Xdebug is not friends with WordPress + create_function()

If you use Xdebug for debugging WordPress-based sites there’s something you should be aware of. If function created with PHP’s create_function() are hooked to WordPress actions or filters, any time $wp_filters is in the scope Xdebug sends invalid XML to the Xdebug client, (like your IDE). If the Xdebug client doesn’t deal with the invalid characters before attempting to parse the XML it will fail. IDEs deal with the parsing failure in different ways, SublimeTextXdebug doesn’t show the call stack or list of current variables but doesn’t crash entirely so debugging can continue. I don’t know how other IDEs handle the failure.

Why the XML is Invalid

create_function() makes a new function, gives it a random name that starts with a null character, and returns that function name as a string. When that string is passed to WordPress’s add_filter() or add_action() functions the name that create_function() returned is used as an array key in deep within the $wp_filters global. When Xdebug sends the list of variables back to an Xdebug client it is sent as XML and the null character encoded as � which is illegal in XML.

How to solve the Problem

Ideally Xdebug would only send valid XML to the Xdebug client, but the bug report has been open for a year and doesn’t seem to be high priority so developers should solve the problem by avoiding create_function()

Avoiding create_function() is Good Coding

create_function() eval()‘s the code that’s passed as the second argument, and eval() is something to be avoided, so create_function() is too. This Xdebug bug makes us avoid create_function() for actions and filters in order to keep Xdebug useful, with the side effect of making our code a bit more secure.

Using Microsoft’s VPC Images with VMWare Fusion

We all know the sinking feeling when we have to test a website in Internet Explorer. You built the site, it looks beautiful in Firefox and maybe Safari too, but now you have to open up Internet Explorer 6, 7, and 8, and make sure it plays nice with all three of them. Even better, Microsoft has made it so that you can only have one version of IE installed on a computer at a time. True, you can use things like Multiple IEs or other similar products, but they never play quite right.

Fortunately, Microsoft has supplied us with Virtual PC images of Windows with Internet Explorer installed. Unfortunately, Virtual PC is a Windows-only program so you need a PC to run them on. Or do you?

You don’t! If you’re using OS X you can use VMWare Fusion to run those Microsoft VPC images, after a little tweaking. It is much easier if you have a copy of Windows available to you during the install process, (that’s how I did it), but I don’t believe this is an absolute necessity. Here’s how it works:

Basically, you need to download the VPC images, extract them, and convert them into VMWare Fusion virtual machines. It sounds trickier than it is.

First, download and extract the VPC images. If you can use Windows to do this it’s easy, (the images have self-extractors), if not try p7zip, (see instructions in this forum thread).

[edit: July 15, 2009]: Then, somehow, you have to convert your VHD files into VMC files. The easiest way to do this is to use Microsoft’s VPC to make a new virtual machine from the VHD files, but you do need windows to do that. You will be converting these .VMC files into VMWare native virtual machines.
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To convert the VPC images to something else, use VMWare vCenter Converter. It’s a stand-alone program for Windows or Linux that easily converts VPC images to VMWare Fusion virtual machines, as well as several other formats. You can even choose between Fusion 1.x and Fusion 2.x. It will even install the VMWare tools pagkage for you. I did the conversion under Windows, but there’s probably a way to get the linux version to run under OS X, at least hopefully.

Once the conversion is complete, fire up OS X & VMWare Fusion and open your new Virtual PC image. There are some things that run on the first startup of each machine, give it a few minutes then hit cancel on all of the “Please insert the XP SP3 CD” messages that remain, it doesn’t seem to hurt Windows. I think it’s looking for a battery driver in my case, (maybe I should try to install the Bootcamp battery driver?).

That’s it, enjoy testing. I am able to run, slowly, all 3 IE versions with the Windows XP images, and my computer isn’t as slow as when I run only my Bootcamp Vista install under VMWare Fusion. I’m thrilled to have these 3 new debugging tools at my disposal.