What a difference a blank line can make

I had a customer today who had problems with a PHP script that output a Microsoft Word document. The script was pretty simple and just did some authentication before sending the file to the client. But, when the document was opened in Word, it tried to convert it into a different format and would only display gibberish.

The customer had posted his problem on some forums, and was told that upgrading from PHP 5.1.4 to PHP 5.2 should fix the problem. Well it didn’t. In fact, the PHP 5.2 version had some weird bug where a PDO object would overwrite stuff in the wrong memory location. In this case, a call to fetchAll() was overwritting the username stored in the $_SESSION variable, which in turn was messing up all of the site’s authentication. After digging into it to find that out, it seemed best to revert back to PHP 5.1. Once that was completed, the we were back to the original problem with the Word document.

The headers he was sending all looked okay. Here’s the relevant code to download a document:

$file = "/path/to/some_file.doc";
header("Pragma: public");
header("Expires: 0");
header("Cache-Control: must-revalidate, post-check=0, pre-check=0");
header("Cache-Control: private",false); // required for certain browsers
header("Content-Type: application/msword");
header("Content-Disposition: attachment; filename=\"".basename($file)."\";" );
header("Content-Transfer-Encoding: binary");
header("Content-Length: ".filesize($file));

I tried tweaking with them a little to match a known-working site, but to no avail. I finally had to download a copy of the file directly from the web server, bypassing the PHP script. I also downloaded a copy of the file through the PHP script and saved them both for comparison. After looking at them both side-by-side in vi, I noticed an extra line at the top of the bad one. I removed the extra line and downloaded the fixed copy which opened fine in Word. After that, it was just a matter of finding the included file with an extra line in it. Sure enough, one of the configuration files had an extra line after the closing ?> tag. Removed that and everything worked correctly.

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