The code below generates tables of contents with collapsible subsections from HTML headers. I have done it for a WordPress website, so I can use either PHP or JQuery/JavaScript. I have used PHP to generate the HTML of the ToC and JQuery to collapse/un-collapse the sections.

The code works fine, but I was wondering if it could be simpler/more robust.

PHP fiddle is here: https://paiza.io/projects/fyq6rNEs5H6AO77DkDRRXQ . It outputs HTML code that goes in JSFiddle: https://jsfiddle.net/yu51a5/jasngvfz/37/

PHP code:

    $content="  {yu_TOC}<h1>A1</h1>a1<h1>A2</h1>a2 <h2>B1</h2>b1<h2>B2</h2>b2 <h3>C1</h3>c1<h3>C2</h3>c2  <h1>D1</h1>d1 <h2>E1</h2>e1 <h3>F1</h3>f1";

    $start_text = strpos($content, '}') + 1;

    $toc_title = 'Table Of Contents';
    $id_title = /*sanitize_title*/($toc_title);

    $index = 1;
    $tableOfContents = "";
    $old_level = 0;
    $maybe_button = "";
    // Insert the IDs and create the TOC.
    $content = preg_replace_callback('#<(h[1-9])(.*?)>(.*?)</\1>#si', function ($matches) use (&$index, &$tableOfContents, &$old_level, &$id_title, &$toc_title, &$maybe_button) {
        $tag = $matches[1];
        $toc_entry_title = strip_tags($matches[3]);
        $hasId = preg_match('#id=("|”)(.*?)\1[\s>]#si', $matches[2], $matchedIds);
        $id = $hasId ? $matchedIds[2] : ($id_title . '-' . $index++ . '-' . /*sanitize_title*/($toc_entry_title));

        $new_level = intval($tag[1]);

        // <div> is not closed, because we might want to add a button
        $tableOfContents_entry = "<div class='item-$tag' id='toc_item_$id'><a href='#$id'>$toc_entry_title</a>"; 
        if ($new_level > $old_level) { // $new_level = $old_level + 1
            // adding a button + other html from the previous iteration
            $tableOfContents .= $maybe_button . $tableOfContents_entry;
        } else {
            // close the <div>'s
            for ($x = $new_level; $x < $old_level; $x++) {
                $tableOfContents_entry = "</div>" . $tableOfContents_entry;
            $tableOfContents .= "</div>" . $tableOfContents_entry;  

        // creating html in case it is needed at the next iteration
        $maybe_button = '<input class="toc_button" id="button_toc_' . $id . '"  type="button" value="+" /></div><div class="div_toc_initial" id="div_button_toc_' . $id . '">';

        $old_level = $new_level;

        return "<$tag $matches[2] id='$id'>$matches[3]</$tag><a href='#toc_item_$id'>↑ Back To $toc_title ↑</a>";
     }, $content);

    // make sure all divs are closed
    $nb_opening_divs = preg_match_all('/<div(.*?)>/i', $tableOfContents, $matches);
    $nb_closing_divs = preg_match_all('/<\/div>/i', $tableOfContents, $matches);
    for ($x = $nb_closing_divs; $x < $nb_opening_divs; $x++) {
        $tableOfContents .= "</div>";

    $result = "<h1><a id='$id_title'>$toc_title</a></h1>" . '<div>' . $tableOfContents . '</div>' . trim(substr($content, $start_text)); 
    echo $result;

JQuery code:

$('.toc_button').click(function() {
  if ($(this).val() === "-") {
  } else {
  $('#div_' + this.id).toggle();

1 Answer 1


I find your php script incredibly hard to read. Maintaining this script would surely involve substantial time investment.

You are conducting far too much preg_ surgery on input that can be prepared to be valid html. Processing html is far more reliable via a proper DOM parsing tool. My preferred tool is DOMDocument and I often pair it with XPath when it makes node targeting clearer/simpler.

I don't have the time to completely rewrite your script, but that is precisely what I recommend.

You shouldn't ever need to perform "mopping up" of your generated html by throwing some more </div> in at the end.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Fair enough, thank you for your feedback. In my defence, preg_ parsing is read-only except I am replacing '{yu_TOC}' with HTML code for the table of contents. I can count precisely how many </div>'s I can add at the end in the loop, but this will make the loop more complex, so mopping is for simplicity. Again, many thanks for your recommendations, I will look into DOMDocument. \$\endgroup\$
    – Yulia V
    Commented Dec 21, 2019 at 8:48

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