The beauty of nice URLs

This is an answer I wrote on stackoverflow.com. Stackoverflow is a very good site for all kind of questions and answers. The question involved was: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/38875/best-way-to-avoid-code-injection-in-php.

I know this is a very old post and you don't need an answer anymore, but I still miss a very important aspect imho and I like it to share for other people reading this post. In your code to include a file based on the value of a variable, you make a direct link between the value of a field and the requested result (page becomes page.php). I think it is better to avoid that. There is a difference between the request for some page and the delivery of that page. If you make this distinction you can make use of nice urls, which are very user and SEO friendly. Instead of a field value like 'page' you could make an URL like 'Spinoza-Ethica'. That is a key in a whitelist or a primary key in a table from a database and will return a hardcoded filename or value. That method has several advantages besides a normal white list:

  1. the back end response is effectively independent from the front end request. If you want to set up your back end system differently, you do not have to change anything on the front end.
  2. Always make sure you end with hardcoded filenames or an equivalent from the database (preferrabley a return value from a stored procedure), because it is asking for trouble when you make use of the information from the request to build the response.
  3. because your URLs are independent of the delivery from the back end you will never have to rewrite your URLs in the htAccess file for this kind of change.
  4. the URLs represented to the user are user friendly, informing the user about the content of the document.
  5. Nice URLs are very good for SEO, because search engines are in search of relevant content and when your URL is in line with the content will it get a better rate. At least a better rate then when your content is definitely not in line with your content.
  6. If you do not link directly to a php file, you can translate the nice URL into any other type of request before processing it. That gives the programmer much more flexibility.
  7. You will have to sanitize the request, because you get the information from a standard untrustfull source (the rest of the Web). Using only nice URLs as possible input makes the sanitization process of the URL much simpler, because you can check if the returned URL conforms your own format. Make sure the format of the nice URL does not contain characters that are used extensively in exploits (like ',"",<,>,-,&,; etc..).