Shrink the size of your javascript with js min (the php way)

Getting more and more into javascript coding, two tools I found I could not do without are JSMin and JSlint, from Douglas Crockford.
On the JSmin webpage, a php version is available for download, but it did not fit my needs really well (in fact, the js version did, but, being a php-head, I got that one first), so I patched it a bit:

  1. made all the code work with PHP 4 (removed usage of splfileiterator, exceptions are replaced by triggering errors, class constants are turned into global constants, etc…)
  2. constant VERSION changed to JSMIN_VERSION to avoid name clashes
  3. added a new function to class JSMin to cleanly separate writing to output stream from parsing
  4. make sure that newline chars passed inside the comments parameter do not break output
  5. the file can now be included in a php app (whether cli or web hosted) and used as library (just define JSMIN_AS_LIB before including jsmin.php)
  6. when used as library, the class can operate on php strings instead of files
  7. i could not resist the urge to remove excess whitespace here and there in the php source, too (phpmin-syndrome???)

The new code is available here. Take a look at the comments inside for more info.

There is some other (php) work done on jsmin from a guy named Ed Eliot there

Got my javascript yellow belt!

A very well kept secret: I had done very few to not-at-all javascript development until now. My personal philosophy can be summed up as “if it can be done on the server, do it on the server”.

Alas, I have at last succumbed to the ajax craze, and waded knee-deep into the murky javascript pools, in search for diamond and pearls and api-compatible library reimplementations.
Not only have I discovered that translating php into javascript is almost as simple as translating “->” into “.”, “.” into “+” and “gettype” into “typeof”, but my mind got bended and warped forever while trying to rationalize the prototype-based inheritance model.

If the result of such perilous journeys has been something of interest, I let the readers judge.
For now, the visible part is a graphical editor of xmlrpc / json values, added to the online xmlrpc debugger available here: (to see it, click on ‘Execute method’ then on the ‘Edit’ link).

A comparison of JSON libraries for PHP

The recent release of php 5.2.0, which includes by default an extension for converting php values from and to the JSON format, is a good occasion for comparing the different existing php libraries which aim to provide the same capabilities.
Here you can find a detailed analysis of the features, performances and encoding/decoding capabilities of 4 of the main implementations: 3 “pure php” libraries and the native extension.
I have to warn readers: I personally maintain one of the four libs in exam.
Any correction, criticism or feedback is welcome.

Edit 2007/04/25 – an update version of the comparison has been posted here

The daily firewall WTF, part II

Most personall firewall application fail in a very basic (and essential) aspect of their operation: giving the user a clear and concise way of identifying the software that is trying to access the network.

Even though this is widely known and has been discussed to death, it never really struck me until I installed the ADSL modem I recently got for free, courtesy of my telephonephone line operator.
The windows 2000 version of the modem driver starts up and greets me with this nice dialog box as soon as I log in into my computer:

Typical Personal Firewall warning dialog

Allowing “rundll32.exe” to always connect to the web is to be considered a safe practice or not?

How many users, when pestered with this annoying dialog popping up every day, are savvy enough not to dismiss it once and forever?

Please note that the standard version of the dialog message gives even less details about the outgoing connection than the screenshot pasted here, and only identifies the offending executable by filename: no path information, no version information, no nothing.

How many will take the time to properly configure the firewall to only let the offending driver connect to the local subnet?

Now, this is arguably a bad design decision on the part of the writers of the modem driver, but there is a much simpler and cleaner way for wannabe virus writers to bypass any security measure that personal firewalls provide blocking outgoing connections: simply use the web browser to connect to the web. Both IE and firefox are powerful enough to provide support for a variety of web protocols, as well as easy scripting interfaces, and one of those two has been durely flagged as “connect to the net without asking consent”, most likely both.

The daily firewall WTF

Everyday is a great day to learn something new…

Sometimes ago I had the incredible luck of supervising the installation of an “application-layer-firewall”.

It is, for those of you who never heard about it, a black-box device, usually using internally lots of open source software but nevertheless sold for big buck$, built to protect web server from being hacked. It achieves this goal by filtering all incoming HTTP requests (possibly outgoing responses, too), and blocking those that look suspicious enough / violate a defined set of rules.
Many of these devices offer a lot of extra functionality, such as providing HTTPS termination for those webservers that do not support it natively, rewriting of incoming requests etc… All in all, very useful boxes.

It is the very principle upon which they are built that left me baffled the first day we tried to configure ours, and it still has me unconvinced, namely that sloppy coding on part of the programmer can be overcome by adding an extra layer of black-box filtering that works without any knowledge of the functions implemented on the webserver.

I have been told umpteen times that the http firewalls follow the 80%/20% rule, warding off common attack vectors such as buffer overflows and escape sequences in urls, and this is useful enough by itself to justify their cost.

But in the modern-day internet, phising, xss and sql-injections attacks are more and more common, and while nobody is interested in defacing your site anymore, a lot of crackers are eager to get to your database where customer credentials are kept. And while http firewalls excel at the former, they are very poor at the latter.

Continue reading The daily firewall WTF

The daily PHP WTF

A couple of days ago I succeeded in the daunting task of bringing a production server to a grinding halt. In fact the server was a sturdy linux box, and despite all my wrongdoings it kept chugging along, but all php services running on top of it where rendered useless (it was the company intranet server, and people where not happy).
Since this is quite an extraordinary event, I thought I might capitalize on the experience gained through this accident and share it for the benefit of future generations.
To make a long story short, here is the sequence of the events that lead to the catastrophe:

  1. I installed on the web server a shrink-wrapped php package, which I shall not name here, without taking the time to sift properly trough the code line by line, but following as carefully as I could the install instructions
  2. After toying around for a while, I decided to implement some new must-have feature, and within a couple of hours had on my hands code that looked good enough on my development box.
  3. So I promptly dumped the code to the production server, and fired up my browser to see the final result, but…
  4. …a nasty php error message greeted me. The code was trying to read from a file descriptor that was not open (in the fact the php variable delegated to hold the file descriptor was not even declared at the point it was used)
  5. The fix was really quick: a close look revealed an error in nesting code blocks, so that code was being executed where it was not supposed to. Hey presto, edit, save, redeploy and test!
  6. And this time, BINGO! the new functionality was fine and dandy. I dashed down the corridor to announce the new amazing functionality to fellow coders, and after discussing it and future evolutions for a while, I packed up and went home, happy and satisfied with my rapid-development skills and the incredibly apt platform that php had once again proved to be

But things are seldom as simple as they seem…
…and I was greeted by angry sysadmins and furious customers the next morning when returning to my cubicle.

The problem had been promptly identified: there was an error log file that kept growing at incredible speed, and it had saturated during the night the /home partition. Since the main website, based on a template engine and php opcode cache, was using the same partition to hold both the compiled templates and cached php scripts, it was having a hard time writing to disk its necessary files.
The sysadmins could not understand what was causing the log to grow indefinitely, but the mere fact that it was the php error log flashed a big nasty disaster sign in my mind. Sure enough, the culprit was to be found in my modifications of the previous day, but how on earth could the application, fixed and tested the day before, have kept running erroneously for the whole night, and still causing damage at early morning?
The worst part of it is the error log was reporting accesses to the web server from my very own development machine, which had been switched off during all that time.
Being well versed in php, I know for a fact that any php script is bound to end within a specified time limit (specified in php.ini that is), or be terminated by the php engine.
It is also very unusual for a script to keep running after the client that requested the web page terminates the http connection, such as when the user hits the STOP button or quits the application.
After a quick and dirty Apache restart, the error log finally showed a normal behaviour, everybody calmed down, and I was left alone with my dark train of toughts: was it possible that I had hit a bug of php, or, heaven forbids, Apache itself? Impossible! The j2ee goblins would have laughed at me for months to come.

As that old Jedi saying goes, use the source, Luke.

Continue reading The daily PHP WTF

Call by name and PHP

A little while ago, the question of allowing named parameteres in function calls was raised on the JSON-RPC mailing list.

As you might or might not know, named parameters (as opposed to positional parameters) are used by many database programming languages, and in some languages not really database related. The main advantage of using named parameters is that you can choose which parameters to pass to a function, omitting all the ones you do not need. PHP, with default parameter values, does something similar, with two small catches:

  • the parameters have to be passed to the function in the same order that they were declared (this is, imho, not a big problem in most situations)
  • given a function with 3 parameters, of which only the first is manadatory, the caller is not allowed to omit the parameter that occupies position 2 if he wants to specify the parameter at position 3. He can of course attain the same effect by specifyng the default value for parameter 2, but that means that he must know that value.

Named parameters are useful e.g. when a function takes a very long list of options, most of which are not compulsory.

The “php way” of doing this usually involves declaring a function as accepting a single parameter of type array, and passing all the options as key=>value pairs. The downside is that this forces the coder implementing the function to write quite a bit of code to validate all the options received.

By taking advantage of the introspection capabilties offered by PHP 5, it is possible to ease this burden. I have whipped up this code snippet that migth come handy in situations where a lot of call-by-name is used.

There are some caveats to take into account:

  • Despite the function working on php 5 only, it does not make use of exceptions, and relies on php 4 error mechanism instead
  • hell might freeze over when you try it on functions that accept parameters by reference (or return by ref)


* Call a user function using named instead of positional parameters.
* If some of the named parameters are not present in the original function, they
* will be silently discarded.
* Does no special processing for call-by-ref functions…
* Cannot be used on internal PHP functions.
* @param string $function name of function to be called
* @param array $params named array with parameters used for function invocation
function call_user_func_named($function, $params)
// make sure we do not throw exception if function not found: raise error instead…
// (oh boy, we do like php 4 better than 5, don’t we…)
if (!function_exists($function))
trigger_error(‘call to unexisting function ‘.$function, E_USER_ERROR);
return NULL;
$reflect = new ReflectionFunction($function);
if ($reflect->isInternal())
trigger_error(‘cannot call by name internal function ‘.$function, E_USER_ERROR);
return NULL;
$real_params = array();
foreach ($reflect->getParameters() as $i => $param)
$pname = $param->getName();
if ($param->isPassedByReference())
/// @todo shall we raise some warning?
if (array_key_exists($pname, $params))
$real_params[] = $params[$pname];
else if ($param->isDefaultValueAvailable()) {
$real_params[] = $param->getDefaultValue();
// missing required parameter: mark an error and exit
//return new Exception(‘call to ‘.$function.’ missing parameter nr. ‘.$i+1);
trigger_error(sprintf(‘call to %s missing parameter nr. %d’, $function, $i+1), E_USER_ERROR);
return NULL;
return call_user_func_array($function, $real_params);

We’ve moved!

I finally made it: the GGGeek website has been (almost) completely reimplemented.

It is now powered by the popular WordPress blogging package.
Most of the old content has been migrated (well, you know,it was not that much anyway…).
As you can notice, I am quite conservative when it comes to web page design.

In the next few days I hope to finish the graphics and the remaining sections…
…as well as dig a bit in the WP code: I think I already found an annoying bug 😉