Follow Techotopia on Twitter

On-line Guides
All Guides
eBook Store
iOS / Android
Linux for Beginners
Office Productivity
Linux Installation
Linux Security
Linux Utilities
Linux Virtualization
Linux Kernel
System/Network Admin
Scripting Languages
Development Tools
Web Development
GUI Toolkits/Desktop
Mail Systems
Eclipse Documentation

How To Guides
General System Admin
Linux Security
Linux Filesystems
Web Servers
Graphics & Desktop
PC Hardware
Problem Solutions
Privacy Policy




Chapter 19. DBM and mod_perl

Some of the earliest databases implemented on Unix were Database Management (DBM) files, and many are still in use today. As of this writing, the Berkeley DB is the most powerful DBM implementation. Berkeley DB is available at If you need a light database with an easy API, using simple key-value pairs to store and manipulate a relatively small number of records, DBM is the solution that you should consider first.

With DBM, it is rare to read the whole database into memory. Combine this feature with the use of smart storage techniques, and DBM files can be manipulated much faster than flat files. Flat-file databases can be very slow when the number of records starts to grow into the thousands, especially for insert, update, and delete operations. Sort algorithms on flat files can also be very time-consuming.

The maximum practical size of a DBM database depends on many factors, such as your data, your hardware, and the desired response times. But as a rough guide, consider 5,000 to 10,000 records to be reasonable.

We will talk mostly about Berkeley DB Version 1.x, as it provides the best functionality while having good speed and almost no limitations. Other implementations might be faster in some cases, but they are limited either in the length of the maximum value or the total number of records.

There are a number of Perl interfaces to the major DBM implementations, such as DB_File, NDBM_File, ODBM_File, GDBM_File, and SDBM_File. The original Perl module for Berkeley DB was DB_File, which was written to interface with Berkeley DB Version 1.85. The newer Perl module for Berkeley DB is BerkeleyDB, which was written to interface with Version 2.0 and subsequent releases. Because Berkeley DB Version 2.x has a compatibility API for Version 1.85, you can (and should) build DB_File using Version 2.x of Berkeley DB, although DB_File will still support only the 1.85 functionality.

Several different indexing algorithms (known also as access methods) can be used with DBM implementations:

Big-O Notation

In math, complexity is expressed using big-O notation. For a problem of size N:

  • A constant-time method is "order 1": O(1)

  • A linear-time method is "order N": O(N)

  • A quadratic-time method is "order N squared": O(N2)

For example, a lookup action in a properly implemented hash of size N with random data has a complexity of O(1), because the item is located almost immediately after its hash value is calculated. However, the same action in the list of N items has a complexity of O(N), since on average you have to go through almost all the items in the list before you find what you need.

Most often you will want to use the HASH method, but there are many considerations and your choice may be dictated by your application.

In recent years, DBM databases have been extended to allow you to store more complex values, including data structures. The MLDBM module can store and restore the whole symbol table of your script, including arrays and hashes.

It is important to note that you cannot simply switch a DBM file from one storage algorithm to another. The only way to change the algorithm is to copy all the records one by one into a new DBM file, initialized according to a desired access method. You can use a script like the one shown in Example 19-1.

Example 19-1.

#!/usr/bin/perl -w

# This script takes as its parameters a list of Berkeley DB
# file(s) which are stored with the DB_BTREE algorithm.  It
# will back them up using the .bak extension and create
# instead DBMs with the same records but stored using the
# DB_HASH algorithm.
# Usage: filename(s)

use strict;
use DB_File;
use Fcntl;

# @ARGV checks
die "Usage: filename(s))\n" unless @ARGV;

for my $filename (@ARGV) {
    die "Can't find $filename: $!"
        unless -e $filename and -r _;

    # First back up the file
    rename "$filename", "$filename.btree" 
        or die "can't rename $filename with $filename.btree: $!";

    # tie both DBs (db_hash is a fresh one!)
    tie my %btree , 'DB_File',"$filename.btree", O_RDWR|O_CREAT,
        0660, $DB_BTREE or die "Can't tie $filename.btree: $!";
    tie my %hash ,  'DB_File',"$filename" , O_RDWR|O_CREAT,
        0660, $DB_HASH  or die "Can't tie $filename: $!";

    # copy DB
    %hash = %btree;

    # untie
    untie %btree;
    untie %hash;

Note that some DBM implementations come with other conversion utilities as well.

19.1. mod_perl and DBM

Where does mod_perl fit into the picture? If you need read-only access to a DBM file in your mod_perl code, the operation is much faster if you keep the DBM file open (tied) all the time and therefore ready to be used. We will see an example of this in a moment. This will work with dynamic (read/write) database accesses as well, but you need to use locking and data flushing to avoid data corruption.

It's possible that a process will die, for various reasons. There are a few consequences of this event.

If the program has been using external file locking and the lock is based on the existence of the lock file, the code might be aborted before it has a chance to remove the file. Therefore, the next process that tries to get a lock will wait indefinitely, since the lock file is dead and no one can remove it without manual intervention. Until this lock file is removed, services relying on this lock will stay deactivated. The requests will queue up, and at some point the whole service will become useless as all the processes wait for the lock file. Therefore, this locking technique is not recommended. Instead, an advisory flock( ) method should be used. With this method, when a process dies, the lock file will be unlocked by the operating system, no matter what.

Another issue lies in the fact that if the DBM files are modified, they have to be properly closed to ensure the integrity of the data in the database. This requires a flushing of the DBM buffers, or just untying of the database. In case the code flow is aborted before the database is flushed to disk, use Perl's END block to handle the unexpected situations, like so:

END { my_dbm_flush( ) }

Remember that under mod_perl, this will work on each request only for END blocks declared in scripts running under Apache::Registry and similar handlers. Other Perl handlers need to use the $r->register_cleanup( ) method:


as explained in Chapter 6.

As a rule, your application should be tested very thoroughly before you put it into production to handle important data.

Copyright © 2003 O'Reilly & Associates. All rights reserved.

  Published courtesy of O'Reilly Design by Interspire