Apache HTTP Server

Overview of the Apache EBCDIC Port

As of Version 1.3, the Apache HTTP Server includes a port to (non-ASCII) mainframe machines which use the EBCDIC character set as their native codeset.
(Initially, that support covered only the Fujitsu-Siemens family of mainframes running the BS2000/OSD operating system, a mainframe OS which features a SVR4-derived POSIX subsystem. Later, the two IBM mainframe operating systems TPF and OS/390 were added).

EBCDIC-related conversion functions

The EBCDIC related directives EBCDICConvert, EBCDICConvertByType, and EBCDICKludge are available only if the platform's character set is EBCDIC (This is currently only the case on Fujitsu-Siemens' BS2000/OSD and IBM's OS/390 and TPF operating systems). EBCDIC stands for Extended Binary-Coded-Decimal Interchange Code and is the codeset used on mainframe machines, in contrast to ASCII which is ubiquitous on almost all micro computers today. ASCII (or its extension latin1) is the basis for the HTTP transfer protocol, therefore all EBCDIC-based platforms need a way to configure the code set conversion rules required between the EBCDIC based mainframe host and the HTTP socket protocol.

On an EBCDIC based system, HTML files and other text files are usually saved encoded in the native EBCDIC code set, while image files and other binary data are stored with identical encoding as on ASCII based machines. When the Apache server accesses documents, it must therefore make a distinction between text files (to be converted to/from ASCII, depending on the transfer direction) and binary files (to be delivered unconverted). Such a distinction can be made based on the assigned MIME type, or based on the file extension (i.e., files sharing a common file suffix).

By default, the configuration is symmetric for input and output (i.e., when a PUT request is executed for a document which was returned by a previous GET request, then the resulting uploaded copy should be identical to the original file). However, the conversion directives allow for specifying different conversions for input and output.

The directives EBCDICConvert and EBCDICConvertByType are used to assign the conversion setting (On or Off) based on file extensions or MIME types. Each configuration setting can be defined for input only (e.g., PUT method), output only (e.g., GET method), or both input and output. By default, the conversion setting is applied for input and output.

Note that after modifying the conversion settings for a group of files, it is not sufficient to restart the server. The reason for this is the fact that a cached copy of a document (in a browser or proxy cache) will not get revalidated by contents, but only by date. Since the modification time of the document did not change, browsers will assume they can reuse the cached copy.
To recover from this situation, you must either clear all cached copies (browser and proxy cache!), or update the modification time of the documents (using the touch command on the server).

Note also that server-parsed documents (CGI scripts, .shtml files, and other interpreted files like PHP scripts etc.) are not subject to any input conversion and must therefore be stored in EBCDIC form on the server side.

In absense of any EBCDICConvertByType directive, and if no matching EBCDICConvert was found, Apache falls back to an internal heuristic which assumes that all documents with MIME types starting with "text/", "message/" or "multipart/" as well as the MIME type "application/x-www-form-urlencoded" are text documents stored in EBCDIC, whereas all other documents are binary files.

In order to provide backward compatibility with older versions of apache, the EBCDICKludge directive allows for a less powerful mechanism to control the conversion of documents to and from EBCDIC.


The EBCDICKludge directive is deprecated, since its functionality is superseded by the more powerful EBCDICConvert and EBCDICConvertByType directives.

The directives are applied in the following order:

  1. First, the configured EBCDICConvert directives in the current context are evaluated in configuration file order. As soon as a matching file extension is found, the search stops and the configured conversion is applied.
    EBCDICConvert settings inherited from parent directories are tested after the more specific (deeper) directory levels.
  2. If the EBCDICKludge is in effect, the next step tests for a MIME type of the format type/x-ascii-subtype. If the document has such a type, then the "x-ascii-" substring is removed and the conversion set to Off.
  3. In the next step, the configured EBCDICConvertByType directives are evaluated in configuration file order. If the document has a matching MIME type, the search stops and the configured conversion is applied.
    EBCDICConvertByType settings inherited from parent directories are tested after the more specific (deeper) directory levels.
    If no EBCDICConvertByType directive at all exists in the current context, the server falls back to the simple heuristics which assume that MIME types starting with "text/", "message/" or "multipart/" (plus the special type "application/x-www-form-urlencoded" used in simple POST requests) imply a conversion, while all the rest is delivered unconverted (i.e., binary).

Technical Details

Since all Apache input and output is based upon the BUFF data type and its methods, the easiest solution was to add the actual conversion to the BUFF handling routines. The conversion must be settable at any time, so BUFF flags were added which define whether a BUFF object has currently enabled conversion or not. Two such flags exist: one for data read from the client (ASCII to EBCDIC conversion) and one for data returned to the client (EBCDIC to ASCII conversion).

During sending of the header, Apache determines (based on the returned MIME type for the request) whether conversion should be used or the document returned unconverted. It uses this decision to initialize the BUFF flag when the response output begins. Modules should therefore determine the MIME type for the current request before initiating the response by calling ap_send_http_headers().

The BUFF flag is modified at several points in the HTTP protocol:

Additional transparent transitions may occur for extracting/inserting the HTTP/1.1 chunking information from/into the input/output body data stream, and for generating multipart headers for range requests. (See RFC2616 and src/main/http_protocol.c for details.)

Porting Notes

  1. The relevant changes in the source are #ifdef'ed into two categories:
    Code which is needed for any EBCDIC based machine. This includes character translations, differences in contiguity of the two character sets, flags which indicate which part of the HTTP protocol has to be converted and which part doesn't etc.
    #ifdef _OSD_POSIX | TPF | OS390
    Code which is needed for the Fujitsu-Siemens BS2000/OSD | IBM TPF | IBM OS390 mainframe platforms only. This deals with include file differences and socket and fork implementation topics which are only required on the respective platform.
  2. The possibility to translate between ASCII and EBCDIC at the socket level (on BS2000 POSIX, there is a socket option which supports this) was intentionally not chosen, because the byte stream at the HTTP protocol level consists of a mixture of protocol related strings and non-protocol related raw file data. HTTP protocol strings are always encoded in ASCII (the GET request, any Header: lines, the chunking information etc.) whereas the file transfer parts (i.e., GIF images, CGI output etc.) should usually be just "passed through" by the server. This separation between "protocol string" and "raw data" is reflected in the server code by functions like bgets() or rvputs() for strings, and functions like bwrite() for binary data. A global translation of everything would therefore be inadequate.
    (In the case of text files of course, provisions must be made so that EBCDIC documents are always served in ASCII)
    This port therefore features a built-in protocol level conversion for the server-internal strings (which the compiler translated to EBCDIC strings) and thus for all server-generated documents.
  3. By examining the call hierarchy for the BUFF management routines, I added an "ebcdic/ascii conversion layer" which would be crossed on every puts/write/get/gets, and conversion flags which allowed enabling/disabling the conversions on-the-fly. Usually, a document crosses this layer twice from its origin source (a file or CGI output) to its destination (the requesting client): file -> Apache, and Apache -> client.
    The server can now read the header lines of a CGI-script output in EBCDIC format, and then find out that the remainder of the script's output is in ASCII (like in the case of the output of a WWW Counter program: the document body contains a GIF image). All header processing is done in the native EBCDIC format; the server then determines, based on the type of document being served, whether the document body (except for the chunking information, of course) is in ASCII already or must be converted from EBCDIC.
  4. By default, Apache assumes that documents with the MIME types "text/*", "message/*", "multipart/*" and "application/x-www-form-urlencoded" are text documents and are stored as EBCDIC files, whereas all other files are binary files (and stored in a byte-identical encoding as on an ASCII machine).
    These defaults can be overridden on a by-MIME-type and/or by-file-extension basis, using the directives
         EBCDICConvertByType {On|Off}[={In|Out|InOut}] mimetype [...]
         EBCDICConvert       {On|Off}[={In|Out|InOut}] fileext [...]
    where the mimetype argument may contain wildcards.
  5. Before adding the flexible conversion, non-text documents were always served "binary" without conversion. This seemed to be the most sensible choice for, .e.g., GIF/ZIP/AU file types (It of course requires the user to copy them to the mainframe host using the "rcp -b" binary switch), but proved to be inadequate for MIME types like model/vrml, application/postscript and application/x-javascript.
  6. Server parsed files are always assumed to be in native (i.e., EBCDIC) format as used on the machine (because they do not cross the conversion layer when being read), and are converted after processing.
  7. For CGI output, the CGI script determines whether a conversion is needed or not: by setting the appropriate Content-Type, text files can be converted, or GIF output can be passed through unmodified (depending on the conversion configured in the script's context).

Document Storage Notes

Binary Files

When exchanging binary files between the mainframe host and a Unix machine or Windows PC, be sure to use the ftp "binary" (TYPE I) command, or use the rcp -b command from the mainframe host (the -b switch is not supported in unix rcp's).

Text Documents

The default assumption of the server is that Text Files (i.e., all files whose Content-Type: starts with text/) are stored in the native character set of the host, EBCDIC.

Server Side Included Documents

SSI documents must currently be stored in EBCDIC only. No provision is made to convert them from ASCII before processing. The same holds for other interpreted languages, like mod_perl or mod_php.

Apache HTTP Server