The mod_rewrite and the magic of rewriting the URL (first part)

In this article, we’ll see the basics of a wide spread and useful technique, so called  l’url rewrite. It deals with one of the Apache’s functionality made possible with the module  mod_rewrite, implementable and configurable through our old friend: the files: .htaccess. The major benefit in rewriting the  url  is a better indexation from the search engines. It seems in fact that the  spider are disturbed by the query string (?id=34&type=5&mod=user), particularly if they pass many parameters.

Are you ready to enter in this mysterious and interesting field of the web?

How can we translate the url ?

Let’s consider that in our site, the page products.php shows a product in base of the id passed through the url. .

This page shows the details of the product saved in the database with id=79.
with a simple rule, we can rewrite the url in this way:

All we have to do is say to Apache:
when you find in the url product  followed by a dash followed by a number followed by  .html, ask for the product page.php?id=thatNumber

As you have hinted, we need  to work with the regular expressions. If you are new at this, don’t worry. Giustino wrote an excellent guide concerning this matter.

How to declare a rule?

The general model to declare a rewrite rule is the following:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteRule what-i-think-to-find-in-url-bar    how-i-have-to-translate-what-i-find

First of all, the motor of the mod rewrite gets initialized  with the statement RewriteEngine On.
Afterwards, the rule (or the rules) get declared.

But let’s pass to the practice and implement what said in the previous paragraph.
We begin with writing the page products.php that we will simply create like this:

echo 'This page display the product number ' . $_GET['id'];

This will be enough to verify the correct functioning of our rule.

Now let’s see the file .htaccess  that has to be saved in the same (or superior level) folder of the file products.php.

RewriteEngine On
RewriteRule ^product-([0-9]+)\.html$ products.php?id=$1

All that this rule says is exactly want we have seen previously:  When  you find in the url something that begins with (^ means beginning of the string) product followed by a dash followed by one or  more digit number (+ means one or more) and ends ($ means the end of the string) with .html, ask for the page products.php?id=thatNumber

$1 refers to what has been found from the first (in this case only one) substring.

Now  setting as  url:

You should visualize on the video the phrase:

“This page shows the product number 34.”

An example with two parameters

Now if we suppose that our page products.php depends on two parameters: the id and the category of the product. The original URL could be this:

While rewritten may have this aspect:

So, let’s see a possible rule and then comment it:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteRule ^([a-z]+)/product-([0-9]+)\.html$ products.php?category=$1&id=$2

What does this rule say?

If you find a string that begins with one or more characters followed by /  followed by  product followed by a dash followed by one or more digit number followed by .html, ask for the page products.php?category=theOneThatYouFoundInTheFirstSubstring=theOnethatYouFoundInTheSecondSubstring

We modify the file products.php so that we can verify also the functioning  of this second example in this way:

echo 'This page display the product number ' . $_GET['id'] . ' of the category ' . $_GET['category'];

Now typing the url:

You’ll visualize on the video the following phrase:

“This page shows the product number 12 belonging to the beverage category.”


In this article we’ve seen the bases of the url rewrite. You realized how important it is a good knowledge of the regular expressions in order to master this technique. In the next article, we’ll see a very practical application  in the SEO field,  that is  a rewrite similar to the one that implements wordpress with the permalink .

And you, do you have some  url rewrite samples to show?


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The Author

Maurizio is married to the triad PHP - MySql - Apache and, not enough, he has a lover called jQuery. He has a blog where he tries to describe in detail all of "his lovers". His real specialty is the realization of large business application, altough he never refuses the commitment of a website.

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