We have a few things to talk about regarding SQL and PHP. It’s short and sweet, so I’ll be brief.

I’ll start with saying that I’d like to put this tactfully, but unfortunately, I don’t know how else to say this:

It’s 2014 and we’re still not using parameterized statements.


I ran across a project that was linked from one of the various “discover Github” mailings I’m subscribed to that looks very promising. It’s called Lychee, it looks great, and the demo functions well. I can’t think of any other open source gallery systems at the moment that look as good as Lynchee (or as simple). There’s just one problem: It’s an absolute haven for SQL injection attacks. Gosh, I don’t even know where to begin. Nearly every single query that accepts some form of external input is a potential landmine of shame, sadness, and roasted pandas. Worse, the last ticket addressing this particular issue was posted about a month ago. If there’s no activity this weekend, I might just go through and convert it to use parameterized statements myself and offer a pull request.

The other problem I have with it is the code formatting. It’s pretty ugly. It certainly wouldn’t pass PSR-2, and it reminds me vaguely of the ad hoc formatting found in most other popular PHP products (commercial and otherwise, so it’s not like Lychee is unique). But, that’s okay. Code formatting is mostly subjective, as long as you’re following some standard (even your own) and remain consistent. While some of us would rather split hairs over various stupid things, it’s mostly incidental because we care about appearance. Appearance does matter, because care and consideration for how the code looks probably reflects how the code operates. Pragmatically, though, appearance doesn’t matter that much. It can be fixed with automated tools. No biggy.

However, the SQL injections are unforgivable.

There are hundreds of resources on the matter, many targeting PHP. So it’s not like there’s much of an excuse. Heck, I’ve written about this in the past, and I’m not even a smart dude. If you haven’t heard of parameterized statements, either you’ve been living under a rock or you’re new at this.

The good news is that if you’re new to the big bad world of web software, don’t fret. The absolute best place to get started if you’re writing PHP is to read PHP the Right Way. It includes dozens of tips and tricks, information on established and emerging standards, and delves into a few advanced topics for larger applications. I would highly encourage you to read the entire thing. In particularly, I would suggest reading the section on databases, because it covers PDO, SQL injections, and parameterized statements (often known as prepared statements). There’s nothing wrong with the MySQLi extensions per se but new PHP code should use PDO instead. PDO even has a lesser known feature to inject queries into objects, which can take care of some of the more mundane work (if you happen to swing that way).

Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to see new projects popping up all the time challenging older, more established ones. It breathes new life into under-served markets and creates a greater body of useful tools for all of us. Sometimes a fresh look into old concepts helps us think outside the box, questioning established design principles, and jarring us back into the reality that there might actually be a better way of doing things. Please don’t feel this post is an outright criticism: It’s not. We all had to start somewhere. If you’ve never heard of SQL injections, well, now you have. Extra information in your arsenal of tools won’t hurt, but it certainly will help combat one of the most common design flaws in software today.

What you should take away from this post is that there are unsavory individuals out there who are deeply interested in easy-to-exploit flaws in software. These folks gain a great deal of enjoyment from imposing misery on others, either by writ of outright damage or embarrassment. Because of them, we have to develop for the web differently than we might have, say, 10 years ago.

So let’s start by teaching the newcomers not to repeat our mistakes!


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