Exchanging objects between PHP and Python

So over the course of my various projects, personal or otherwise, I’ve collected an assortment of information that may or may not be of interest to others or to myself in the future. What does end up happening is that I would make notes about it in a file or (dear god) on a random piece of paper, post a message to some forum or mailing list, or just plain put it in that lossy storage medium of my own mind…and then promptly forget all about it. For a would-be information specialist, this ironic lack of information organization has caused many problems and continues to do so, especially at retrieval time.

Now in 2007, as New Year’s Day draws to a close, I am putting my laziness to the test again by resolving to begin this project to document Random Things That I Somehow Know About. Some of this is trivial, some of this is not. But for one reason or another, I intend to keep track of it.

Starting with something recent. To workaround a problem when deploying a Python-based service on a server that disallowed Python CGI execution, the Python driver program had to be wrapped around a PHP frontend (which the server did allow). However, the driver needed to accept a number of parameters, and the PHP wrapping must conveniently pass these parameters via a call to system() and print the resulting output from the Python driver to stdout. In a previous, similar project, I engineered a set of subroutines in the Python driver to parse options on the command line, and had the PHP script put those options on the commandline at invocation time. It was tedious, error-prone, and remarkably insecure, even with Python variants on getopt() to help

Since this was a proof-of-concept project in any case, there had to be a faster, friendlier hack. It would be great if the wrapper and the driver could exchange data objects directly – in this case, PHP associative arrays and Python dicts. Then the Python driver can simply ask for the necessary values bound to fixed options/keys.

Enter Armin Ronacher’s phpserialize.py, conveniently under BSD license. It exposes two functions, serialize()and unserialize(), which encodes and decodes data created by PHP’s own serialize() function.

The solution comes together as follows. On the PHP side:

//something to ensure that we've got a correct parameter object
$params = array('phpArgs' => 'yes'); 
$params['foo'] = 'bar'; //check and populate $params
$s = serialize($params);
//so that if we're passing on cmdline
//things don't blow up if weird bytes encountered
$s = base64_encode($s);
//...and so on

Once the $s in base64 text is passed to the driver script, the Python side will simply call this:

def getParameters(php_base64_str):
    php_parameters = base64.decodestring(php_base64_str)
    parameters = unserialize(php_parameters)
    return parameters


and parameters will be a Python dictionary with all the values in place, mapped to their original keys.

>>> params = getParameters(s) # retrieve s from argv first
>>> params['foo']

This makes exchanging data between frontend and backend a lot less headache inducing.

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