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Beginner2Beginner: Javascript multi-file upload + PHP to process it

Much as I love being a hobbyist programmer, it can sometimes be frustrating as all get-out. Sometimes it’s just a bug because I made a dumb error (getting a variable’s scope wrong) or because I made an assumption about how something works (BBedit‘s hex dump does not show you the content of the file on the disk, but of the file in memory, including the line endings it’s transformed). But then there are the frustrations that come from not having the slightest idea of the basics. The worst are the basics that are so basic that the explanations of them assume you already know more than you do.

Welcome to the world of pain known as uploading multiple files using Javascript. For example, suppose you are writing an app that lets users take notes on an article using a plain old text processor. They can then upload those note files to some code that processes them, perhaps turning them into a database. Rather than having users upload one file at a time, you want to let them upload a bunch.

There are plenty of slick, free examples on the Web that provide beautiful front ends for doing this. Many of them I could get to work, but not exactly the way that I wanted. Besides, I was really really really confused about what happened after the front end.

So, after a lot of skullpounding and forehead slapping, here’s a guide. But please take seriously this warning: I barely know what I’m doing, and I’m undoubtedly doing this in the clunkiest fashion possible. I am very likely getting important things wrong. Some of them may be fatal, at least in the programmatic sense. (If you have a correction, please let me know. Note I may fix the code that follows, rather than doing the usual — and proper — Web thing of striking through the errors, etc.) Here goes….

To enable uploads, you’ll be writing code that will live in two places. The user interface code is in the HTML running in the user’s browser. The files are going to be uploaded — copied — to a web server. The code in the browser is going to be Javascript. The code on the server is going to be PHP, because Javascript is for browsers. (Oversimplification noted.) Those two places can be physically the same machine. If you’re using a Mac, a web server comes standard; if you don’t have a web server handy, there are bunches of free ones; that’s beyond the scope of this post.

After experimenting with many of the beautiful packages that are available, I gave up and went with the HTML5 solution. Modern browsers will have no problem with this. If you need to design for the world of old-fashioned browsers, then you need to find a competent explanation. In short: I love you, but go away! (Apparently, if you use the HTML5 solution, it will still be usable in lesser browsers, although it will allow users to select only one file at a time.)

HTML5 makes it ridiculously easy to do the user interface bit: you just tell it you want to allow multiple selections within a file-chooser dialogue. This comes from a post by Tiffany Brown:

<form action="processThem.php" method="post" enctype="multipart/form-data">
<input type="file" value="" name="upload[]" multiple>
<button type="submit">Upload!</button>
</form>

This will create an input field that when clicked will launch a file-browsing dialogue box in which the user can select multiple files. It then sends it to the PHP script called “processThem.php” on your server. The two key points to note are that the first line does the work of allowing multiple choices, and the “[]” in the name turns that variable into an array that will pass the entire list of user choices to the PHP script waiting on your server.

Here’s what it looks like, although this particular example won’t actually upload anything:



Now you have to create the “processThem.php” script (or whatever name you’ve specified) on your server. The uploaded files get placed in an array called $_FILES. But, they don’t get stored on the server for long: they are stored in a temporary folder from which they are automatically deleted after a little while. So, you need to process them, and quite possibly move them for permanent storage to a folder of your choosing. Here’s some sample PHP code from an anonymous commenter (“Me”) on the Tiffany Brown post:


<?php
$error_message[0] = "Unknown problem with upload.";
$error_message[1] = "Uploaded file too large (load_max_filesize).";
$error_message[2] = "Uploaded file too large (MAX_FILE_SIZE).";
$error_message[3] = "File was only partially uploaded.";
$error_message[4] = "Choose a file to upload.";

$upload_dir  = './tmp/';
$num_files = count($_FILES['upload']['name']);

for ($i=0; $i < $num_files; $i++) {
    $upload_file = $upload_dir . urlencode(basename($_FILES['upload']['name'][$i]));

    if (!preg_match("/(gif|jpg|jpeg|png)$/",$_FILES['upload']['name'][$i])) {
        print "I asked for an image...";
    } else {
        if (@is_uploaded_file($_FILES['upload']['tmp_name'][$i])) {
            if (@move_uploaded_file($_FILES['upload']['tmp_name'][$i], 
                $upload_file)) {
                /* Great success... */
                echo "hooray";
                //$content = file_get_contents($upload_file);
                //print $content;
            } else {
                print $error_message[$_FILES['upload']['error'][$i]];
            }
        } else {
            print $error_message[$_FILES['upload']['error'][$i]];
        }    
    }
}
?>

Let’s walk through this.


$error_message[0] = "Unknown problem with upload.";
$error_message[1] = "Uploaded file too large (load_max_filesize).";
$error_message[2] = "Uploaded file too large (MAX_FILE_SIZE).";
$error_message[3] = "File was only partially uploaded.";
$error_message[4] = "Choose a file to upload.";

In the first few lines, Me does us the favor of providing non-technical explanations of possible errors, so that if something goes wrong, it will be easier to know exactly what it was.


$upload_dir  = './tmp/';

Then Me designates a particular folder as the container for the uploaded files. Me chooses one called “tmp” in the same directory as the PHP script. (Make sure you have such a folder and the permissions are set, or, of course, create one with whatever name you’d like.)


$num_files = count($_FILES['upload']['name']);

Then Me gets a count of how many files were uploaded, and stores it in the variable $num_files. You tell that variable that you want the number of files that were included in “upload[]” in the form on your HTML. (You can use whatever name you want on that form, so long as you use the same one in your PHP.)


for ($i=0; $i < $num_files; $i++) {
    $upload_file = $upload_dir . urlencode(basename($_FILES['upload']['name'][$i]));

Then Me loops through all the files, assigning each one in turn to the variable $upload_file. But notice the weirdness of this part of the line:

$upload_file = $upload_dir . urlencode(basename($_FILES['upload']['name'][$i]));

First the easy parts. The baseline function returns just a file’s name without any path information; we want that because the point of this line is build a path to where the file will be saved in the folder you’ve set up for it. Also, I added the urlencode function in case the name of the file your user uploaded contains spaces or other characters that makes your server barf.

Now consider $_FILES['upload']['name'][$i]. It’s got those weird bracketed terms because $_FILES is an associative array. You can think of the usual sort of arrays as pairing a value with a number; give the array the number and it returns the value. In an associative array, values are paired with arbitrary keys (i.e., a word); give it the key and it returns the value. Here are the pre-defined keys for the associative array that gets sent to the PHP script when a user uploads files:

  • name: The file name of the uploaded file
  • type: Is it an image? A music file? etc.
  • size: The size in bytes
  • tmp_name: The crazy-ass name of the copy being stored on the server
  • error: Any error codes resulting from the upload

So, suppose you’re cycling through the array of uploaded files as in our example, and you want to get the name of the current file (i.e., file $i in the sequence):


$fname = $_FILES['upload']['name'][$i];

The ['upload'] designates the array of all uploaded files. The [$i] pulls out of that array all of the information about one particular uploaded file, just like with ordinary array. The ['name'] gets the value associated with that key for that particular file. As $i is incremented, you get the name of each file. If you wanted the crazy-ass temporary name, you would put in tmp_name instead of name, and likewise for the other parameters.


if (!preg_match("/(gif|jpg|jpeg|png)$/",$_FILES['upload']['name'][$i])) {
        print "I asked for an image...";
    }

Next Me optionally checks the name of the uploaded file for a particular set of extensions in case you want to limit the uploads to images (as in Me’s example) or whatever. Me is using regex to do the work, a function for which I am doomed to a copy-and-paste understanding.


  if (@is_uploaded_file($_FILES['upload']['tmp_name'][$i])) {

Next Me does a check to make sure that the file was actually uploaded and is not the result of malicious code. is_uploaded_file is a built-in PHP function. The preceding “@” suppresses error messages; I don’t know why Me did that, but I’m confident it was the right thing to do. While you are debugging, you might want to take the @ out.


move_uploaded_file($_FILES['upload']['tmp_name'][$i], $upload_file)

If the file passes that test, then Me moves it to the folder s/he designated. Note that we’ve already put the pathname to the storage folder into $upload_file.

Obviously, where the script has the comment “Great Success” you would put the code that does what you want to do to the uploaded file. I have added two lines — commented out — that get and print the content of the file; that gets ugly if the file isn’t some type of text file.

So, please let me know what I’ve gotten wrong here. (And maybe sometime I’ll give you some truly embarrassing code for returning the results of the PHP on the page that has the upload form on it.)

7 Responses to “Beginner2Beginner: Javascript multi-file upload + PHP to process it”

  1. i am using cakephp 2.0.i have used your code.but it is not working.can u help me?

  2. Thanks for a well written tut! I am searching high and low for a script that is easy to understand, yours did!

    Now, suppose you have a dropdown where you can select a directory where the uploaded file will be stored on the server.

    Easy question, easy answer?

    Regards from Sweden

  3. Thanks, Sara. If I understand what you’re asking, you might try making a hidden field in the file upload form that’s on your web page. That hidden field’s value will get uploaded to the php script where you can access it via $_POST['hidden_field_name'] (substituting the actual field name, naturally).

    But, now you have to figure out how to get that hidden field’s value to reflect the choice made by the user when she fiddled with the directory pulldown. Fortunately, jquery makes that not too hard. Basically, you set your pulldown so that changing the selection causes some action to occur; in this case, the action would be to change the value of your hidden field. I believe the jquery code looks something like this:

    $(‘#pulldownID’).bind(‘change’,function(w) {
    var val = w.currentTarget.value;
    // stick val into your hidden form
    })});

    But, you have no idea how much of this I’m getting by blindly copying and pasting, so it’s almost certainly wrong.

  4. karthikeyan, sorry but I don’t know cakephp. Good luck!

  5. Thanks for the script it save my time to upload one by one and ur are the beast men… :)

  6. http://www.codetrip.info/codetrip/131/PHP/How-to-upload-multiple-file-in-php

    How to upload multiple file in php Open Above Link And Check

  7. Thank you. Saved me!

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