For some time I have been working on a text based database, in which each entry 
one or more lines of data, with the various fields delimited by semicolons, e.g.

a;Federation Square;;;
p;9663 9900;;;9663 9901;;;

All was going well but recently I decided to allocate every entry a unique 
and, in what with hindsight was clearly misguided enthusiasm, decided that each 
should be a four digit base 36 number (the 20GM in the first line). This did 
not cause any
problems until yesterday, when I tried to load a name beginning with 'R', and 
got the
first name on the list. When I investigated I found that I was searching the 
containing the data using:

        if ($ident == $data[$i]['group']['ident'])  { ......

I then found that I was searching for 20E2, but was getting a match on 2000. I 

        'if ((string) $ident == (string) $data[$i]['group']['ident'])', 

but this still matched. However 

        'if($ident === ' 

worked, as did 

        'if (!strcmp($ident, $data[$i])) {...'.

After puzzling about this for a long time, I realised that the comparison 
process must
have been treating the second value as a floating point number, and converting 
it to
integer, or vice versa.  (In floating point notation 20E2 = 20*10^^2 = 2000).  
I had
thought that the (string) override meant to treat the actual value as a string, 
but in
this case it must be converting the (assumed) actual value to a string, and 
then comparing
the results.

This surprised me considerably as it is clear from the results I achieve in 
circumstances that the data is actually stored as a raw string.

$data is a variable format array, and when the original data is read each line 
is exploded
into a term of the data array: $data[][] = explode(';',$line[$i]);.  If I print 
the value
of the ident (or any other field) it is always shown as the original string, 
and when I
save an updated version of the data, each term of the data array is imploded 
into a line
of the data file in its original format. However if this value were actually 
converted to
a floating point number when it was entered I would have to specify a format 
before I
could write it out again, and as 20E2 is a rather  non-standard format it is 
most unlikely
that it would come out as this unaided. 

Is there any way to specify that each field is always to be treated as a string 
when I
originally explode the input file into the data array?  For someone brought up 
on rigidly
defined data types dynamic typing can be very confusing!

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