PHP 5.5+ now comes baked with a password_hash function to generate secure, one-way hashes along with a password_verify function to match a hash with the given password—If you’re a PHP developer, you should always be securely storing user passwords, no excuses.

Developers have a huge responsibility when handling and storing user-sensitive information, such as a password. We should take extra precaution and the necessary steps to make sure the user’s data is safe and secure*.

*Please keep in mind the following implementation is only part of the problem since it handles the data once the web server receives it; however, it does not address the other issue of securely sending the sensitive data over-the-air from the browser to the server, which is why a valid SSL certificate is necessary.

Hashing passwords

To hash a password, take the password string and pass it into password_hash the function as a parameter along with the algorithm you want to use, then store the returned hash into the database.

password_hash( $password, $algorithm [, $options ] )
  • $password string.
  • $algorithm integer. Supports constants PASSWORD_BCRYPT or PASSWORD_DEFAULT.
  • $options array.

password_hash also randomly generates a salt every time a hash is generated and is a part of the returned hash, so there’s no need to store salts in a separate column.

PASSWORD_BCRYPT uses the CRYPT_BLOWFISH algorithm and will return a 60 character string.

PASSWORD_DEFAULT uses the bcrypt algorithm. PHP documentation recommends that you set the column size to 255 in the event the algorithm changes over time.

password_hash supports the following options:

  • salt - You can manually pass in your own salt, although password_hash randomly generates a salt for each password.
  • cost - The algorithmic cost to be used. Default value is 10.
  $options = array(
    'salt' => mcrypt_create_iv(22, MCRYPT_DEV_URANDOM),
    'cost' => 12,
  $password_hash = password_hash($password_string, PASSWORD_BCRYPT, $options);

Here’s a dirty, incomplete example that shows implementation of password_hash:

  $password_string = mysqli_real_escape_string($_POST["password"]);
  // The value of $password_hash
  // should similar to the following:
  // $2y$10$aHhnT035EnQGbWAd8PfEROs7PJTHmr6rmzE2SvCQWOygSpGwX2rtW
  $password_hash = password_hash($password_string, PASSWORD_BCRYPT);

  $mysql_query = "INSERT INTO Users (email, password_hash)
                  VALUES ($email_address, $password_hash)";
  mysqli_query($mysql_connection, $mysql_query);

Verifying passwords

When checking passwords, you can use the handy-dandy password_verify function, which checks a password string against a password hash, then returns a boolean.

password_verify( $password, $hash )
  • $password string.
  • $hash string.
  $password_string = "abc123";
  $password_hash = "$2y$10$aHhnT035EnQGbWAd8PfEROs7PJTHmr6rmzE2SvCQWOygSpGwX2rtW";

  if (password_verify($password_string, $password_hash)) {
    // Correct password
  } else {
    // Incorrect password

PHP 5.3.7+

There’s a very useful library that allows the password_* functions to be used on servers running PHP 5.3.7+:

If you’re running an even older version of PHP, it’s time to upgrade—older versions of PHP contains a security issue with BCRYPT (More information).

Password hashing functions

You can get a more thorough, in-depth explanation about the password hashing functions right from PHP’s documentation: There are 2 additional functions that I didn’t cover, password_get_info and password_needs_rehash, that you may find userful.

For me, it always helps to know or better understand what’s going on in the background of these functions.