Filter input using zend-filter

When securing your website, the mantra is "Filter input, escape output." We previously covered escaping output with our post on zend-escaper. We're now going to turn to filtering input.

Filtering input is rather complex, and spans a number of practices:

  • Filtering/normalizing input. As an example, your web page may have a form that allows submitting a credit card number. These have a variety of formats that may include spaces or dashes or dots — but the only characters that are of importance are the digits. As such, you will want to normalize such input to strip out the unwanted characters.
  • Validating input. Once you have done such normalization, you can then check to see that the data is actually valid for its context. This may include one or more rules. Using our credit card example, you might first check it is of an appropriate length, and then verify that it begins with a known vendor digit, and only after those pass, validate the number against a online service.

For now, we're going to look at the first item, filtering and normalizing input, using the component zend-filter.


To install zend-filter, use Composer:

$ composer require zendframework/zend-filter

Currently, the only required dependency is zend-stdlib. However, a few other components are suggested, based on which filters and/or featurse you may want to use:

  • zendframework/zend-servicemanager is used by the FilterChain component for looking up filters by their short name (versus fully qualified class name).
  • zendframework/zend-crypt is used by the encryption and decryption filters.
  • zendframework/zend-uri is used by the UriNormalize filter.
  • zendframework/zend-i18n is used by several filters that provide internationalization features.

For our examples, we'll be using the FilterChain functionality, so we will also want to install zend-servicemanager:

$ composer require zendframework/zend-servicemanager


Filters can be one of two things: a callable that accepts a single argument (the value to filter), or an instance of Zend\Filter\FilterInterface:

namespace Zend\Filter;

interface FilterInterface
    public function filter($value);

The value can be literally anything, and the filter can return anything itself. Generally speaking, if a filter cannot operate on the value, it is expected to return it verbatim.

zend-filter provides a few dozen filters for common operations, including things like:

  • Normalizing strings, integers, etc. to their corresponding boolean values.
  • Normalizing strings representing integers to integer values.
  • Normalizing empty values to null values.
  • Normalizing input sets representing date and/or time selections from forms to DateTime instances.
  • Normalizing URI values.
  • Comparing values to whitelists and blacklists.
  • Trimming whitespace, stripping newlines, and removing HTML tags or entities.
  • Upper and lower casing words.
  • Stripping everything but digits.
  • Performing PCRE regexp replacements.
  • Word inflection (camel-case to underscores and vice versa, etc.).
  • Decrypting and encrypting file contents, as well as casting file contents to lower or upper case.
  • Compressing and decompressing values.
  • Decrypting and encrypting values.

Any of these may be used by themselves. However, in most cases, if that's all you're doing, you might as well just do the functionality inline. So, what's the benefit of zend-filter?

Chaining filters!


When we get input from the web, it generally comes as strings, and is the result of user input. As such, we often get a lot of garbage: extra spaces, unnecessary newlines, HTML characters, etc.

When filtering such input, we might want to perform several operations:

$value = $request->getParsedBody()['phone'] ?? '';
$value = trim($value);
$value = preg_replace("/[^\n\r]/", '', $value);
$value = preg_replace('/[^\d]/', '', $value);

We then need to test our code to ensure that we're filtering correctly. Additionally, if at any point we fail to re-assign, we may lose the changes we were performing!

With zend-filter, we can instead use a FilterChain. The above example becomes:

use Zend\Filter\FilterChain;

$filter = new FilterChain();
// attachByName uses the class name, minus the namespace, and 
$value = $filter->filter($request->getParsedBody()['phone'] ?? '');

Here's another example: let's say we have configuration keys that are in snake_case_format, and which may be read from a file, and we wish to convert those values to CamelCase.

use Zend\Filter;

$filter = new Filter\FilterChain();
// attach lets you provide the instance you wish to use; this will work
// even without zend-servicemanager installed.
$filter->attach(new Filter\StringTrim());
$filter->attach(new Filter\StripNewlines()); // because we may have \r characters
$filter->attach(new Filter\Word\UnderscoreToCamelCase());

$configKeys = array_map([$filter, 'filter'], explode("\n", $fileContents));

This new example demonstrates a key feature of a FilterChain: you can re-use it! Instead of having to put the code for normalizing the values within an array_map callback, we can instead directly use our already configured FilterChain, invoking it once for each value!

Wrapping up

zend-filter can be a powerful tool in your arsenal for dealing with user input. Paired with good validation, you can protect your application from malicious or malformed input.

In the next post, we'll discuss zend-validation!

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Want to learn more about Expressive and Zend Framework? What better location than ZendCon 2017! ZendCon will be hosted 23-26 October 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Visit the ZendCon website for more information.



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