How to Keep Form Data After Submit and Refresh Using PHP

by Radu

Whenever a user adds some invalid data to a form and submits it, the page will have to refresh to show the errors, in case you don’t use JavaScript or something like that.

The bad news is that the input data will disappear, which can be very annoying, especially if the form has many fields.

Luckily, there are two simple methods that you can use.

1. Keep Form Data on Refresh Using the PHP Ternary Operator

The ternary operator is a shorter and more practical version of the standard if/else statement.

It’s used like this:

<?php $a ? $b : $c;

This translates into something like this:

    if ($a) {
        // do $b
    } else {
    // do $c

So, to use this in a form to remember the data after the user presses submit and the page refreshes, you’ll have to add this in the value="" attribute of the input:

<?php echo isset($_POST['name']) ? htmlspecialchars($_POST['name'], ENT_QUOTES) : ''; ?>

You should wrap the output in htmlspecialchars() for security.

So, the input HTML tag should look like this:

<input name="name" type="text" value="<?php echo isset($_POST['name']) ? htmlspecialchars($_POST['name'], ENT_QUOTES) : ''; ?>">

What this does is to display the data in the name field if it’s set (added by the user). Otherwise, leave it empty.

2. Keep the Form Data on Refresh with the PHP Null Coalescing Operator

In PHP 7, the null coalescing operator was introduced, which is equivalent to the ternary operator, but shorter.


<?php echo $_POST['name'] ?? ''; ?>

is equivalent to this:

<?php echo isset($_POST['name']) ? $_POST['name'] : ''; ?>

So, to keep the input data on submit and refresh, use it in the value="" attribute, like this:

<input type="text" name="name" value="<?php echo $_POST['name'] ?? ''; ?>">

But, again, you should use htmlspecialchars() for security.

<input type="text" name="name" value="<?php echo htmlspecialchars($_POST['name'] ?? '', ENT_QUOTES); ?>">

Note that you have to add the operator inside the htmlspecialchars() function. Otherwise, you’ll get an “Undefined index” error.

You Can’t Always Make Use of the HTML Value Attribute

There are cases where you can’t use the value="" attribute to add a ternary or coalescing operator. So, you need to get more creative.

Let’s take the <select> HTML tag as an example, where you’ll have to use the values for $_POST.

To keep the data on refresh in a <select> tag with PHP, you can make use of the selected HTML attribute, which makes an <option> to be selected by default.

So, you’ll have to add something like this in the <option> tag:

<?php echo (isset($_POST['select']) && $_POST['select'] === 'option1') ? 'selected' : ''; ?>

If <select> has a value, and if it’s equal to the <option> value, then echo selected, otherwise, don’t echo anything.

Here’s the whole part :

<select name="select" id="">
    <option value="">Select</option>
    <option value="option1" <?php echo (isset($_POST['select']) && $_POST['select'] === 'option1') ? 'selected' : ''; ?>>Option 1</option>
    <option value="option2" <?php echo (isset($_POST['select']) && $_POST['select'] === 'option2') ? 'selected' : ''; ?>>Option 2</option>

Careful with <textarea>.

Unlike inputs, <textarea> has an ending tag: </textarea>.

So, you need to put the PHP operator between the tags, not inside.

<textarea name="message">   
    <?php echo isset($_POST['message']) ? htmlspecialchars($_POST['message'], ENT_QUOTES) : ''; ?>    

I made this mistake, of course. 😃

This Won’t Work for The File Input

The above methods won’t work for the File input, for security reasons.

And I’m not aware of any other workaround with PHP. Perhaps with some Javascript.

So, the users will have to upload the file again if the page refreshes but the form isn’t submitted successfully.

That’s a Wrap

I hope you found the post useful and comprehensive!

If some info is outdated or incorrect, or you have anything to add, say or ask, please contact me via Twitter or email.

About Radu

I've been working online, from home, for over 9 years. I learned a lot of different stuff related to websites. My main expertise is WordPress, but for some time, I started focusing more on web development.