controlling what kind of data is returned by PHP

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This may be an ignorant question, but does PHP always return text data?  I  
would like to return binary data from a script that I call, in much the same  
way that I get binary data simply by downloading a file.  I would like to  
call a php file and let it determine what binary data is returned.

Right now, if I try to return a binary string, it seems like the string is  
being converted into coded characters , like "%5F" and such


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