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Output While Script is Still Running
By dave

Do you have a script that takes a while to process? Wanna start outputting before the entire script finishes processing? Do you see no practicality to the questions I'm posing?

If you answered "yes" or "maybe" to this last question, then check out these links:

The first link will check your site's link popularity. Do a search on your site and you will see an intermediate "please wait..." page where stats are being continuously outputted.

This second site is Yahoo!'s flight tickets search engine. Do a quick search and you will notice how the results are being constantly updated.

This last site is my own. It's a guitar, bass, & drum search engine. It works much like the first example.

Web pages developed with PHP always load at once after the entire script has processed. So, how does one output on the fly? The trick is PHP's output buffering functions, such as ob_flush. This function will "flush" out the current output buffer instead of waiting for the script to finish.

But, knowing the existence of these functions is barely a quarter of the battle! Believe me. It took me a long time to actually get these functions to "work." The reason being is that your browser (i.e. Internet Explorer) has its own buffer that needs to be filled. So, if your script flushes the output buffer but the browser's buffer isn't yet filled, nothing will be displayed!

The trick is to fillup the browser's buffer whenever you want to output. The following example, a PHP pre-loader, will illustrate this example.
for($i=0; $i<8; $i++) {
    echo "<span style='width:8px; background:blue'> </span>";
    for($k = 0; $k < 40000; $k++)
        echo ' '; // extra spaces to fill up browser buffer

First, I called ob_implicit_flush to turn implicit flush on. This function will flush the output buffer automatically everytime something is echoed. The FOR loop will print out 8 blue bars, one at a time. The inner FOR loop prints out 40,000 empty spaces to fill up the browser's buffer.

  • If you use ob_flush, you must call flush afterwards. Order matters!

  • Avoid creating HTML tables. If an HTML table is not closed, whatever's inside will NOT be outputted.
Other Related Functions:

Alright, that's a wrap. I hope this tutorial has saved you time & headaches.

P.S. Check out my new site TheManWhoSoldtheWeb.com, where I publish guides and scripts on Internet Marketing and SEO. Here is a limited time freebie: the Rapid Google Indexer.

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