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dBase Functions

The dBase functions provide a simple interface to dbf-format databases.

Overviewdbf was an extremely popular format in the 1980s and early 1990s. It was utilized by a wide variety of applications, such as FoxPro and dBASE.

PHP's support for the dbf format is not robust or complete; the primary purpose of these functions is to allow developers to migrate data from a dbf database to a more modern and powerful database such as MySQL or Oracle. A variety of field types and file-locking features are not supported by PHP. dbf indexes are supported, but only for read operations.

How the dBase Functions WorkThe dBase functions can create, open, read and write dbf format files. The basic flow is:

  • Open a dbf format file

  • Retrieve, manipulate or delete data within the file

  • If data has been deleted, pack the file to remove spaces left by the deleted items

  • Close the file. (Note that PHP closes open dbf files on script end)

The following is a fairly complete usage example for the dBase functions:

# Constants for dbf field types
define ('BOOLEAN_FIELD',   'L');
define ('CHARACTER_FIELD', 'C');
define ('DATE_FIELD',      'D');
define ('NUMBER_FIELD',    'N');

# Constants for dbf file open modes
define ('READ_ONLY',  '0');
define ('WRITE_ONLY', '1');
define ('READ_WRITE', '2');

# Path to dbf file
$db_file = '/tmp/sushi_eaten.dbf';

# dbf database definition
# Each element in the first level of the array represents a row
# Each array stored in the various elements represent the properties for the row
$dbase_definition = array (
   array ('name',  CHARACTER_FIELD,  20),  # string
   array ('date',  DATE_FIELD),            # date yyymmdd
   array ('desc',  CHARACTER_FIELD,  45),  # string
   array ('cost',  NUMBER_FIELD, 5, 2),    # number (length, precision)
   array ('good?', BOOLEAN_FIELD)          # boolean

# Records to insert into the dbf file   
$inari = array ('Inari', 19991231, 'Deep-fried tofu pouches filled with rice.', 1.00, TRUE);
$unagi = array ('Unagi', 19991231, 'Freshwater Eel', 2.50, FALSE);

# create dbf file using the
$create = @ dbase_create($db_file, $dbase_definition)
   or die ("Could not create dbf file <i>$db_file</i>.");

# open dbf file for reading and writing
$id = @ dbase_open ($db_file, READ_WRITE)
   or die ("Could not open dbf file <i>$db_file</i>."); 

dbase_add_record ($id, $inari)
   or die ("Could not add record 'inari' to dbf file <i>$db_file</i>."); 
dbase_add_record ($id, $unagi)
   or die ("Could not add record 'unagi' to dbf file <i>$db_file</i>."); 

# find the number of fields (columns) and rows in the dbf file
$num_fields = dbase_numfields ($id);
$num_rows   = dbase_numrecords($id);

print "dbf file <i>$db_file</i> contains $num_rows row(s) with $num_fields field(s) in each row.\n";

# Loop through the entries in the dbf file
for ($i=1; $i <= $num_rows; $i++) {
   print "\nRow $i of the database contains this information:<blockquote>";
   print_r (dbase_get_record_with_names ($id,$i));
   print "</blockquote>";

# close the dbf file

Configuring dBaseNo configuration directives directly control the operation of the dBase functions.

Installing dBase SupportTo enable PHP's built-in dBase library, use the --with-dBase configure option.

Windows users: Download the complete Win32 binary from Ensure that there is a line in your php.ini configuration file that reads extension=/path/to/php_dbase.dll. The line should not have a semi-colon (;) at the start.

Additional InformationFor more information on the dbf format, see:

PHP Functions Essential Reference. Copyright © 2002 by New Riders Publishing (Authors: Zak Greant, Graeme Merrall, Torben Wilson, Brett Michlitsch). This material may be distributed only subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License, v1.0 or later (the latest version is presently available at The authors of this book have elected not to choose any options under the OPL. This online book was obtained from and is designed to provide information about the PHP programming language, focusing on PHP version 4.0.4 for the most part. The information is provided on an as-is basis, and no warranty or fitness is implied. All persons and entities shall have neither liability nor responsibility to any person or entity with respect to any loss or damage arising from the information contained in this book.

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