b8: readme

Author: Tobias Leupold
Contact: <tobias . leupold at web . de>
Date: 2014-03-12

Table of Contents

1   Description of b8

1.1   What is b8?

b8 is a spam filter implemented in PHP. It is intended to keep your weblog or guestbook spam-free. The filter can be used anywhere in your PHP code and tells you whether a text is spam or not, using statistical text analysis. What it does is: you give b8 a text and it returns a value between 0 and 1, saying it's ham when it's near 0 and saying it's spam when it's near 1. See How does it work? for details about this.
To be able to do this, b8 first has to learn some spam and some ham (non-spam) texts. If it makes mistakes when classifying unknown texts or the result is not distinct enough, b8 can be told what the text actually is, getting better with each learned text.

b8 is a statistical spam filter. I'm not a mathematician, but as far as I can grasp it, the math used in b8 has not much to do with Bayes' theorem itself. So I call it a statistical spam filter, not a Bayesian one. Principally, It's a program like Bogofilter or SpamBayes, but it is not intended to classify emails. Therefore, the way b8 works is slightly different from email spam filters. See What's different? if you're interested in the details.

An example of what we're talking about here:

At the moment of this writing (november 2012), b8 has, since december 2006, classified 26869 guestbook entries and weblog comments on my homepage. 145 were ham. 76 spam texts (0.28 %) have been falsely rated as ham (false negatives) and I had to remove them manually. Only one single ham message has been falsely classified as spam (false positive) back in june 2010, but – in defense of b8 – this was the very first English ham text I got. Previously, each and every of the 15024 English texts posted has been spam. Texts with Chinese, Japanese or Cyrillic content (all spam either) did not appear until 2011.
This results in a sensitivity of 99.72 % (the probability that a spam text will actually be rated as spam) and a specifity of 99.31 % (the probability that a ham text will actually be rated as ham) for my homepage. Before the one false positive, of course, the specifity has been 100 % ;-)

1.2   How does it work?

In principle, b8 uses the math and technique described in Gary Robinson's articles "A Statistical Approach to the Spam Problem" [4] and "Spam Detection" [3]. The "degeneration" method Paul Graham proposed in "Better Bayesian Filtering" [2] has also been implemented.

b8 cuts the text to classify to pieces, extracting stuff like email addresses, links and HTML tags and of course normal words. For each such token, it calculates a single probability for a text containing it being spam, based on what the filter has learned so far. When the token has not been seen before, b8 tries to find similar ones using "degeneration" and uses the most relevant value found. If really nothing is found, b8 assumes a default rating for this token for the further calculations.
Then, b8 takes the most relevant values (which have a rating far from 0.5, which would mean we don't know what it is) and calculates the combined probability that the whole text is spam.

1.3   What do I need for it?

Not much! You just need PHP 5 and a database to store the wordlist.

Currently, there are three backends to choose from for use with one of the following databases:

1.4   What's different?

b8 has been designed to classify forum posts, weblog comments or guestbook entries, not emails. For this reason, it uses a slightly different technique than most of the other statistical spam filters out there use.

My experience was that spam entries on my weblog or guestbook were often quite short, sometimes just something like "123abc" as text and a link to a suspect homepage. Some spam bots don't even made a difference between e. g. the "name" and "text" fields and posted their text as email address, for example. Considering this, b8 just takes one string to classify, making no difference between "headers" and "text".
The other thing is that most statistical spam filters count one token one time, no matter how often it appears in the text (as Paul Graham describes it in [1]). b8 does count how often a token has been seen and learns resp. considers this. Why this? Because a text containing one link (no matter where it points to, just indicated by a "http://" or a "www.") might not be spam, but a text containing 20 links might be.

This means that b8 might be good for classifying weblog comments, guestbook entries or forum posts (I really think it is ;-) – but very likely, it will work quite poor when being used for something else like classifying emails. At least with the default lexer. But as said above, for this task, there are lots of very good filters out there to choose from.

2   Update from prior versions

If this is a new b8 installation, read on at the Installation section!

2.1   Update from bayes-php version 0.2.1 or earlier

Please first follow the database update instructions of the bayes-php-0.3 release if you update from a version prior to bayes-php-0.3, then read the following two paragraphs.

2.2   Update from bayes-php version 0.3 to any pre-0.5 version of b8

Version 0.5 introduced some changes. Here they are. Please read Update from b8 0.5.* for how to update your database.

If you use SQLite: Sorry, at the moment, there's no SQLite backend for b8. You can probably create a dump of your database and insert it into a MySQL table.

b8's lexer has been partially re-written. It should now be able to handle all kind of non-latin-1 input, like Cyrillic, Chinese or Japanese texts. Caused by this fact, much more tokens will be recognized when classifying such texts. Therefore, you could get different results in b8's ratings, even if the same database is used and although the math is still the same.

b8 0.5 introduced two constants that can be used in the learn() and unlearn() functions: b8::HAM and b8::SPAM. The literal values "ham" and "spam" can still be used anyway.

2.3   Update from b8 0.5.*

The lexer and the degenerator can now be configured via an additional config array. If you want to use the new lexer and/or degenerator config, read through the Configuration section.

The database format has changed. There's an update script for DBA and MySQL databases which can be found in the directory update/. Simply edit the configuration array inside the respective script and run it. A new database with the current structure (v3) will be created. When the update was okay, simply replace your current database with the new one or change your configuration in a way that the new database will be used by b8.

The validate() functions have been removed in favor of throwing exceptions when something goes wrong instantiating b8. So if you set up b8 like this

$b8 = new b8($config_b8, $config_storage);

$started_up = $b8->validate();

if($started_up !== TRUE) {
        echo "Error: ", $started_up;

you will have to change your code to something like this:

try {
        $b8 = new b8($config_b8, $config_storage, $config_lexer, $config_degenerator);
catch(Exception $e) {
        echo "Error: ", $e->getMessage();

When an error occurs while instantiating b8, the object will simply not be created.

3   Installation

Installing b8 on your server is quite easy. You just have to provide the needed files. To do this, you could just upload the whole b8 subdirectory to the base directory of your homepage. It contains the filter itself and all needed backend classes. The other directories (doc, example, install and update) are not used by b8.

That's it ;-)

4   Configuration

The configuration is passed as arrays when instantiating a new b8 object. Four arrays can be passed to b8. One containing b8's base configuration, one for the storage backend, one for the lexer and one for the degenerator.
You can have a look at example/index.php to see how this can be done. Using b8 in your scripts also shows example code showing how b8 can be included in a PHP script.

Not all values have to be set. When some values are missing, the default ones will be used. If you do use the default settings, you don't have to pass them to b8. But of course, if you want to set something in e. g. the fourth config array, but not in the third, you will have to pass an empty array() as third parameter anyway.

4.1   b8's base configuration

All these values can be set in the "config_b8" array (the first parameter) passed to b8. The name of the array doesn't matter (of course), it just has to be the first argument.

These are some basic settings telling b8 which backend classes to use:


This defines which storage backend will be used to save b8's wordlist. Currently, three databases are supported: Berkeley DB (dba), MySQL (mysql and mysqli) and PostgreSQL (postgresql). An experimental backend for SQLite resides in SVN trunk but has not reached release quality yet. The default is dba (string).

dba (Berkeley DB)
This has been the original backend for the filter. All content is saved in a single file, you don't need special user rights or a database server. Probably a good choice, as this is very performant and fits exactly to b8's needs.
If you don't know whether your server's PHP installation supports Berkeley DB, simply run the script install/setup_berkeleydb.php. If it shows a Berkeley DB handler, you can use this backend.
mysql (MySQL)
The MySQL relational database system is used very widely on the web and can also be used for storing b8's wordlist. This backend needs of course a running and accessable MySQL server and database.
This is the original MySQL backend using the legacy mysql_* PHP functions. As long as the mysql_* functions stay in PHP, this backend will stay in b8. Anyways, PHP encourages users to use the newer mysqli_* functions. As of b8 0.6.1, there's also a backend using these (see below).
mysqli (MySQL)
MySQL backend that uses the newer mysqli_* PHP functions instead of the legacy mysql_* ones to interact with the database.
postgresql (PostgreSQL)
A PostgreSQL schema with one table can also be used for storing b8's wordlist. This backend needs of course a running and accessable PostgreSQL server and database.
Communication with the DB server is done via PDO, so you need PHP >= 5.1 compiled with --with-pdo-pgsql to use this backend.

See Configuration of the storage backend for the settings of the chosen backend.

The lexer class to be used. Defaults to default (string).
At the moment, only one lexer exists, so you probably don't want to change this unless you have written your own lexer.
The degenerator class to be used. See How does it work? and [2] if you're interested in what "degeneration" is. Defaults to default (string).
At the moment, only one degenerator exists, so you probably don't want to change this unless you have written your own degenerator.

The following settings influence the mathematical internals of b8. If you want to experiment, feel free to play around with them; but be warned: wrong settings of these values will result in poor performance or could even "short-circuit" the filter. Leave these values as they are unless you know what you are doing.

The "Statistical discussion about b8" [5] shows why the default values are the default ones.

This tells b8 how many tokens should be used to calculate the spamminess of a text. The default setting is 15 (integer). This seems to be a quite reasonable value. When using too many tokens, the filter will fail on texts filled with useless stuff or with passages from a newspaper, etc. not being very spammish.
The tokens counted multiple times (see above) are added in addition to this value. They don't replace other interesting tokens.
This defines a minimum deviation from 0.5 that a token's rating must have to be considered when calculating the spamminess. Tokens with a rating closer to 0.5 than this value will simply be skipped.
If you don't want to use this feature, set this to 0. Defaults to 0.2 (float). Read [5] before increasing this.
This is Gary Robinson's x constant (cf. [3]). A completely unknown token will be rated with the value of rob_x. The default 0.5 (float) seems to be quite reasonable, as we can't say if a token that also can't be rated by degeneration is good or bad.
If you receive much more spam than ham or vice versa, you could change this setting accordingly.
This is Gary Robinson's s constant. This is essentially the probability that the rob_x value is correct for a completely unknown token. It will also shift the probability of rarely seen tokens towards this value. The default is 0.3 (float)
See [3] for a closer description of the s constant and read [5] for specific information about this constant in b8's algorithms.

4.2   Configuration of the storage backend

All the following values can be set in the "config_storage" array (the second parameter) passed to b8. The name of the array doesn't matter (of course), it just has to be the second argument.

4.2.1   Settings for the Berkeley DB (DBA) backend

The filename of the database file, relative to the location of b8.php. Defaults to wordlist.db (string).
The DBA handler to use (cf. the PHP documentation and Setting up a new Berkeley DB). Defaults to db4 (string).

4.2.2   Settings for the MySQL backend

This applies both for the legacy mysql backend and for the newer mysqli backend.

The database containing b8's wordlist table. Defaults to b8_wordlist (string).
The table containing b8's wordlist. Defaults to b8_wordlist (string).
The host of the MySQL server. Defaults to localhost (string).
The user name used to open the database connection. Defaults to FALSE (boolean).
The password required to open the database connection. Defaults to FALSE (boolean).
An existing MySQL link-resource (for the mysql backend) or a mysqli object (for the mysqli backend) that can be used by b8. If a connection is passed to b8, it will be used to communicate with the database instead of creating a new connection. Defaults to NULL (NULL).

4.2.3   Settings for the PostgreSQL backend

The database containing b8's wordlist table. Defaults to b8_wordlist (string).
The table containing b8's wordlist. Defaults to b8_wordlist (string).
The host of the PostgreSQL server. Defaults to localhost (string).
The port of the PostgreSQL server. Defaults to 5432 (integer).
The schema in the database to use. Defaults to b8 (string).
The user name used to open the database connection. Defaults to FALSE (boolean).
The password required to open the database connection. Defaults to FALSE (boolean).
An existing PDO instance that can be used by b8. If a connection is passed to b8, it will be used to communicate with the database instead of creating a new connection. Defaults to NULL (NULL).

4.3   Configuration of the lexer

The lexer disassembles the text we want to analyze to single words ("tokens"). The way it does this can be customized.

All the following values can be set in the "config_lexer" array (the third parameter) passed to b8. The name of the array doesn't matter (of course), it just has to be the third argument.

The minimal length for a token to be considered when calculating the rating of a text. Defaults to 3 (integer).
The maximal length for a token to be considered when calculating the rating of a text. Defaults to 30 (integer).
Should pure numbers also be considered? Defaults to FALSE (boolean).
Look for URIs. Defaults to TRUE (boolean).
Extracts HTML. This is the old search function used up to b8 0.5.2. If you have an existing b8 installation and want the exactly same behaviour as before, use this. This function will probably removed in a future release. Defaults to TRUE (boolean).
Extracts HTML. This has been added in b8 0.6 and should work better then the "old_get_html" procedure. Defaults to FALSE (boolean).
Extracts BBCode, which is often used in forums. Defaults to FALSE (boolean).

4.4   Configuration of the degenerator

When a token is not found in the database, b8 tries to find similar versions of that token. The degenerator provides these similar versions (cf. [2]). The way it generates these "degenerates" can be customized.

All the following values can be set in the "config_degenerator" array (the fourth parameter) passed to b8. The name of the array doesn't matter (of course), it just has to be the fourth argument.

Use multibyte operations when searching for degenerated versions of an unknown token. When activating this, b8 needs PHP's mbstring module to work. Defaults to FALSE (boolean).
The internal encoding to use when doing multibyte operations. This will only be used when multibyte is set to TRUE. Defaults to UTF-8 (string).

The difference of using or not using multibyte operations will only show up when non-latin-1 text is processed by b8. For example, if we have an unknown token HeLlO!, the degenerator will provide the degenerated versions hello!, HELLO!, Hello!, hello, HELLO, Hello and HeLlO, no matter if multibyte operations are used or not.

When we have a non-latin-1 word, we may get a different result. For example, if we have the unknow token ПрИвЕт!, the degenerator will only provide one degenerated version of it: ПрИвЕт. Using multibyte operations, we get the same variants as with the latin-1 word: привет!, ПРИВЕТ!, Привет!, привет, ПРИВЕТ, Привет and ПрИвЕт.

Using multibyte operations will simply make the degenerator more effective.

5   Using b8

Now, that everything is configured, you can start to use b8. A sample script that shows what can be done with the filter can be found in example/. Using this script, you can test how all this works before integrating b8 in your own scripts.

Before you can start, you have to setup a database so that b8 can store a wordlist.

5.1   Setting up a new database

5.1.1   Setting up a new Berkeley DB

There's a script that automates setting up a new Berkeley DB for b8. It is located at install/setup_berkeleydb.php. Just run this script on your server and be sure that the directory containing it has the proper access rights set so that the server's HTTP server user or PHP user can create a new file in it (probably 0666). The script is quite self-explaining, just run it.

If you prefer to setup a new b8 Berkeley DB manually, just create an empty database and insert the following values:

"b8*dbversion" => "3"
"b8*texts"     => "0 0"

Be sure to set the right DBA handler in the storage backend configuration if it's not db4.

5.1.2   Setting up a new MySQL table

The SQL file install/setup_mysql.sql contains both the CREATE statement for the wordlist table of b8 and the INSERT statements for adding the necessary internal variables.

Simply change the table name according to your needs (or leave it as it is ;-) and run the SQL to setup a MySQL b8 wordlist table.

5.2   Using b8 in your scripts

Just have a look at the example script example/index.php to see how you can include b8 in your scripts. Essentially, this strips down to:

# Include b8's code
require_once($path_to . 'b8.php');

# Do some configuration
$config_b8          = array('some_key' => 'some_value', ...);
$config_storage     = array('some_key' => 'some_value', ...);
$config_lexer       = array('some_key' => 'some_value', ...);
$config_degenerator = array('some_key' => 'some_value', ...);

# Create a new b8 instance
try {
        $b8 = new b8($config_b8, $config_storage, $config_lexer, $config_degenerator);
catch(Exception $e) {

b8 provides three functions in an object oriented way (called e. g. via $b8->classify($text)):

This function takes the text $text (string), calculates it's probability for being spam and returns it in the form of a value between 0 and 1 (float).
A value close to 0 says the text is more likely ham and a value close to 1 says the text is more likely spam. What to do with this value is your business ;-) See also Tips on operation below.
learn($text, $category)
This saves the text $text (string) in the category $category (b8 constant, either b8::HAM or b8::SPAM).
unlearn($text, $category)
You don't need this function in normal operation. It just exists to delete a text from a category in which is has been stored accidentally before. It deletes the text $text (string) from the category $category (b8 constant, either b8::HAM or b8::SPAM).
Don't delete a spam text from ham after saving it in spam or vice versa, as long you don't have stored it accidentally in the wrong category before! This will not improve performance, quite the opposite! The filter will always try to remove texts from the ham or spam data, even if they have never been stored there. The counters for tokens which are found will be decreased or the word will be deleted and the non-existing words will simply be ignored. But always, the text counter for the respective category will be decreased by 1 and will eventually reach 0. Consequently, the ham-spam texts proportion will become distorted, deteriorating the performance of b8's algorithms.

6   Tips on operation

Before b8 can decide whether a text is spam or ham, you have to tell it what you consider as spam or ham. At least one learned spam or one learned ham text is needed to calculate anything. With nothing learned, b8 will rate everything with 0.5 (or whatever rob_x has been set to). To get good ratings, you need both learned ham and learned spam texts, the more the better.
What's considered as ham or spam can be very different, depending on the operation site. On my homepage, practically each and every text posted in English or using non-latin-1 letters is spam. On an English or Russian homepage, this will be not the case. So I think it's not really meaningful to provide some "spam data" to start. Just train b8 with "your" spam and ham.

For the practical use, I advise to give the filter all data availible. E. g. name, email address, homepage and of course the text itself should be assembled in a variable (e. g. separated with an \n or just a space or tab after each block) and then be classified. The learning should also be done with all data availible.
Saving the IP address is probably only meaningful for spam entries, because spammers often use the same IP address multiple times. In principle, you can leave out the IP of ham entries.

You can use b8 e. g. in a guestbook script and let it classify the text before saving it. Everyone has to decide which rating is necessary to classify a text as "spam", but a rating of >= 0.8 seems to be reasonable for me. If one expects the spam to be in another language that the ham entries or the spams are very short normally, one could also think about a limit of 0.7.
The email filters out there mostly use > 0.9 or even > 0.99; but keep in mind that they have way more data to analyze in most of the cases. A guestbook entry may be quite short, especially when it's spam.

In my opinion, an autolearn function is very handy. I save spam messages with a rating higher than 0.7 but less than 0.9 automatically as spam. I don't do this with ham messages in an automated way to prevent the filter from saving a false negative as ham and then classifying and learning all the spam as ham when I'm on holidays ;-)

Learning spam or ham that has already been rated very high or low will not make spam detection better (as b8 already could classify the text correctly!) but probably only blow the database. So don't do that.

7   Closing

So … that's it. Thanks for using b8! If you find a bug or have an idea how to make b8 better, let me know. I'm also always looking forward to hear from people using b8 and I'm curious where it's used :-)

8   References

[1]Paul Graham, A Plan For Spam (http://paulgraham.com/spam.html)
[2](1, 2, 3) Paul Graham, Better Bayesian Filtering (http://paulgraham.com/better.html)
[3](1, 2, 3) Gary Robinson, Spam Detection (http://radio.weblogs.com/0101454/stories/2002/09/16/spamDetection.html)
[4]A Statistical Approach to the Spam Problem (http://linuxjournal.com/article/6467)
[5](1, 2, 3) Tobias Leupold, Statistical discussion about b8 (http://nasauber.de/opensource/b8/discussion/)

9   Appendix

9.1   FAQ

9.1.1   What about more than two categories?

I wrote b8 with the KISS principle in mind. For the "end-user", we have a class with almost no setup to do that can do three things: classify a text, learn a text and un-learn a text. Normally, there's no need to un-learn a text, so essentially, there are only two functions we need for the everyday use.
This simplicity is only possible because b8 only knows two categories and tells you, in one float number between 0 and 1, if a given texts rather fits in the first or the second category. If we would support multiple categories, more work would have to be done and things would become more complicated. One would have to setup the categories, have another database layout (perhaps making it mandatory to have SQL) and one float number would not be sufficient to describe b8's output, so more code would be needed – even outside of b8.

All the code, the database layout and particularly the math is intended to do exactly one thing: distinguish between two categories. I think it would be a lot of work to change b8 so that it would support more than two categories. Probably, this is possible to do, but don't ask me in which way we would have to change the math to get multiple-category support ;-)
Apart from this I do believe that most people using b8 don't want or need multiple categories. They just want to know if a text is spam or not, don't they? I do, at least ;-)

But let's think about the multiple-category thing. How would we calculate a rating for more than two categories? If we had a third one, let's call it "Treet", how would we calculate a rating? We could calculate three different ratings. One for "Ham", one for "Spam" and one for "Treet" and choose the highest one to tell the user what category fits best for the text. This could be done by using a small wrapper script using three instances of b8 as-is and three different databases, each containing texts being "Ham", "Spam", "Treet" and the respective counterparts.
But here's the problem: if we have "Ham" and "Spam", "Spam" is the counterpart of "Ham". But what's the counterpart of "Spam" if we have more than one additional category? Where do the "Non-Ham", "Non-Spam" and "Non-Treet" texts come from?

Another approach, a direct calculation of more than two probabilities (the "Ham" probability is simply 1 minus the "Spam" probability, so we actually get two probabilities with the return value of b8) out of one database would require big changes in b8's structure and math.

There's a project called PHPNaiveBayesianFilter which supports multiple categories by default. The author calls his software "Version 1.0", but I think this is the very first release, not a stable or mature one. The most recent change of that release dates back to 2003 according to the "changed" date of the files inside the zip archive, so probably, this project is dead or has never been alive and under active development at all.
Actually, I played around with that code but the results weren't really good, so I decided to write my own spam filter from scratch back in early 2006 ;-)

All in all, there seems to be no easy way to implement multiple (meaning more than two) categories using b8's current code base and probably, b8 will never support more than two categories. Perhaps, a fork or a complete re-write would be better than implementing such a feature. Anyway, I don't close my mind to multiple categories in b8. Feel free to tell me how multiple categories could be implementented in b8 or how a multiple-category version using the same code base (sharing a common abstract class?) could be written.

9.1.2   What about a list with words to ignore?

Some people suggested to introduce a list with words that b8 will simply ignore. Like "and", "or", "the", and so on. I don't think this is very meaningful.

First, it would just work for the particular language that has been stored in the list. Speaking of my homepage, most of my spam is English, almost all my ham is German. So I would have to maintain a list with the probably less interesting words for at least two languages. Additionally, I get spam in Chinese, Japanese and Cyrillic writing or something else I can't read as well. What word should be ignored in those texts?
Second, why should we ever exclude words? Who tells us those words are actually meaningless? If a word appears both in ham and spam, it's rating will be near 0.5 and so, it won't be used for the final calculation anyway if a appropriate minimum deviation was set. So b8 will exclude it without having to maintain a blacklist. And think of this: if we excluded a word of which we only think it doesn't mean anything but it actually does appear more often in ham or spam, the results will get even worse.

So why should we care about things we do not have to care about? ;-)

9.1.3   Why is it called "b8"?

The initial name for the filter was (damn creative!) "bayes-php". There were two main reasons for searching another name: 1. "bayes-php" sucks. 2. the PHP License says the PHP guys do not like when the name of a script written in PHP contains the word "PHP". Read the License FAQ for a reasonable argumentation about this.

Luckily, Tobias Lang proposed the new name "b8". And these are the reasons why I chose this name:

  • "bayes-php" is a "b" followed by 8 letters.
  • "b8" is short and handy. Additionally, there was no program with the name "b8" or "bate"
  • The English verb "to bate" means "to decrease" – and that's what b8 does: it decreases the number of spam entries in your weblog or guestbook!
  • "b8" just sounds way cooler than "bayes-php" ;-)

9.2   The database layout

The database layout is quite simple. It's essentially just a key-value pair for everything stored. There are two "internal" variables stored as normal tokens. A lexer must not provide a token starting with b8*, otherwise, we will probably get collisions. The internal tokens are:

This indicates the database's version.
The number of ham and spam texts learned.

Each "normal" token is stored with it's literal name as the key and it's data as the value. The backends store the token's data in a different way. The DBA backend simply stores a string containing both values separated by a space character. The SQL backends store the counters in different columns.

A database query is always done by searching for a token's name, never for a count value.