Sessions - server cookies in PHP

06. 11. 2019

Obsah článku

Often we need to store more information in cookies, but the maximum limit for cookies is 4 kB, which is not much. Sessions solves this problem by storing the data on the web server, and only stores a short identifier in the client's browser to tell which data belongs to which client.

Starting a session

Before doing any work with sessions, we must first start them. This is done by calling the session_start() function right at the beginning of the script:


Strong warning: no output to HTML code must be executed before calling the session_start() function!

Session security

The content of the session is stored on the server and only the identifier is sent to the client browser, so the user has no way of knowing what is stored in the session. The only way the script can affect the user is by deleting the identifier (whereupon the script will generate a new one).

Getting data from a session

All sessions are stored in the superglobal variable $_SESSION and can be traversed as an array.

For example, the name of the currently logged in user can be retrieved by writing:

echo $_SESSION['user'];

Note: Session may not always exist (for example, if it is a new user). Therefore, before any listing, we should always check for existence and offer an alternative error message if necessary.

if (isset($_SESSION['user']) && $_SESSION['user']) {
echo 'Logged in user: ' . $_SESSION['user'];
} else {
echo 'No one is logged in.';

Saving data to the session

Saving is done as a simple saving of data into a variable:

$_SESSION['user'] = 'Honzík';

The web server will take care of the technical aspects of storing the identifier correctly on the server and sending it to the user.

Deleting sessions

We can delete individual values separately according to the key:


Or alternatively, all available sessions:


Note: Deleting a particular session does not empty the key value, but it does completely delete the key. Therefore, an error warning will be thrown when attempting to read a non-existent key. The existence of a key can always be easily verified with the isset() function.

Maximum session validity

Each saved session has a limit on how long it will be stored on the server. PHP directly contains a cron script that periodically deletes old sessions.

The default is usually 1440 seconds, which is 24 minutes.

Increasing the value needs to be done in 2 places:

Usage in PHP:

// the server will now hold the session with a validity of up to 3600 seconds = 1 hour
ini_set('session.gc_maxlifetime', '3600');
// all clients (browsers) will be
// a session with a validity of exactly 3600 seconds will be sent
session_start(); // we can start the session!

Jan Barášek   Více o autorovi

Autor článku pracuje jako seniorní vývojář a software architekt v Praze. Navrhuje a spravuje velké webové aplikace, které znáte a používáte. Od roku 2009 nabral bohaté zkušenosti, které tímto webem předává dál.

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