After some investigation and general hair-pulling the solution seems to be HTML2PDF. DOMPDF did a terrible job with tables, borders and even moderately complex layout and htmldoc seems reasonably robust but is almost completely CSS-ignorant and I don't want to go back to doing HTML layout without CSS just for that program.
HTML2PDF looked the most promising but I kept having this weird error about null reference arguments to node_type. I finally found the solution to this. Basically, PHP 5.1.x worked fine with regex replaces (preg_replace_*) on strings of any size. PHP 5.2.1 introduced a php.ini config directive called pcre.backtrack_limit. What this config parameter does is limits the string length for which matching is done. Why this was introduced I don't know. The default value was chosen as 100,000. Why such a low value? Again, no idea.
A bug was raised against PHP 5.2.1 for this, which is still open almost two years later.
What's horrifying about this is that when the limit is exceeded, the replace just silently fails. At least if an error had been raised and logged you'd have some indication of what happened, why and what to change to fix it. But no.
So I have a 70k HTML file to turn into PDF. It requires the following php.ini settings:
- pcre.backtrack_limit = 2000000; # probably more than I need but that's OK
- memory_limit = 1024M; # yes, one gigabyte; and
- max_execution_time = 600; # yes, 10 minutes.
Now the astute reader may have noticed that my HTML file is smaller than 100k. The only reason I can guess as to why I hit this problem is that html2pdf does a conversion into xhtml as part of the process. Perhaps that took me over (although nearly 50% bloat seems odd). Whatever the case, the above worked.
Now, html2pdf is a resource hog. My 70k file takes approximately 5 minutes and at least 500-600M of RAM to create a 35 page PDF file. Not quick enough (by far) for a real-time download unfortunately and the memory usage puts the memory usage ratio in the order of 1000-to-1 (600M of RAM for a 70k file), which is utterly ridiculous.
Unfortunately, that's the best I've come up with.