Weird PHP error output bug

We came across this PHP bug at work today.  But before you go and read it, let me show you a use case.  See, if you can spot the problem.

We had a cron job script which looked something like this (shortened for clarity):


# ... a bunch of stuff here ... 

date && echo "Updating products"
php updateProducts.php 1>/dev/null

if [ "$?" -ne "0" ]
  date && echo "Updating products failed"
  exit 1

# ... more stuff here ...

Crystal clear, no? Output a time stamp and a log message, run the product update, redirecting all normal output to standard output, and then check if the script finished fine. If not, print the time stamp and log message and exit with non-zero status code.

We use similar code snippets all over the place, and they work fine.  This particular one was a new addition.  So the cron job ran and “Updating products failed” part happened.  Weird.   The PHP script in question has plenty of logging in it, but nothing was logged.  So we added more logs.  And then some more logs.  And even more logs.  Until it became obvious that something else is wrong, because even the first line of the script, which was now a logging action, wasn’t triggered.

After a rather lengthy troubleshooting session we noticed that the updateProducts.php file was in fact named udpateProducts.php.  A simple typo in the file name.  But shouldn’t that be printed out into the error output?

Let’s check:

$ php no_such_file.php
Could not open input file: no_such_file.php
$ php no_such_file.php 1>/dev/null

Huh? Where’s my error? It’s gone.   That’s because if you are as used to the command line as I am, you’d expect PHP to output to STDERR.  But PHP is much smarter than that.  It has a whole slew of configuration options in regards to error output.  In this case, in particular, you need to check the values of display_errors and error_log configuration variables.  The bug report describes a Debian machine, while I tested it on Fedora, CentOS, and Amazon AMI.

$ php -i | egrep '(display_errors|error_log)'
display_errors => Off => Off
error_log => no value => no value

Now it’s not much of a mystery.  But things like that can easily make you pull some hair out.  Hopefully, this gets some attention.

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