TweetFollow Us on Twitter

CGI Programming with REALbasic and Apache

Volume Number: 20 (2004)
Issue Number: 6
Column Tag: Programming

CGI Programming with REALbasic and Apache

by Mark Choate

With the recent release of REALbasic 5.5, RB has become an excellent tool to use for web development. The most recent version sports improved networking features and support for XML (including XSLT and Xquery), plus the ability to compile command-line applications, called console applications in REALbasic. Perhaps most interesting is the ability to compile applications for use on Windows and Linux, in addition to Macintosh platforms.

Traditionally, Mac web servers communicated with CGI applications through Apple events. This doesn't work with Apache, however, so a CGI application needs to be able to be able to receive information from the server in the normal CGI way - through environment variables. This article illustrates the steps necessary to implement this in REALbasic. One important thing to note: since many of the features that enable CGI programming in REALbasic are new, the current release (5.5.1) has some bugs, which I have had to work around. Some may be fixed by the time this article is released, but hopefully this will save you some time for those that have not been fixed.

The first step will be to review CGI programming for those who aren't familiar with it. CGI stands for the common gateway interface. It's called an interface because it provides the means for Apache (or any web server that supports CGI) to execute scripts and applications on the host machine of a web server. When a user types a URL into his or her web browser, that URL often represents the location of an HTML file that the server just picks up and sends back to the browser. In a CGI program, the URL represents a script or a program that gets executed. The output of the program then gets sent back to the user. In order to provide security, Apache allows the administrator to configure which directories allow CGI programs to be executed. On OS X the cgi-bin directory is here:

/Library/WebServer/CGI-Executables

This article assumes that you haven't made any changes to the default Apache configuration that comes with OS X. The configuration file that Apache uses is available at /etc/ httpd/http.conf. If you have never modified this file, now is not a good time to start - but you shouldn't need to. It's worth taking a look at it just to make sure that CGI is set up properly. My httpd.conf file has this, about 2/3 of the way through the document:

    # ScriptAlias: This controls which directories contain server scripts.
    # ScriptAliases are essentially the same as Aliases, except that
    # documents in the realname directory are treated as applications and
    # run by the server when requested rather than as documents sent to the client.
    # The same rules about trailing "/" apply to ScriptAlias directives as to
    # Alias.
    #
    ScriptAlias /cgi-bin/ "/Library/WebServer/CGI-Executables/"

The last line indicates two things. "/cgi-bin/" is going to be part of the URL for the CGI application - something like: http://localhost/cgi-bin/ plus the name of your script. The second path is the absolute path for this directory on the server. For this example, we'll be placing our REALbasic CGI program in this directory. Sometimes you'll see CGI scripts that end with a ".cgi" extension, but we won't need to use that - in fact, you should avoid using any extensions because it will mess things up. Other scripting languages, like perl and Python, usually reside on the web server as text files that are executed by an interpreter. Apache uses extensions to map an interpreter to a particular file. Since REALbasic is a compiled program, it doesn't need an interpreter and it's better just to leave the extension off. It also provides for a much nicer URL, which is important, too.

Now we can start work on the program. The easiest way to work is to save the project in the CGI-Executables directory. This is because you'll need to compile the application in order to test it with Apache, and it's easier to just compile it and leave it there to test than it would be to compile it and copy it to the CGI directory.

In RB, a console application is one that does not have a graphical interface - it runs on the command line. In order to create a console application, simply create a new project in REALbasic 5.5+, and select the "Console Application" template. Once that is done, RB will provide you with the shell of an application with one class called "App".


Figure 1. Starting a new console application in REALbasic.

There are two default events in a console application - "UnhandledException" and "Run". The "Run" event is triggered when the program is launched - in the case of a CGI application, it is triggered when a user requests it by typing the application's URL in her web browser.


Figure 2. Blank console application project.

Now is a good time to select the FILE a Build Settings... menu and configure the application. Select "Build for OS X" (this program has only been tested on OS X, although it should work on other platforms as well. Click on the top popup menu on the page, and select "Mac OS Settings". The only thing to change here is the name - be sure to give it a name without an extension and without spaces or punctuation. In this example, I've chosen the name "CGI", which is short and easy to type into a browser window.

Once that is done, it's time to write some code.

Since console applications do not have a graphical interface, they have to be able to input data and output data in some other fashion. For programs that are executed on the command line, this is typically referred to as "Standard Input" and "Standard Output" respectively. With a REALbasic console application, the command "INPUT" represents (you guessed it) standard input. "PRINT" sends data to standard output. In addition to standard input and output, CGI applications also make use of environment variables that are set by the web server. In order to access environment variables, you need the system object, which includes the method: System.EnvironmentVariable(), which returns the value for the environment variable that is passed to it. In the current version (5.5.1) there is a bug that causes REALbasic to crash if you try to access a variable that does not exist. This places some real limitations on what you can do, but it is supposed to be fixed in 5.5.2.

The console application "App" class is where the action is. It has two events: "Run", and "UnhandledException". The "Run" event is triggered when the application is invoked by the web server, so it is in the "Run" event that we put the main part of our code. I also created a "request" object, which is created when the "Run" method is executed. It is a sub class of Dictionary and it is used to hold the data that is passed to the CGI application from Apache. It also executes a "Write" method, that sends data back to the client browser.

The "Run" method should look like this:

App.Run
#pragma disableBackgroundTasks 
  
request = new request
  
request.value("SERVER_SOFTWARE") = system.environmentVariable("SERVER_SOFTWARE")
request.value("SERVER_NAME") = system.environmentVariable("SERVER_NAME")
    
request.value("REQUEST_METHOD") = system.environmentVariable("REQUEST_METHOD")
    
request.value("QUERY_STRING") = system.environmentVariable("QUERY_STRING")
request.value("REMOTE_ADDR") = system.environmentVariable("REMOTE_ADDR")
    
request.getQueryString
request.handleRequest

Background tasks are disabled because Apache doesn't work well with them. If you don't disable them, every time you do a loop, or execute anything that triggers a new thread or background task, the application crashes mercilessly.

In this example, I have only gathered the minimal environment variables necessary to execute the program, because of the bug mentioned earlier. One notable environment variable missing is "HTTP_COOKIE", which is very useful if you use cookies, which provide a way to track a visitor to the site. A complete list of variables is included in the sample script, but commented out.

The two variables that matter most to use are "REQUEST_METHOD" and "QUERY_STRING". There are several kinds of requests a web server can accept. The two that concern us are "Post" requests and "Get" requests. The distinction between the two in actual practice is virtually non-existent, except that it changes the way that form data is passed to the CGI program.

Any time you fill out a form on a web page, either to log in or make a purchase, the information that you enter needs to be transferred to the server so that it can take some appropriate action. When you create a form in HTML, you have the option of selecting the request method you want to use - either "Get" or "Post". If you choose "Get", then the data from the form is encoded and sent across as part of the URL. If you use "Post", then the data is sent to the CGI program as standard input. Here is an example of a "Get" request URL:

http://localhost/cgi-bin/test?cat=dog

The first step in processing a CGI request is to find out what kind of request it is, and process it accordingly. In the request class, I have implemented the following method:

App.request.getQueryString
#pragma disableBackgroundTasks // Throws an error during the loop
  
  Dim query_string, field, key, value As String
  Dim x As Integer
  
  query = New Dictionary
//If the REQUEST_METHOD is a "post", then get the string from standard input, 
   otherwise get it from QUERY_STRING
  If me.hasKey("REQUEST_METHOD") then
    if me.value("REQUEST_METHOD") = "POST" Then
      query_string = Input
    Else
      query_string = System.EnvironmentVariable("QUERY_STRING")
    End If
  end if
  
  if query_string <> "" then
    //parse the query string
    For x = 1 to CountFields(query_string, "&")
      field = NthField(query_string, "&", x)
      key = NthField(field, "=", 1)
      value = NthField(field, "=", 2)
      value = ReplaceAll(value, "+", " ")
      value = DecodeURLComponent(value)
      query.value(key) = value
    Next
  end if
  

The method creates a new dictionary to hold the values of the query (the data from the form). If the request method is a "Post", then the method grabs the string from standard input. If it is a "Get", then it grabs it from the environment variable "QUERY_STRING". Beyond that, everything else is the same and the string is parsed and the dictionary values are set.

We now have a request object that contains all the needed values from the request, plus the query parsed into a dictionary. Normally, this would be sent to some method that would provide a response based upon the content of the query. For our example, we'll just send back to the client all the information stored in the request object.

To send data back to the client, we need to send some header information followed by an HTML string.

App.request.write
#pragma disableBackgroundTasks
  // simple write method that returns the data in the request.
  dim output as string
  dim html as string
  dim requestString, queryString as string  
  dim x,y as integer 
  
  // set the value for "Content-type", followed by a blank line
  output = "Content-type: text/html" + chr(13) + chr(10) + chr(13) + chr(10)
  
  // create the html string 
  html = "<html><head><title>TestOutput</title></head><body>"
  
  y = me.count
  for x = 0 to y-1
    requestString = requestString + me.key(x) + ": " + me.value(me.key(x)) + "<br />"
  next
  
  y = me.query.count
  for x = 0 to y-1
    queryString = queryString + me.query.key(x) + ": " + me.query.value(me.query.key(x)) + "<br />"
  next
  
  html = html + requestString + queryString + "</body></html>"
  
  output = output + html
  
  print output

If you placed the application in the /Library/WebServer/CGI-Executables directory, and set the application name as "CGI", then you should be able to access the script from the following URL:

Localhost/cgi-bin/CGI/CGI

You should be able to paste it in the browser, hit return, and then get back a list of the variables. If you want to test the query string, then enter a URL like the following:

Localhost/cgi-bin/CGI/CGI?key=value


Figure 3. Results of CGI application.

You now have a good starting point for writing CGI programs in REALbasic for Apache. One thing you'll notice, especially if you have a lot of traffic on your site, is that CGI can be slow at times. The reason for this is that the program has to be started up with each request, which produces a lot of overhead. The downside to RB is that it produces large executable files - about 1.3 MB for this simple CGI program, so the particular solution is best limited to low-traffic sites. Because of this, there have been a variety of CGI workarounds that speed up the process. They way they work is that instead of invoking the program each time it is requested, the program stays resident in memory and handles the requests as they come in. This is usually accomplished with an Apache plug-in. This is an interesting approach that can be used with REALbasic as well - and you don't need to rely on console programming.

I developed an RB application that worked with an Apache plug-in called "mod_scgi". Mod_scgi works by taking the data that Apache would normally send as environment variables to a CGI program, and instead sends it as a block of data over a TCP connection. Using REALbasic's networking abilities, you can create a SocketServer that creates a pool of TCPSockets that listen on the appropriate port, gets the data when it is available, parses it and acts on it just like a CGI program. As soon as the individual socket is done, instead of exiting, it returns to listening on the port for the next request. This creates a huge performance boost, and is a tactic that should be considered if you expect a lot of traffic to your site.

The original (and best) guide to CGI from the inventor's of Mosaic, NCSA:

http://hoohoo.ncsa.uiuc.edu/cgi/


Mark Choate

 
AAPL
$97.49
Apple Inc.
+0.46
MSFT
$44.50
Microsoft Corpora
+0.10
GOOG
$588.94
Google Inc.
-4.41

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

TinkerTool 5.3 - Expanded preference set...
TinkerTool is an application that gives you access to additional preference settings Apple has built into Mac OS X. This allows to activate hidden features in the operating system and in some of the... Read more
Audio Hijack Pro 2.11.0 - Record and enh...
Audio Hijack Pro drastically changes the way you use audio on your computer, giving you the freedom to listen to audio when you want and how you want. Record and enhance any audio with Audio Hijack... Read more
Intermission 1.1.1 - Pause and rewind li...
Intermission allows you to pause and rewind live audio from any application on your Mac. Intermission will buffer up to 3 hours of audio, allowing users to skip through any assortment of audio... Read more
Airfoil 4.8.7 - Send audio from any app...
Airfoil allows you to send any audio to AirPort Express units, Apple TVs, and even other Macs and PCs, all in sync! It's your audio - everywhere. With Airfoil you can take audio from any... Read more
Microsoft Remote Desktop 8.0.8 - Connect...
With Microsoft Remote Desktop, you can connect to a remote PC and your work resources from almost anywhere. Experience the power of Windows with RemoteFX in a Remote Desktop client designed to help... Read more
xACT 2.30 - Audio compression toolkit. (...
xACT stands for X Aaudio Compression Toolkit, an application that encodes and decodes FLAC, SHN, Monkey’s Audio, TTA, Wavpack, and Apple Lossless files. It also can encode these formats to MP3, AAC... Read more
Firefox 31.0 - Fast, safe Web browser. (...
Firefox for Mac offers a fast, safe Web browsing experience. Browse quickly, securely, and effortlessly. With its industry-leading features, Firefox is the choice of Web development professionals... Read more
Little Snitch 3.3.3 - Alerts you to outg...
Little Snitch gives you control over your private outgoing data. Track background activityAs soon as your computer connects to the Internet, applications often have permission to send any... Read more
Thunderbird 31.0 - Email client from Moz...
As of July 2012, Thunderbird has transitioned to a new governance model, with new features being developed by the broader free software and open source community, and security fixes and improvements... Read more
Together 3.2 - Store and organize all of...
Together helps you organize your Mac, giving you the ability to store, edit and preview your files in a single clean, uncluttered interface. Smart storage. With simple drag-and-drop functionality,... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Garfield: Survival of the Fattest Coming...
Garfield: Survival of the Fattest Coming to iOS this Fall Posted by Jennifer Allen on July 25th, 2014 [ permalink ] Who loves lasagna? Me. Also everyone’s favorite grumpy fat cat, Garfield. | Read more »
Happy Flock Review
Happy Flock Review By Andrew Fisher on July 25th, 2014 Our Rating: :: HERD IT ALL BEFOREUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Underneath the gloss of Happy Flock’s visuals is a game of very little substance. It’s cute, but... | Read more »
Square Register Updates Adds Offline Pay...
Square Register Updates Adds Offline Payments Posted by Ellis Spice on July 25th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Looking For Group – Hearthstone’s Curse...
For the first time since its release (which has thankfully been a much shorter window for iPad players than their PC counterparts), Blizzard’s wildly successful Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft CCG is sporting some brand new content: the single... | Read more »
Poptile Review
Poptile Review By Jennifer Allen on July 25th, 2014 Our Rating: :: SIMPLY FUNUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Simple yet a little bit glorious, Poptile is a satisfying entertaining puzzle game with oodles of the ‘one... | Read more »
Modern Combat 5: Blackout Review
Modern Combat 5: Blackout Review By Brittany Vincent on July 25th, 2014 Our Rating: :: LESS QQ, MORE PEW PEWUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad The fifth entry into the blockbuster Modern Combat series is what mobile... | Read more »
Watch and Share Mobile Gameplay Videos W...
Watch and Share Mobile Gameplay Videos With Kamcord Posted by Jennifer Allen on July 25th, 2014 [ permalink ] iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad | Read more »
THE KING OF FIGHTERS '98 (Games)
THE KING OF FIGHTERS '98 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Series’ masterpiece “KOF ’98” finally joins the battle on iPhone! FEATURES:■ The best game balance in the “KOF”... | Read more »
LEX Goes Free For One Day In Honor of Ne...
LEX Goes Free For One Day In Honor of New Update Posted by Jennifer Allen on July 24th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Thomas Was Alone Goes Universal, Slashes...
Thomas Was Alone Goes Universal, Slashes Price to $3.99 Posted by Ellis Spice on July 24th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Mac minis on sale for $100 off MSRP, starting...
Best Buy has Mac minis on sale for $100 off MSRP. Choose free shipping or free instant local store pickup. Prices are for online orders only, in-store prices may vary: 2.5GHz Mac mini: $499.99 2.3GHz... Read more
Global Tablet Market Grows 11% in Q2/14 Notwi...
Worldwide tablet sales grew 11.0 percent year over year in the second quarter of 2014, with shipments reaching 49.3 million units according to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation... Read more
New iPhone 6 Models to Have Staggered Release...
Digitimes’ Cage Chao and Steve Shen report that according to unnamed sources in Apple’s upstream iPhone supply chain, the new 5.5-inch iPhone will be released several months later than the new 4.7-... Read more
New iOS App Helps People Feel Good About thei...
Mobile shoppers looking for big savings at their favorite stores can turn to the Goodshop app, a new iOS app with the latest coupons and deals at more than 5,000 online stores. In addition to being a... Read more
Save on 5th generation refurbished iPod touch...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 5th generation iPod touches available starting at $149. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free. Many, but not all... Read more
What Should Apple’s Next MacBook Priority Be;...
Stabley Times’ Phil Moore says that after expanding its iMac lineup with a new low end model, Apple’s next Mac hardware decision will be how it wants to approach expanding its MacBook lineup as well... Read more
ArtRage For iPhone Painting App Free During C...
ArtRage for iPhone is currently being offered for free (regularly $1.99) during Comic-Con San Diego #SDCC, July 24-27, in celebration of the upcoming ArtRage 4.5 and other 64-bit versions of the... Read more
With The Apple/IBM Alliance, Is The iPad Now...
Almost since the iPad was rolled out in 2010, and especially after Apple made a 128 GB storage configuration available in 2012, there’s been debate over whether the iPad is a serious tool for... Read more
MacBook Airs on sale starting at $799, free s...
B&H Photo has the new 2014 MacBook Airs on sale for up to $100 off MSRP for a limited time. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only. They also include free copies of Parallels... Read more
Apple 27″ Thunderbolt Display (refurbished) a...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 27″ Thunderbolt Displays available for $799 including free shipping. That’s $200 off the cost of new models. Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
Sr. Project Manager for *Apple* Campus 2 -...
…the design and construction of one building or building components of the New Apple Campus located in Cupertino, CA. They will provide project management oversight for Read more
WW Sales Program Manager, *Apple* Online St...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
Project Manager / Business Analyst, WW *Appl...
…a senior project manager / business analyst to work within our Worldwide Apple Fulfillment Operations and the Business Process Re-engineering team. This role will work Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.