How to Send Emails in PHP?

We see numerous requests for guides on sending emails with some popular frameworks and libraries using an SMTP server, so we are launching a series of “how to” posts aimed at helping you painlessly configure the mail function in your application.

Today we are starting with PHP, one of the most popular web development languages.

PHP built-in mail function ()

There are two basic ways of sending emails with PHP: a built-in mail function and external mail packages.

PHP’s built-in mail function () is very simple, but it provides limited functionality for sending emails. You won’t be able to add attachments to your email, and building a beautiful HTML template with embedded images will be a tricky task as well.

The other side of the PHP mail function () is that the email is sent from your web server, which may cause issues with deliverability due to security concerns such as suspicion of spam and blacklisting. The best way to overcome this problem is sending messages via an SMTP server, however, this functionality is limited as well. PHP mail() does not usually allow you to use the external SMTP server and it does not support SMTP authentication.

Here’s what you can do with PHP’s built-in mail function():

  • create simple HTML/text messages without attachments and images
  • send emails via localhost and Xmapp
  • include several recipients with “$to” parameter.

It is suitable for simple, mostly text-based notifications in your local environment. If you need to communicate with your app’s users, it is better to install an external mailer package.

If you are still committed to the PHP built-in mail function() and are ready to accept the challenge, let’s take a look at the basic code and its main parameters.

Syntax and parameters

The PHP mail syntax is pretty simple:


It uses the following parameters:

  • “$to” = your message recipient(s). The email address format may be or User <>. In general, it needs to comply with RFC 2822.
  • “$subject” = your message’s subject
  • “$message” = the body of your message. Lines should be separated with a CRLF (\r\n). Each line should not exceed 70 characters.
  • “[$headers]” = additional recipients of your message, which can be included in CC or BCC.

Note that headers are optional, except for the “from” header: it must be specified, otherwise, you will receive an error message like Warning: mail(): “sendmail_from” not set in php.ini or custom “From:” header missing.
You can use additional headers to change the mail “From” address and set the “Reply to” address.

For more details and additional parameters, refer to the PHP documentation.

Sending HTML email using PHP mail() function

The body of the message can be written in HTML. However, as we’ve mentioned above, it should be simple. In the PHP mail function(), the HTML part will look like this:

$message = '
<title>Review Request Reminder</title>
<p>Here are the cases requiring your review in December:</p>
<th>Case title</th><th>Category</th><th>Status</th><th>Due date</th>
<td>Case 1</td><td>Development</td><td>pending</td><td>Dec-20</td>
<td>Case 1</td><td>DevOps</td><td>pending</td><td>Dec-21</td>

It’s important to remember that to send HTML mail, you need to set the Content-type header:

$headers[] = 'MIME-Version: 1.0';
$headers[] = 'Content-type: text/html; charset=iso-8859-1';

Simple Transmission Protocol (SMTP)

Where do I specify the SMTP settings? This is a fair question. Go to the PHP installation folder and configure them in the “php.ini” file. But this will only work for localhost or Xmapp like solutions because as we have already mentioned, PHP mail function does not support SMTP authentication and doesn’t allow sending messages via external servers.

There are some other, rather haphazard options but we won’t promote them here. Alternatively, we recommend using external PHP mail packages for sending emails via an external SMTP server.

Better yet, you can use Mailtrap Email Delivery and we’ll provide all the necessary SMTP settings for you. You just need to copy-paste the SMTP settings, verify your domain, and start sending.

To learn about sending multiple emails, PHP mailing packages and PHP Mailer head to our tutorial about how to send mail in PHP on Mailtrap’s Blog.

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