How can I determine a file's true extension/type programmatically?

Not really, no.

You will need to read the first few bytes of each file and interpret it as a header for a finite set of known filetypes. Most files have distinct file headers, some sort of metadata in the first few bytes or first few kilobytes in the case of MP3.

Your program will have to simply try parsing the file for each of your accepted filetypes.

For my program, I send the uploaded image to imagemagick in a try-catch block, and if it blows up, then I guess it was a bad image. This should be considered insecure, because I am loading arbitrary (user supplied) binary data into an external program, which is generally an attack vector. here, I am trusting imageMagick to not do anything to my system.

I recommend writing your own handlers for the significant filetypes you intend to use, to avoid any attack vectors.

Edit: I see in PHP there are some tools to do this for you.

Also, MIME types are what the user's browser claims the file to be. It is handy and useful to read those and act on them in your code, but it is not a secure method, because anyone sending you bad files will fake the MIME headers easily. It's sort of a front line defense to keep your code that expects a JPEG from barfing on a PNG, but if someone embedded a virus in a .exe and named it JPEG, there's no reason not to have spoofed the MIME type.

PHP has a couple of ways of reading file contents to determine its MIME type, depending on which version of PHP you are using:

Have a look at the Fileinfo functions if you're running PHP 5.3+

$finfo = finfo_open(FILEINFO_MIME); 
$type = finfo_file($finfo, $filepath);

Alternatively, check out mime_content_type for older versions.

$type = mime_content_type($filepath);

Note that just validating the file type isn't enough if you want to be truly secure. Someone could, for example, upload a valid JPEG file which exploits a vulnerability in a common renderer. To guard against this, you would need a well maintained virus scanner.

PHP has a superglobal $_FILES that holds information like size and file type. It looks like the type is taken form some sort of a header, not an extension, but I may be wrong.

There is an example of it on w3schools site.

I am going to test if it is can be tricked when I get a chance.


Everyone else probably knew this, but $_FILES can be tricked. I was able to determine it this way:

$arg = escapeshellarg( $_FILES["file"]["tmp_name"] );
system( "file $arg", $type );
echo "Real type:  " . $type;

It basically uses Unix's file command. There are probably better ways, but I haven't used PHP in a while. I usually avoid using system commands if possible.