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Writing Apache Modules with Perl and C by Lincoln Stein, Doug MacEachern

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4.1. Content Handlers as File Processors

Early web servers were designed as engines for transmitting physical files from the host machine to the browser. Even though Apache does much more, the file-oriented legacy still remains. Files can be sent to the browser unmodified or passed through content handlers to transform them in various ways before sending them on to the browser. Even though many of the documents that you produce with modules have no corresponding physical files, some parts of Apache still behave as if they did.

When Apache receives a request, the URI is passed through any URI translation handlers that may be installed (see Chapter 7, for information on how to roll your own), transforming it into a file path. The mod_alias translation handler (compiled in by default) will first process any Alias, ScriptAlias, Redirect, or other mod_alias directives. If none applies, the http_core default translator will simply prepend the DocumentRoot directory to the beginning of the URI.

Next, Apache attempts to divide the file path into two parts: a "filename" part which usually (but not always) corresponds to a physical file on the host's filesystem, and an "additional path information" part corresponding to additional stuff that follows the filename. Apache divides the path using a very simple-minded algorithm. It steps through the path components from left to right until it finds something that doesn't correspond to a directory on the host machine. The part of the path ...

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