Found the worst host on the Internet

Working with many disparate clients also has me working with many disparate web hosts. Web hosts run the gamut from great to poor. Most have strengths and weaknesses and may be fine for one use and not fine for another.

So it’s notable when I run across a web host working for a client that is totally abysmal and seems stuck in time, in this case around 2001. And which host would this be? Aabaco Small Business, formerly Yahoo! Small Business.

The client wanted to upgrade his phpBB 2 forum hosted there to the latest and greatest, phpBB 3.1. Looking through the rudimentary web host control panel, it looked like a challenge. Most hosts bundle cPanel or Plesk, but they rolled their own rudimentary control panel. Trying to find simple things, like a file manager and access to the database was baffling. Looking through the software my client was using was like going on an archeological expedition:

  • The MySQL database is 4.1, released in 2003. Most hosts are on 5.5 or greater.
  • PHP 4 was being used. The minor version was not identified but version 4 was first released in 2000. Most hosts are on version 5.3 or greater.

I was able to upgrade PHP to 5.3.6. There was no obvious path to upgrading MySQL but it didn’t matter as phpBB 3.1 still supports MySQL 4.

Eventually I figured out how to use FTP to upload files, so I created a folder for phpBB 3.1 like I usually do and started uploading files. When I tried to run the conversion and upgrade though it wouldn’t work. I spent a lot of time puzzling it through. Eventually I figured out that “hidden files” like the .htaccess file did not upload. Aabaco Small Business screens them out. So it was literally impossible to upgrade him at all. It also means that you cannot install most modern open source software on Aabaco because they use .htaccess files.

So we looked at rehosting options. The client already had an account on GoDaddy and wanted to move the forum there. I found phpMyAdmin was available on Aabaco, naturally a very old version. Since I could not create a backup inside phpBB (timed out) I hoped I could in phyMyAdmin with its export feature. That timed out too.

The Aabaco control panel though did have a way to make a backup of the database. When I looked at it though, it was unusable. Unlike phpMyAdmin, which would export as a number of portable SQL statements, it made binary “dump” files. Essentially I could only export it to another MySQL 4.1 database which GoDaddy does not support.

So the client is at the mercy of Aabaco tech support, basically some people in India, to make a usable backup so he can rehost somewhere else. Needless to say they have no incentive to do that.

The rehosting is on hold for now while the client chases other problems. But this takes vendor lock in to a new level. It’s the shoddiest web hosting out there. Avoid!

If you administer a phpBB board, you should find my book Mastering phpBB Administration invaluable. Learn lots of tips, tricks and secrets I learned from serving over 400 clients. Paper and Kindle versions available.

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