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Security Issues with allow_url_fopen

This tutorial will discuss the security issues with allow_url_fopen in PHP

The PHP option allow_url_fopen would normally allow a programmer to open, include or otherwise use a remote file using a URL rather than a local file path. For security reasons, AUSWEB has disabled this feature; however, a feature-rich alternative exists in the form of the bundled cURL library.

Server-Side Includes

Many developers include files by pointing to a remote URL, even if the file is within the local system. For example:

<?php include(“http://example.com/includes/example_include.php”); ?>

With allow_url_fopen disabled, this method will not work. Instead, the file must be included with a local path, and there are three methods of doing this:

  1. By using a relative path, such as ../includes/example_include.php.
  2. By using an absolute path (also known as relative-from-root), such as /home/username/example.com/includes/example_include.php.
  3. By using the PHP environment variable $_SERVER['DOCUMENT_ROOT'], which returns the absolute path to the web root directory. This is by far the best (and most portable) solution. The example that follows shows the environment variable in action:

Processing Differences (and passing variables to an included file)

It is worth mentioning that the alternative solutions presented here will result in a difference in the way the include() function is handled. The alternative solutions all return the PHP code from the included page; however, the now-unavailable remote URL method returns the result from the included page. One result of this behavior is that you cannot pass a querystring using the alternative solutions. You define the variables locally before performing the include:


To achieve the effect of this:

<?php include("http://yourdomain.com/includes/example_include.php?var=example"); ?>

You must instead use this:

<?php $var = "example"; include($_SERVER['DOCUMENT_ROOT']."/includes/example_include.php"); ?>

Example exploitation

If allow_url_fopen is enabled, this system can be exploited by simply changing the value of the variable in the querystring:


To avoid potential compromise of our customer websites, the PHP variable allow_url_fopen=off is enabled on all servers