Smartfeed 3.0.13 released — supports both phpBB 3.2 and 3.3

You can read the release announcement here. Obviously, its biggest feature is that it works on phpBB 3.2 and 3.3. This is the first of my extensions to be updated for phpBB 3.3.

It can be downloaded from my Smartfeed page or from the GitHub branch. If downloaded from GitHub, make sure to place it in the /ext/phpbbservices/smartfeed folder. Disable the extension first, removed the old files, then upload the new files and reenable the extension.


Filter by country extension, version 1.0.9-beta is now available for testing

At the end of December 2019, MaxMind, the publishers of the free GeoLite Country Code database used by this extension, required that users authenticate to download the database. So this version addresses this new requirement, but adds no new functionality.

You will have to get a license key to download the extension. The link you can use to get this key is in the extension’s settings page when you install this new version. You do not need to pay to get a license key. In fact, this version will only download the free database.

It will not work on phpBB 3.3, but I am told if you hack the ext.php file it will install and work correctly.

With this and my digests extension now fixed with their backlog of issues, I should be able to install a local PHP 7.4 development environment so I can test all my extensions for phpBB 3.3 and offer versions compatible with phpBB 3.3.

It can be downloaded from the extension’s page or from the GitHub branch. If downloaded from GitHub, make sure to place it an /ext/phpbbservices/filterbycountry directory.

phpBB 3.3 is released!

Two days ago, the phpBB group released its latest minor version of phpBB: 3.3, also known as Proteus. You can learn more about it on its launch page. To give you some perspective, phpBB 3.2, the last minor version, was released on December 9, 2016. So it’s been three years since the last minor release of phpBB.

I looked at a development version a couple of weeks back. So I was kind of taken by surprise by 3.3’s sudden release. Minor versions tend to introduce some new functionality, and Proteus does. It’s just that for most administrators and users, it won’t seem like that big a deal and things will look and behave pretty much the way they always have. As with phpBB 3.2’s introduction, most of its changes are covert, rather than overt. Unless you know what you are looking for, you won’t notice much.

New logo

One hard-to-miss feature, at least if you use the default proSilver style, is the phpBB logo is different. It’s now a Scalable Vector Graphic (SVG), which makes it look crisp and shiny in all resolutions, including retinal displays. It looks a tad bigger, but also more white and almost glossy. Also, the logo includes the words “forum software”, which is new. Previously, the logo was a transparent GIF.

New phpBB logo
New phpBB logo

Updating is getting easier

Updating phpBB is getting easier too. It won’t compare to updating WordPress, which takes place entirely behind the scenes and can be done with a single click. The exact mechanics of how it will work is unknown until 3.3.1 is released. But the launch page says:

“With our brand new installer updating will be easier than ever in phpBB 3.3! Upload a single folder to your board and all your files will automatically be replaced.”

This will be welcome because updating has always been a hassle. Over time, it may affect my income a bit since a lot of it comes from updates. I expect a lot of my customers will still want me to do this as a service.

You will still need to upload one file, an archive. I also expect there will be a number of other manual steps, because there will always be issues of overwriting custom changes to styles and extensions that may have issues. You will probably have to back up your styles and extensions folder manually before updating. Time will tell.

New PHP requirements

Proteus requires PHP 7.1.3 or higher, and cannot use a version of PHP greater than 7.4. So many administrators will have to upgrade PHP first, which may be an issue for those using PHP 5.4 and 5.6. They will finally have to take the plunge.

Most likely a lot of these boards will have an issue: they will need to edit their config.php file to tell phpBB to use mysqli drivers instead of mysql drivers. So far, fixing this issue has not been intuitive.

Overall, taking the plunge to PHP 7 is good: twice the performance compared with PHP 5 and phpBB can use many new features in PHP 7 too. I have noticed some extensions have issues with PHP 7, however, for example the AWS S3 extension.

Upgrading from phpBB 3.2

The upgrade process from 3.2 is pretty much unchanged from 3.1 to 3.2, and will be more manual in nature than the newer upgrade process. You can see the steps required here.

Improved Emoji support

From a user’s perspective, the exciting feature is likely to be increased Emoji support. Previously, only certain Emoji characters could be used, and only in post text. Now you can use virtually any Emoji character, and you can use them in topic titles too. However, you cannot use Emoji in the subject line of topic replies.

The Emoji in topic titles permission is enabled by default. If you want to disallow it, the easiest way is to change a user role, like Standard Features. ACP > Permissions > Permission roles > User roles > [Role name]. Click on the green wheel for the role. See illustration:

New emoji in topic titles permission
New emoji in topic titles permission

Over time, phpBB forums will look a lot more colorful and visual.

No support for IE before IE11

Also with Proteus, phpBB essentially gives up caring about Internet Explorer versions 7-10. It’s not that phpBB won’t render pages with these older browsers, but certain features won’t work or may behave quirkily. This is because to do fancier things, phpBB relies on a Javascript library called jQuery. It now uses a newer version of jQuery which is not compatible with these older browsers. The phpBB Group’s rationale is that since Microsoft won’t support old versions of Internet Explorer, they don’t have to either.

Some other features they are highlighting:

  • Clever quotes. Quotes can show a link to the post and post author. It can also show the date and time of the quoted post.
  • Improved reCAPTCHA. Previously only reCAPTCHA V2 Checkbox was allowed for a reCAPTCHA solution. Now you can use the Invisible reCAPTCHA V2. One consequence of this is that the V2 Checkbox is no longer supported, so as part of upgrading phpBB to 3.3 you should have to get a new set of reCAPTCHA keys from Google’s reCAPTCHA site that support this method, and plug them into the Spambot Countermeasures area in the ACP.
  • Notifications are supposed to be very fast now. The whole notifications process has been reengineered. It’s unclear if this means email notifications are sped up. I’m pretty sure they will go into phpBB’s mail queue like they do now, so your Email settings should apply.
  • FontAwesome improvements. In phpBB 3.2, phpBB supported a rather limited set of scalable FontAwesome characters. The number supported are now much larger, and they will all look fine on retinal displays.
  • Symfony 3.4. This is behind the scenes stuff, but phpBB 3.3 uses a newer version of the Symfony PHP libraries, including its heavily used template engine.
  • ACP Statistics screen is now responsive. As noted in my first look, the statistics panel in the ACP now splits statistics into two groups, which has the benefit of making the screen responsive. You can see the new look below:
New ACP Statistics screen
New ACP Statistics screen

Should you upgrade?

You probably don’t want to upgrade right away. This is because some of your extensions may not work and if you made changes to your style, those won’t carry over so they will need to be replicated.

However, the same day the phpBB Group also released phpBB 3.2.9, which brings over some of these features including Emoji support. You might want to update to that version for a few months until extensions and your style becomes compatible with phpBB 3.3.


December 2019 work summary

New year, but this also gives me an opportunity to review work I did for client in January and look at how I did overall in 2019.

Revenue-wise, it looks like 2019 was about as profitable as 2018. With a few quiet months, it didn’t look like it would be that way. How well I did depends on how you count the income. If you count it based on the date when people paid me, revenue was up 12% over 2018. If it’s based on when I did the work and how much of it was collected, then it’s down 1%. There are several hundred dollars owed me at the moment and one client that won’t seem to pay me the $45 owed. I guess I’ll have to write that off. Thankfully, it’s the first time in years that I’ve been stiffed. Sometimes I have to nudge clients gently, but they usually pay me. Most pay within hours of completing the work.

In any event, since I count taxable income based on the date of receipt, I guess it was a better year than 2018. In 2020, I expect to publish a book for forum administrators. Hopefully there will be an additional revenue stream from that, but it will come with expenses, principally paying an editor to clean up my grammar and typos. That’s going well and I’m about ready to turn it over for editing. I’m using LibreOffice and noticed a big quirk saving it as a .docx then moving it back, which messed up page styles. So I have to redo all that in a clean version of the book, which is a lot of reformatting.

Work-wise, December felt pretty average:

  • For an existing client with a huge forum, I installed an extension that opens external links in new tabs. Later in the month, I did additional work. I fixed more incorrect links embedded in the post text and removing Javascript code to open links on the domain in new windows, all inside the database. I changed the Buy, Swap and Sell forum to require all new topics be moderated. I then updated board from phpBB 3.2.7 to 3.2.8, later adding back in http to https redirection code to .htaccess file that was accidentally overwritten. I found some WordPress blog links placed on the navigation bar directed to instances of WordPress that didn’t work when the hosting type was changed from Windows to Linux. So I created some database users that were missing and reattached them to their WordPress blogs. I fixed a number of outgoing emailing issues working with the client’s web host’s technical support.
  • I updated a board from phpBB 3.2.5 to phpBB 3.2.8. I also updated the IDFresh Launch style from version 2.0.1 to 2.0.7 and updated the Google Analytics extension from version 1.0.3 to 1.0.4. But the extension would not install and directed me to login. So I installed it manually via the database and uploading files, although migration is missing. I tweaked stylesheet.css to make the logo 77 pixels wide. Client asked about some special reports, doesn’t look like phpBB contains the data needed to give it to him. Eventually I convinced him that he could use Google Analytics to get the report he wanted.
  • Conversion and rehosting. Converted phpBB 2.0.21 forum to phpBB 3.2.8 by downloading files, converting on my machine, and uploading to new host. Client moved board to a new domain name too. 136,000 posts. I changed the internal links in posts to point to the new domain using the database. I added the External Links in New Windows extension so they would have nofollow attributes. Made the AllanStyle SUBSILVER style the parent style and created a custom style, overriding logo change and moved the poster profile to the left side of the view topic page. Removed 1111 inactive users, likely all spammers, with no posts. Added AWS S3 extensions to allow attachments to be stored on AWS. Installed Google Analytics extension. Recreated search index using the MySQL fullindex, since it was faster. I created a reCaptcha V2 checkbox spambot countermeasure. I changed time for being online to 4 hours. I enabled quick reply in all forums. Need certificate to do https. www prefix not available. Set up redirect rule for old domain to redirect traffic to new domain.
  • Later did more work for the last client. Forced www to use non-www URL. Forced http traffic to use https. There was more work fixing links in the posts for some edge case URLs. Made user registrations go through an email verification process. Removed image links in signature lines for 12 users. Created a robust robots.txt file. Disabled contact form to reduce spam. Enabled active topics feature for all forums. Removed the website custom profile field. Set email settings to use SMTP which required a lot of testing. Changed some administrator permissions to remove founder status and reduce the administrator’s roles for these users. Increased moderator permissions to give moderators full moderator role privileges. Then there were more styling changes. Removed who’s online from the index. Moved Quicklinks and FAQ to a different place on the navigation bar. Removed the style’s credit line. Changed default font size from 10px to 11px so style does not lay out with such a dense look. Changed the forumlist_body.html template to remove moderators for forums on index. Fixed breadcrumb issue with the style. Replaced the logo with one a bit larger. Later, there was more work. I installed the sitemap.xml extension. I changed digests so users would get weekly digests instead of monthly. Changed forum permissions for a whole lot of groups making a number of assumptions.
  • Helped a client think through the issue of bringing in the content in a closing Yahoo group into phpBB. After much discussion, client decided not to import them into a forum/post/topic structure, but to make them available outside of phpBB and link to them with a sticky topic. So my role was to figure out what the client really wanted and provide advice.
  • GoDaddy brought down a forum’s connection for database, which we eventually learned was due to exceeding 1GB of database quota. To solve that problem, I used phpMyAdmin to truncate the search tables, which brought it under 1GB, then turned off the board’s search interface. I then had to attach the database user to the database. GoDaddy had disconnected it. I deleted spam chat tweets in mChat. I removed a few hundred inactive users with no posts. There is a problem with spam posts, probably because his Cleantalk subscription failed silently and it did not get renewed. Those need to be removed, so I waited on him to pay Cleantalk to renew subscription. Updated the board from phpBB 3.2.2 to 3.2.8 and created a custom style based on prosilver that I enabled. Four extensions could be upgraded. Later, there was one more hour troubleshooting. I renewed the Cleantalk subscription for the client and added it to his bill. I backed up his posts table then used Cleantalk to remove spam. But there was still plenty of old spam left over. The issue seems to be that this Cleantalk feature does not check the post content itself for spam, but the IP of the poster when the post was made against its database and flags those. So if the IP address is no longer flagged as a spam IP address in their database, it gives it a pass. I did an analysis of posts per day and sent to client to help determine when spam started in earnest. Board looks largely infested with spam. If it could be rolled back to a time before spam, the content may be relevant again. I changed reCaptcha keys. Board is currently disabled. No automated way to clean up spam appears to exist. However, I did some investigation and it looks like an Akismet API could be used if I wrote a program to send the API the post text, IP of poster and post type. Waiting to see if the client will pay for this.
  • Assisted in rehosting a board and a site. Provided advice on new hosts. The files on old host were a mess, a lot of it (like the Joomla front end) weren’t to be used on the new hosting. The client had already transferred the domain so things weren’t hooked up. Moved forum files and database to new host. Also moved files only in public_html folder because a lot were references to these files in the forum. I reconfigured an ad on front page to fix its links. I made everything use https.I redirected the domain to forum folder. I set up reCaptcha V2 spambot countermeasure, and disabled contact form. I updated the American English language pack but there are missing strings. Then there was a lot of hassle getting the email settings working right. I had to set up an account for SMTP and puzzle through the settings. My digests extension was returning errors, so I upgraded it from version 3.2.3 to 3.2.16.
  • There were error messages on forum index. The issue was that PHP 7.3 was being used. In cPanel, changed PHP to 7.2 for the domain. They came back, so I reset PHP version back to 7.2. Later error occurred while PHP 7.2 was installed. Commented out an echo statement in /includes/functions.php made the error go away. The overlying issue may be he needs to upgrade phpBB. Moving PHP back to 5.6 seemed to make all these issues go away.
  • Updated nine packages in Plesk.