ImThumb Beta

An advanced HTTP image generation script, based on ImageMagick. TimThumb-compatible API.



I originally wrote this because I was attempting to optimise the quality of TimThumb generated images, and realised that the lower quality images actually had larger filesizes than the higher quality ones. I ended up digging in a bit and came to the conclusion that some of GD's internals, as well as the way TimThumb uses it, were responsible. Rather than attempt to patch a very old and neglected library and fight against GD, I decided to reimplement the same functionality on top of ImageMagick.

  • Drop-in replacement, uses the same configuration files as TimThumb does.
  • Self-contained class files and structured image handling API for direct integration with other applications and scripts.

Version history

  • 1.0 - baseline functionality. Handles a complete set of TimThumb parameters and operations when running on local files, with some neat additions. In production use.
  • 2.x (current) - massive refactoring, more modular class structure. The new image reading API allows drawing in remote images via HTTP or indeed any concievable data source. Alpha and in progress.

Additional Functionality

The following additional features are provided by ImThumb in addition to baseline TimThumb functionality:

  • Direct cropping using explicit coordinates.
  • Extended image filters from the ImageMagick library. For a full list, see this manpage under the heading "Image effects".
  • Support for drawing remote images from a variety of sources, completely extensible to add your own custom sources (FTP, Amazon S3, databases etc). Included out of the box are:
    • Remote HTTP images (of course)
    • YouTube (provides a simple wrapper around the HTTP source to automatically pull the preview image for the video URL given)
    • Rendering of remote webpages (via integration with phantomjs)
  • Support for custom rate limiting.
  • Progressive JPEG encoding for better image load experience. Can be disabled by passing p=0 to the script.
  • Ability to specify image cache filenames based on attributes of the image. This allows generation of image files directly usable by external services and applications.

Improved Functionality

  • Better compression of generated images and smaller filesizes.
  • Filters work correctly with respect to transparent images, and do not leave filtered areas outside of explicity transparent pixels
  • GIF images can be resized whilst retaining their transparent backgrounds.
  • Error handling is both more useful & unobtrusive, with error and 404 image output and meaningful error messages returned as extended HTTP headers. Non-configured 404 & error images are displayed as coloured squares.

TimThumb Incompatibilities

The following features work differently or are otherwise incompatible with TimThumb. You might want to stick to it if you depend on any of these things:

  • Progressive JPEGs are saved by default unless reconfigured or the parameter p is explicitly set to 0.
  • I decided to expose some timing and cache stats as well as an X-Generator header in responses by default as ImageMagick can be a resource-heavy library and these things are good to know. You can disable this behaviour by defining a constant - define('SKIP_IMTHUMB_HEADERS', true);.
  • Error images are rendered to the exact dimensions of the requested image, rather than being returned as-is.
  • Filter related:
    • Brightness & contrast filters are a little more severe with the Imagick methods currently used than they were with TimThumb.
    • The tint filter seems ramped exponentially rather than linearly, and so is less extreme at lower colour values.
    • Edge outlining renders on a black background, rather than the grey provided by TimThumb. Haven't found an appropriate replacement method yet.
    • When reapplying the gaussian blur filter as in the TimThumb examples, blur increases much quicker than originally. The filter will accept additional arguments in the case of ImThumb however, to control its intensity. The same applies to the selective blur algorithm used.
    • Since filter 10 is documented as a sketch filter, I opted to use a stroked sketch effect to render the image.
  • By default, I have disabled ALLOW_EXTERNAL entirely as I believe this provides a safer option than allowing site visitors unfettered access to public photo sharing sites via your own webserver.
  • ImThumb integrates with the phantomjs library rather than CutyCapt as provided by TimThumb. Being a more modern implementation, it is able to process JavaScript and other complex rendering logic faster and for more accurate results. As a result all previous configuration parameters related to this aspect have been replaced with new options. This is not to say that CutyCapt could not be easily implemented as a source handler in future.


As with TimThumb, configuration is managed by constants defined in a config file. This file may exist in the same directory as imthumb.php, or one above it (to account for the fact that the library contains several files and would be better managed inside its own subfolder). You can find a full listing of the TimThumb configuration constants in this post.

Additional constants:
  • DEFAULT_PROGRESSIVE_JPEG - set to false to show standard JPEGs by default, without specifying the query argument each time.
  • SKIP_IMTHUMB_HEADERS - set to false to prevent X-Generator and X-Img-Cache headers being sent. Setting SHOW_DEBUG_STATS to true will enable output of timing and load stats in extended headers.
  • By default, ImThumb will always render an image if an error occurs, even if no fallbacks are configured. Due to the difference, some additional constants may be used:
    • ENABLE_NOT_FOUND_IMAGE and ENABLE_ERROR_IMAGE can be set to false to restore plaintext error output and default TimThumb functionality. Broken images will appear as broken X's on your pages.
    • COLOR_NOT_FOUND_IMAGE and COLOR_ERROR_IMAGE are used to control the colours displayed for the two, err, fallback fallback images.
  • FILE_CACHE_FILENAME_FORMAT - use this option to specify a format string for writing files to the cache. This can be used for example to permanently generate images for use by other services or in backups. The wildcard format it takes can include any of the following: %filename%-%w%x%h%x%q%-%zc%%a%%s%%cc%%ct%%filters%%pjpg%.%ext%, but you need not include all parameters if you will not be using them all.
  • IMTHUMB_RATE_LIMITER - defines the name of a loaded class to be instantiated for controlling rate limiting.
  • EXTRA_SOURCE_HANDLERS_PATH - allows you to define an extra include path for image source loader classes. This gives advanced users the ability to pull images directly out of a database, CDN storage bucket or whatever other implementation you could think of.
Configuration globals:

You may optionally define these global PHP variables prior to including the imthumb.php script. Note that you can also pass these parameters directly to ImThumb if you do not wish to invoke the TimThumb processing behaviour.

  • $ALLOWED_SITES - a TimThumb configuration parameter. Specify an array of hostnames to whitelist. Subdomains are allowed as well.
  • $IMAGE_SOURCE_HANDLERS - an alternative to the above. Allows specifying an array of regexes to match passed paths on, mapping them to ImThumbSource handler classes. By way of example, translating the $ALLOWED_SITES array into ImThumb's source handlers parameter looks like this:
    foreach ($ALLOWED_SITES as $site) {
        $uriWhitelist['@^https?://(\w|\.)*?\.?' . str_replace('.', '\\.', $site) . '@'] = 'ImThumbSource_HTTP';
    } get the idea.

Unimplemented constants:
  • TimThumb's DEBUG_ON and DEBUG_LEVEL constants have no effect in ImThumb. The library is designed to use exception handling to handle error conditions and log automatically.


Simply upload or clone ImThumb onto your server, create a cache directory in the same directory you unpack to and ensure the webserver has write access to it. If necessary you can also include a TimThumb compatible configuration file in the same directory (see additional ImThumb constants above). Your filesystem should look something like this:

        0775 cache/
        0644 imthumb/
        0644 timthumb-config.php


ImThumb takes the same parameters as TimThumb for the most part - these control simplified cropping & quality settings as well as some basic filters. You can find the full list with examples on the TimThumb documentation page.

Additional parameters:

Crop rect (cr)

Crop rect coordinates for pre-cropping a portion of the source image. Accepts four comma-delimited numbers indicating pixel positions to crop to: startX, startY, endX and endY. If any numbers are negative or outside the bounds of the image then the image will be positioned within a larger canvas containing itself. When combined with the normal width and height parameters, the resulting cropped image is reprocessed to fit within the target dimensions as it would normally be when passed to ImThumb pre-cropped.

Progressive JPEGS (p)

Specifies whether (=1) or not (=0) to save progressive JPEGs. ImThumb saves progressive images by default to increase apparent loading time for the end user. Filesize is not significantly affected either way.

Extended parameters:

Filters (f)

Image filters are significantly enhanced in ImThumb and provide the full spectrum of ImageMagick filters. Not only the integer-based filters of TimThumb are possible, but a much wider range of method-based filters as well. See this manpage under the heading "Image effects" for complete documentation.

Filters are combined in the same way as with TimThumb, so commas delineate parameters and the pipe character indicates the next filter. For example, a more advanced form of the standard image negation filter f=2 can be provided to ImThumb as f=modulateImage,100,0,100. Tweaking those numbers can adjust the effects of the filter to create different results. Combing filters is easily achieved like so: modulateImage,50,50,50|waveImage,10,20.

Custom Image Sources

Advanced users may wish to source images from other locations. ImThumb provides the ImThumbSource interface for this purpose, which you may extend and map to ImThumb by matching against source image URIs. In practise you will mostly wish to extend from the ImThumbSource_Local implementation however, since the objective of most image sourcers is typically to bring down a remote asset and cache it before processing locally.

This interface requires two methods to be implemented - readMetadata and readResource. The former should query basic attributes about the image and return them as a completed ImThumbMeta object, or throw an ImThumbNotFoundException if the asset cannot be located. You may also return an invalid ImThumbMeta (either one created with an empty constructor or reset with ->invalid()) to indicate that there was an unresolvable error when retrieving the resource. readResource should process a file against some given metadata and return an Imagick instance for processing by the framework.

Implementing Rate Limiting

To provide simple integration for any custom rate limiting system, the ImThumbRateLimiter class provided allows you to integrate your own logic for managing limits on image generation. The only method you need implement is checkRateLimits(), which returns true to indicate that the generation may proceed and false if the rate limit has been exceeded. ImThumbRateLimiter objects provide a $generator member for interrogating the ImThumb instance being processed. The new IMTHUMB_RATE_LIMITER configuration constant corresponds to the pre-included classname which will be initialised to control rate limiting on the script. I have also provided IMTHUMB_RATE_LIMIT_MSG to control the error HTML that a user sees after exceeding rate limits.

Of course to use this functionality you will need to create a separate entrypoint script that loads up your custom rate limiter class and then boots up imthumb.php. You do not need to worry about making imthumb.php web inaccessible as it is programmed to die (and log the remote IP to the PHP error log) if it has been given configuration for a rate limiter class that does not exist. These scripts will essentially be a case of including the interface class, defining your own custom class & loading whatever framework is needed to support it, and finally including imthumb.php which will load up its configuration file and continue on from there. There is an example provided at example/rate-limited-loader.php.

If you don't need access to the data from the ImThumb instance to determine your limits, then this framework is purely academic and you can simply create your own script and check for exceeded limits before even loading the main script. Its purpose is more geared toward online services performing batch image generation or weighting filters based on their relative complexity; and of course demoing the thing without killing your webserver :p

Disclaimer: Note that session-level rate limiting can be circumvented by attackers simply by starting a new session on each request. In order to properly guard against sustained server abuse of this kind one really needs to have something active at a webserver level.

Configuring Webpage Rendering

Coming soon...

Notes on Performance

In my testing, ImageMagick typically has a much lower memory usage than GD (about 3x), but higher CPU utilisation (about 2x). Obviously there are advantages and disadvantages to each library and its internals and your choice will depend on your infrastructure and requirements. Imagick offers a much richer set of image manipulation methods at the expense of more intensive computations.


  • phantomjs source handler
    • may need to split up source & destination mime type?
  • Add support for scaling animated gifs whilst retaining animation
  • Support for ImageMagick 3 and under in 'inner fit' and 'inner fill' crop modes
  • Fix filter compatibility on some mismatched filters



TimThumb parameters


ImThumb-only parameters