Best Practices for Error Handling in PHP

Last updated 23-07-23 04:50


In the world of web development, PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) has emerged as one of the most popular and versatile server-side scripting languages. However, like any other programming language, PHP is not immune to errors and bugs. Proper error handling is essential to ensure smooth functioning, maintainability, and security of PHP applications. In this article, we will explore some best practices for error handling in PHP, helping developers create robust and error-free code.

1. Understanding PHP Errors

Before delving into the best practices, let's gain a basic understanding of the types of errors that can occur in PHP:

Syntax Errors

Syntax errors occur when the code violates the rules and grammar of the PHP language. These errors are detected during the parsing phase and must be fixed before executing the script.

if (condition)
    echo "Hello, World!";

Fatal Errors

Fatal errors halt the script's execution and occur due to critical issues, such as calling an undefined function or class. They must be addressed immediately to avoid application crashes.

require_once 'nonexistent_file.php';


Warnings are non-fatal errors that don't stop script execution but indicate potential issues in the code. Ignoring warnings can lead to unexpected behavior.

$number = "five";
echo $number + 2;


Notices are informational messages that don't affect the script's execution. They often arise from uninitialized variables or accessing undefined array indices.

$names = array("Alice", "Bob", "Charlie");
echo $names[3]; // Notice: Undefined offset 3

2. Displaying Errors Properly

When developing PHP applications, it's crucial to set the appropriate error reporting level and display errors in a controlled manner:

Use "error_reporting" Function

Set the error_reporting level to "E_ALL" during development to catch all types of errors. However, on production servers, switch to "E_ALL & ~E_NOTICE" to hide sensitive information from potential attackers.

// Development environment

// Production environment
error_reporting(E_ALL & ~E_NOTICE);

Configure "display_errors" Directive

In the development environment, enable the "display_errors" directive in the PHP configuration to view errors directly on the screen. In production, turn it off to prevent sensitive information disclosure to users.

// Development environment
ini_set('display_errors', 1);

// Production environment
ini_set('display_errors', 0);

3. Logging Errors

While displaying errors during development is helpful, logging errors is crucial for identifying issues on live websites and addressing them proactively:

Utilize "error_log" Function

Use the "error_log" function to record errors in a designated log file. This allows developers to analyze errors without interrupting the user experience.

// Log error to a file
$error_message = "Undefined variable: counter";
error_log($error_message, 3, "error_log.txt");

Implement Rotating Logs

To manage disk space efficiently, implement log rotation. Regularly archive and purge older log files to prevent the log directory from becoming unwieldy.

// Example of log rotation with Cron job (Linux)
0 0 * * * mv error_log.txt error_log.txt.1

4. Graceful Error Handling

An application should handle errors gracefully without revealing sensitive information to users:

Custom Error Handler

Create a custom error handler using the "set_error_handler" function to handle errors uniformly throughout the application. This ensures a consistent approach to error reporting.

// Custom error handler function
function customErrorHandler($errno, $errstr, $errfile, $errline) {
    // Log the error
    error_log("Error: [$errno] $errstr in $errfile on line $errline", 0);
    // Display a user-friendly message
    echo "Oops! Something went wrong. Please try again later.";

// Set the custom error handler

Friendly Error Messages

Avoid displaying raw error messages to end-users as they might expose sensitive system details. Instead, provide user-friendly error messages that guide users in resolving the issue.

// Example of a user-friendly error message
try {
    // Code that may cause an exception
} catch (Exception $e) {
    echo "We apologize, but an error occurred. Our team has been notified.";

5. Exception Handling

Exception handling provides a structured approach to deal with errors and exceptions in PHP applications:

Try-Catch Blocks

Enclose the risky code inside a "try" block, and catch exceptions in the "catch" block. This allows developers to gracefully handle errors without crashing the application.

try {
    // Code that may cause an exception
} catch (Exception $e) {
    // Handle the exception
    echo "An error occurred: " . $e->getMessage();

Custom Exception Classes

Create custom exception classes that extend the core "Exception" class. This enables developers to differentiate between different types of exceptions and handle them accordingly.

// Custom exception class
class CustomException extends Exception {
    public function __construct($message, $code = 0, Throwable $previous = null) {
        parent::__construct($message, $code, $previous);

// Example of using custom exception
try {
    // Code that may cause a custom exception
    throw new CustomException("This is a custom exception.");
} catch (CustomException $e) {
    echo "Custom exception caught: " . $e->getMessage();

6. Error Reporting and Monitoring

To maintain a healthy PHP application, continuous error reporting and monitoring are essential:

Set Up Error Reporting System

Implement an error reporting system that notifies developers about critical errors via email, Slack, or other communication channels. This helps in prompt issue resolution.

// Send error notification via email
$error_message = "Critical error occurred in the application.";
$to = "";
$subject = "Error Report";
$headers = "From:";
mail($to, $subject, $error_message, $headers);

Monitor Server Logs

Regularly monitor server logs to detect potential issues that might not be evident during normal error reporting. Tools like Logstash and Splunk can assist in centralizing log monitoring.


In conclusion, error handling is a critical aspect of PHP application development. By following best practices like displaying errors properly, logging errors, graceful error handling, and implementing exception handling, developers can create more robust and secure PHP applications. Continuous error reporting and monitoring ensure that potential issues are promptly addressed, leading to an improved user experience and increased overall application reliability.

5 Unique FAQs

1. How do I enable error reporting in PHP?

To enable error reporting in PHP, use the "error_reporting" function and set the error level to "E_ALL" during development. For production servers, use "E_ALL & ~E_NOTICE" to hide sensitive information.

2. Why should I use custom exception classes?

Using custom exception classes allows you to categorize and handle exceptions more effectively. You can create specific exception types for different scenarios, making error handling more precise.

3. What is the significance of log rotation?

Log rotation is essential to manage disk space efficiently. It involves archiving and purging older log files, preventing the log directory from becoming overly cluttered.

4. Can I display error messages to users?

While displaying errors during development is acceptable, it's crucial to avoid revealing sensitive information to end-users. Provide friendly error messages that guide users without exposing system details.

5. How can I set up an error reporting system?

To set up an error reporting system, you can use tools or services that send notifications about critical errors via email, Slack, or other communication channels. This ensures prompt issue resolution and minimizes downtime.

Suggested mock test