Asked  7 Months ago    Answers:  5   Viewed   35 times

I've heard many places that PHP's eval function is often not the answer. In light of PHP 5.3's LSB and closures we're running out of reasons to depend on eval or create_function.

Are there any conceivable cases where eval is the best (only?) answer in PHP 5.3?

This question is not about whether eval is evil in general, as it obviously is not.

Summary of Answers:

  • Evaluating numerical expressions (or other "safe" subsets of PHP)
  • Unit testing
  • Interactive PHP "shell"
  • Deserialization of trusted var_export
  • Some template languages
  • Creating backdoors for administers and/or hackers
  • Compatibility with < PHP 5.3
  • Checking syntax (possibly not safe)



Eric Lippert sums eval up over three blog posts. It's a very interesting read.

As far as I'm aware, the following are some of the only reasons eval is used.

For example, when you are building up complex mathematical expressions based on user input, or when you are serializing object state to a string so that it can be stored or transmitted, and reconstituted later.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021
answered 7 Months ago

Well, executing arbitrary strings as code has the caveat that you're executing arbitrary code whichever way you do it. There's no better alternative to eval that would let you execute PHP code without… executing PHP code.

The sane way to go here is to define a DSL which gives your users a way to write certain limited expressions which are not PHP code, which you will parse and evaluate with specific limited capabilities.

A good library which does that is Symfony's ExpressionLanguage component. Beyond that you'd go into the domain of language parsers.

Friday, May 28, 2021
answered 5 Months ago

I'd like to take a moment to address the premise of your question - that eval() is "evil". The word "evil", as used by programming language people, usually means "dangerous", or more precisely "able to cause lots of harm with a simple-looking command". So, when is it OK to use something dangerous? When you know what the danger is, and when you're taking the appropriate precautions.

To the point, let's look at the dangers in the use of eval(). There are probably many small hidden dangers just like everything else, but the two big risks - the reason why eval() is considered evil - are performance and code injection.

  • Performance - eval() runs the interpreter/compiler. If your code is compiled, then this is a big hit, because you need to call a possibly-heavy compiler in the middle of run-time. However, JavaScript is still mostly an interpreted language, which means that calling eval() is not a big performance hit in the general case (but see my specific remarks below).
  • Code injection - eval() potentially runs a string of code under elevated privileges. For example, a program running as administrator/root would never want to eval() user input, because that input could potentially be "rm -rf /etc/important-file" or worse. Again, JavaScript in a browser doesn't have that problem, because the program is running in the user's own account anyway. Server-side JavaScript could have that problem.

On to your specific case. From what I understand, you're generating the strings yourself, so assuming you're careful not to allow a string like "rm -rf something-important" to be generated, there's no code injection risk (but please remember, it's very very hard to ensure this in the general case). Also, if you're running in the browser then code injection is a pretty minor risk, I believe.

As for performance, you'll have to weight that against ease of coding. It is my opinion that if you're parsing the formula, you might as well compute the result during the parse rather than run another parser (the one inside eval()). But it may be easier to code using eval(), and the performance hit will probably be unnoticeable. It looks like eval() in this case is no more evil than any other function that could possibly save you some time.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021
answered 5 Months ago

Loop unrolling makes sense if you can break dependency chains. This gives a out of order or super-scalar CPU the possibility to schedule things better and thus run faster.

A simple example:

for (int i=0; i<n; i++)
  sum += data[i];

Here the dependency chain of the arguments is very short. If you get a stall because you have a cache-miss on the data-array the cpu cannot do anything but to wait.

On the other hand this code:

for (int i=0; i<n; i+=4)
  sum1 += data[i+0];
  sum2 += data[i+1];
  sum3 += data[i+2];
  sum4 += data[i+3];
sum = sum1 + sum2 + sum3 + sum4;

could run faster. If you get a cache miss or other stall in one calculation there are still three other dependency chains that don't depend on the stall. A out of order CPU can execute these.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021
answered 5 Months ago

you can have a variable variable/function, but cannot have variable method chains. you can however create a method chain using variable variables/functions.

Check this page of the php documentation:

it shows the usage of using strings as object or method names. using eval may lead to security vulnerabilities depending on the source of your data.

$var1 = 'model_db';
$var2 = 'get_results';

Thursday, August 26, 2021
answered 2 Months ago
Only authorized users can answer the question. Please sign in first, or register a free account.
Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged :