How can I get useful error messages in PHP?

Quite often when running a PHP script, you may encounter a common issue - a blank screen with no error message. This can be frustrating and time-consuming to troubleshoot, especially if you're not sure where the error lies. Fortunately, there are ways to enable and display useful error messages in PHP, making it easier to identify and fix issues in your code.

1. Displaying Errors

By default, PHP is configured to not display any error messages to the browser. However, you can override this behavior by modifying the configuration settings in the php.ini file or using runtime configuration options.

To enable error reporting and display errors on the screen, you can use the following code snippet:

ini_set('display_errors', 1);

The ini_set('display_errors', 1); function sets the display_errors directive to On, which allows PHP to display error messages. The error_reporting(E_ALL); function sets the error reporting level to include all errors, warnings, and notices.

2. Logging Errors

In addition to displaying errors on the screen, it's also important to log errors for future reference. This can be done by configuring the error logging settings in the php.ini file or using runtime configuration options.

To log errors to a file, you can use the following code snippet:

ini_set('log_errors', 1);
ini_set('error_log', '/path/to/error.log');

The ini_set('log_errors', 1); function sets the log_errors directive to On, which enables error logging. The ini_set('error_log', '/path/to/error.log'); function specifies the path to the error log file.

3. Error Reporting Levels

PHP provides different error reporting levels that allow you to control which errors are displayed or logged. The most commonly used error reporting levels include:

  • E_ERROR - Fatal errors that halt script execution.
  • E_WARNING - Non-fatal errors that may cause unexpected behavior.
  • E_NOTICE - Warnings about potential issues in the code.
  • E_PARSE - Compile-time parse errors.
  • E_ALL - All errors and warnings, including strict type errors.

You can set the error reporting level in the php.ini file or using the error_reporting() function. For example, to display all errors and warnings, you can use the following code snippet:

ini_set('display_errors', 1);

4. Handling Exceptions

In addition to standard PHP errors, you can also catch and handle exceptions in your code. Exceptions provide a structured way to handle errors and abnormal conditions that may occur during script execution.

To handle exceptions, you can use the try, catch, and finally keywords. Here's an example:

try {
    // Code that may throw an exception
    throw new Exception('An error occurred.');
} catch (Exception $e) {
    // Handle the exception
    echo 'Caught exception: ' . $e->getMessage();
} finally {
    // Cleanup code, executed regardless of whether an exception occurred or not
    echo 'Finally block executed.';

In this example, the code within the try block may throw an exception. If an exception is thrown, it will be caught by the catch block, where you can handle the exception. The finally block is always executed, regardless of whether an exception occurred or not.

5. Debugging Tools

In addition to enabling error reporting and logging, there are various debugging tools available that can help you identify and fix errors in your PHP code. Some popular debugging tools include:

  • Xdebug - A feature-rich PHP extension that provides stack traces, profiling information, and code coverage analysis.
  • PHP Debug Bar - A debug toolbar that integrates with your web browser and provides helpful information about your PHP code.
  • PHPUnit - A unit testing framework for PHP that includes assertions, test cases, and other tools for debugging code.

These tools can be installed and configured based on your specific needs and preferences. They can significantly improve your debugging workflow and make it easier to identify and resolve errors in your PHP code.


Getting useful error messages in PHP is essential for efficient debugging and troubleshooting. By enabling error reporting, logging errors, setting the error reporting level, handling exceptions, and using debugging tools, you can quickly identify and fix issues in your PHP code. Remember to always test your code thoroughly and validate inputs to minimize the occurrence of errors.