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BLOBS - outlining the problem

The DBI documentation explains that the DBI can handle BLOB fields up to the maximum size allowed by the system. Usually, inserting or fetching a JPEG file a few KB long is not a problem. If the table field has been defined big enough to receive the intended data, the operation should succeed. However, dealing with files more than 1 megabyte long becomes rather tricky.

Let's have a look at the basics.

BLOB stands for Binary Large Object. It is a field that can store a large amount of data. Its size depends on the implementation. MySQL defines 4 types of BLOB.
type max size ------------ ------------- TINYBLOB 255 BLOB 65_535 MEDIUMBLOB 16_777_215 LARGEBLOB 4_294_967_295
Looking at the above table, we would say that we should not have problems at all. Provided that we have enough room in our database server disks, we can store as much as 4 gigabyte for each field.
Unfortunately, things are not that simple. The above sizes for MEDIUMBLOB and LARGEBLOB are theoretical. The real maximum size depends on the maximum size allowed by your filesystem (mostly is 2 GB), since is higly unlikely that you can load a 4GB file to the database if your OS allows you only 2.
But even if we overcome this first obstacle, a more challenging restriction is waiting. The database engine has a max_allowed_packet limit, which prevents the client from dealing with packets exceeding such barrier.
When we look at the MySQL documentation, we learn that due to the limits imposed by the client/server protocol1, we can't exceed 16MB per packet. It means that an INSERT query or the contents of a fetchrow statement can't be bigger than that.
Moreover, the default value for this limit is 1 MB. You can change it, if you are the database administrator, or else you must live with it.

How?

The DBI docs say that there is no current mechanism in place to upload or download BLOB fields in chunks.
MySQL LOAD_DATA(filename) function could be seen as a solution. Unfortunately, this function can only work if the file is on the server, thus leading to any sort of headaches related to user maintenance, security and so on. Moreover, the limit of max_allowed_packet is still in place. So we don't really gain anything by uploading a file to the server and then calling LOAD_DATA.

1The 16 MB limit has been increased to 2 GB in MySQL 4.0.1, which is still in alpha, however. See the docs.

Perl to the rescue

We love Perl, we are programmers, so we shouldn't mind a programmatic solution to this hard limit.
There are applications where we need to store large amounts of data, far larger than the limits set by the protocol or, even worse, by an unreachable database administrator.
Here is how I have done it.
UPLOAD FLOW DOWNLOAD FLOW +-------------------------+ +-------------------------+ | | | DB field < 2 MB | | | | | | large binary file | +-------------------------+ | (5.5 MB) | | DB field < 2 MB | | | | | | | +-------------------------+ +-------------------------+ | DB field < 2 MB | | | | V +-------------------------+ +-------------------------+ | | file chunk < 2 MB | V | | /=========================\ +-------------------------+ || protocol limit || | file chunk < 2 MB | || 2 MB || | | \=========================/ +-------------------------+ | | file chunk < 2 MB | V | | +-------------------------+ +-------------------------+ | file chunk < 2 MB | | | | V +-------------------------+ /=========================\ | file chunk < 2 MB | || protocol limit || | | || 2 MB || +-------------------------+ \=========================/ | file chunk < 2 MB | | | | V +-------------------------+ +-------------------------+ | | DB field < 2 MB | V | | +-------------------------+ +-------------------------+ | | | DB field < 2 MB | | | | | | large binary file | +-------------------------+ | (5.5 MB) | | DB field < 2 MB | | | | | | | +-------------------------+ +-------------------------+
How do we achieve our goal then? By splitting the file into pieces that are less than the protocol bottleneck, sending them to the database, properly indexed so that we can easily retrieve them, and then fetching the pieces on demand, to rebuild the original file.
The flow of our program is simple. Find the size of the bottleneck, read the file in slices smaller than the limit, and send them to the database table one by one. Each field in the table is identified by a name and a sequential number.
The download phase is the reverse. Select the records that compose our file, sorting them by the sequential number. Then rebuild the file by adding each piece.
The responsibility is equally divided between the database engine and the Perl script.
The server will record the chunks, carefully labelled so that they can be retrieved. The script should send the pieces in the righ order and use them in the same order during the retrieval phase.
The binary packages are stored in a database table with this structure:
+-------------+---------------+------+-----+---------+-----------+ | Field | Type | Null | Key | Default | Extra | +-------------+---------------+------+-----+---------+-----------+ | id | int(11) | | PRI | NULL | auto_incr | | name | varchar(50) | | MUL | | | | description | varchar(250) | YES | | NULL | | | vers | varchar(15) | YES | | NULL | | | bin | mediumblob | YES | | NULL | | | filename | varchar(50) | | | | | | username | varchar(30) | | | | | | updated | timestamp(14) | YES | | NULL | | +-------------+---------------+------+-----+---------+-----------+
ID is a sequential number, automatically generated for each insertion. Using this number to sort our records when we retrieve them, we are sure to get the same order that we used when we uploaded them.
name is the unique identidier of the package. It is repeated for each record containing a package chunk.
bin contains the data
filename is useful to reconstruct the original file.
The rest is optional.

A software repository

The sample application is something that can actually be useful. It's a software repository, where large pieces of binary files are stored for future use. The interface is not the most user friendly, but the purpose is to have a look at the innards. I have embedded my comments within the code, in Perl style, so that it should be easy to follow the program flow.
#!/usr/bin/perl -w use strict; use DBI; =head1 NAME blobs.pl -- script to upload / download HUGE BLOB fields to a MySQL database =head1 SYNOPSIS For the purpose of this tutorial, this script will create a B<software repository>, where you can upload binary packages, list their status and download them to a file. $ perl blobs.pl u perl perl_stable.tar.gz "5.6.1" "my latest version" Uploads the perl binary package (> 5 MB) to a database table, splitting the file into chunks if necessary $ perl blobs.pl l perl Lists the details of the "perl" package stored in the database $ perl blobs.pl d perl perl_stable.5.6.1.tgz Downloads the perl binary and saves it to a new file =head1 The script =head2 parameters u|d|l|r = (u)pload | (d)ownload | (l)ist | (r)emove name = the name of the package that we want to upload / download / list. In the latter case, you can use DB wildchars ('%' = any sequence of chars, '_' = any character) filename = the name of the file to upload / download. Mandatory only for uploading. If missing when we download, the name stored in the database is used. version = free text up to 12 characters description = free text up to 250 characters =head2 Status of this script This script is mainly provided for tutorial purposes. Although it works fine, it is not as robust as I would like it to be. I am planning to make a module out of it, to isolate the data management from the interface. Eventually I will do it. In the meantime, please forgive my hasty interface and try to concentrate on the theory behind it. Thanks. =head2 handling parameters Nothing fancy. Interface to a minimum. Parameters are read sequencially from the command line. Optional parameters are evaluated according to the current operation. =cut my $op = shift or help(); # operation (list / upload/download) help() unless $op =~ /^[udlr]$/; my $softname = shift or help(); # package name my ($filename, $version, $description)=(undef,undef,undef); if ($op eq "u") { # read optional parameters $filename = shift or help(); $version = shift; $description = shift; } elsif ($op eq "d") { $filename = shift; } =head2 connection If this were a module, you would have to pass an already constructed $dbh object. Since it is a script, instead, you should modify the statement to suit your needs. Don't forget to create a "software" database in your MySQL system, or change the name to a more apt name. =cut my $dbh = DBI->connect("DBI:mysql:software;host=localhost;" . "mysql_read_default_file=$ENV{HOME}/.my.cnf", undef,undef, {RaiseError => 1}); =head2 Table structure The table is created the first time the script is executes, unless it exists already. =cut #$dbh->do(qq{CREATE DATABASE IF NOT EXISTS software}); $dbh->do(qq{CREATE TABLE IF NOT EXISTS software_repos (id INT not null auto_increment primary key, name varchar(50) not null, description varchar(250), vers varchar(15), bin mediumblob, filename varchar(50) not null, username varchar(30) not null, updated timestamp(14) not null, key name(name), unique key idname (id, name) )}); =head2 scrip flow depending on th value of $op (operation) the appropriate subroutine is called. =cut if ($op eq "l") { list($softname); } elsif ($op eq "u") { upload($softname, $filename, $version, $description) } elsif ($op eq "r") { remove($softname); } else { download($softname, $filename) } $dbh->disconnect(); =head2 functions =over 4 =item getlist() getlist() gets the details of a given package stored in the database and returns a reference to an array reference with the selected table information. =cut sub getlist{ my $sname = shift; my $row = $dbh->selectall_arrayref(qq{ select name, vers, count(*) as chunks, sum(length(bin)) as size, filename, description from software_repos where name like "$sname" group by name }); # the GROUP BY clause is necessary to give the total # number of chunks and the total size return $row; } =item list list() calls internally getlist() and prints the result =cut sub list { my $sname = shift; my $row = getlist($sname); return undef unless $row->[0]; print join "\t", qw(name ver chunks size filename description),"\n"; print '-' x 60, "\n"; print join "\t", @{$_},"\n" for @$row; } =item remove remove() will delete an existing package from the database table. Nothing happens if the package does not exist. =cut sub remove { my $sname = shift; $dbh->do(qq{ delete from software_repos where name = "$sname"}); } =item upload upload() reads a given file, in chunks not larger than the value of max_allowed_packet, and store them into the database table. =cut sub upload { my ($sname, $fname, $vers, $descr) = @_; open FILE, "< $fname" or die "can't open $fname\n"; my $maxlen = getmaxlen(); # gets the value of max_allowed_packet my $bytes=$maxlen; $fname =~ s{.*/}{}; # removes the path from the file name print "$fname\n"; my $sth = $dbh->prepare(qq{ INSERT INTO software_repos (name, vers, bin, description, filename, username, updated) VALUES ( ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, user(), NULL)}); # before uploading, we delete the package with the same name remove($sname); # now we read the file and upload it piece by piece while ($bytes) { read FILE, $bytes,$maxlen; $sth->execute( $sname, $vers, $bytes, $descr, $fname) if $bytes; } close FILE; } =item download download() is upload() counterpart. It fetches the chunks from the database and compose a new binary file. =cut sub download { my ($sname, $fname) = @_; # if we don't supply a name, the one stored in # the database will be used unless (defined $fname) { my $row = getlist($sname); die "$sname not found\n" unless $row->[0]; $fname =$row->[0][4]; } # checks if the file exists. Refuses to overwtite if (-e $fname) { die "file ($fname) exists already\n"; } open FILE, "> $fname" or die "can't open $fname\n"; my $sth = $dbh->prepare(qq{ SELECT bin from software_repos where name = ? order by id }); $sth->execute($sname); my $success =0; while (my @row = $sth->fetchrow_array()) { syswrite FILE, $row[0]; $success =1; } close FILE; die "$sname not found\n" unless $success; } =item getmaxlen getmaxlen() will return the value of max_allowed_packet =cut sub getmaxlen { my $rows = $dbh->selectall_arrayref( qq{show variables LIKE "max_allowed_packets"}); for (@$rows) { # returns the max_allowed_packet # minus a safely calculated size return $_->[1] - 100_000 } die "max packet length not found \n"; } =item help help() gives a summary of the script usage =back =cut sub help { print <<HELP; usage: blobs {l|u|d|r} name [[filename] [version] [description]] Where l|u|d|r is the operation (list|upload|download|remove) name is the name of the software to be uploaded|downloaded filename is the file to send to the database (upload) or where to save the blob (download). Optionally, you can supply a version and a description HELP exit; }
Sample usage:
$ perl blobs.pl u mysql4 mysql-4.0.1-alpha.tar.gz "4.0.1" "MySQL alpha +"
This command will store the MySQL binary distribution (10 MB), divided into several small pieces, to make them pass through the bottleneck (currently 2 MB in my database server).
To restore the file, I will issue the command:
$ perl blobs.pl d mysql mysql-4.0.1-alpha.tar.gz

I am presently using this software repository (with a totally different interface, but this is another story) to distribute software updates among a few hundred users. There is a centralized management, where the developers upload their new releases to the system, and the users will download and put them to good use.
I can think of several other uses for this architecture, such as multimedia repository, archives of office documents, and I leave the rest to your imagination.

Enjoy!
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In reply to Handling huge BLOB fields with DBI and MySQL by gmax

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