Tag Archives: debugging

Setting up PHP for development on Windows Services for Linux in Windows 10

I have been working a little with PHP, for the first time for a while, and soon found it annoying not to have the convenience of instant application testing and line by line debugging. I have set up a PHP development environment before using XAMPP for Windows and Eclipse, but it was fiddly. I also prefer PHP on Linux, which is where my scripts will be running.

Since Windows 10 now has a Linux environment built-in, called Windows Services for Linux (WSL), I decided to set this up to run Apache, PHP and MySQL and to try debugging my scripts there.

My PC is a recent installation and I had not yet installed WSL. To do so, you have to both download a Linux distribution from the Store (I chose Ubuntu), and enable WSL in Windows features. Then restart, launch Ubuntu, set a username and password, and you are up and running.

Note the Linux commands that follow should be run as root using sudo.

Before doing anything else, I got Ubuntu up to date:

apt-get update

apt-get upgrade

Then I installed the LAMP suite:

apt-get install lamp-server^

(the final ^ is intentional; see the guide here).

To check that everything is working, I created the file phpinfo.php in /var/www/html with the following contents:

<?php phpinfo(); ?>

and restarted Apache:

/etc/init.d/apache2 restart

Note: if you have IIS running in Windows, or another web server, Apache will not be able to listen on port 80. Change the port in /etc/apache2/ports.conf and in /etc/apache2/sites-enabled/000-default.conf

Then I opened a web browser on the Windows side and browsed to localhost:




We are up and running, but not debugging PHP yet. Remember the basic rules of WSL:

  • you cannot change Linux files from Windows.
  • you can access Windows files from Linux.

We want to edit PHP from Windows, so we’ll define a site that uses Windows files. Windows files are under /mnt/c (or whatever drive letter you are using).

So if you example you have your PHP website in a folder called c:\websites\mysite, you can have Apache serve files from that folder.

The quickest way to get up and running is to create a symbolic link in the Apache home directory, in my case /var/www/html. Change to that directory and type:

ln -s /mnt/c/websites/mysite mysite

Now you can view the site at http://localhost/mysite/

This worked first time for me, complete with PHP running. You could also set up multiple virtual hosts in Apache, and use the hosts file in Windows to map other host names to localhost.

Next, you probably want PHP to show error messages. To do this, replace the default php.ini with the development version (or tweak it according to your own preferences. At the time of writing, on Ubuntu, the default PHP version is 7.0 and php.ini-development is located in /usr/lib/php/7.0/php.ini-development. So I backed up the ini file at /etc/php/7.0/apache2, replaced it with the development version, and restarted Apache. My PHP form immediately showed me a non-fatal undefined index error, so it worked.

There is one small inconvenience. Apache in WSL will only run during the session. So before starting work, you have to open Ubuntu and type:

sudo apache2ctl start

Well, background task support is coming to WSL but I do not regard this as a big problem.

OK, this is cool, we can make changes in the PHP code in our favourite Windows editor, save, and view the results directly in the browser. But what about line-by-line debugging? For this, we are going to use Visual Studio Code with the PHP Debug extension:


Then on the Ubuntu side:

apt-get install php-xdebug

Restart Apache:

apache2ctl restart

Check that phpinfo.php now shows an Xdebug section. Then edit php.ini and add the following:

xdebug.remote_enable = 1
xdebug.remote_autostart = 1

Restart Apache again and XDebug is ready to go.

Over in Visual Studio code there is a little more work to do. The problem is that although everything is running on localhost, the location of the files looks different to Linux than to Windows. We can fix this with a pathMappings setting. In Visual Studio code, open the PHP file you want to debug. Click the Debug icon and then the little gearwheel near top left; this will open launch.json. By default there are a couple of settings for XDebug. These are OK for a default setup, but we need to add path mapping so that the debugger knows where to find the files. For example:


Now you can set a breakpoint, start debugging, and open the page in your browser:


More guidance on the PHP Debug extension by Felix Becker is here.

Final thoughts

This is cool; but is it better or worse than an old-style VM running Linux and PHP? The WSL solution is lightweight and convenient, but unlike a VM it is not isolated and you may hit issues that are unique to WSL, because not everything runs. I did happen to suffer crashes in Visual Studio and in Outlook while WSL was running; it may well be coincidence, but I cannot help wondering if WSL might be to blame.

Still, a great feature of WSL is that when you exit your session, it goes away, so it is not too intrusive. I plan to use it for PHP debugging and will see how it goes.

Hands on debugging an Azure application – what to do when it works locally but not in the cloud

I have been writing a Facebook application hosted on Microsoft Azure. I hit a problem where my application worked fine on the local development fabric, but failed when deployed to Azure. The application was not actually crashing; it just did not work as expected. Specifically, either the Facebook authentication or the ASP.NET Forms Authentication was failing; when I tried to log on, the log on failed.

This scenario, where the app works locally but not on Azure, is potentially a bad one because you do not have the luxury of breakpoints and variable inspection. There are several approaches. You can have the application write a log, which you could download or view by using Remote Desktop to the Azure instance. You can have the application output debug messages to HTML. Or you can use IntelliTrace.

I tried IntelliTrace. It is easy to set up, just check the box when deploying.


Once deployed, I tried the application. Clicked the Log On button, after which the screen flashed but still asked me to Log On. The log on had failed.


I closed the app, opened Server Explorer in Visual Studio, drilled down into the Windows Azure Compute node and selected View IntelliTrace Logs.


The logs took a few minutes to download. Then you can view is the IntelliTrace log summary, which includes a list of exceptions. You can double-click an exception to start an IntelliTrace debug session.


Useful, but I still could not figure out what was wrong. I also found that IntelliTrace did not show the values for local variables in its debug sessions, though it does show exceptions in detail.

Now, if you really want to debug and trace an Azure application you had better read this MSDN article which explains how to create custom debugging and trace agents and write logs to Azure storage. That seems like a lot of work, so I resorted to the old technique of writing messages to HTML.

At this point I should mention something you must do in order to debug on Azure and remain sane.  This is to enable WebDeploy:


It is not that hard to set up, though you do need to enable Remote Desktop which means a trip to the Azure management portal. In my case I am behind a firewall so I needed to configure Web Deploy to use the standard SSL port. All is explained here.

Why use Web Deploy? Well, normally when you deploy to Azure the service actually builds, copies and spins up a new virtual machine image for your app. That process is fundamental to Azure’s design and means there are always at least two copies of the VM in existence. It is also slow, so if you are making changes to an app, deploying, and then testing, you will spend most of your time waiting for Azure.

Web Deploy, by contrast, writes to your existing instance, so it is many times quicker. Note that once you have your app working, it is essential to deploy it properly, since Azure might revert your app to the last VM you created.

With Web Deploy enabled I got back to work. I discovered that FormsAuthentication.SetAuthCookie was not working. The odd thing being, it worked locally, and it had worked in a previous version deployed to Azure.

Then I began to figure it out. My app runs in a Facebook canvas. Since the app is served from a different site than Facebook, cookies may be rejected. When I ran the app locally, the app was in a different IE security zone, so different rules applied.

But why had it worked before? I realised that when it worked before I had used Google Chrome. That was it. IE worked locally; but only Chrome worked when deployed.

I have given up trying to fix the specific problem for the moment. I have dug into it a little, and discovered that cookie handling in a Facebook canvas with IE is a long-standing problem, and that the Facebook C# SDK may have bugs in this area. It is not essential for my sample; I have found I can get by with the Facebook session. To get the user ID, for example:


The time has not been wasted though as I have learned a bit about Azure debugging. I was also amused to discover that my Azure VM has activation problems: