chlab very irregular posts about web development

Setup Mailcatcher in Vagrant box

I am currently refactoring some mailings in an application and as you probably know, debugging mails is a PITA. Luckily I stumbled across Mailcatcher, which runs a simple mail server and can catch mails you send to it and display them in a web gui.

Since it runs on localhost, it’s a bit tricky to set it up in a Vagrant box, where your box probably has it’s own hostname (e.g. This blog post is written for Ubuntu 14.04 with PHP and apache.

Here’s how to set up Mailcatcher in your Vagrant box.


First you need to provision your Vagrant box to install Mailcatcher. If you don’t already have a provisioning script, you can add one to your Vagrantfile like this:

config.vm.provision :shell, path: "vagrant/"

Then create vagrant/ in your project directory:


# install mailcatcher (
apt-get install -y ruby-dev libsqlite3-dev
gem install mailcatcher
# enable apache proxy modules to configure a reverse proxy to mailcatchers webfrontend
sudo a2enmod proxy proxy_http proxy_wstunnel

# replace sendmail path in php.ini with catchmail path
CATCHMAIL="$(which catchmail)"
sed -i "s|;sendmail_path\s=.*|sendmail_path = $CATCHMAIL|" /etc/php5/apache2/php.ini

# restart apache
apachectl restart

Note that I replace the default sendmail path in the php.ini* for apache with Mailcatcher’s own catchmail, which causes all mails to be sent there. If you also send mails from the command line (e.g. cronjobs), you’ll also need to replace sendmail in /etc/php5/cli/php.ini.

If you’re sending your mails with SMTP, you have to configure smtp_port instead.

This script is only run automatically when your box is first setup. You can run it manually by calling:

vagrant provision

*you could also just configure this in your apache config like:

php_admin_value sendmail_path "/usr/local/bin/catchmail"

But I feel more comfortable knowing that it’s in my php.ini and won’t suddenly start sending mails if I change around my apache config and suddenly that rule is in the wrong Directory or something.

Starting Mailcatcher on ‘vagrant up’

Just add this to your Vagrantfile to start Mailcatcher when you run vagrant up:

config.vm.provision :shell, inline: "mailcatcher", run: "always"

Accessing Mailcatcher web gui

Since the Mailcatcher web gui, where you can view all captured mails, runs on localhost, it’s not accessible via your app or website frontend by default. This is how I configured my Apache virtualhost conf to enable this (only relevant parts):


# proxy pass mailcatcher to internal webserver
ProxyRequests Off
ProxyPass /mailcatcher http://localhost:1080
ProxyPass /assets http://localhost:1080/assets
ProxyPass /messages ws://localhost:1080/messages

Then restart your apache and you should be able to access in the browser.  Now any mails your app sends should be instantly displayed there instead of actually being sent.

Manually parse raw HTTP data with PHP

How to parse multipart data manually in PHP when working with HTTP PUT requests.

Luckily, PHP offers some great tools for working with data that we usually take for granted. When posting multipart form-data to a PHP script, the POST values will automatically become available as an array of values in the $_POST superglobal, the files will automatically be processed and be made available in the $_FILES superglobal. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for PUT requests. This is probably by design, as with a PUT request you are actually sending a specific file to a specific location on a server. This is supported, as is sending an url-encoded querystring as the payload. What doesn’t work out of the box though is sending multipart data in a PUT request.

Consider the following pseudo code on the client side:

    'user_id' => 3,
    'post_id' => 5,
    'image' => '@/tmp/current_file'),

If you get rid of the CURLOPT_CUSTOMREQUEST bit, this will be sent as a POST, and the data will be available in the $_POST and $_FILES arrays respectively. With PUT, the data will not be parsed by PHP at all. So I wrote a method to do it manually. Unparsed multipart data looks something like this:

Content-Disposition: form-data; name="user_id"

Content-Disposition: form-data; name="post_id"

Content-Disposition: form-data; name="image"; filename="/tmp/current_file"
Content-Type: application/octet-stream

�����JFIF���������... a bunch of binary data

Here’s a method that will parse this:

 * Parse raw HTTP request data
 * Pass in $a_data as an array. This is done by reference to avoid copying
 * the data around too much.
 * Any files found in the request will be added by their field name to the
 * $data['files'] array.
 * @param   array  Empty array to fill with data
 * @return  array  Associative array of request data
function parse_raw_http_request(array &$a_data)
  // read incoming data
  $input = file_get_contents('php://input');

  // grab multipart boundary from content type header
  preg_match('/boundary=(.*)$/', $_SERVER['CONTENT_TYPE'], $matches);

  // content type is probably regular form-encoded
  if (!count($matches))
    // we expect regular puts to containt a query string containing data
    parse_str(urldecode($input), $a_data);
    return $a_data;

  $boundary = $matches[1];

  // split content by boundary and get rid of last -- element
  $a_blocks = preg_split("/-+$boundary/", $input);

  // loop data blocks
  foreach ($a_blocks as $id => $block)
    if (empty($block))

    // you'll have to var_dump $block to understand this and maybe replace \n or \r with a visibile char

    // parse uploaded files
    if (strpos($block, 'application/octet-stream') !== FALSE)
      // match "name", then everything after "stream" (optional) except for prepending newlines
      preg_match("/name=\"([^\"]*)\".*stream[\n|\r]+([^\n\r].*)?$/s", $block, $matches);
      $a_data['files'][$matches[1]] = $matches[2];
    // parse all other fields
      // match "name" and optional value in between newline sequences
      preg_match('/name=\"([^\"]*)\"[\n|\r]+([^\n\r].*)?\r$/s', $block, $matches);
      $a_data[$matches[1]] = $matches[2];

And here’s how to use it:

$a_data = array();

In the above example, the var_dump would look something like this:

Array (
  [user_id] => 3
  [post_id] => 5
  [files] => Array (
    [image] => [binary data]

I hope this helps.


I’m happy to see that a few people have used the code above and some have changed it to meet their requirements. Check out commenter Jas’ version for multiple file and input-type support.