Extended Ini File: Load and edit configuration INI format files

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This class can load and edit configuration INI format files.

It can perform several types of operations with configuration values from INI files. Currently it can:

- Read .ini files into memory
- Retrieve the list of sections defined in the .ini file
- Retrieve the keys defined within a section
- Retrieve key values
- Key values can include references to variables defined in a variable store
- Define new sections
- Change existing key values
- Define new keys
- Delete existing keys or sections
- Rename keys or sections
- Write back the modified file preserving the original comments.

The parser supports multi-line comments in your .ini file, as well multi-line values with a syntax similar to PHP here-docs.

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PHP has built-in support for parsing configuration files in the INI format. However, it has a few limitations.

This class can be used to parse and edit INI files but it can preserve the original comments and also supports values that can span multiple lines of text.

Both these features are not supported by the PHP support for parsing INI files.

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The IniFile class provides support for both reading, updating and writing back .ini files.


The .ini file format is maybe one of the simplest and easiest to parse file formats, when there is a need to store (not too complicated) application settings. This has been the preferred choice for the PHP engine (which stores its settings in the php.ini file), as well as it was on Windows platforms before the invention of the Registry and DotNet application settings.

The format is really straightforward : parameters (which are called keys in this document) are grouped within sections, whose names are enclosed in square brackets. After the section name come parameter definitions, which are a list of key/value pairs separated by an equal sign ("=") belonging to that section. For example, the following defines a section named Network, containing two parameters, Listen and Port :

Listen 		=
Port 		=  9999

Parameter values are not typed ; there are just plain text that must be interpreted by the application.

Parameters defined before the very first section name in the .ini file are put in a section whose name is the empty string.


The IniFile class can :


PHP provides reasonable support for reading .ini files using the ini\_get(), ini\_set(), parse\_ini\_file() and parse\_ini\_string() functions.

However it completely lacks of support for modifying them on the fly and writing them back. Of course, you could use xml files for that, or store your settings in a Mysql table. But the .ini file format comes naturally when you need to store simple settings and document them in a human-readable format, as this is the case for php.ini.

The other key feature is that the IniFile class preserve your comments and formatting when writing the contents back. You wouldn't want to see your comments garbled when you write back the contents of php.ini, isn't it ?


The IniFile class can process .ini files whose syntax is commonly defined on Windows platforms (and in the php.ini file...). It also provides support for extended notations which are described below.


The basic syntax follows the Windows specifications :

  • Entries are defined by key/value pairs separated by an equal sign ("=").
  • Spaces are not significant between a key name and the equal sign
  • Key/value pairs can be grouped in sections, whose names are enclosed in square brackets (eg, "[MySection]")
  • Comments are introduced by a semicolon
  • Key/value pairs found BEFORE the first section name are put in a section with an empty name

Section and key names are not case-sensitive.


The IniFile class accepts extended syntax with regards to the Windows implementation. The new syntactic items are described below. Note that this is a superset of the basic syntax, and cannot be disabled.


Comments can be either single-line or multiline :

  • Single line comments are specified either by : a semicolon ";" (.ini file style), a sharp sign "#" (shell style) or a double-slash "//" (C++ style)
  • Multiline comments are C-style : they start with the string "/\" and end with "\/". Note that nested multiline comments are authorized


Basically, a key/value pair is specified like this :

MySetting = setting value

The key name can include spaces :

My Setting = setting value

Note however that the key "MySetting" will be different from "My Setting".

Empty values can be specified in two ways :

MySetting =

If you specify the same key twice in the same section, the second value will override the first one ; thus, the value of MySetting in the following example :

MySetting 	=  setting value 1
MySetting 	=  setting value 2

will be "setting value 2". Note however that if you programmatically modify the value of "MySetting", there is no guarantee on which occurrence of "MySetting" will be actually modified.

Finally, multiline values can be specified as here-documents by adding the "<<" string after the equal sign :

MySetting1 	= <<
this is the
multiline value
of mysetting1

A keyword can be specified after the string "<<" :

MySetting1 	= <<STOP
this is the
multiline value
of mysetting1

The "END" keyword is expected when no keyword is specified after the here-document string.

The "<<<" string (as for PHP) can also be specified instead of "<<".

Spaces around the here-document string are ignored.

Note however that the end keyword must start at the beginning of the line ; no leading spaces are allowed.


The following example shows a .ini file using all the extended features of the IniFile class :

	This .ini file gives examples on the extended syntax supported by the IniFile class.

	/This is a nested multiline comment/

; A comment
# Another comment
// and yet another comment

Root 				=  /

Display 			=  1
EmptyValue1			=
Key with spaces 	=  xxxx
Heredoc1			=  <<<
	contents of
Heredoc2 			=  <<STOP


  • Spaces before a key name, before and after the equal sign and after the value are not significant.
  • Spaces around a section name (between the square brackets) are not signification ; so both [ MySection ] and [MySection] refer to a section named "MySection".
  • I have decided that absolutely anything AFTER the equal sign would be part of the key value ; for that reason, you cannot specify a single-line comment on the same line than a key/value pair. If you aim to put a comment after a key value, it will be considered as part of the value.
  • Flexibility has been priviledged over performance ; so, if you plan to use this class on .ini files that contain thousands of lines, consider other alternatives instead.


An example script will read the settings in the following file, example.ini, update the LastUpdate entry of the [Results] section then add the Status key :

		example.ini - 
			Contains the settings for the example.php file.

# Network settings
; On which address to listen to ?
Listen 	=
; Which port ?
Port 	=  9999

LastUpdate 	=  2015/01/01 17:40:00

Here is the example.php script :

	require ( 'IniFile.class.php' ) ;

	// Instanciate an IniFile object for file example.ini
	$inifile 	=  IniFile::LoadFromFile ( 'example.ini' ) ;

	// Get the value of the Listen and Port parameters in the [Network] section
	// Note that you can specify a default value if the parameter is not defined
	$listen 	=  $inifile -> GetKey ( 'Network', 'Listen', '' ) ;
	$port 		=  $inifile -> GetKey ( 'Network', 'Port' ) ;

	// ... do some processing 

	// Processing done : update the LastUpdate parameter of the [Results] section then
	// add the Status parameter
	$inifile -> SetKey ( 'Results', 'LastUpdate', date ( 'Y/m/d H:i:s' ) ) ;
	$inifile -> SetKey ( 'Results', 'Status', 0 ) ;

	// Write the results back
	$inifile -> Save ( ) ;


The following sections list the IniFile API by category.


You can create an empty .INI file object by using the new operator ; however, if you have existing contents to be loaded, use one of these three static functions. It will create a IniFile object, load the contents you specified, and return a reference to the object :

    	$inifile = IniFile::LoadFromArray  ( $array, $separator = '=' ) ;
    	$inifile = IniFile::LoadFromFile   ( $file, $load_option = IniFile::LOAD_ANY, $separator = '=' ) ;
    	$inifile = IniFile::LoadFromString ( $string, $separator = '=' ) ;

Each of these functions accept a parameter, $separator, which is the character to be used for separating key/value pairs.

The LoadFromFile method is used to load .ini file contents from the specified $file. The $load_option parameter can be one of the following :

  • IniFile::LOAD_ANY : The specified file is loaded. It will be created if it does not exist
  • IniFile::LOAD_NEW : The specified file will be created empty, and will be overridden if it already exists.
  • IniFile::LOAD_EXISTING : The specified file will be loaded. An exception will be thrown if it does not exist.

The LoadFromString method is used to load .ini file contents directly from a string. LoadFromArray can be used for loading .ini file contents from an array of lines.


The following method is used to save .ini contents :

$inifile -> Save ( $forced = false, $file = null ) ;

The $forced parameter determines the conditions for saving. Normally, the .INI file is saved if and only if the dirty flag is set (the dirty flag is set when you create/update/delete keys or sections). You can override this behavior and perform a forced save whatever the initial value of the dirty flag is, by setting this parameter to true.

$file is optional if the IniFile instance was created using the LoadFromFile() method. However it will be required if :

  • The instance was created using the LoadFromFile() method and you want to save it to a different path
  • The instance was created using either the new operator, the LoadFromString() or LoadFromArray() methods, and the File property was not set by the caller.


$value = $inifile -> GetKey ( $section, $key, $default = null ) ;

Returns a reference to the specified key $key in section $section.

If the key does not exist, the default value $default will be returned.

Because a reference is returned, you can directly modify the key value :

$value 	=  $inifile -> GetKey ( 'Network', 'Port' ) ;
$value 	=  998 ;

There are a certain number of drawbacks to this approach that make it safer to use the SetKey() method :

  • The dirty flag won't be set, since the IniFile class has no way to know that you modified something.
  • If the key was not defined, the reference will point to the $default parameter, not to a real .ini file parameter value. So, again, the IniFile class has no way to know whether you modified the value or not.

$inifile -> SetKey ( $section, $key, $value, $comment\_before = null, $comment\_after = null ) ;

Creates or updates the key $key in section $section with the specified $value. You can tell the IniFile class to insert comments before and after the key definition by specifying the $comment\_before and $comment\_after parameters.

$inifile -> RemoveKey ( $section, $key, $clear\_comment\_before = true ) ;

Removes the key $key from section $section. By default, comments that are present before the key definition are considered to document the definition itself and will be removed. If you want to override this behavior and keep the potential comments before the key definition, simply set the $clear\_comment\_before parameter to true.

Returns true if the key was defined and false otherwise.

$status = $inifile -> RenameKey ( $section, $old, $new ) ;

Renames a key contained in the specified section, from $old to $new.

This function returns true if the operation was successful, or false if one of the following conditions occurred :

  • The section specified by $section does not exist
  • The key specified by $old does not exist
  • The key specified by $new already exist

In this case, the key will not be renamed.

$inifile -> ClearKey ( $section, $key ) ;

Clears a key value. This is the equivalent of calling :

$inifile -> SetKey ( $section, $key, "" ) ;

Returns true if the key exists in the specified section, false otherwise.

$status = $inifile -> IsKeyDefined ( $section, $key ) ;

Returns true if the key $key is defined in section $section.


$sections = $inifile -> GetSections ( $regex = null ) ;

Returns the list of section names defined in the .ini file.

If a regular expression is specified for the $regex parameter, then the return value will be an associative array containing the following entries :

  • name : Full section name
  • match : The result of the regular expression match.

Don't specify any anchor or delimiter in the input string since the regular expression will be replaced by the following string :

 			/^ \s$regex \s $/imsx

Why such a feature ? suppose your .ini file contains a list of sections that start with a certain string :

[Connection #1]
Host 	=  www.somehost.com

[Connection #2]
Host 	=  www.anotherhost.com


[Connection #n]
Host 	=  www.nthhost.com

You can retrieve their names like this :

$sections 	=  $inifile -> GetSection ( 'Connection \s* # (?P<id> \d+)' ;

On output, each element of the $sections array will contain :

  • A name entry (eg, "Connection #1")
  • A match entry, resulting from the call to the preg_match() function, that will contain any named capture that you supplied (in the above example, the 'id' element will contain the number right after the "#' sign).

The function returns an empty array if a pattern was specified but no section was found matching this pattern.

$keys = $inifile -> GetKeys ( $section, $keys\_by\_reference = true, $regex = null ) ;

Gets the key names/values defined the specified section. Returns an associative array whose keys are the .ini key names and whose values are the .ini key values.

If the $keys\_by\_reference parameter is set to true, the returned values will be references to the actual ones, so that you can directly modify them without calling the SetKey() method.

An optional regular expression can be specified to filter out the key names. Unlike the GetSections() method, it must be an expression accepted by the preg_match() function and it does not modify the shape of the returned result.

$status = $inifile -> IsSectionDefined ( $section ) ;

Returns true if the specified section is defined.

$inifile -> RemoveSection ( $section, $clear\_comment\_before = true ) ;

Removes the specified section from the .ini file, together with its contents. This method is a little bit different from the ClearSection() method, since it also removes the section name from the .ini file.

If comments are present before the section definition, they are considered by default to belong to the section and will also be removed, unless the $clear\_comment\_before is set to false.

$inifile -> RenameSection ( $old, $new ) ;

Renames the section $old to $new.

The function returns true if the operation was successful, and false if one of the following conditions occurs :

  • The section specified by $old does not exist
  • The section specified by $new already exists

In this case, the section will not be renamed.

$status = $inifile -> ClearSection ( $section ) ;

Clears a section contents, without removing the section name from the .INI file.

Returns true if the section exists, false otherwise.

$result = $inifile -> GetAllKeys ( ) ;

Returns all the sections and corresponding keys defined in the .INI file.

The function returns an associative array corresponding to the sections defined in the .INI file ; the value of each item is itself an associative array whoses keys are key names and whose values are references to the actual key value.

For example, given the following .INI file :

Global = 1

Save = true
Upload = false

the function will return :

$result = array (
	"" => array ( 'Global' => 1 ),
	"General" => array ( 'Save' => true, 'Upload' => false )

Since the key values are references to the actual value, you can directly modify a key's contents, as in the following example :

$result [ 'General' ][ 'Save' ] = false ;

instead of calling :

$inifile -> SetKey ( 'General', 'Save', false ) ;

Note however that in the first case, multiline values will not be correctly handled, so the direct modification of a value should only be used for single-line values.

If you don't want to bother with single- or multi-line issues, simply call the SetKey() method.



File property :

This property is used by the Save() method, when no filename is specified, as the output path for the .ini contents to be saved.

Separator property :

This property determines the string used to separate key names from their values. The default is the equal sign ("=").


$contents = $inifile -> AsString ( )

Returns the .ini file contents as a string.

The following are equivalent :

$contents 	=  $inifile -> AsString ( ) ;
$contents 	=  ( string ) $inifile ;

$status = $inifile -> IsDirty ( )

Returns true if the in-memory .ini file contents have been modified, false otherwise.

Note that the IniFile class has no way to tell whether you modified key values using references or not. If you want to rely on the IsDirty() method, then use the SetKey() method to assign new values to keys.

$inifile -> SetVariableStore ( [$section | $store | $array | $options]... )

Defines a variable store for value expansion using the specified parameters (see the VariableStore class here : http://www.phpclasses.org/package/10048-PHP-A-class-to-store-variable-names-and-values-and-pr.html).

The parameter list is highly polymorphic and can contain any combination of the following values, which are only named for convenience purpose :

  • $store (VariableStore object) : A variable store object that contains variable definitions.
  • $section (string) : The name of a section in this .ini file that contains variable definitions.
  • $array (array or AssociativeArray) : An associative array of variable name/value pairs.
  • $options (integer) : Options to use for the VariableStore object creation. The default value for this parameter is VariableStore::OPTION\_DEFAULT.

Variables specified in multiple $section, $array and $store parameters are merged into the final variable store object. Variables with the same name will be overridden.

Multiple $options parameters are merged.

If no arguments are specified, then any existing variable store will be cancelled.


The following methods help you further manipulate in-memory .ini file contents.


You can append .ini file definitions on an existing instance using the following methods :

    	$status = $inifile -> AppendFromArray  ( $array ) ;
    	$status = $inifile -> AppendFromFile   ( $file ) ;
    	$status = $inifile -> AppendFromString ( $string ) ;

They work the same as their LoadFromxxx() counterparts, except that they operate on an existing object.

There are also methods for appending or inserting sections :

    	$status = $inifile -> InsertSection ( $section, $section\_before, 
		    					$comment\_before = null,
		    					$comment\_after  = null ) ;

    	$status = $inifile -> AppendSection ( $section, $comment\_before = null, $comment\_after = null ) ;

InsertSection() insert the section $section before $section\_before. AppendSection() inserts the section $section at the end of the .ini file.


When writing back your .ini file contents to a file, you may want some "pretty-printing" action, for example aligning key/value definitions on the same column ; the SetAlignment() method can be used for that. It accepts the following values :

  • IniFile::ALIGN_NONE -

No alignment takes place. The .INI file will be written back as is.

  • IniFile::ALIGN_SECTION -

Individual keys within a section will be aligned according to the longest key name in the section. For example :



will become :

V1      = 2
Value10 = 3

V2          = 20
LongValue10 = 30

  • IniFile::ALIGN_FILE -

Alignement will be performed at the file-level ; the above example will give :

V1          = 2
Value10     = 3

V2          = 20
LongValue10 = 30

You can call the AlignDefinitions() method to realign in-memory .ini file contents before saving them. If no parameter is specified, the last one specified for the SetAlignment() method will be used.

You can retrieve the current alignment value with the GetAlignment() method.

Note that the AsString() and Save() methods automatically realign the definitions.

File Role Description
AssociativeArray.phpclass Class Class source
example.ini Data Example .ini file for the example.php script
example.php Example Example script
example.store.ini Data Auxiliary data
example.store.php Example Example script
IniFile.class.php Class Class file
LICENSE Lic. License file
NOTICE Data notice information
README.md Doc. Documentation
Variables.phpclass Class Class source

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