Building a Login System in PHP

Creating a login page is a common task when building a website or web application. In PHP, there are a few simple steps to set up a basic login system.

Before “Building a Login System in PHP”, if you did not learn our previous article on PHP Scripts, you can checkout here:

Creating the Login Form with HTML

The first step when building a login system is creating an HTML form to collect the user’s credentials. This includes text inputs for the username and password fields and a submit button:

<form method="post" action="login.php">

  <label for="username">Username:</label>
  <input type="text" id="username" name="username"><br><br>

  <label for="password">Password:</label>
  <input type="password" id="password" name="password"><br><br>

  <input type="submit" value="Login">


This form POSTs the data to a PHP script that will handle the login logic.

Processing Form Data in PHP

When the form is submitted, the login.php page will process the request and validate the credentials:

// Check submitted username and password
if($_POST['username'] == 'john' && $_POST['password'] == 'password123') {

  // Successful login

} else {  

  // Invalid login
  $error = 'Invalid credentials';


The username and password are retrieved from the $_POST array. In this example they are compared against hardcoded values.

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Authenticating Users

To log a user in, we need to start a new session and store the user’s data:

$_SESSION['username'] = $username;

The session serves as proof the user has logged in successfully.

Here is an example of this PHP code which is shown by image:

Building a Login System in PHP

Starting a PHP Session

Sessions in PHP are used to persist data across page loads:


This starts the session and must be called on every page that requires login.

Restricting Access to Authenticated Users

To protect pages, we check if the session contains user data:

if(!isset($_SESSION['username'])) {
  header('location: login.php');

This redirects unauthenticated users to the login page.

Displaying Error Messages

Any login errors can be displayed back to the user:

<?php if(!empty($error)) { ?>
  <p><?php echo $error; ?></p>
<?php } ?>

Logging Out Users

To log users out, the session must be destroyed:


This clears the session data and logs them out.

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Additional Features to Consider

Some additional improvements include:

  • Storing user data in a database
  • Password encryption
  • Remember me functionality
  • Input validation and sanitization


This demonstrates how to create a simple login system in PHP using sessions and POST data. The basic logic can be extended to suit the authentication needs of any web application.

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  1. How do I store user passwords securely in PHP?

You should never store plain text passwords in your database. The best practice is to hash passwords using a cryptographic hash function like bcrypt before storing them. This converts the password into a long string of encrypted characters. When users log in, you hash the submitted password and compare it to the hash in your database.

  1. What is the best way to validate user input on a login form?

Always validate and sanitize any user input from a login form. Use PHP’s filter_input() and filter_var() functions to validate data is in the correct format. Use htmlspecialchars() to escape any special characters to prevent XSS attacks. Consider using prepared statements with PDO as well.

  1. How can I prevent brute force attacks on my login page?

Implementing rate limiting and CAPTCHAs can help prevent brute force login attempts. Limit how many requests come from a single IP address. You can also lock accounts after a certain number of incorrect password attempts.

  1. Is it better to use sessions or tokens for login authentication?

Both sessions and stateless JSON web tokens (JWT) can work for authentication. Sessions are simpler to implement directly in PHP. JWT tokens allow greater scalability and work well for APIs. Make sure to properly secure either approach against attacks like CSRF.

  1. What are some ways to maintain user login sessions?

Set an expiration time for inactive sessions using session_set_cookie_params(). Refresh the session expiration on each request. Store session data in a database if using multiple servers. Require users to re-authenticate after changing sensitive data. Follow security best practices around session management.

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