File Extensions and Apache, a win-win solution

Here is the problem…  Either the developer loses, or the end user loses.  What possibly could I be talking about?  Allow me to explain…

Long ago, websites were authored using .html files.  Developers would hand code them to make sites which served their purposes quite nicely.  But as time went on, more was demanded of the web.  Server side languages, such as PHP, ASP, Java, Perl, Python, and more began to surface and become quite popular.

The file extension shown in the browser *usually* matches the file extension used on the server.  At least under Apache’s default configurations (and IIS, I believe).

But now, it is quite common to see this:


Or this:


Or even this (whatever it’s doing…)


But in reality…

They are all really returning a file with:

Content-type: text/html

That’s a pretty common approach to using server side languages.  There are a couple other approaches also, such as:

  1. Don’t use files at all, only directories:
  2. Auto generate the files on the site (but then you lose the “interactive” nature of a server site language)

The problems with the above are:

  • It gives the developers an “incorrect” file extension to work with (ie, embedding PHP in a .html file)
  • Or, it gives the end user a file like “about.asp”, but in reality, there is not a single character of ASP in the file they receive.

(“quit complaining”, you may say…  oh well… I do like things to be “optimal” when possible)

So I identified a way to suit both purposes nicely. We now name our scripts names like:

  • /home/about.html.php
  • /render/image.jpg.php
  • /foo/bar.xhtml.php

HOWEVER, when they are referenced via HTTP, the last extension is alwas omitted.

  • /home/about.html
  • /render/image.jpg
  • /foo/bar.xhtml

(doesn’t that look nice?)

To pull it off, we implemented an interesting Apache mod_rewrite rule:

RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} (\.html|\.xhtml)$
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ $1.php

‘if the request ends in “.html” or “.xhtml”, and the file (REQUEST + “.php”) exists, then use that file instead.’

In this way, the end user simply receives an “.html” file.  The developers are still looking at a “.php” file.  And everyone is happy.

Observations and Questions:

Developers at AppCove have taken to this quite readily.  There was a little confusion at first about linking to “.html.php”, but that was quickly resolved.

Does it impact performance?  I’m sure it has an impact, however so small, but have not tested that.  It would be an interesting benchmark.  My opinion is that it would be negligible.

Useful?  Sure!  I think it is more “correct” to return a file with an extension that appropriately describes its content type.


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