How to query Microsoft SQL Server from PHP

Tuesday June 10thUncategorized Category

This post is for anybody who runs a GNU/Linux server and needs to query a MSSQL database. This setup will work on Debian and its relatives. As it’s a dense mix of technologies, so I’ve included all of the details which worked for me.

An obvious note: Microsoft SQL is not an ideal choice of database to pair with a GNU/Linux server, but may be acceptable if you are writing something which needs to import some data from external application which has a better reason to be using it.

A command-line alternative to this setup would be sqsh, which will let you running scheduled queries without PHP, if that’s what you’re after.


Once you have PHP, the required libraries can be fetched with:

sudo apt-get install unixodbc php5-odbc tdsodbc

MSSQL is accessed with the FreeTDS driver. Once the above packages are installed, you need to tell ODBC where to find this driver, by adding the following block to /etc/odbcinst.ini:

Description=MSSQL DB

The path is different on platforms other than amd64. Check the file list for the tdsodbc package on your architecture if you lose track of the path.

The next step requires that you know the database server address, version, and database name. Add a block for your database to the end of /etc/odbc.ini:

Driver = FreeTDS
Description = Foo Database
Trace = Yes
TraceFile = /tmp/sql.log
ForceTrace = yes
Server = 10.x.x.x
Port = 1433
Database = FooDB
TDS_Version = 8.0

Experiment with TDS_Version values if you have issues connecting. Different versions of MSSQL require different values. The name of the data source (‘foodb’), the Database, Description and Server are all bogus values which you will need to fill.

An example

For new PHP scripts, database grunt-work is invariably done via PHP Data Objects (PDO). The good news is, it is easy to use it with MSSQL from here.

The below file takes a query on standard input, throws it at the database, and returns the result as comma-separated values.

Save this as query.php and fill in your data source (‘odbc:foodb’ here), username, and password.

#!/usr/bin/env php
$query = file_get_contents("php://stdin");
$user = 'baz;
$pass = 'super secret password here';

$dbh = new PDO('odbc:foodb', $user, $pass);
$sth = $dbh -> prepare($query);
$sth -> execute();
$results = $sth -> fetchAll(PDO::FETCH_ASSOC);

/* Quick exit if there are no rows */
if(count($results) == 0) {
	return 0;
$f = fopen("php://stdout", "w");

/* Output header */
$a = $results[0];
$header = array();
foreach($a as $key => $val) {
	$header[] = $key;
fputcsv($f, $header);

/* Output rows */
foreach($results as $result) {
	fputcsv($f, $result);


To test the new script, first make it executable:

chmod +x query.php
To run a simple test query:
echo "SELECT Name from sys.tables ORDER BY Name;" | ./query.php

Refining the setup

The above script has some cool features: It’s short, actually useful, and it sets PDO::ERRMODE_EXCEPTION. This means that if something breaks, it will fail loudly and tell you why.

Hopefully, if your setup has issues, you can track down the cause with the error, and solve it by scrolling through this how-to again.

If you encounter a MSSQL datablase with an unknown schema, then you may want to list al rows and columns. This is achieved with:

SELECT AS tbl, AScol FROM sys.columns JOIN sys.tables ON columns.object_id = tables.object_id ORDER BY tbl, col;

The catch

I’ve run into some bizarre limitations using this. Be sure to run it on a server which you can update at the drop of a hat.

A mini-list of issues I’ve seen with this combination of software (no sources as I never tracked down the causes):

  • An old version of the driver would segfault PHP, apparently when non-ASCII content appeared in a text field.
  • Substituting non-text values fails in the version I am using, although Google suggests that updating the ODBC driver fixes this.
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A Yes/No filtering tool for images

Monday June 9thUncategorized Category

While collecting very large numbers of screen captures for writing documentation, I noticed that it takes far too long to filter out the junk.

To fix this, I coded up yn (source code via github). Given a list of images, it will display each one to the user, which they then include by pressing Y (yes) or exclude by pressing N (no) (hence the name yn).

The images which are selected are saved as a list, so that a script can continue by processing them in some way. This could be by copying them elsewhere, or generating a document with spaces to caption them. The example in the does both of these.

The code to this early version is very simple, which makes it a good example of a simple OpenCV C++ app. I’ve stepped through it below.

The code

C++ does console input and output via the iostream library:

#include <iostream>

To use OpenCV with a GUI, you need these headers. You then need to add them to your include path, and link to OpenCV for the program to compile:

#include <cv.h>
#include <highgui.h>

This line simly tells the compiler that when we say cout (console out), we mean std::cout.

using namespace std;

The only OpenCV code is in the below function. The steps are:

  1. load an image from a file via imread(),
  2. display it in a window with imshow(),
  3. capture the next keypress with waitKey(), then
  4. delete the window with destroyWindow()

 * Load a file, and wait for the user to press a key.
 * If the pressed key is 'y', print the filename.
bool yn(string fn) {
    cv::Mat img;
    char key = 0;

    img = cv::imread(fn);
    if(! {
        cerr << "Failed to load " << fn << endl;
    } else {
        cv::imshow(fn, img);
        key = cv::waitKey(0);
        if(key == 'y') {
            cout << fn << endl; // 'y' pressed
        } else if(key == 0x1B) {
            return false; // ESC pressed
    return true;

So with that library usage out of the way, all we need to do is get the list of files to check, and stop popping up windows when the user has pressed the escape key.

 * Get list of files from command-line arguments and display them in turn
int main(int argc, char** argv) {
    int i;

    /* Command-line arguments given */
    for(i = 1; i < argc; i++) {
        if(yn(string(argv[i])) == false) {
            cerr << "Quitting.\n";

    return 0;


The delay between images appearing can be removed by loading them in a separate thread, which I may do in a future version.

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Crash course: Run Windows on desktop Linux

Monday June 9thUncategorized Category

Sometimes, you need to use a tricky windows-only proprietary program on a GNU/Linux desktop. If you have a Windows install disk and licence at your disposal, then this post will show you how to get a Windows environment running without dual-booting.

The host here is a Debian box, and the guest is running Windows 7. The instructions will work with slight modifications for any mix of GNU/Linux and Windows

On the desktop, some things are not as important as the server world. Some things are excluded for simplicity: network bridging, para-virtualised disks, migration between hosts, and disk replication.

Software setup

Everything required from the host machine can be pulled in via Debian’s qemu-kvm package.

sudo apt-get install qemu-kvm


Prepare a disk image for Windows. The qcow2 format is suggested for the desktop as it will not expand the file to the full size until the guest uses the space:

qemu-img create -f qcow2 windows.img 30G

Launch the Windows installer in KVM with a command that looks something like this:

kvm -hda windows.img --cdrom windows-install-disc.iso -vga std -localtime -net nic,model=ne2k_pci -m 2048

Note the -m option is the number of megabytes of RAM to allocate. You can set it a little lower if you don’t have much to spare, but if it’s too low you’ll get this screen:


If you have a physical disk but no .iso of it, then using the disk drive via --cdrom /dev/cdrom will work.


If you have GNU/Linux, chances are you have installed an OS before. In case you haven’t seen the Windows 7 installer, the steps are below:

Select language, accept the licence agreement, choose the target disk, and let the files copy:

2014-06-04-capture-005 2014-06-04-capture-023 2014-06-04-capture-024 2014-06-04-capture-028 2014-06-04-capture-033 2014-06-04-capture-035 2014-06-04-capture-081 2014-06-04-capture-149

After reboot, enter the user details, licence key, update settings and timezone:

2014-06-04-capture-160 2014-06-04-capture-178 2014-06-04-capture-190 2014-06-04-capture-191 2014-06-04-capture-199 2014-06-04-capture-205 2014-06-04-capture-214 2014-06-04-capture-250 2014-06-04-capture-254 2014-06-04-capture-261

After another reboot, Windows is installed in the virtual machine:

2014-06-04-capture-263 2014-06-04-capture-265 2014-06-04-capture-277

Post-install tasks

The guest you have now will only run at standard VGA resolutions, and will probably not be networked. This section will show you how to fix that.

Network drivers

You will notice that we are launching the guest with -net nic,model=virtio. This means that we are using a virtual network card, rather than simulating a real one. You need to fetch a disk image with the latest binary drivers, which are best tracked down on via google.

Once you have the disk image in the same folder as your virtual machine, shut down and launch it with a CD:

kvm -hda windows.img --cdrom virtio-win-0.1-74.iso -vga std -localtime -net nic,model=ne2k_pci -m 2048

Under "My Computer" track down the "Device Manager", find your network card, and tell Windows to update the drivers. You can then point it to the CDROM’s "Win7" directory (or other one, if you are installing a different guest. After the network adapter is recognised, you will be connected automatically.

Note that you are using "user-mode" networking, which means you are on a simulated subnet, and can only communicate via TCP and UDP (ie, ping will not work). This can be a little slow, but will work on a laptop whether plugged in or running on WiFi.

Remote desktop

You may also be annoyed by the screen resolution and mouse sensitivity having strange settings. The best way around this is not to fiddle with settings and drivers, but to enable remote desktop and log in via the network. This lets you use any arbitrary screen size, and match mouse speed to the host.

This is set up to run locally, so it is neither laggy nor a security issue, and makes it possible to leverage all RDP features.

First, in the guest, enable remote desktop using these Microsoft instructions.

Then shut down and boot up with the extra -redir tcp:3389::3389 option:

kvm -hda windows.img -vga std -localtime -net nic,model=ne2k_pci -m 2048 -redir tcp:3389::3389

On the host, wait for the guest to boot, then use rdesktop to log in:

rdestkop localhost

One this works, you can shut down and boot with the extra -nographic option to leave remote desktop as the only way to interact with the guest:

kvm -hda windows.img -vga std -localtime -net nic,model=ne2k_pci -m 2048 -nographic -redir tcp:3389::3389

The rdesktop tool supports sound, file and printer redirection. It can also run fullscreen when launched with -f. All the details are in man rdesktop

If you end up using the guest operating system more, it is worth investigating USB-redirection for any peripherals (printers or mobile phones), running a virtual sound card, or running SAMBA on the host to share files.

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Including git commit history in a LaTeX document

Sunday April 27thUncategorized Category

LaTeX is a document typesetting system, which lends itself well to use within a source-code management program such as git. I found a need to include a changelog in a document, and found this brilliant blog article by Jerel Unruh which creates a HTML log using git log.

For inclusion within a Makefile target, I re-worked this into a shell script,, which will also auto-detect URL’s for any Github-hosted repository:

# Find remote URL for hashes (designed for GitHub-hosted projects)
origin=`git config remote.origin.url`
base=`dirname "$origin"`/`basename "$origin" .git`

# Output LaTeX table in chronological order
echo "\\begin{tabular}{l l l}\\textbf{Detail} & \\textbf{Author} & \\textbf{Description}\\\\\\hline"
git log --pretty=format:"\\href{$base/commit/%H}{%h} & %an & %s\\\\\\hline" --reverse
echo "\end{tabular}"

The above script outputs a LaTeX table, including a hyperlink to each commit. In the pre-amble, you need:


In your Makefile, you might add something like:

	./ > changelog.tex

The resulting changelog can then be included in the document via:

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QJoyPad update

Sunday April 27thUncategorized Category

As of April, there is now a qjoypad package available in the official Debian repository, see This program allows you to map joystick events to keyboard and mouse actions. This means that you could use, for example, a USB gamepad to browse the web.

I have previously blogged about the lack of usable, packaged programs to do this, and highly recommend getting your hands on a USB gamepad and giving this a shot. Depending on your distribution, you will soon be able to just run:

sudo apt-get install qjoypad

Then connect the gamepad and type:


You then get a window which shows you what buttons you can map:

Clicking a button prompts you to press a key on your keyboard or select a mouse button, and each profile can be saved and named for later use.

As far as small utility programs go, I now rely on this about as much as the Gnome calculator.

An alternative: AntiMicro

I’ll also give a mention to AntiMicro, which has similar goals, and looks very promising.

As a bit of background, there is a limitation in QJoyPad around adding modifier keys: For example, you simply can’t map a joystick button to <Ctrl>+Q, making it inefficient to use with most applications. The author of AntiMicro, Travis, sent me an email back in September to point out that his program both solves this issue, and has a Debian package available for download.

Whilst I was quite impressed with the functionality in AntiMicro, I found it a whole lot more complex to set up. I think this would be more useful for gamers, as mouse acceleration and key repeats are overkill for my use case (browsing the web and controlling VLC, MythTV, etc).

So, if you are a power user, then I suggest you give it a shot. Power users with apt-get may also consider joy2key, which is the best non-GUI tool for this, and is available in the Debian repositories.

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Winning 2048 game with key-mashing?

Monday March 24thUncategorized Category

This new, simple, addictive game is out, called 2048. You need to slide two numbers together, resulting in a bigger number, in ever-increasing powers of two. You get 2048, and you win.


I noticed that somebody already wrote neat AI for it, although it does run quite slowly. But then I also noticed a friend mashing keys in a simple pattern, and thought I should test whether this was more effective. The answer: it kinda is.


At least in the first half of the game, a simple key-mashing pattern is a much faster way to build high numbers. The PHP script below will usually get to 512 without much trouble, but rarely to 1024. I would suggest running it for a while, and then taking over with some strategy.

The script

This script spits out commands which can be piped to xte for some automatic key-mashing on GNU / Linux. Save as 2048.php

#!/usr/bin/env php
mouseclick 1
for($i = 0; $i < 10; $i++) {
	move("Left", 1);
	move("Right", 1);

while(1) {
	move("Down", 1);
	move("Left", 1);
	move("Down", 1);
	move("Right", 1);

function move($dir, $count) {
	for($i = 0; $i < $count; $i++) {
		echo "key $dir\nsleep 0.025\n";

And then in a terminal, run this then click over to a 2048 game:

sleep 3; php 2048.php | xte

Good luck!

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Importing myki data into GnuCash

Wednesday March 5thUncategorized Category

GnuCash, despite all its bugs, is one of the best open source accounting programs going around.

Since it is not hard to export the history from a myki (public transport) card, I figured that it would be nice to track it as an account in Gnucash.

myki logo Gnucash logo

The data on the statements is not quite suitable for an accounting program. Some changes that need to be done are:

  • Conversion of date format to YYYY-MM-DD.
  • Single-field descriptions for each transaction (“Top up myki money”, “Travel zone 2″), rather than multiple fields.
  • Entries which have a 0.00 cost need to be removed.

Once you have a CSV of your data, the script below will filter it to be ready for import:

#!/usr/bin/env php
/* Dump Myki CSV file to a file suitable for gnucash
	(c) Michael Billington < >
	MIT Licence */
$in = fopen("php://stdin", "r");
$out = fopen("php://stdout", "w");
$err = fopen("php://stdout", "w");
$lc = 0;

while($line = fgets($in)) {
	$a = str_getcsv($line, ',', '"');
	if(count($a) == 8) {
		$date = implode("-", array_reverse(explode("/", substr($a[0], 0, strpos($a[0], " ")))));
		$credit = $a[5] == "-" ? "" : $a[5];
		if($credit != "") { // Probably a top-up or reimbursement
			$description = $a[1];
		} else if($a[3] == "-") { // Probably buying myki pass
			$description = trim($a[1], "*");
		} else { // Probably travel charges
			$description = "Travel: " . $a[2] . ", Zone " . $a[3];
		$debit = $a[6] == "-" ? "" : $a[6];
		$balance = $a[7] == "-" ? "" : $a[7];
		if($balance != "") { // Ignore non-charge entries
			fputcsv($out, array($date, $description, $credit, $debit, $balance));

Why would you track it as an account?

There are lots of reasons why a public transport card is account-like enough to put into GnuCash:

  • Money is not spent until you touch on and off — note that no GST is payable until the card balance is used. This means that if you record a top-up under Expenses, it’s not quite correct.
  • You can cancel a myki and have its balance moved to another card.
  • A card can be handed in, and the balance paid back to you as cash.

Update 2014-05-04: All of these myki-related scripts are now available on github.

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Successful migration to WordPress in 3 easy steps

Monday March 3rdUncategorized Category

We made the decision in January to migrate our website to a WordPress installation, which is the CMS we recommend for our customers.

This posed a big challenge, mainly because we had been using our in-house BitBlog CMS to publish BitRevision content for the past 2 years, meaning our content was tied up in a difficult-to-export format.

Still, it allowed me to dig into the nifty and well-developed world of WordPress. My magic formula for a WordPress migration, in a nutshell:

  1. Export your old blog as something WordPress can understand.
  2. Hack at the theme until your site is beautiful.
  3. Don’t break your URL’s.

1. Export your blog

Depending on how you are blogging already, you may be able to save an export which can be loaded into WordPress with a plugin (see Importing Content on the WordPress wiki).

We were not in this lucky category, so I delved into the WXR (WordPress eXtended RSS) format. This example file was a big help, and I wrote up a short PHP script to create a similar-looking file from my blog.

2. Hack at the theme

We adapted our site from the ‘Skittlish’ theme, which has also been ported to WordPress. Every theme carries some baggage, so I highly suggest rolling up your sleeves and opening wp-content/themes on your blog.

All non-feature modifications are done in WordPress via themes, so keep tweaking it until you’re happy, or get a designer to put together a theme that suits your needs.

3. Don’t break your URL’s

I link between blog posts a lot, and breaking these links would be mind-numbing to clean up after (and a SEO sin). Using the import method above, I used article titles which matched the old permalinks.

WordPress then lets you configure permalinks to use this field, replicating the old behavior and keeping everybody happy.


If you run WordPress on your site, then it makes sense to have somebody on your team who really knows how it works.

If your initial setup is not handled with care, then you could end up wasting several days of work checking old content for errors.

Good luck!

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Rolling your own cloud storage with Unison

Sunday February 23rdUncategorized Category

Cloud storage is a very cool way to back up files, but it has two major drawbacks:

  1. If you back up everything, it will cost you a bit for the space.
  2. You need to trust that the company wont lose, tamper with, or leak your files.

I’ve recently discovered a little program called Unison, which provides a bandwidth-efficient way to synchronise folders on two computers, solving both of those problems. It has clients for just about every platform, it’s open source, and it’s been around for over a decade.

I’ve set up a copy of my laptop’s home directory on my desktop computer, so if it ever explodes, I can just sync it back:

With most ISP’s offering static addresses, you could even put a NAS on the internet to sync with, which would basically be a home DropBox.

Laptop and desktop example

Unison is in most Linux distributions. On Debian or Ubuntu, you can install it with:

apt-get install unison

mikebook has a profile called mikebox.prf, located in /home/mike/.unison/, which tells it to keep a copy of its home directory on mikebox.

root = /home/mike
root = ssh://mike@mikebox//home/mike/Remote/mikebook/
ignore = Name .*
ignore = Name *.iso
ignore = Name *.img
ignore = Name unison.log
ignore = BelowPath Downloads
ignore = BelowPath workspace

Everything can be brought up to speed with:

unison -batch mikebox

If mikeboox is running out of space, then I can drag files out of Remote/mikebook to somewhere else, and they simply vanish from the laptop next time it is synchronised.


  • Remote paths require that extra / in the filename.
  • Hidden folders seem to be skipped, so keep a copy of your .prf file in case you blow up your computer.
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A tour of ReactOS 0.3.15

Saturday February 1stUncategorized Category

ReactOS is a project which aims to create an open source operating system which is binary-compatible with Windows. Although it is still cautiously labelled “alpha”, its basic use is about as reliable as Windows once was.

This post runs through the steps to install ReactOS 0.3.15 as a KVM guest on Linux.


Before attempting anything, check that you a CPU supports Intel VT or AMD-V. This command will return the number of CPU cores with svm or vmx flags:

cat /proc/cpuinfo | grep -E 'svm|vmx' | wc -l

Now download the ReactOS 0.3.15 disk from, extract it to get the .iso, and fetch some packages if you don’t have them installed:

apt-get install libvirt-bin kvm qemu-utils

Prepare a disk image to install to. If your hardware is slower, then a raw image is a better idea than the qcow2:

qemu-img --help
qemu-img create -f qcow2 reactos.img 4G

The working directory now has:

mike@mikebox:~/vm/reactos$ ls -Ahl
total 77M
-rw-r--r-- 1 mike mike  77M May 19  2013 ReactOS-BootCD.iso
-rw-r--r-- 1 mike mike 193K Jan 30 21:05 reactos.img

Installation and first boot

The kvm command will pop up a window with the guest operating system. To boot from the install disk, run:

kvm -hda reactos.img --cdrom ReactOS-BootCD.iso -vga std -localtime -net nic,model=ne2k_pci -net user

The meaning of each of these options is:

-hda reactos.img
Sets the HDD image file.
--cdrom ReactOS-BootCD.iso
Sets the CDROM image file. Because reactos.img is blank, this will boot.
-vga std
Sets the VGA card.
Emulates a system clock in local time, rather than UTC.
-net nic,model=ne2k_pci
Sets the network card to something ReactOS will recognise.
-net user
Enables user-mode networking. Your computer will emulate a network and pass on TCP and UDP connections. This is the easiest mode to use, but ICMP packets (such as pings) will not work, and the VM will not be accessible from other computers.

Installation was fast, error-free, and did not require a network connection. The first screen capture below was taken at 16:04:49, and the desktop was captured at 16:06:07 (1 minute 18 seconds later). Most of that time would have been wasted waiting for user input.

ReactOS installer language select ReactOS install or repair ReactOS installer disclaimer Confirm install settings Select partition Formatting options for new partition Formatting confirmation dialog ReactOS install directory ReactOS installer copying files Bootloader options (freeloader)

After copying files, the installer reboots to a more user-friendly mode (similar to the Windows installer):

ReactOS boot menu ReactOS loading NTOSKRNL.EXE ReactOS boot screen ReactOS Install - Installing devices ReactOS Install - Welcome to the ReactOS Setup Wizard ReactOS Install - Acknowledgements ReactOS Install - Personalize your Software ReactOS Install - Computer name and Administrative Password ReactOS Install - Regional settings ReactOS Install - Date and Time ReactOS Install - Registering Components ReactOS Install - Completing the ReactOS Setup Wizard ReactOS desktop after installation

The installed system

After installation, the --cdrom option can be dropped:

kvm -hda reactos.img -vga std -localtime -net nic,model=ne2k_pci -net user

The first thing I did was correct the colour depth, and then attempt to install VLC. This did not turn out well (the console screen is QEMU-monitor):

Reactos display properties VLC installation in ReactOS Applications Manager Ctrl+Alt+Del from QEMU monitor BSOD during VLC installation

I used command prompt to verify that networking was fine (note the lack of ICMP in user-mode networking):

Ping from command prompt with user-mode networking as KVM guest Testing network on ReactOS

The Firefox 22 install worked, but it went awry after that. Several reboots later I gave up:

Firefox installer on ReactOS Firefox frozen on startup BSOD while running firefox on ReactOS

The built-in programs were much more usable:

ReactOS paint ReactOS paint Save As dialog ReactOS Explorer ReactOS Start Menu showing Administrative Tools ReactOS Device Manager

PuTTY installed flawlessly, and I was able to SSH to the host computer:

PuTTY installation on ReactOS PuTTY readme in ReactOS notepad Main PuTTY window after installation Using command prompt to find host computer address: PuTTY with host computer address PuTTY connected to host computer, showing 'uname -a' output

An example of a frozen program causing graphics glitches (Windows up to XP does this as well):

Frozen Application Manager in ReactOS

And an obligatory screenshot of the “Properties for System” dialog, showing the build as 20130518-r59037:

Reactos 'Properties of System' dialog 20130518-r59037


ReactOS is a cool idea and project, but the OS is still very glitchy. The built-in apps are stable and familiar-looking, but you would require a lot of patience (and a lot of rebooting) to use a ReactOS system for more than a few minutes.

Being open source is a big plus, as there is no need to activate the installation or enter software keys. GNU/Linux users will already be accustomed to this.

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