Nate Nate - 11 months ago 54
PHP Question

Should uploaded files be renamed?

I've been reading up on PHP file upload security and a few articles have recommended renaming the files. For example, the OWASP article Unrestricted File Upload

It is recommended to use an algorithm to determine the filenames. For
instance, a filename can be a MD5 hash of the name of file plus the
date of the day.

If a user uploads a file named
Cake Recipe.doc
is there really any reason to rename it to

If the answer is yes, for whatever reason, then how do you keep track of the original file name and extension?


To your primary question, is it good practice to rename files, the answer is a definite yes, especially if you are creating a form of File Repository where users upload files (and filenames) of their choosing, for several reason:

  1. Security - if you have a poorly written application that allows the download of files by name or through direct access (it's a horrid, but it happens), it's much harder for a user, whether maliciously or on purpose, to "guess" the names of files.
  2. Uniqueness -- the likelihood of two different people uploading a file of the same name is very high (ie. avatar.gif, readme.txt, video.avi, etc). The use of a unique identifier significantly decreases the likelihood that two files will be of the same name.
  3. Versioning -- It is much easier to keep multiple "versions" of a document using unique names. It also avoids the need for additional code to parse a filename to make changes. A simple example would document.pdf to document(1).pdf, which becomes more complicated when you don't underestimate users abilities to create horrible names for things.
  4. Length -- working with known filename lengths is always better than working with unknown filename lengths. I can always know that (my filepath) + (X letters) is a certain length, where (my filepath) + (random user filename) is completely unknown.
  5. OS -- the length above can also create problems when attempting to write extremely random/long filenames to a drive. You have to account for special characters, lengths and the concerns for trimmed filenames (user may not receive a working file because the extension has been trimmed).
  6. Execution -- It's easy for the OS to execute a file named .exe, or .php, or (insert other extension). It's hard when there isn't an extension.

As for storing the information, you would typically do this in a database, no different than the need you have already, since you need a way to refer back to the file (who uploaded, what the name is, occassionally where it is stored, the time of upload, sometimes the size). You're simply adding to that the actual stored name of the file in addition to the user's name for the file.

The OWASP recommendation isn't a bad one -- using the filename and a timestamp (not date) would be mostly unique. I take it a step further to include the microtime with the timestamp, and often some other unique bit of information, so that a duplicate upload of a small file couldn't occur in the same timeframe -- I also store the date of the upload which is additional insurance against md5 clashes, which has a higher probability in systems that store many files and for years. It is incredibly unlikely that you would generate two like md5s, using filename and microtime, on the same day. An example would be:

$filename = date('Ymd') . '_' . md5($uploaded_filename . microtime());

My 2 cents.