New edition of my book is available. Covers through phpBB 3.3.5

I’ve updated my book, Mastering phpBB Administration! This is the first revision since the July 2021 edition. This edition covers phpBB administration through phpBB 3.3.5. Both a paper version ($19.99 USD) and an eBook version ($9.99 USD) are available. The paper book is 373 pages and 88,000 words long. Both have numerous illustrations.

Mastering phpBB Administration eBook
Mastering phpBB Administration eBook cover

With every version, I re-edit the whole thing. Of course, it has additions and corrections as appropriate. Every edition attempts to refine the content both as a source of quality information, but as a written work too. Hopefully this book, now nearly two years old, will just get better and more useful with time.

I find turning it into an eBook challenging. I use Calibre to make the eBook, and it imports the Word document source easily enough. But there are some illustrations that are out of place, font sizes to fix and I have to re-link all the items in the table of contents to make it quick to jump to areas of interest. So far, I haven’t found an easier way to do this.

If you own an earlier edition of the book but don’t feel like paying for the newest version, email me your Amazon receipt and I am happy to send you the current PDF version.

Links to the book are above, below and in the sidebar.

The downsides of virtual private servers

Virtual private servers (VPS) are neat inventions: they give you a guaranteed slice of resources on a real server, which means you generally have plenty of CPU, disk space and memory to run your bulletin board. Usually things run spiffy on a VPS. Limitations like outgoing email quotas generally aren’t a problem. A VPS is generally completely configurable, letting you control and install pretty much anything. It’s all this and they don’t have the cost of renting a dedicated server. The technical overhead is usually less too.

Working with a client yesterday though reinforced in my mind that a VPS is not for everyone. I’ve had a VPS for this site and my other domains over the years. I eventually discovered I didn’t need one. Shared hosting was fine for my needs (and budget), providing I could find the right shared host. Even though I am a techie at heart, doing this stuff is not where I wanted to spend my time. I could usually work around shared hosting issues and if I couldn’t, I could usually find a better shared host and move my stuff there.

VPS Pitfalls

What are some of the pitfalls of a VPS? Here are some:

  • Generally you don’t get much handholding. You usually get a web host control panel like Plesk to take a lot of the grunt work out of managing a VPS, but you can’t get rid of the technical behind the scenes work altogether. For example, the client I worked with yesterday abruptly ran out of virtual disk space. He likes to keep tons of images that are attached to posts on his VPS. He got no warning emails that he was about to use up his quota. This resulted in a cascading series of failures that me and his web host got to clean up. In his case, it appears that abruptly running out of space corrupted his database. phpBB was trying to write to the phpbb_moderator_cache table and it failed. It corrupted this table, showing it in the list of tables but it wasn’t actually accessible. I got to clean up that issue while he got to figure out just how many system backups he could safely store in his virtual space. With 20GB of attachments and about 80GB of space, you can’t make too many backups without triggering problems.
  • You may be paying too much for file space on a VPS. Prices for a VPS generally start around $50/month. If you have a lot of static files like images and videos, a lot of these static files could be moved into the cloud, you could conceivably pay a lot less money rather than buying more virtual space on your server when you need it. Putting attachments in the cloud not easy to do in phpBB although there is a dated AWS S3 extension that could be used, if you have the technical skills to set it up and migrate the files.
  • You really need to have some intermediate or advanced Linux skills. Do you know how to check the size of your physical and logical volumes? Do you know how to give a volume more space? If you do, great, but if you don’t you’ll have to rely on your host’s tech support and probably pay for the special support. You need to know SSH, how to navigate around your VPS from the command line and change file and directory permissions. To install some software, you might have to know how to use a package manager. It’s up to you to monitor your server’s performance and troubleshoot issues like emails getting blocked from going out.
  • Good shared hosting may be cheaper and meet your needs. Finding good shared hosting can be hard and the market constantly changes. Although shared hosting has many downsides, it is considerably cheaper than a VPS and someone else manages the infrastructure for you, generally speaking.
  • Like with shared hosting, there are lots of VPS hosts out there that aren’t great. Generally, you won’t know how good an experience you will have until you try it.

For these reasons and others don’t assume a VPS is the solution to your problems, even if you are willing to pay $50/month or more. It’s nice to get fast response time and that can be very helpful for things like search engine optimization, where fast page loading is a critical factor for high placement in a search index. It’s nice to see things run smoothly and reliably, which is generally what happens when you are on a VPS. When things go awry though, it’s likely to be a painful experience, unless you have the skillset for managing these sorts of problems.

VPS host recommendations

I am usually asked for recommendations for shared hosting. For a VPS, the best I’ve seen so far has been MediaTemple’s VPS hosting. I’ve had a client on a MediaTemple VPS for twelve years and system problems have been virtually nonexistent. I don’t recommend their Grid service, although that experience is some years old. A self managed VPS plan with two virtual CPUs and Plesk, for about $50/month, has proven very reliable for this client. MediaTemple is now owned by GoDaddy, and some say things were better before they were bought out, so certainly things can change for the worse.

November 2021 work summary

I’ve completed a nearly two-week vacation, so this report of my work in November is a bit late. I did a fair amount of work in November, mostly miscellaneous stuff. One big event was finally quashing my digests extension bug that reported bogus container issues, which was in the place I least expected: an event handler designed to intelligently shut things down if a lack of resources occurred. In addition, I wrote a draft of a SCSS compiler extension.

For my large commercial client, work is definitely ebbing as development is complete and we are moving into a testing phase. We went through a trial upgrade using a copy of their production board running phpBB 3.0.11, which was designed to be a smoke test. The copious notes I took when I did it last year when I did it helped a lot. There were a few bugs in our custom extensions that needed to be fixed. But overall the smoke test went pretty well. While I was on vacation, the client hoped to do a second smoke test using Ansible.

Other work done in November:

  • My client did most of the moving of files and database for his board for this rehosting to Siteground. I changed the domain and I placed the board into a subdomain. The client provided a refreshed database that I reloaded somewhat tediously. It took four attempts with timeouts to import it all. The site used a Sitesplat style and a ton of Sitesplat extension, neither were really needed as the site was purchased, the extensions weren’t actually used and the style was proprietary. After moving database and putting it in a subdomain, I upgraded board from phpBB 3.2.8 to 3.3.5. I removed most of the Sitesplat stuff and the unused Sitesplat extensions. I kept the Share On extension (no upgrade available) and updated the phpBB Media Embed extension. I installed and tweaked proflat style to match colors on main site. Later, I moved board from the subdomain into a folder to address client’s SEO concerns.
  • I upgraded phpBB from version 3.2.7 to 3.3.5 and PHP from 7.2 to 7.4. I updated the Metrolike style and reapplied template and theme changes. I upgraded nine extensions too.
  • Client’s board reported PHP version could not be used. It was configured to use PHP 7.0 due to some sort of incorrect GoDaddy change that was applied in mass to lots of its servers. I waited more than an hour on the phone to talk to GoDaddy to eventually learn that this was an enterprise problem. It was subsequently fixed by GoDaddy.
  • I updated phpBB from 3.3.4 to 3.3.5. I updated the board’s Italian language pack to a phpBB 3.3.5 version. There is an upgrade to the advertisement management extension I did not do.
  • Solved the long issue with digests not running correctly that I mentioned above and applied it to a suffering client who had been dealing with it for a while. I installed version 3.3.11 of digests with an unsubscribe link patch, set up a new system cron and tested it and it appears to be working okay. Charged for two hours of my time to address numerous questions on web hosting that they asked.
  • I updated a board from phpBB 3.3.1 to 3.3.5. I also updated my digests extension from 3.3.2 to 3.3.11 and the stop forum spam extension from 1.3.10 to 1.4.0.
  • Made modifications to david63’s user details extension (which david63 is apparently not supporting) to make it work as a cron. It had already been modified by the client to change CSV to tab-delimited output. Getting it to work as a cron required a lot of tedious debugging and testing as crons are hard to test, and the code was a bit hard to read.