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petdance (2468)

AOL IM: petdance (Add Buddy, Send Message)
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I'm Andy Lester, and I like to test stuff. I also write for the Perl Journal, and do tech edits on books. Sometimes I write code, too.

Journal of petdance (2468)

Monday September 15, 2003
03:46 PM

mod_perl and PHP don't share the environment nicely

[ #14723 ]

PHP and mod_perl do not share the environment nicely. PHP's putenv() will cause segfaults. Caveats should be distributed all around in PHP and mod_perl, at the very least, with the following two options:

  • Recompile Perl itself with -DPERL_USE_SAFE_PUTENV, then recompile mod_perl and Apache, in that order.
  • Replace all PHP calls to putenv() with apache_setenv().

I'm publishing this so that it will be archived and Googlable.

Most of the following is written by, and based research from, Nick Dronen (veblen in IRC).

Background / Affected Configuration

We've been seeing segmentation faults in an Apache configured with mod_perl and PHP. There are several posts, all to archived PHP mailing lists, with stack traces that match the ones we've been seeing, but no useful resolutions. This document describes the problem and solution so other users who encounter this problem can acquire a clear idea what to do.

At first, it looks like the problem is caused by either PHP or the C runtime library. It's not. It's caused by the use of both mod_perl and mod_php in Apache, if (and hopefully only if) your perl is not configured to use the C library's putenv(3) routine. Other Apaches configured to use mod_perl and any other module that manipulates the process's environment may also be affected. At any rate, this is what we're using:

  • Apache 1.3.28
  • PHP 4.3.3
  • Perl 5.8.0
  • mod_perl 1.28

Symptoms - PHP

If PHP is configured with --enable-debug, errors containing apparantly corrupt memory will appear in the log files. (Reformatted here to make it less unreadable.)

  [Thu Aug 28 13:11:47 2003]  Script:  '/path/to/file.html'
  /usr/src/php-4.3.3/Zend/zend_opcode.c(159) :
      Block 0x08D77C58 status:
      Actual location (location was relayed)

  Beginning:      OK (allocated on Zend/zend_language_scanner.c:4718, 64 bytes)
        End:      Overflown (magic=0x08376158 instead of 0x2A8FCC84)
                     At least 4 bytes overflown
  [Thu Aug 28 13:11:47 2003] [error] php Warning:
      String is not zero-terminated (`~A~Q^H~@^D~P...)
      (source: /usr/src/php-4.3.3/Zend/zend_opcode.c:159) in Unknown on line 0
  [Thu Aug 28 13:11:47 2003]  Script:  '/path/to/file.html'
      Block 0x08D77D00 status:
      Actual location (location was relayed)

  Beginning:      Overrun (magic=0x083763F0, expected=0x7312F8DC)

  [Thu Aug 28 13:11:47 2003] [notice] child pid 3983 exit signal Segmentation fault

Note that the garbage in the "String is not zero-terminated" line is about 80 characters long and filled with randomness. It's been truncated here.

Symptoms - core dumps

If your apache is able to create a core file, you can examine the stack trace by doing:

$ gdb /path/to/httpd /path/to/core


$ dbx /path/to/httpd /path/to/core

In some cases -- specifically when httpd is running suid/sgid -- Apache will not dump core. There is a kernel patch for Linux that changes this behavior so you can get a core dump. The patch is available for Linux kernel versions 2.4.x and 2.5.x at:

Memory madness can cause segmentation faults at any number of places in a complex program, depending on how memory is accessed. Below is one of the more common stack traces we've seen. A strong sign that you're suffering from this problem is the presence of putenv(3) in the stack.

If your stacks look different than this, a sample program appears at the end of this document, along with instructions how to run it. If the program segfaults, you might be seeing the same problem.

Here's a classic stack trace (also reformatted a bit):

  #0  0x4207448f in _int_realloc () from /lib/i686/
  #0  0x4207448f in _int_realloc () from /lib/i686/
  #1  0x42073416 in realloc () from /lib/i686/
  #2  0x4202ab8f in __add_to_environ () from /lib/i686/
  #3  0x4202aab8 in putenv () from /lib/i686/
  #4  0x080f68ba in zif_putenv (
      ht=1, return_value=0x8c01ffc, this_ptr=0x0, return_value_used=0)
      at /usr/src/php-4.3.3/ext/standard/basic_functions.c:1347

  #5  0x080ce2e6 in execute (op_array=0x84e7044)
      at /usr/src/php-4.3.3/Zend/zend_execute.c:1616

  #6  0x080beaa4 in zend_execute_scripts (
      type=8, retval=0x0, file_count=3
        ) at /usr/src/php-4.3.3/Zend/zend.c:885

  #7  0x08096641 in php_execute_script (primary_file=0xbfffe440)
      at /usr/src/php-4.3.3/main/main.c:1723

  #8  0x080d2e35 in apache_php_module_main (
      r=0x8b6fa1c, display_source_mode=0
        ) at /usr/src/php-4.3.3/sapi/apache/sapi_apache.c:54

  #9  0x0808d690 in send_php (
      r=0x8b6fa1c, display_source_mode=0,
      filename=0x8b70924 "/home/moregan/tw/envthrash.php"
        ) at mod_php4.c:620

  #10 0x0808d6fb in send_parsed_php (r=0x8b6fa1c) at mod_php4.c:635
  #11 0x0819bce8 in ap_invoke_handler (r=0x8b6fa1c) at http_config.c:518
  #12 0x081b075b in process_request_internal (r=0x8b6fa1c)
      at http_request.c:1324

  #13 0x081b07ba in ap_process_request (r=0x8b6fa1c) at http_request.c:1340
  #14 0x081a7a03 in child_main (child_num_arg=0) at http_main.c:4653
  #15 0x081a7c64 in make_child (s=0x831fbac, slot=0, now=1063034483)
      at http_main.c:4823

  #16 0x081a7fa3 in perform_idle_server_maintenance () at http_main.c:5008
  #17 0x081a85c2 in standalone_main (argc=3, argv=0xbfffe944)
      at http_main.c:5258

  #18 0x081a8bc8 in main (argc=3, argv=0xbfffe944) at http_main.c:5511
  #19 0x420158d4 in __libc_start_main () from /lib/i686/

Root Cause

The malbehavior is caused by Perl's handling of the pointer to the process environment (usually accessed via the global variable environ). Some implementations of putenv(3) leak memory (or, to be fair, used to leak memory, but have been fixed), and perl has code that works around this. To do so, perl allocates its own memory for the environment, copies the original environment to the new memory block, frees the original pointer, and assigns the new pointer to environ.

A call to PHP's putenv routine results in a call to the C library, which will use an internal pointer, one that points to memory that was already freed by perl, to reallocate memory for environ. This results in a segmentation fault.

If you're curious about the perl code that fiddles with the environment, run:

$ egrep '\<environ\>' *.c *.h

in the base directory of the perl source tree. Enjoy.


There are two ways to avoid this segmentation fault.

  • Recompile Perl itself with -DPERL_USE_SAFE_PUTENV, then recompile mod_perl and Apache, in that order.
  • Replace all PHP calls to putenv() with apache_setenv().

The first is preferable if your webby packages are built from source already. If you're using a vendor's perl, and the vendor is man enough to stand behind the implementation of putenv(3) in its C library, perhaps they should rethink about the options they use to compile perl. In the meantime, you can just use apache_setenv().

Recommended Action (for Apache, PHP, mod_perl maintainers)

In the best of all possible worlds, the mod_perl and mod_php documentation would be changed to include a glaringly conspicuous caveat to users. In fact, because this "feature" of Perl can cause segfaults in any apache that uses mod_perl in concert with any other module that calls putenv(), it might be a good idea for the documentation of apache and even other modules to include this caveat.

Something to this effect:

    If you are running apache with mod_perl and at least one other module,
    you may want to compile your perl with -DPERL_USE_SAFE_PUTENV.
    If your perl is not compiled with this macro defined, libperl.a
    will contain code that plays dangerously with the global variable
    environ, which can lead to segmentation faults when other apache
    modules call putenv().

    You can check whether your perl has been compiled with this option
    by running the following command:

        $ perl -V:cppflags

    If you see -DPERL_USE_SAFE_PUTENV in the output, your perl was
    compiled with that option and your apache shouldn't exhibit the
    bad behavior in question.  If you don't see it, and apache is
    crashing with stack traces that contain the function putenv(),
    reconfigure with

        $ ./Configure --Acppflags=-DPERL_USE_SAFE_PUTENV

    along with any other Configure options you may need.  Run "make",
    "make test", and "make install."  Then recompile mod_perl.  If
    your mod_perl is statically linked into apache, recompile apache
    as well.

Reproducing the problem

Save build and envtest.c to files on your machine. Run build to make envtest. Run ulimit -c to see whether your process limits are set to allow core dumps. Then run envtest, using the exact inputs show below (print "1\n"<RETURN><CTRL>-Dprint "2\n"<RETURN><CTRL>-D).



    opts=$($perl -MExtUtils::Embed -e ccopts -e ldopts)

    if [[ $perl = "debugperl" ]]
        opts=$(echo $opts | sed 's/-lperl/-ldebugperl/')

    cmd="gcc -g -o envtest envtest.c -Wall $opts"
    echo $cmd; $cmd


    #include <stdlib.h>
    #include <string.h>
    #include <assert.h>
    #include <EXTERN.h>
    #include <perl.h>

    void run_perl(int argc, char *argv[], char **env, char *putenv_arg);

    #define VAR1 "VAR1=value"
    #define VAR2 "VAR2=value"

    char *tmpptr = VAR2;

    int main(int argc, char *argv[], char **env)
        char *envptr = malloc(strlen(VAR1) + 1);
        strcpy(envptr, VAR1);

        /* call putenv with malloc'ed pointer */
        run_perl(argc, argv, env, envptr);
        /* call putenv with pointer from process's data segment */
        run_perl(argc, argv, env, tmpptr);



    void run_perl(int argc, char *argv[], char **envptr, char *putenv_arg) {
        PerlInterpreter *my_perl = perl_alloc();
        PL_exit_flags |= PERL_EXIT_DESTRUCT_END;
        perl_parse(my_perl, NULL, argc, argv, envptr);

        if (putenv_arg)
            assert(putenv(putenv_arg) == 0);


    /* END envtest.c */


  $ ./build
  gcc -g -o envtest envtest.c -Wall -rdynamic -L/usr/local/lib /usr/lib/perl/5.8.0/auto/DynaLoader/DynaLoader.a -L/usr/lib/perl/5.8.0/CORE -lperl -ldl -lm -lpthread -lc -lcrypt -D_REENTRANT -D_GNU_SOURCE -DDEBIAN -fno-strict-aliasing -D_LARGEFILE_SOURCE -D_FILE_OFFSET_BITS=64 -I/usr/lib/perl/5.8.0/CORE

  $ ./envtest
  print "1\n" <-- press return, then ^D
  print "2\n" <-- press return, then ^D
  Segmentation fault (core dumped)

  $ gdb -q envtest core
  Core was generated by `./envtest'.
  Program terminated with signal 11, Segmentation fault.
  Reading symbols from /usr/lib/
  Loaded symbols for /usr/lib/
  Reading symbols from /usr/lib/debug/
  Loaded symbols for /usr/lib/debug/
  Reading symbols from /usr/lib/debug/
  Loaded symbols for /usr/lib/debug/
  Reading symbols from /usr/lib/debug/
  Loaded symbols for /usr/lib/debug/
  Reading symbols from /usr/lib/debug/
  Loaded symbols for /usr/lib/debug/
  Reading symbols from /usr/lib/debug/
  Loaded symbols for /usr/lib/debug/
  Reading symbols from /lib/
  Loaded symbols for /lib/
  #0  0x401ffeee in __libc_realloc (oldmem=0x804e730, bytes=160) at malloc.c:3408
  3408      ar_ptr = arena_for_chunk(oldp);
  (gdb) where
  #0  0x401ffeee in __libc_realloc (oldmem=0x804e730, bytes=160) at malloc.c:3408
  #1  0x401be753 in __add_to_environ (name=0xbffff5c0 "VAR2", value=0x0,
      combined=0x8048bf0 "VAR2=value", replace=1) at ../sysdeps/generic/setenv.c:145
  #2  0x401be686 in putenv (string=0x8048bf0 "VAR2=value")
      at ../sysdeps/generic/putenv.c:67
  #3  0x08048ab7 in run_perl (argc=1, argv=0xbffff694, envptr=0xbffff69c,
      putenv_arg=0x8048bf0 "VAR2=value") at envtest.c:36
  #4  0x08048a2f in main (argc=1, argv=0xbffff694, env=0xbffff69c) at envtest.c:22

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