HTML contact form with CAPTCHA

captcha html contact form

Using a contact form on your website is very useful as it helps your web site visitors to communicate with you in an easy and simple way. But, there are spammers and hackers who are looking for exploitable web forms. It is essential to secure your form against all ‘holes’ that those hackers are searching for.

How does the spammers/hackers exploit HTML forms?

Spammers exploit web forms for two purposes:

a) As a relay for sending bulk unsolicited emails

If you are not validating your form fields (on the serve side) before sending the emails, then hackers can alter your email headers to send the bulk unsolicited emails. (also known as email injection) For example, hackers can place the following code in one of your form fields and make your form processor script send an email to an unintended recipient:

The code above is adding another email address to the CC list of the email. Spammers can send thousands of emails using this exploit. Your host will not be happy with this and may warn you or even ban your web site.

The best way to prevent this spammer exploit is to validate the fields used in the mail() function(fields like email, subject of the email, name etc). Check for the presence of any “new line” (\r\n) in those fields. The email form article contains sample code that does the same.

b) For Sending spam messages to you

There are programs known as ‘spam-bots’ that leech through the web pages looking for web forms. When found, those ‘bots’ just fills the fields with a spam message and submits. Eventually you will start getting many hundred submissions send by those spam bots and you will find it difficult to separate genuine submissions from spam messages.

The solution for this problem is to use a mechanism to identify human submitters from ‘bots’. CAPTCHA is one of such tests.

Adding Captcha to the form

Captcha is an image with a code written on it. The website visitor is required to read the code on the image and enter the value in a text field. If the word entered is wrong, the form submission is not processed. As CAPTCHA is a smartly blurred image, the spam bot can’t read it. So the form cannot be auto-submitted by a ‘bot’.

The contact form with CAPTCHA

Here is the HTML code for the contact form:

<form method="POST" name="contact_form" 
action="<?php echo htmlentities($_SERVER['PHP_SELF']); ?>"> 

<label for="name">Name: </label>
<input type="text" name="name" 
value="<?php echo htmlentities($name) ?>">

<label for="email">Email: </label>
<input type="text" name="email" 
value="<?php echo htmlentities($visitor_email) ?>">

<label for="message">Message:</label> 
<textarea name="message" rows=8 cols=30
><?php echo htmlentities($user_message) ?></textarea>

<img src="captcha_code_file.php?rand=<?php echo rand(); ?>" 
id="captchaimg" >
<label for="message">Enter the code above here :</label>
<input id="6_letters_code" name="6_letters_code" type="text">

<input type="submit" value="Submit" name="submit">

The HTML form above contains the fields for name, email and message. In addition, we have the CAPTCHA image. The <img> tag for the CAPTCHA image points to the script captcha_code_file.php. The PHP script in ‘captcha_code_file.php’ creates the image for the captcha and saves the code in a session variable named ‘6_letters_code’.

Validating the CAPTCHA

When the form is submitted, we compare the value in the session variable(6_letters_code) with the submitted CAPTCHA code( the value in the text field 6_letters_code). If the codes match, then we proceed with emailing the form submission. Else we display an error.

Here is the code that does the server side processing:

  if(empty($_SESSION['6_letters_code'] ) ||
    strcasecmp($_SESSION['6_letters_code'], $_POST['6_letters_code']) != 0)
      //Note: the captcha code is compared case insensitively.
      //if you want case sensitive match, update the check above to
      // strcmp()
    $errors .= "\n The captcha code does not match!";

    //send the email
    $to = $your_email;
    $subject="New form submission";
    $from = $your_email;
    $ip = isset($_SERVER['REMOTE_ADDR']) ? $_SERVER['REMOTE_ADDR'] : '';
    $body = "A user  $name submitted the contact form:\n".
    "Name: $name\n".
    "Email: $visitor_email \n".
    "Message: \n ".
    "IP: $ip\n";  
    $headers = "From: $from \r\n";
    $headers .= "Reply-To: $visitor_email \r\n";
    mail($to, $subject, $body,$headers);
    header('Location: thank-you.html');

Customizing the CAPTCHA

The CAPTCHA script in the sample code download can be customized. If you open the script, you can see the first few lines of the code as shown below:

$image_width = 120;
$image_height = 40;
$characters_on_image = 6;
$font = './monofont.ttf';

//The characters that can be used in the CAPTCHA code.
//avoid confusing characters (l 1 and i for example)
$possible_letters = '23456789bcdfghjkmnpqrstvwxyz';
$random_dots = 0;
$random_lines = 20;
$captcha_noise_color = "0x142864";

You can change the size of the CAPTCHA by changing $image_width & $image_height. The number of characters in the CAPTCHA can be changed by updating $characters_on_image. Similarly, the text color of the CAPTCHA can be customized by updating $captcha_text_color. The code adds some ’noise’ in the image by adding random lines and dots. you can increase or decrease the noise. Please note that increasing the noise may make it difficult for your genuine visitors to read the code.

Download the code

Click here to download


The above captcha code is based on the code developed by Simon Jarvis:

See Some More Contact Form Code Downloads

The following pages contain some more contact forms that you can download and customize as required

See Also