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1.3.0 • Public • Published

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Convert serialized PHP data to a javascript object graph.


OMG why would anyone do something this perverse? PHP has a json_encode() method so you don't have to try and cobble together ugly hacks like this.

It all started so innocently. The guy at the desk next to mine asked "hey is there a javascript library that can turn this php serialize mess into something that I can read?" I gaped. He explained that he was trying to slap together a js testing harness for a set of REST services that returned serialized PHP as their transport representation.

A google search turned up something so I went back to listening to the latest OMM album. Fifteen minutes later the stream of curses coming from Gallilama started harshing my groove. It turns out that the venerable phpjs function only handles a particular subset of PHP's serialize output. Specifically it doesn't handle references and objects at all. Google found a java implementation that looked more complete. I did a quick port of it to javascript and moved on to my $wingin' Utter$ playlist.

The next day I checked in and found out that strange things were afoot with my port. It turns out that private and protected members serialize in an "interesting" way. PHP prepends the member name with either the class name (private) or an asterisk (protected) surrounded by null bytes (\u0000). The hack parser was going into an infinite loop when it tried to extract these values.

By this point I was fully committed. Nothing less than a TDD validated library that could handle just about any craziness I threw at it would do. I'm sure there are still gaps, but this "quick hack" is working for our twisted needs.

Implementation Details

PHP's serialization format is not well documented, but this function takes a best guess approach to parsing and interpreting it. Serialized integers, floats, booleans, strings, arrays, objects and references are currently supported.

PHP's array type is a hybrid of javascript's array and object types. phpUnserialize translates PHP arrays having only 0-based consecutive numeric keys into javascript arrays. All other arrays are translated into javascript objects.

Serialized members of a PHP object carry scope information via name mangling. phpUnserialize strips this scope signifier prefix from private and protected members.

Check out the tests for more details or read the source.


The phpUnserialize.js file implements the Universal Module Definition pattern which attempts to be compatible with multiple script loaders including AMD, CommonJS and direct usage in an HTML file.

Plain HTML:

<script src="phpUnserialize.js"></script>
  var foo = phpUnserialize('s:3:"foo";');

With an AMD loader:

define(["phpunserialize"], function (phpUnserialize) {
  return {
    foo: phpUnserialize('s:3:"foo";')

With a CommonJS loader:

var phpUnserialize = require('phpunserialize');
var foo = phpUnserialize('s:3:"foo";');

Running the Unit Tests

npm install
npm test


npm i phpunserialize

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