PHP file transfer: Forget the @ - use `curl_file_create`

I just struggled uploading a file with PHP cURL. Basically, sending HTTP POST data is pretty easy. And to send a file you just needed to prefix it with an at sign (@). Adapted from the most cited example:

$target_url = 'http://server.tld/';

$post = array (
    'extra_info' => '123456',
    'file_contents' => '@' . realpath ('./sample.jpeg');

$ch = curl_init ($target_url);
curl_setopt ($ch, CURLOPT_POST, 1);
curl_setopt ($ch, CURLOPT_POSTFIELDS, $post);
curl_setopt ($ch, CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER, 1);
$result=curl_exec ($ch);
curl_close ($ch);

You see, if you add an ‘@’ sign as the first character of a post field the content will be interpreted as a file name and will be replaced by the file’s content.

At least, that is how it used to be… And how most of the examples out there show you.

However, they changed the behaviour. They recognised that this is obviously inconvenient, insecure and error prone. You cannot send POST data that starts with an @ and you always need to sanitise user-data before sending it, as it otherwise may send the contents of files on your server. And, thus, they changed that behaviour in version 5.6, see the RFC.

That means by default the @/some/filename.ext won’t be recognized as a file – PHP cURL will literally send the @ and the filename (@/some/filename.ext) instead of the content of that file. Took ma a while and some tcpdumping to figure that out..

Instead, they introduced a new function called curl_file_create that will create a proper CURLFile object for you. Thus, you should update the above snippet with the following:

$target_url = 'http://server.tld/';

$post = array (
    'extra_info' => '123456',
    'file_contents' => curl_file_create ('./sample.jpeg');
$ch = curl_init ($target_url);
curl_setopt ($ch, CURLOPT_POST, 1);
curl_setopt ($ch, CURLOPT_POSTFIELDS, $post);
curl_setopt ($ch, CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER, 1);
$result=curl_exec ($ch);
curl_close ($ch); 

Note that the contents of the file_contents field of the $post data differs.

The manual for the file_contents function is unfortunatelly not very verbose, but the RFC on tells you a bit more about the new function:

 * Create CURLFile object
 * @param string $name File name
 * @param string $mimetype Mime type, optional
 * @param string $postfilename Post filename, defaults to actual filename
function curl_file_create($name, $mimetype = '', $postfilename = '')

So you can also define a mime type and some file name that will be sent.

That of course makes it a bit tricky to develop for different platforms, as you want your code to be valid on both PHP 5.4 and PHP 5.6 etc. Therefore you could introduce the following as a fallback:

if (!function_exists('curl_file_create'))
	function curl_file_create($filename, $mimetype = '', $postname = '')
		return "@$filename;filename="
			. ($postname ?: basename($filename))
			. ($mimetype ? ";type=$mimetype" : '');

as suggested by mipa on This creates a dummy function that is compliant with the old behaviour if there is no curl_file_create, yet.

Clean Your Debian

Every once in a while you’re trying new software - maybe because you’re touching a new field, like video editing, or just to give alternatives (browsers, text editors, …) a try. However, after some time you feel your system gets messed up and the root partition, especially on notebooks, fills up with tools you don’t need anymore. To free some space you may want to get rid of all the unnecessary tools.

Clean Cached Packages

In a first step you may clean previously downloaded and cached packages. Every time you install or upgrade something apt-getand aptitude download the package to a cache directory (e.g. /var/cache/apt/archives). Those packages will remain there until you delete them manually - and if you upgrade your \(\LaTeX\) installation a few times this directory will grow extensively. You can clean the cache by calling:

aptitude clean

Remove Orphaned Packages

Packages often have dependencies. Thus, if you install a package you usually need to install other packages as well. For example, to install gajim you also need dnsutils, python etc. (see also on gajim). If you then remove gajim, the dependencies may remain on your system. Especially if you’re working with apt-get you may end up with orphaned packages, as apt-get remove gajim will not remove gajim’s dependencies. To remove dependencies that are no longer required just call:

apt-get autoremove 

That will also help you getting rid of old kernels etc.

Find Big Packages Manually

In addition, you probably want to evaluate installed packages - to remove stuff that you do not need anymore. And you may want to remove the biggest packages first for the effort/effectiveness ratio…

In that case the following one-liner will come in handy:

dpkg-query -Wf '${Installed-Size}\t${Package}\n' | sort -n

It queries the package management system for all installed packages and requests an output format (-f) listing the package’s size and name tab-delimited per line. Piped through sort -n the above will show you all installed packages ordered from small to huge. Just go through the list, starting from the bottom, and delete the stuff that you do not need anymore. That’s typically some \(\LaTeX\) stuff and old kernels and Google software etc.. ;-)

Auto-Update Debian based systems

Updating System: automatically fixing security issues and installing latest features
SysUpdate in Progress

Updating your OS is obviously super-important. But it’s also quite annoying and tedious, especially if you’re in charge of a number of systems. In about 99% it’s a monkey’s job, as it just involves variations of

aptitude update
aptitude upgrade

Usually, nothing interesting happens, you just need to wait for the command to finish.

The Problem

The potential consequences in the 1% cases lets us usually swallow the bitter pill and play the monkey. The Problem is, that in some cases there is a an update that involves a modification of some configuration file that contains some adjustments of you. Let’s say you configured a daemon to listen at a specific port of your server, but in the new version they changed the syntax of the config file. That can hardly be automatised. Leaving the old version of the config will break the software, deploying the new version will dispose your settings. Thus, human interaction is required…

At least I do not dare to think about a solution on how to automatise that. But we could …

Detect the 1% and Automatise the 99%

What do we need do to prevent the configuration conflict? We need to find out which software will be updated and see if we modified one of the configuration files:

Update the package list

Updating your systems package list can be considered safe:

aptitude update

The command downloads a list of available packages from the repositories and compares it with the list of packages installed on your system. Based on that, your update-systems knows which packages can be upgraded.

Find out which software will be updated.

The list of upgradeable packages can be obtained by doing a dry-run. The --simulate flag shows us what will be done without touching the system, -y answers every question with yes without human interaction, and -v gives us a parsable list. For example, from a random system:

root@srv » aptitude --simulate -y -v safe-upgrade
The following packages will be upgraded:
  ndiff nmap
2 packages upgraded, 0 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
Need to get 4,230 kB of archives. After unpacking 256 kB will be used.
Inst nmap [6.47-3+b1] (6.47-3+deb8u2 Debian:8.5/stable [amd64])
Inst ndiff [6.47-3] (6.47-3+deb8u2 Debian:8.5/stable [all])
Conf nmap (6.47-3+deb8u2 Debian:8.5/stable [amd64])
Conf ndiff (6.47-3+deb8u2 Debian:8.5/stable [all])

That tells us, the new versions of the tools nmap and ndiff will be installed. Capturing that is simple, we basically just need to grep for '^Inst'.

Check if we modified corresponding configuration files

To get the configuration files of a specific package we can ask the dpkg subsystem, for example for a dhcp client:

dpkg-query --showformat='${Conffiles}\n' --show isc-dhcp-client
 /etc/dhcp/debug 521717b5f9e08db15893d3d062c59aeb
 /etc/dhcp/dhclient-exit-hooks.d/rfc3442-classless-routes 95e21c32fa7f603db75f1dc33db53cf5
 /etc/dhcp/dhclient.conf 649563ef7a61912664a400a5263958a6

Every non-empty line contains a configuration file’s name and the corresponding md5 sum of the contents as delivered by the repository. That means, we just need to md5sum all the files on our system and compare the hashes to see if we modified the file:

# for every non-empty line
dpkg-query --showformat='${Conffiles}\n' --show $pkg | grep -v "^$" |
# do the following
while read -r conffile
  file=$(echo $conffile | awk '{print $1}')
  # the hash of the original content
  exphash=$(echo $conffile | awk '{print $2}')
  # the hash of the content on our system
  seenhash=$(md5sum $file | awk '{print $1}')
  # do thy match?
  if [ "$exphash" != "$seenhash" ]

Now we should have everything we need to compile it into a script that we can give to cron :)

The safe-upgrade script

I developed a tiny tool that can be downloaded from GitHub.. It consists of two files:

  • /etc/cron.daily/ is the actual acript that does the update and safe-upgrade of the system.
  • /etc/default/deb-safeupgrade can be used to overwrite the settings (hostname, mail address of the admin, etc) for a system. If it exists, the other script will source it.

In addition, there is a Debian package available from my apt-repository. Just install it with:

aptitude install bf-safeupgrade

and let me know if there are any issues.


The mentioned figure 99% is just a guess and may vary. It strongly depends on your operating system, version, and the software installed ;-)


mvn: Automagically create a Docker image

Maven conjures Docker images
Maven conjures Docker images

Having a Docker image of your software projects may make things easier for you, but will for sure lower the barrier for users to use your tools — at least in many cases ;-)

I am developing many tools in Java using Maven to manage dependencies. Thus, I’ve been looking for means to generate corresponding Docker files using the very same build management. There are already a few approaches to build Docker images through Maven, e.g. alexec’s docker-maven-plugin, and fabric8io’s docker-maven-pluginand so on — just to name a few. However, all theses solutions seem super-heavy and they require learning new syntax and stuff, while it is so easy and doesn’t require any third party plugins.

Build Docker images using maven-antrun

Maven’s antrun plugin allows for execution of external commands. That means, you just need to maintain a proper Dockerfile along with your sources and after building the tool with maven you can call the docker-build command to create a Docker image of the current version of your tool.

I did that for a Java web application. The Dockerfile is stored as a resource in src/main/docker/Dockerfile is actually very simple:

FROM tomcat:8-jre8
MAINTAINER martin scharm

# remove the default tomcat application
RUN rm -rf /usr/local/tomcat/webapps/ROOT /usr/local/tomcat/webapps/ROOT.war

# add the BiVeS-WebApp as the new default web app
COPY BiVeS-WS-${project.version}.war /usr/local/tomcat/webapps/ROOT.war

Using Maven we can make sure (i) that the Dockerfile is copied next to the compiled and packaged tool in the target directory, (ii) that the placeholder ${project.version} in the Dockerfile is replaced with the current version of your tool, and (iii) that the docker-build command is invoked.

Copy the Dockerfile to the right place

Maven’s resources-plugin is ideally suited to deal with resources. To copy all Docker related resources to the target directory you can use the following snippet:


In addition, the <filtering>true</filtering> part also makes sure to replace all Maven-related placeholders, just like the ${project.version} that we’ve been using. Thus, this solves (i) and (ii) and after the validate phase we’ll have a proper target/Dockerfile.

Build a Docker image

Using Maven’s antrun-plugin we can call the docker tool:

              <exec executable="docker">
                  <arg value="build"/>
                  <arg value="-t"/>
                  <arg value="binfalse/bives-webapp:${project.version}"/>
                  <arg value="target"/>

This executes a command like

docker build -t binfalse/bives-webapp:1.6.2 target

after the deploy phase. Thus, it builds a docker image tagged with the current version of your tool. The build’s context is target, so it will use the target/Dockerfile which COPYs the new version of your tool into the image.

Automatically build images using a Maven profile

I created a docker profile in Maven’s configuration file that is active per default if there is a src/main/docker/Dockerfile in your repository:

                <!-- ... see above ... -->
                <!-- ... see above ... -->

Bonus: Also push the new image to the Docker Hub

To also push the image you need to execute the push command:

docker push binfalse/bives-webapp:1.6.2

And due to the latest-confusion of Docker you also should create the latest-alias and also push that:

docker tag -f binfalse/bives-webapp:1.6.2 binfalse/bives-webapp:latest
docker push binfalse/bives-webapp:latest

However, both is easy. Just append a few more exec calls in the antrun-plugin! The final pom.xml snippet can be found on GitHub.


The image for this article was derived from Wikipedia’s Apache Logo and Wikipedia’s Docker logo, licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0.

Create an Unscanable Letter

The EURion constallation on a letter
The EURion constallation on a letter

Some time ago I’ve heard about the EURion constellation. Never heard about it? Has nothing to do with stars or astrology. It’s the thing on your money! :)

Take a closer look at your bills and you’ll discover plenty of EURions, as shown in the picture on the right. Just a few inconspicuous dots. So what’s it all about? The EURion constellation is a pattern to be recognized by imaging software, so that it can recognize banknotes. It was invented to prevent people from copying money :)

But I don’t know of any law that prohibits using that EURion, so I’ve been playing around with it. Took me some trials to find the optimal size, but I was able to create a \(LaTeX\) document that includes the EURion. That’s the essential tex code:

wanna scan my letter?

The whole \(LaTeX\) environment can be found on GitHub, together with the EURion image and stuff. I also provide the resulting letter.

Of course I immediately asked some friends to try to scan the letter, but it turns out, that not all scanners/printers are aware of the EURion… So it’s a bit disappointing, but I learned another thing. Good good. And to be honest, I do not have a good use case. Why should I prevent someone from printing my letters? Maybe photographers can use the EURion in their images. Copyright bullshit or something…

Martin Scharm

stuff. just for the records.

Do you like this page?
You can actively support me!