PHP Manual

Processing ajax POST requests in PHP

01. 11. 2019

While developing ajax Vue.js applications, after years I finally found out how to use ajax in PHP and how to receive data by POST method.

The superglobal variable $_POST is only available for forms

In PHP, the superglobal variable $_POST is commonly available to hold the submitted data from a form.

It is relatively easy to use.

On the HTML side, you need to create a form:

<form action="process.php" method="post">
Name: <input type="text" name="username">
<input type="submit" value="Submit">

And then in the process.php file, the values can be accessed as array elements:

echo htmlspecialchars($_POST['username'] ?? '');


With this simple approach, everyone might feel that the data sent by POST is automatically defined as the indexes of the array in the $_POST variable. But this is not true!

In fact, the reason why data sent from a form using the POST method is written to the $_POST variable is because the browser automatically sends the HTTP header 'Content-Type': 'application/x-www-form-urlencoded' when the HTML form is submitted.

Without a properly set header, the values simply cannot be accessed and we have to use a trick solution.

Sending data by ajax

When trying to send data using ajax, we need to change the approach a bit on the PHP side. You can read the discussion on Facebook for details.

In javascript, for example, you can use the axios library to send data using ajax. To use it easily, just link javascript from the CDN server and use it straight away:

<script src=""></script>
<script>'/api/form-process', {
username: 'user name'
.then(response => {
// Processing the response from the API
alert(; // Throws a message

In this simple case, the URL '/api/form-process' is called using ajax and the POST method passes the object { username: 'User name' }. The library itself already handles the logistics of passing the data automatically, so it is sent serialized as Json. In frontend developer parlance, this is called json payload.

On the PHP side, I would expect to use it as a form (after all, it was a POST method):

echo htmlspecialchars($_POST['username'] ?? '');

But in fact, in this case the $_POST field will be empty and no data will be passed. The $_POST variable is only used for data retrieved from forms (you can tell by the HTTP header we didn't throw away).

So in this case we need to get the data directly from the HTTP request, the trick solution is used for that. It is then easy to use:

$data = json_decode(file_get_contents('php://input'), true);
echo htmlspecialchars($data['username'] ?? '');
header('Content-Type: application/json');
echo json_encode([
'message' => 'Server bug',

As part of the example, I also provide a simple javascript response. The important thing is to properly throw the HTTP header 'Content-Type: application/json' and exit the script after all data has been sent.

Enforcing the use of $_POST

If you still want to treat the submitted data directly as a form, there is a way to transfer it. In this case, you need to modify the creation of the ajax query itself and pass the HTTP headers correctly:
username: 'User name'
headers: { 'content-type': 'application/x-www-form-urlencoded'}
).then(response => {
// Some processing

In this case, however, the processing on the PHP side will not be pleasant, because we still have to correct the data and convert it to an array.

I managed to come up with this horror for that:

if (\count($_POST) === 1
&& preg_match('/^{.*}$/', $post = array_keys($_POST)[0])
&& ($json = json_decode($post)) instanceof \stdClass
) {
foreach ($json as $key => $value) {
$_POST[$key] = $value;
echo htmlspecialchars($_POST['username'] ?? '');

However, it is much better to stay with the first access and get the data using the 'php://input' method.

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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