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Forms Processing with the Zend Framework

  • November 23, 2009
  • By Jason Gilmore
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One of the key reasons for the meteoric rise of the World Wide Web is that unlike television, radio, or the traditional newspaper, it offers an immediate conduit for two-way communication. Yet many Web developers, particularly those with relatively little experience, seem to place remarkably little emphasis on devising efficient methods for accepting and processing user-provided information. Much of the reason for such oversight is due to complexity; effectively validating a complex string such as an e-mail address, or ensuring that a password is of a certain length are programmatic tasks which can strain the boundaries of many beginning developers' knowledge. Additionally, developers need to understand how to effectively respond to errors which crop up in the validation process, whether it's providing the user with error-specific feedback, or repopulating the form in order to not discourage the errant user from correcting his errors and submitting the form anew.

Given the universal challenge forms processing presents to Web developers no matter the project, it's no wonder that implementing an efficient forms processing solution is often high on the priority list of most Web framework developers. The Zend Framework is no different, offering developers a powerful solution for not only validating forms data, but actually programmatically building the form HTML. In this tutorial I'll introduce you to the Zend Framework's validation feature, showing you how easy it is to not only validate user provided data with confidence, but also how to inform the user of the error should validation fail.

Introducing the Zend_Validate Component

These days most serious Web sites provide the visitor with an opportunity to become a registered user in order to access restricted material or customized content. Because the number of registered users is often directly proportional to a Web site owner's income, it's crucial for the registration step to be streamlined and convenient in order to give the visitor every incentive to complete the process. Although you should keep the required registration fields to a minimum in order to provide the user with the shortest path to completion, the validation necessary to vet the data often goes beyond merely determining whether a field was left blank. Figure 1 presents what such a registration form might look like.

A Web site registration form
Figure 1. A Web site registration form

Although consisting of just five fields, validating this form presents several challenges:

  • Name: The name field must not be blank.
  • E-mail Address: The e-mail address field must not be blank, and must contain a valid e-mail address as defined by RFC 2822.
  • Password: The password must not be blank, and must consist of at least six characters. Further, the password and confirmed password must match.
  • Terms of Service: The check box must be checked.

Using the Zend Framework's Zend_Validate component, carrying out these field validations is a trivial process. Zend_Validate offers developers an extensive suite of validation procedures capable of ensuring data meets a wide variety of specifications, such as whether a number falls within a certain range, a credit card is valid as defined by the Luhn algorithm, or a value falls within a predefined list of valid values as defined by elements within an array. These procedures are packaged within the component as a number of different classes, with each class serving a specific validation purpose. See this page of the Zend Framework manual for a complete list of what's available.

To validate the fields, first you'll invoke the Zend_Validate() class, and then add validators by passing each to the addValidator() class, like this:

$validator = new Zend_Validate_NotEmpty();

Next you'll call the isValid() method, passing in the field you'd like to validate. If the isValid() method returns FALSE, you can call the getMessages() method to retrieve a list of predefined error messages.

  if (! $validator->isValid($this->_request->getPost('name'))) {
    echo "The name is not blank";
  } else {
    foreach($validator->getMessages() as $message) {
      echo "{$message}<br />";

As I mentioned, the Zend_Validate component's capabilities go well beyond merely checking a value for existence. For instance, to validate an e-mail address, you can both ensure the value is not blank and that it meets the requirements as defined by RFC 2822 by invoking the EmailAddress class:

  $validator = new Zend_Validate_EmailAddress();
  if (! $validator->isValid($this->_request->getPost('email')) {
    echo "Please provide your e-mail address.";

Streamlining the Validator Invocation Process

Although it's possible to invoke each validation class as needed, you can use a very convenient static method named Zend_Validate::is() to streamline the invocation process. For instance, to determine whether a field is blank, you can invoke the NotEmpty class like this:

  if (! Zend_Validate::is($data['name'], 'NotEmpty')) {
    echo "Please provide your name.";

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