July 2020 work summary

Felt a little slow around here in July. Could have used more work but I could have also used a couple contracts I’m on to move more quickly. I spend a lot of time waiting for clients to make decisions.

But my selective mass emails extension got approved this month, and the filter by country extension was resubmitted for another review. My Digests extension also got some rework to address issues in an April review but it’s not an official release yet as I’m waiting on language file changes. Strange that most of these issues really don’t change any of the behavior or add any features. It’s all to address perceived inadequacies in the code by the phpBB extension review team — really nitpicky stuff. No one will ever accuse the phpBB extension review team of not being thorough.

As for paid work last month:

  • I did more work for a client whose work I thought was done in June. Mostly it involved a lot of analysis and back and forth conversations. Emailing issues were reported so I provided guidance on where the real issue may lie (web host emailing quotas or filtering probable spam from going out.) I fixed two issues where the from email addresses was incorrect in some proprietary scripts written years ago by someone else. I went back and forth with the client about transitioning the domain’s static to WordPress using a custom plugin, or fixing the dated software instead, which is not responsive. More conversations are needed on what if anything they want to do next to modernize their website and their business process. The board was updated and moved to a new domain last month.
  • Upgraded a board from phpBB 3.2.8 to phpBB 3.3.0. I updated the style and updated the Google Analytics extension too. The correct logo image was uploaded. I made a minor tweak to stylesheet to render it correctly. I change spambot countermeasure from reCaptcha checkbox to reCaptcha invisible. Provided a sample SQL query to get a list of recent topics ordered by most recent post time.
  • This turned into a big job. I upgraded a board from phpBB 3.2.7 to phpBB 3.3.0. I installed a newer version of the Cleantalk, BBCore and Fancy Lazy Topics extensions. The latter two were used with the proprietary (paid) Flatboots style. There were lots of issue with HTTP 401 errors logging in after the upgrade. I eventually discovered I needed to add a form key to a Flatboots template that was missing. They had status images for forums (like the no new posts icon) in a weird place: /phpbb/avatars. I had to recover these files and move them to their proper places in the /images folder and correct the links in the database. There ensued lots of additional work, such as an HTTP 401 error going into ACP, which appeared to be due to being logged in to the same admin account from various browsers. Eventually we ditched the Flatboots style and BBCore extension, went with the Breezy style. I placed the existing logo inside it to customer’s satisfaction. This made the breadcrumb menu work correctly. I created a custom style inheriting from Breezy style for portability. But the 401 issue never quite went away and still seems to pop up from time to time. A workaround is to delete the board cookies. I’ve never seen this happen on any other site, so I figure the issue must be hosting related and not phpBB. My guess is that phpBB sessions aren’t getting deleted when they should, perhaps due to security software messing with permission in the /cache folder. It was all pretty frustrating, for both me and the client!
  • Some years back for a client I created some simple PHP software that listed a set of events kept in a database on a web page. The events folder containing software I wrote to record solar events somehow got deleted. The client was able to find an old copy of the files. I uploaded it and it began working again. The database fortunately was still up to date.
  • A client’s security certificate expired. I installed the Let’s Encrypt Plesk extension and installed a Let’s Encrypt certificate for the domain. In the past they paid for a certificate. With Let’s Encrypt, the certificate should renew automatically ever 30 days indefinitely. I provided analysis on SSL certificates options. They may not be comfortable with a free certificate and want a branded certificate instead. Later, I upgraded their board from phpBB 3.2.8 to 3.3.0, which included updating five styles (with changes needed to each) and 5 extensions. There were a few issues after deployment. A mailing list extension I used and modified had a newer version. I installed that but it caused issue, so I reverted to the old version of the extension with my changes.
  • Painful upgrade from phpBB 3.0.12 (showing as 3.2.0-dev) to 3.3.0. Running the database cleaner did not fix all issues in the database. Even moving the database to my machine and cleaning it there had issues. Eventually with enough tricks and fixing database issues that were encountered while running the database upgrade script, I was able to complete upgrade, which included populating the modules table from a reference, adding some missing configuration table values and adding some missing columns to the phpbb_profile_fields table. I disabled the contact form. I created a reCaptcha V2 invisible spambot countermeasure. Installed these extensions: Topic Index, Reimg Image Resizer (beta), Thanks for the posts, Recent topics, mChat and Search on Index. Search on Index was used because otherwise it would sit on top of a wide forum logo, which I had to center. Added a donate button but placed it on the navigation bar. I had to resize and crop it to make it look acceptable. Created a custom style and made changes there. There followed additional work and lots of questions. Answered questions about why there were three periods (…) in long links. Client wanted these removed but there’s no practical way to do this as it’s built into phpBB. With a bit of help on phpbb.com I put the recent topics above the mChat window on the index — I had to change the extension’s code to attach some code tied to an event to a different event. There was lots of concern about the placement and order of topics in the Recent Topics extension. After much back and forth I realized what he really want to do was bump topics so they would go to the top of recent topics shown. Apparently he had injected some code in his phpBB 3.0 board to do this. There is no extension to do this in phpBB 3.3 so he’ll probably have to live with it or pay someone to create an extension to do this.
  • Got some royalties paid for my book at last, but it was a pittance. I will need to sell thousands of copies to make a profit. Why not buy a copy now?
  • Upgraded a client to phpBB 3.3 who I had helped two years ago. A number of issues were reported. The basic problem turned out to be that the database had been upgraded, but someone put old phpBB 3.2 software back on the system. Uploaded the correct files. Updated their Absolution style but created a “custom” custom style with its changes to Absolution. Upgraded Digests, and User Details extensions. I had to edit services.xml file for Advanced Polls extension to get it to work on phpBB 3.3. Set spambot countermeasure to reCAPTCHA V2 invisible. There were quota issues uploading with FTP, so I had to use File Manager instead. I installed the Google Analytics extension rather than add code to overall_footer.html. Just today I checked a reported issue with digests not going out. There is some evidence that digests were mailed twice for some hours, I think because the board was down for a couple hours while I upgraded it. I’m hoping by resetting the digest mailer the problem will go away.
  • Finished a months long styling portion of project for a major customer. We’re now moving on to the other issues, principally how to replicate functionality they have on phpBB 3.0 using extensions. Met with the client and did a lot of analysis, but client was distracted with other issues so didn’t do too much work on this during July. This month I’ll be doing some experimenting with extensions to see if I can replicate the functionality they injected directly into the old phpBB 3.0 base code. They want to do initial moderation using Akismet. There is an Akismet extension for phpBB so I analyzed how that will work for them. Akismet will flag the spam, their moderators will review it and based on whether it is spam or not the Akismet database will get updated. This will save them a lot of work that was previously done through a lot of proprietary code.

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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