My first Payment integration

My first experience of Paypal was great, then it got weird

Published: Sunday, Oct 24, 2021 Last modified: Sunday, Jun 9, 2024

After watching @coolaj86’s streams for learning Javascript (again) AND entertainment, I can’t help recall my fairly painless Paypal experience.

Allow me to show you how I took people’s money in 2007.

How a payment is made

It’s just HTML!

<form class="pull-right" accept-charset="UTF-8" action="" id="paypal_service_form" method="post">
<input id="item_number" name="item_number" type="hidden" value="<?php echo $orderno; ?>" />
<input id="custom" name="custom" type="hidden" value="<?php echo $orderno; ?>" />
<input id="business" name="business" type="hidden" value="" />
<input id="amount" name="amount" type="hidden" value="<?php echo $rate; ?>" />
<input id="currency_code" name="currency_code" type="hidden" value="<?php echo $currency; ?>" />
<input id="cmd" name="cmd" type="hidden" value="_ext-enter" />
<input id="redirect_cmd" name="redirect_cmd" type="hidden" value="_xclick" />
<input id="quantity" name="quantity" type="hidden" value="<?php echo $quantity; ?>" />
<input id="item_name" name="item_name" type="hidden" value="<?php echo $desc; ?>" />
<input id="no_shipping" name="no_shipping" type="hidden" value="1" />
<input id="no_note" name="no_note" type="hidden" value="1" />
<input id="charset" name="charset" type="hidden" value="utf-8" />
<input id="invoice" name="invoice" type="hidden" value="<?php echo $current_url; ?>" />
<input id="return" name="return" type="hidden" value="<?php echo $current_url; ?>" />
<input id="cancel_return" name="cancel_return" type="hidden" value="<?php echo $current_url; ?>" />
<input id="notify_url" name="notify_url" type="hidden" value="" />
<input type=submit value="Make payment of <?php echo money_format('%i', $amount); ?>">

In my checkout page I include some PHP where I am careful to set amount / order number. When that form is submitted the customer is then on the Paypal site entering their credit card or rather Paypal is forcing them to open a Paypal account (they changed their flows and UI over the years).

Anyway from my perspective, I had to now wait for a HTTP request (Web hook) from Paypal to know whether the payment had gone through.

How the Web hook works

Paypal called this the IPN and this is my PHP implementation, notice it simply uses files instead of a database.

For example when a user signs up on my site, the configuration is in “tmp”, until that person pays, in which case it becomes active and moves to “install-config”.

include 'email.php';

function logs($s) {
	syslog(LOG_INFO, $_POST['custom']." $s");

// Kill a sub
function zero($uuid, $old) {
	$src = "/srv/www/$old/$uuid";
	$fh = fopen($src, "w");

// Change state of subscription by moving a file
function mv($uuid, $old, $new) {
	$src = "/srv/www/$old/$uuid";
	if ( ! file_exists( $src ) ) {
		logs("no config found for $src");
	$dst = "/srv/www/$new/$uuid";

	if ( is_link( $dst ) ) {
		logs("$dst is using the control panel:" . readlink($dst));

	if ( file_exists( $dst ) ) {
		unlink( $dst );
	if ( ! rename( $src, $dst) ) {
		logs("could not rename $src to $dst");
	logs("moved from $src to $dst ");

function noop($txn, $uuid) {
	logs("no action required for txn type $txn");

function txn_logs($uuid, $type, $id) {
	$now = time();
	$fh = fopen("//srv/www/$uuid", "a");
	fwrite($fh, "$now $id $type " . $_POST['payer_email'] . "\n");

function main() {
	$uuid = $_POST['custom'];
	if ( $uuid == "" ) {
		logs("no UUID from PayPal?");

	$txn = $_POST['txn_type'];
	if ( $txn == "" ) {
		logs("no TXN Type from PayPal?");

	$txn_id = $_POST['txn_id'];
	logs( "received txn type $txn with id $txn_id" );
	txn_logs($uuid, $txn, $txn_id);

	switch ( $txn ) {
		case 'cart':
		case 'web_accept':
		case 'subscr_payment':
		case 'subscr_signup':
			mv( $uuid, 'tmp', 'install-config' ); break;
		case 'subscr_cancel':
		case 'subscr_eot':
			mv( $uuid, 'install-config', 'tmp' );
			zero( $uuid, 'install-config' );
			noop($txn, $uuid); break;


After looking this ten year old code (still in use), I must say I write professional code pretty much the same way my whole career:

  1. Always be logging
  2. Use a case / switch statement to explain the actions you are taking (or not)

My first payment integration was less than ~150 LOC.


As I mention in my 2015 Payment methods comparison, Paypal was my favourite and first “payments integration”. That said, Paypal did make this this “IPN” style really hard / confusing in ~2010+. For example I could swear there was a period of years where the IPN documentation could not be found at all on the Paypal site as they were pushing their Braintree acquisition (I assume).

Fast forward to 2021 and for new Payment integrations I would reach for Stripe with as I did with You can see I much prefer simple static checkout flows instead of dynamic ones.