Why you need to upgrade phpBB to version 3.2

A lot of forum owners are procrastinators. The current version of phpBB (as of this writing) is phpBB 3.2.3. If you are not on the phpBB 3.2 you should upgrade. Why?

Because in two months the group that manages the PHP programming language (which phpBB is written in) will stop supporting versions of PHP 5 with security fixes. This means after January 2019 you may be vulnerable to new exploits found in PHP 5, used by phpBB 3.1 and earlier versions.

It’s understandable why you might not want to upgrade your forum from your current version, generally phpBB 3.0 or 3.1. As most of my work is upgrading forums I see all the time why forum owners drag their feet. Reasons include:

  • Their forum has lots of mods and custom changes made over the years. With modifications not supported in phpBB 3.1 and higher, they have to figure out how to move forward. Many modifications do not have the equivalent available as extensions. So they either have to give up the functionality of the mod (which often makes forum users unhappy) or just procrastinate as long as possible. Procrastination is the easier approach.
  • Their forum has a style with lots of changes. Perhaps a logo has been integrated that is nonstandard, or they’ve made major changes to the templates and the stylesheets. Lots of styles haven’t been migrated to phpBB 3.2 either, so this is another issue they will have to deal with if they upgrade.
  • They know just enough PHP to be dangerous, so they’ve tweaked the code here and there to do special things. That would go away with an upgrade, or at least the cost of making changes to the base code gets more expensive. It’s heavily discouraged and makes upgrading or updating phpBB a pain, because you often have to reapply these changes. Custom changes can be done by writing a custom extension, but it’s a complicated thing to do. You need to be a very experienced PHP programmer to write an extension, and heavily study phpBB’s architecture and coding requirements.
  • Having someone like me upgrade your forum costs money.

Now that push has come to shove though, unless you are willing to bear the security risks, it’s time to finally make the upgrade. phpBB 3.1 users are not off the hook either, because this version of phpBB does not support PHP 7, the latest major version of PHP. I helped a client migrate their forum just yesterday to PHP 7. PHP 7 was installed on their new server. Certain things stopped working or created PHP notices.

Note that versions of PHP before 5.6 are already not patched for security issues. So if you are using an earlier version of PHP like PHP 5.2 (popular for phpBB 3.0 and 2.0) or PHP 5.3, 5.4 or 5.5 you are already at risk. You really can’t upgrade to PHP 7.0 as you will experience errors. Some phpBB 2.0 and 3.0 users have issues running PHP 5.6.

So now may be the time to take the plunge. Of course I can help you in this process. You may want to read my upgrade page. In addition to running the latest version of phpBB, I think you will find that once you are there it is worth the hassle. The extensions architecture of PHP 3.1 and higher is very nice, almost as nice as using WordPress plugins. The themes are responsive, so they look great on mobile devices. In addition, PHP 7 is about 50% faster than PHP 5, which is another great incentive to upgrade, particularly if you have performance issues with your forum.

You can send me a query if you want to discuss upgrading your forum.

September 2018 work summary

Things slowed down a bit in September, which was okay because I also started teaching a class this month.

I did have one large job at the start of the month that more than paid the rent. This was a commercial job and it involved moving a forum from phpBB 3.0.14 to 3.2.2. I was working as a subcontractor. The contractor’s client had a very particular look and feel to his forum and he wanted that to be retained as much as possible, so the challenge was to do this despite the fact that many modifications on the forum were not available as extensions. Obviously this meant making sure the style closely matched the phpBB 3.0 style. I did the prototyping work in a development environment. It took a long time to get things tweaked before I was given permission to move the changes into production. The first attempt at an upgrade of the database failed due to a resource timeout. The second attempt worked but took about six hours using command line interface. I installed the mChat, ReImg Imag Resizer, Google Analytics, Post Count Requirements and later NavBar search extensions. I set up Q&A spambot countermeasure. I removed dead modules and dead software including Tapatalk. The rest was styling work. I created a custom style based on Prosilver SE and then tried to emulate look of existing site. I added archives link to navigation bar, put the Twitter logo in the footer, and customized the footer to add link to site. Three templates were changed. Style customizations were placed in stylesheet.css. Later, there was four hours of additional styling work working from a punch list. One of the challenges was to do the work quickly. It was four days from start to finish. Given that this was a big forum, this was a moderate challenge.

Also in September:

  • I updated a forum from phpBB 3.2.1 to 3.2.2. There was a routing error caused by modSecurity being enabled. I disabled it and was able to post. Also upgraded PHP from 5.5 to 7.1 for about 50% faster performance for the client.
  • Similar to my last work for this client, I created MySQL triggers to subscribe people in the registered users and newly registered users groups to get topic and post notifications, but on a different domain.
  • I updated a forum from phpBB 3.1.4 to 3.2.3. (phpBB 3.2.3 was released in the middle of the month.) I installed an updated Aero style. I removed the Board3 portal extension. I installed updated extensions: Topic Preview and Notify Admin on Registration. I upped PHP version to 5.6 from 5.4. I changed the spambot countermeasure to use reCaptcha V2. I installed my digests extensions (version 3.2.8) and tested email using both a manual test and cron.
  • I updated phpBB from version 3.2.2 to 3.2.3 for a client using update files method. Updated five extensions that were out of date.
  • I updated another forum from phpBB 3.2.2 to 3.2.3. I updated the Tapatalk extension from 2.0.8 to 2.1.3. I had to reapply a style change to common.css.

With the release of phpBB 3.2.3, the phpBB group not only fixed some bugs that really needed fixing (including one that only allowed one attachment per post) and the migrator issues that gave me hell, but it also appears that the update program will now update any extensions that need updating, if the links work correctly. This is normally a good thing but if you wrote any custom changes to these extensions this might overwrite them, and there is no warning of this. You are not supposed to do this, but I have clients who have done this or asked me to do it for them. The update program really needs some sort of warning or a switch of some sort so these don’t happen automatically.