PHP, escape quotes, and escape characters. It covers a few methods as well as provides demos that look specifically at quotations, and makes use of the TinyMCE rich text editor.

Understanding PHP escape mechanisms

PHP escape mechanisms help to prevent syntax errors. Unexpected identifier errors in PHP, for instance, can result from mishandled characters like single or double quotes. Use a PHP escape mechanism to handle these errors. 

How it works is that an escape mechanism (also called an ‘escape sequence’) tells PHP to stop operations, and evaluate the characters differently to the established PHP syntax.

✏️NOTE: Parsing, or syntax analysis, is the process where PHP evaluates characters following the specific PHP syntax. For example, a separator character can tell a programming language when strings are intended to be split apart. That’s the purpose of escape mechanisms. If you don’t want a specific character selected and understood, they prevent the syntax analysis from happening.

Dealing with quotations

There are a few key PHP escape quote functions. These go beyond the backslash PHP escape character, and provide different ways to examine and handle your content:

1. Using addslashes(): 

While this method may sound useful, there are known SQL injection exploits available, which makes using this method something to think about carefully from a security point of view. It’s a method typically used alongside echo in PHP to automatically add the PHP escape character to a string.

2. The PHP str_replace function

This function returns a list of each instance of a single character, and allows you to replace that with an escaped character. Useful for finding and replacing multiple special characters at once.

3. JSON encode

This function is more effective for handling content that could fit into the JSON key and value structure. It creates a JSON data structure out of the content, which avoids the errors found in PHP when escaping quotes altogether.

The basics of PHP string escapes: the heredoc syntax

For PHP and escape quotes, it can be easier to wrap a string in a delimiter like the heredoc syntax. This can be useful for complex cases where you have strings with single and double quote marks at work. Here's how it works:

  1. The syntax stars with. the “<<<” operator followed by an identifier, and then a new line
  2. A second instance of the identifier closes the syntax
  3. The second instance of the identifier must appear on a new line. No other code can be on the same line as the closing heredoc identifier, otherwise PHP cannot interpret the heredoc contents
  4. The identifier itself can also be customized, although “END” is a common choice

The second of the following two sections shows how the heredoc syntax can work when adding an HTML textarea element to a demo webpage using a PHP file.

Escaping single quotes in PHP

The following demo contains an important string surrounded by single quote marks:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
<head>
    <meta charset="UTF-8">
    <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">
    <title>PHP Escape Quotes</title>
    <script  src="https://cdn.tiny.cloud/1/add-your-API-key/tinymce/6-dev/tinymce.min.js" referrerpolicy="origin"></script>
    <script>
     tinymce.init({
         selector: "#editor",
     });
    </script>
</head>
<body>

<?php
$data = '<textarea id='editor'></textarea>';

echo $data;

?>

</body>
</html>

This would create a textarea with an id of ‘editor’ on an HTML page, which TinyMCE can initialize on. But instead, there’s an error:

Parse error: syntax error, unexpected identifier "editor" in /…/index.php on line 17

Escape the single quotes around the ‘editor’ id to to resolve the error:

$data = "<textarea id='editor'></textarea>";

This is one example where in PHP, escape characters can quickly solve parsing errors. Making use of delimiters to handle quotations can be more effective, however, as the next section demonstrates.

Escaping double quotes in PHP

When escaping double quotes, the different situations and specific strings may be more complex. The following is an example of how the heredoc syntax can surround and escape double quotes in PHP. It’s based on the previous example, and is not a complex step up, but does show the efficiency of delimiters:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
<head>
    <meta charset="UTF-8">
    <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">
    <title>PHP Escape Quotes</title>
    <script  src="https://cdn.tiny.cloud/1/add-your-API-key/tinymce/6-dev/tinymce.min.js" referrerpolicy="origin"></script>
    <script>
     tinymce.init({
         selector: "#editor",
     });
    </script>
    </head>
<body>

<?php

echo <<<TEXTAREA
    <textarea id="editor"></textarea>
TEXTAREA;

?>

</body>
</html>

The delimiter as a method in PHP to escape quotes. This means avoiding having to escape each individual instance of a quote mark, making it a more effective option for more complex strings. It may not be the best option compared to fitting data into a JSON format, but it remains an effective solution.

PHP, escape quotes, and more information

The previous examples of a PHP handling escape characters and quotes are a starting point, and exploring the different options available are milestones to check in on when dealing with errors around PHP and escaping quotes, or other special characters.

If you’re interested in more information about adding components like TinyMCE to your PHP solution, check on our guide about adding TinyMCE to your PHP site. You can also contact us if you need more information or have any questions about how TinyMCE can fit into your PHP plans.

PHPConfigurationTinyMCE
byJoe Robinson

Technical and creative writer, editor, and a TinyMCE advocate. An enthusiast for teamwork, open source software projects, and baking. Can often be found puzzling over obscure history, cryptic words, and lucid writing.

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