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What is a filter?

In the physical world, a filter is typically used for removing unwanted portions of input, and the desired portion of the input passes through as filter output (e.g., coffee). In such scenarios, a filter is an operator that produces a subset of the input. This type of filtering is useful for web applications - removing illegal input, trimming unnecessary white space, etc.

This basic definition of a filter may be extended to include generalized transformations upon input. A common transformation applied in web applications is the escaping of HTML entities. For example, if a form field is automatically populated with untrusted input (e.g., from a web browser), this value should either be free of HTML entities or contain only escaped HTML entities, in order to prevent undesired behavior and security vulnerabilities. To meet this requirement, HTML entities that appear in the input must either be removed or escaped. Of course, which approach is more appropriate depends on the situation. A filter that removes the HTML entities operates within the scope of the first definition of filter - an operator that produces a subset of the input. A filter that escapes the HTML entities, however, transforms the input (e.g., "&" is transformed to "&"). Supporting such use cases for web developers is important, and "to filter," in the context of using Zend_Filter, means to perform some transformations upon input data.

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