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Character Encoding with PHP

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A conversion table is a very simple concept. In PHP, it's also very simple to implement.

 

Editor's note: This article is an excerpt from You Want to Do WHAT with PHP?, a new book from MC Press.

 

Computers know nothing about language. Actually, when you get right down to it, they know nothing of numbers either. All that computers know is on and off. They can change the ons and offs based on other ons and offs. If certain ons are on, the processor will do one thing; if they are off, it will do another. A computer is perfectly happy with this arrangement.

 

However, the purpose of a computer is to do work for a human. A computer is a machine whose purpose is to make a human's job easier (or enable a human to blow up zombies, for that matter). That means that the computer has a problem: it doesn't know how to talk to the human in its own language. For this reason, humans needed to teach computers how to talk with them.

 

In the early days, this task was quite simple. Given that computers were basically created in the English-speaking part of the world, English was a natural choice to provide the interface so that humans and computers could talk. However, if you were to read through some of the mainframe program calls, it would be apparent that some give and take took place in both directions; the commands that the humans gave the system are actually quite cryptic, unless you know the language.

 

The reason for this is the limitation of resources. In the early days of computing, every bit was sacred. Every bit was great. And so we started with what is called the American Standard Code for Information Interchange, or ASCII as we now know it. ASCII is a 7-bit code that gave developers more than enough room to handle the 26 characters of the English alphabet plus some punctuation, special characters, and control characters. All told, 127 options for managing data.

 

At its most basic level, a character set is a translation for the computer. It translates the numbers that the computer stores into graphical characters. A computer cannot store a letter, but it can store a numeric representation of that letter. The character set defines the standard of translation between the number and the graphical character.

 

For example, you cannot store the letter "A" on a computer. A computer doesn't really know numbers, and it really doesn't know letters. But numbers can have binary representations. You could also have a binary representation of a letter, but it would conflict with the binary representation of a number. Say you had the number 12 and you wanted to add 4 to it. Would that be the number 4 or the letter "d"?

 

So, a computer's primary method of communication is via numbers, and the character set is the mapping between the numbers, which the computer is able to work with, and the human. And thus the communication problem between computer and human is solved, right? Not exactly.

 

In the early days of computing, ASCII was not as prevalent as it is today. A competitor was Extended Binary Coded Decimal Interchange Code, or EBCDIC. Written on the IBM System/360, EBCDIC became quite common due to the popularity of that system.

 

With that (and other situations like it), character encoding issues arose. Why? Remember that a letter is just a certain number. In ASCII, the number for the letter "A" is 65. In EBCDIC, the number for the letter A is 193. Why the difference? I have heard from some IBM i (the IBM midrange integrated system) people that EBCDIC was good for punch cards because the way the bits were laid out made for more durable cards.

 

Before the Web-based whippersnappers (I count myself part of this crowd) go off on this, remember that modern computer science is a very new endeavor. The problems that people in the 1950s and 1960s had to solve were basically the same, but different limitations applied. The first commercially available microprocessor, the Intel 4004, was a 4-bit machine that debuted in 1971. Both ASCII and EBCDIC were available in 1963, eight years earlier. In other words, punch cards were a necessary step for us to get to the point where we are today.

 

But the problem of how to represent characters remains, and that is where character set conversion comes into play. Imagine that you have one system, an IBM mainframe, that started its life in the 1960s and has been upgraded through the years, first to a System/390 and then to a System i or System z. You may have some applications that continue to use EBCDIC, but you run on a computer that uses ASCII as its default character set, and you need to read from the older computer.

 

To illustrate the problem, let's take a look at what an EBCDIC-encoded "hello world" looks like. Figure 3.1 shows this PHP code.

 

$str = pack( 'CCCCCCCCCCC',

       0x88, 0x85, 0x93, 0x93, 0x96, 0x40, 0xa6, 0x96,

       0x99, 0x93, 0x84

);

 

echo $str;

Figure 3.1: EBCDIC-encoded character string

 

Remember that a character encoding is just a sequence of numbers, but each individual number represents an individual character. When we run the preceding code, we get something a little different from what we intended:

 

ˆ…""–@¦–™"„

 

The reason for this is simple. My browser understands ASCII, and according to ASCII, those are the characters I asked it to print out. To show this, let's change the code to its ASCII representation (Figure 3.2).

 

$str = pack( 'CCCCCCCCCCC',

       0x68, 0x65, 0x6c, 0x6c, 0x6f, 0x20, 0x77,0x6f,

       0x72, 0x6c, 0x64

);

echo $str;

Figure 3.2: ASCII-encoded character string

 

The code looks the same, except with different numbers. But when we print it out in the browser, we get a different result:

 

hello world

 

The question, then, is how do we get something that was returned to us in EBCDIC to display properly on a browser that does not support it? You typically do this with some kind of character set conversion. All the character set conversion does is change the numbers in a string of one character set to the numbers in the string of the other character set that matches the letter. This is usually done using a conversion table.

 

A conversion table is a very simple concept. In PHP, it's also very simple to implement. You basically have a numerical array of all characters that are convertible, starting at zero. Then, for each numerical key of the array, you have the corresponding value in the other character set that represents the same letter. So, for example, in ASCII the ordinal for the letter "h" is 0x68, or 104. In EBCDIC, the letter "h" is 0x88 or 136. So, basically, the conversion table for EBCDIC to ASCII will have, at key number 136, the number 104.

 

Figure 3.3 shows an EBCDIC-to-ASCII character converter.

 

$table = array(

       0x00, 0x10, 0x20, 0x30, 0x00, 0x90, 0x00, 0x7f,

       0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0xb0, 0xc0, 0xd0, 0xe0, 0xf0,

       0x10, 0x11, 0x12, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x80, 0x17,

       0x18, 0x19, 0x00, 0x00, 0x1c, 0x1d, 0x1e, 0x1f,

       0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0xa0, 0x16, 0x1b,

       0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x50, 0x60, 0x70,

       0x00, 0x00, 0x15, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x40,

       0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x13, 0x14, 0x00, 0x1a,

       0x20, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00,

       0x00, 0x00, 0x5b, 0x2e, 0x3c, 0x28, 0x2b, 0x21,

       0x26, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00,

       0x00, 0x00, 0x5d, 0x24, 0x2a, 0x29, 0x3b, 0x5e,

       0x2d, 0x2f, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00,

       0x00, 0x00, 0x7c, 0x2c, 0x25, 0x5f, 0x3e, 0x3f,

       0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00,

       0x00, 0x60, 0x3a, 0x23, 0x40, 0x27, 0x3d, 0x22,

       0x00, 0x61, 0x62, 0x63, 0x64, 0x65, 0x66, 0x67,

       0x68, 0x69, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00,

       0x00, 0x6a, 0x6b, 0x6c, 0x6d, 0x6e, 0x6f, 0x70,

       0x71, 0x72, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00,

       0x00, 0x7e, 0x73, 0x74, 0x75, 0x76, 0x77, 0x78,

       0x79, 0x7a, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00,

       0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00,

       0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00,

       0x7b, 0x41, 0x42, 0x43, 0x44, 0x45, 0x46, 0x47,

       0x48, 0x49, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00,

       0x7d, 0x4a, 0x4b, 0x4c, 0x4d, 0x4e, 0x4f, 0x50,

       0x51, 0x52, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00,

       0x5c, 0x00, 0x53, 0x54, 0x55, 0x56, 0x57, 0x58,

       0x59, 0x5a, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00,

       0x30, 0x31, 0x32, 0x33, 0x34, 0x35, 0x36, 0x37,

       0x38, 0x39, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00

);

 

// EBCDIC "hello world"

$str = pack( 'CCCCCCCCCCC',

       0x88, 0x85, 0x93, 0x93, 0x96, 0x40, 0xa6, 0x96,

       0x99, 0x93, 0x84

 

);

 

$len = strlen($str);

$strBytes = array_values(

                    unpack(

                           'C*',

                           $str

                    )

);

for ($c = 0; $c < $len; $c++) {

       $str[$c] = pack(

                       'C',

                       $table[

                              $strBytes[$c]

                       ]

       );

}

 

echo $str;

Figure 3.3: EBCDIC-to-ASCII character converter

 

The first part of this code is the conversion table. It may look like just a series of bytes, but it is actually the numerically indexed array we noted earlier that matches the characters from one character set to another.

 

The first stage of the process is to extract the numerical values of the string. You could achieve this with repeated calls to the ord() function, but, in general, if you can do something in one call, you should. The $strBytes constant will contain all the individual byte values in our EBCDIC-encoded string.

 

The next step is just value replacement. Replace the value of $str[$c] with the table-corrected value. That's it. Now, when we run our code, we get the output we expect:

 

hello world

 

Our code is now complete. We have the mechanism for converting between any character set in the English language. So, we're all done, right? Nope. Clearly, there are other languages in the world. So, how do we handle many of them? Enter the eighth bit.

 

Most "Latin" character encodings support ASCII as part of their encoding. This is simply because large parts of most Western language alphabets use English characters, and the people who use these character sets will have a fair amount of contact with English-speaking people. For those two reasons, many of the Western world's character sets include the English ASCII component for the lower bits and then the language-specific characters in the upper values — those above character 127.

 

To see this in action, consider the script shown in Figure 3.4.

 

header(

       'Content-Type: text/plain; charset="'

       . $_GET['charset']

       . '"'

);

for ($c = 0; $c < 255; $c++) {

 

       if ($c % 16 == 1) echo "\n";

 

       $char = pack('C', $c);

       if (ctype_print($c)) {

             echo $char . ' ';

       } else {

             echo '  ';

       }

}

Figure 3.4: Demonstrating high-bit characters

 

What this code does is print the byte of each character from 0 to 254. However, you can tweak the character set via the query string. So, if we enter the URL print.php?charset=ISO-8859-1, we get the output shown in Figure 3.5.

 

011211KevinFig3-5

Figure 3.5 Output of high-bit characters with IS0-8859-1 encoding

 

If we enter the URL print.php?charset=ISO-8859-7, the same bytes are being printed, but we're telling the browser to use the ISO Greek character set to render those bytes (Figure 3.6).

 

011211KevinFig3-6

Figure 3.6: Output of high-bit characters with IS0-8859-7 encoding

 

If we enter print.php?charset=Windows-1255, we get the Hebrew characters (Figure 3.7).

 

011211KevinFig3-7 ?

Figure 3.7: Output of high-bit characters with Windows-1255 encoding

 

Again, nothing has changed in terms of the output between the individual URLs. Only the charset variable, as part of the header, has changed.

 

 


 

Kevin Schroeder

Kevin Schroeder has a memory TTL of 10 years, and so he has been working with PHP for longer than he can remember. He is a member of the Zend Certification Advisory Board and is a Magento Certified Developer Plus. He has spoken at numerous conferences, including ZendCon, where he was twice the MC. When his head isn’t in code (if code is poetry, then it is Vogon poetry), Kevin is writing music, having been a guitarist since hair bands were cool (and having survived their welcomed demise). He has recorded two albums, Coronal Loop Safari and Loudness Wars. Kevin’s wisdom is dispensed to his loyal followers on Twitter at @kpschrade and on his blog at www.eschrade.com, where he speaks in the first person.


MC Press books written by Kevin Schroeder available now on the MC Press Bookstore.

Advanced Guide to PHP on IBM i Advanced Guide to PHP on IBM i
Take your PHP knowledge to the next level with this indispensable guide.
List Price $79.95

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The IBM i Programmer’s Guide to PHP The IBM i Programmer’s Guide to PHP
Get to know the PHP programming language and how it can--and should--be deployed on IBM i.
List Price $79.95

Now On Sale

You Want to Do What with PHP? You Want to Do What with PHP?
This book for the creative and the curious explores what’s possible with PHP.
List Price $49.95

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    • The data dilemma
    • 3 ways to stop re-keying data
    • Data automation in practice

    Plus, see how HelpSystems data automation software will help you stop re-keying data.

     

  • The Top Five RPG Open Access Myths....BUSTED!

    SB_Profound_WC_GenericWhen it comes to IBM Rational Open Access: RPG Edition, there are still many misconceptions - especially where application modernization is concerned!

    In this Webinar, we'll address some of the biggest myths about RPG Open Access, including:

    • Modernizing with RPG OA requires significant changes to the source code
    • The RPG language is outdated and impractical for modernizing applications
    • Modernizing with RPG OA is the equivalent to "screen scraping"

     

  • Time to Remove the Paper from Your Desk and Become More Efficient

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericToo much paper is wasted. Attempts to locate documents in endless filing cabinets.And distributing documents is expensive and takes up far too much time.
    These are just three common reasons why it might be time for your company to implement a paperless document management system.
    Watch the webinar to learn more and discover how easy it can be to:

    • Capture
    • Manage
    • And distribute documents digitally

     

  • IBM i: It’s Not Just AS/400

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic

    IBM’s Steve Will talks AS/400, POWER9, cognitive systems, and everything in between

    Are there still companies that use AS400? Of course!

    IBM i was built on the same foundation.
    Watch this recorded webinar with IBM i Chief Architect Steve Will and IBM Power Champion Tom Huntington to gain a unique perspective on the direction of this platform, including:

    • IBM i development strategies in progress at IBM
    • Ways that Watson will shake hands with IBM i
    • Key takeaways from the AS/400 days

     

  • Ask the RDi Experts

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericWatch this recording where Jim Buck, Susan Gantner, and Charlie Guarino answered your questions, including:

    • What are the “hidden gems” in RDi that can make me more productive?
    • What makes RDi Debug better than the STRDBG green screen debugger?
    • How can RDi help me find out if I’ve tested all lines of a program?
    • What’s the best way to transition from PDM to RDi?
    • How do I convince my long-term developers to use RDi?

    This is a unique, online opportunity to hear how you can get more out of RDi.

     

  • Node.js on IBM i Webinar Series Pt. 2: Setting Up Your Development Tools

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application. In Part 2, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Attend this webinar to learn:

    • Different tools to develop Node.js applications on IBM i
    • Debugging Node.js
    • The basics of Git and tools to help those new to it
    • Using NodeRun.com as a pre-built development environment

     

     

  • Inside the Integrated File System (IFS)

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericDuring this webinar, you’ll learn basic tips, helpful tools, and integrated file system commands—including WRKLNK—for managing your IFS directories and Access Client Solutions (ACS). We’ll answer your most pressing IFS questions, including:

    • What is stored inside my IFS directories?
    • How do I monitor the IFS?
    • How do I replicate the IFS or back it up?
    • How do I secure the IFS?

    Understanding what the integrated file system is and how to work with it must be a critical part of your systems management plans for IBM i.

     

  • Expert Tips for IBM i Security: Beyond the Basics

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

    Don't miss this chance to take your knowledge of IBM i security beyond the basics.

     

     

  • 5 IBM i Security Quick Wins

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn today’s threat landscape, upper management is laser-focused on cybersecurity. You need to make progress in securing your systems—and make it fast.
    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • How to Meet the Newest Encryption Requirements on IBM i

    SB PowerTech WC GenericA growing number of compliance mandates require sensitive data to be encrypted. But what kind of encryption solution will satisfy an auditor and how can you implement encryption on IBM i? Watch this on-demand webinar to find out how to meet today’s most common encryption requirements on IBM i. You’ll also learn:

    • Why disk encryption isn’t enough
    • What sets strong encryption apart from other solutions
    • Important considerations before implementing encryption

     

     

  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.

     

     

  • Fight Cyber Threats with IBM i Encryption

    SB PowerTech WC GenericCyber attacks often target mission-critical servers, and those attack strategies are constantly changing. To stay on top of these threats, your cybersecurity strategies must evolve, too. In this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

     

     

     

  • 10 Practical IBM i Security Tips for Surviving Covid-19 and Working From Home

    SB PowerTech WC GenericNow that many organizations have moved to a work from home model, security concerns have risen.

    During this session Carol Woodbury will discuss the issues that the world is currently seeing such as increased malware attacks and then provide practical actions you can take to both monitor and protect your IBM i during this challenging time.

     

  • How to Transfer IBM i Data to Microsoft Excel

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic3 easy ways to get IBM i data into Excel every time
    There’s an easy, more reliable way to import your IBM i data to Excel? It’s called Sequel. During this webinar, our data access experts demonstrate how you can simplify the process of getting data from multiple sources—including Db2 for i—into Excel. Watch to learn how to:

    • Download your IBM i data to Excel in a single step
    • Deliver data to business users in Excel via email or a scheduled job
    • Access IBM i data directly using the Excel add-in in Sequel

    Make 2020 the year you finally see your data clearly, quickly, and securely. Start by giving business users the ability to access crucial business data from IBM i the way they want it—in Microsoft Excel.

     

     

  • HA Alternatives: MIMIX Is Not Your Only Option on IBM i

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericIn this recorded webinar, our experts introduce you to the new HA transition technology available with our Robot HA software. You’ll learn how to:

    • Transition your rules from MIMIX (if you’re happy with them)
    • Simplify your day-to-day activities around high availability
    • Gain back time in your work week
    • Make your CEO happy about reducing IT costs

    Don’t stick with a legacy high availability solution that makes you uncomfortable when transitioning to something better can be simple, safe, and cost-effective.

     

     

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  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.