Attachments, Files, Thumbnails and Links

An attachment in GNU social can represent both a file or a link with a thumbnail.



Not every information should be stored in the database. Large blobs of data usually find their space in storage. The two most common file abstractions you will find in GNU social are App\Util\TemporaryFile and Symfony\Component\HttpFoundation\File\UploadedFile.

The UploadedFile comes from Symfony and you'll find it when working with forms that have file upload as inputs. The TemporaryFile is how GNU social handles/represents any file that isn't in a permanent state, i.e., not yet ready to be moved to storage.

So, the Attachment entity won't store the information, only point to it.


Here's how the ImageEncoder plugin creates a temporary file to manipulate an image in a transaction fashion before committing its changes:

// TemporaryFile handles deleting the file if some error occurs
$temp = new TemporaryFile(['prefix' => 'image', 'suffix' => $extension]);

$image  = Vips\Image::newFromFile($file->getRealPath(), ['access' => 'sequential']);
$width  = Common::clamp($image->width, 0, Common::config('attachments', 'max_width'));
$height = Common::clamp($image->height, 0, Common::config('attachments', 'max_height'));
$image  = $image->crop(0, 0, $width, $height);

// Replace original file with the sanitized one

Note how we:

  1. created a temporary file $temp,
  2. then write the in-memory $image manipulation of $file to storage in $temp
  3. and only then commit the changes in $temp to $file's location.

If anything failed in 2 we would risk corrupting the input $file. In this case, for performance's sake, most of the manipulation happens in memory. But it's obvious that TemporaryFile can also be very useful for eventual in-storage manipulations.

Return a file via HTTP

Okay, it's fun that you can save files. But it isn't very useful if you can't show the amazing changes or files you generated to the client. For that, GNU social has App\Core\GSFile.


public function avatar_view(Request $request, int $gsactor_id)
    $res = \Component\Avatar\Avatar::getAvatarFileInfo($gsactor_id);
    return \App\Core\GSFile::sendFile(filepath: $res['filepath'],
                                      mimetype: $res['mimetype'],
                                      output_filename: $res['title'],
                                      disposition: 'inline');

Simple enough.

Attachments: Storing a reference in database

Finally, you need a way to refer to previous files. GNU social calls that representation of Component\Attachment\Entity\Attachment. If a note refers to an Attachment then you can link them using the entity AttachmentToNote.

Important: The core hashes the files and reuses Attachments. Therefore, if you're deleting a file from storage, you must ensure it is really intended and safe.

Call the functions Attachment::validateAndStoreFileAsAttachment and Attachment::validateAndStoreURLAsAttachment.

Killing an attachment

Because deleting an attachment is different from deleting your regular entity, to delete an attachment you should call the member function kill(). It will decrease the lives count and only remove it if it has lost all its lives.


Both files and links can have an AttachmentThumbnail. You can have an AttachmentThumbnail for every Attachment. You can only have an AttachmentThumbnail if you have an attachment first. Read a plugin such as ImageEncoder to understand how thumbnails can be generated from files. And StoreRemoteMedia to understand how to generate them from URLs.

The controller asking for them is the App\Controller\Attachment::attachment_thumbnail with a call to Component\Attachment\Entity\AttachmentThumbnail::getOrCreate().

Trade-offs between decoupling and complexity

This kind of questions are deepened in our wiki. Despite that, in this case it is relevant enough to walk a little through in the documentation. You'll note that the Attachment entity has fairly specific fields such as width and height. Maybe for an Attachment you could use the width field for the cover image of a song, or not and just leave it null. And for a song preview you could use width for duration and leave height as null. The point is, we could have the entities ImageAttachment and an ImageAttachmentThumbnail being created by the ImageEncoder plugin and move these specificities to the plugin. But the end code would require more database requests, become heavier, and become harder to read. And maybe we're wasting a bit more space (maybe!). But if that's the case, it's far from significant. The processing cost and ease of understanding outweighs the storage cost.

We have Links entities for representing links, these are used by the Posting component to represent remote urls. These are fairly similar to the attachment entities.