user3402600 user3402600 -4 years ago 120
C Question

Reading Binary Files in PHP

Is there any comprehensive information on how binary files can be read? I found information on the PHP website ( but I am struggling to understand on how to handle "typedef struct" and struct uses.

I have a long binary file with many blocks, each block can be represented us C struct. This C struct has various "typedef struct" similar to what i have come up with below:

typedef struct
unsigned char Day;
unsigned char Month;
unsigned char Year;
#define USER_TYPE 5
DATE_OF_BIRTH Birth[2];\


I have a structure below, this is a part of a bigger structure

typedef struct FILE_HEADER_tag
int Type;
int Version;
unsigned long Model;
unsigned long Number;
int Class;

int TemplateLoaded;
char TemplateName[32];
RTC_TIME_DATE OriginalCal;
int EndType;

typedef struct
unsigned char Second;
unsigned char Minute;
unsigned char Hour;
unsigned char Day;
unsigned char Month;
unsigned char Year;

The binary file is full of line breaks and I was able to decode the first line of it, which returned correct: type, version, model, number and a class. I think I have also decoded two next variable, but i am not sure of it because StartTime returns some gibberish.

At the moment I am looping through the lines from the binary file and trying to unpack each one:

$i = 1;
while (($line = fgets($handle)) !== false) {
// process the line read.
if($i == 1) {
$unpacked = unpack('iType/iVersion/LModel/LNumber/iClass/iTemplateLoaded', $line );
}if($i == 2) {
}if($i == 3) {
$unpacked = unpack('C32TemplateName/CStartTime[Second]/CStartTime[Minute]/CStartTime[Hour]/CStartTime[Day]/CStartTime[Month]/CStartTime[Year]', $line);

print "<pre>";
print "</pre>";


if($i == 4) { exit; }

Answer Source

I'm not really sure what you are trying to achieve here. If you have a binary file generated from the above c code then you could read and upack its content like this:

// get size of the binary file
$filesize = filesize('filename.bin');
// open file for reading in binary mode
$fp = fopen('filename.bin', 'rb');
// read the entire file into a binary string
$binary = fread($fp, $filesize);
// finally close the file

// unpack the data - notice that we create a format code using 'C%d'
// that will unpack the size of the file in unsigned chars
$unpacked = unpack(sprintf('C%d', $filesize), $binary);

// reset array keys
$unpacked = array_values($unpacked);

// this variable holds the size of *one* structure in the file
$block_size = 3;
// figure out the number of blocks in the file
$block_count = $file_size/$block_size;

// you now should have an array where each element represents a
// unsigned char from the binary file, so to display Day, Month and Year
for ($i = 0, $j = 0; $i < $block_count; $i++, $j+=$block_size) {
   print 'Day: ' . $unpacked[$j] . '<br />';
   print 'Month: ' . $unpacked[$j+1] . '<br />';
   print 'Year: ' . $unpacked[$j+2] . '<br /><br />';

Of course you could also create an object to hold the data:

  public $Day;
  public $Month;
  public $Year;

  public function __construct($Day, $Month, $Year) {
      $this->Day = $Day;
      $this->Month = $Month;
      $this->Year = $Year;

$Birth = [];

for ($i = 0, $j = 0; $i < $block_count; $i++, $j+=$block_size) {
   $Birth[] = new DATE_OF_BIRTH(

Another approach would be to slice it at each third element:

$Birth = [];    

for ($i = 0; $i < $block_count; $i++) {
  // slice one read structure from the array
  $slice = array_slice($unpacked, $i * $block_size, $block_size);

  // combine the extracted array containing Day, Month and Year
  // with the appropriate keys
  $slice = array_combine(array('Day', 'Month', 'Year'), $slice);

  $Birth[] = $slice;

You should also be aware that this could become much more complicated depending on what data your structure contains, consider this small c program:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>

// pack structure members with a 1 byte aligment
struct __attribute__((__packed__)) person_t {
  char name[5];
  unsigned int age;

struct person_t persons[2] = {
      'l', 'i', 's', 'a', 0 
       'c', 'o', 'r', 'n', 0 

int main(int argc, char** argv) {
  FILE* fp = fopen("binary.bin", "wb");
  fwrite(persons, sizeof(persons), 1, fp);
  return 0;

The above will write each packed structure into the file binary.bin, the size will be exactly 18 bytes. To get a better grasp on alignment/packing you can check out this so post: Structure padding and packing

Then in you php code you could read each block in a loop like so:

$filesize = filesize("binary.bin");
$fp = fopen("binary.bin", "rb");
$binary = fread($fp, $filesize);

// this variable holds the size of *one* structure
$block_size = 9;
$num_blocks = $filesize/$block_size;

// extract each block in a loop from the binary string
for ($i = 0, $offset = 0; $i < $num_blocks; $i++, $offset += $block_size) {
   $unpacked_block = unpack("C5char/Iint", substr($binary, $offset));
   $unpacked_block = array_values($unpacked_block);

   // walk over the 'name' part and get the ascii value
   array_walk($unpacked_block, function(&$item, $key) {
      if($key < 5) {
        $item = chr($item);
   $name = implode('', array_slice($unpacked_block, 0, 5));
   $age = implode('', array_slice($unpacked_block, 5, 1));
   print 'name: ' . $name . '<br />';
   print 'age: ' . $age . '<br />';
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