March 2018 work summary

What a busy month during March! The first week was a bit slow but pretty much the rest of March I was busy serving clients, many of them commercial clients, which likely made it a record month for work billed, not all of which has been paid yet. A summary of the work is below. As always, who I did the work for has been kept anonymous.

  • Upgraded a forum from phpBB 3.0.14 to 3.2.2. After the upgrade, I could not show the index until I increased PHP’s max_execution_time by editing the forum’s .htaccess file. Installing my digests extension did not work, perhaps due to issues with bringing over data from the digests mod that was installed. Importing digests from phpBB 3.0 has been pretty extensively tested, so I’m not sure what the issue was. I ended up going into the database and correcting various tables and effectively installing and enabling it that way. I recommended installing reCaptcha as a spambot countermeasure.
  • A client was having trouble with WordPress shopping cart tied to PayPal. An email notification by the shopping cart was getting forwarded to a bunch of email addresses. Apparently the email address was set to forward all email it got to a number of other address. Changing the forwarder fixed the problem.
  • Updated a forum from phpBB 3.2.1 to 3.2.2. Uploaded a freshened prosilver_se style and Danish and German casual honorifics language packs. Updated Tapatalk plugin to version 2.0.7. Reapplying style changes required changes to both prosilver and prosilver_se. Later, I fixed an issue of an inability to attach pictures to posts by simply purging cache. Later, I configured the reCaptcha spambot countermeasure due to bounced emails being received. I suggested changing the user registration settings to user activation by email.
  • First I did some troubleshooting. A phpBB 3.0.8 forum could not display certain pages because PHP Notices kept coming up. Trying to edit these out with error_reporting statements did not work for some reason. There were some odd issues with the host too, such as it would not report which version of PHP was installed. Client eventually authorized an upgrade. The FTP credentials provided did not work, so I ended up creating two FTP accounts until one of them worked. This allowed me to upload a new version of phpBB. The upgrade succeeded after fixing an issue in the database of no active style. The preferred AcidTech style did not work with the large rotating images the client wanted places. So I tried a couple of other styles. We settled on a black/green ne-blackgreen style. I had to integrate client’s in-house ad rotatator program so a number of images would rotate in the header. I made some style changes, mostly to remove gradient images that were messing up the placement of the navigation bar. I added the Advertisement Management extension. I placed a PayPal donate button at the top. Integrating a Google Adsense ad did not work. I used the old code but think it’s too old as it was used inside a table. I did some extra work to put two other ads next to each other with different sizes. Changed max-width of the content area from 900 pixels to 90%. Later, I installed Tapatalk extension version 2.0.7.
  • Client moved the database and files for his forum to a new host, just needed me to finish up the work. I could not connect to the forum after changing the config.php file to point to the new database. This was because PHP 7 was being used and phpBB 3.1 uses mysql_connect, which does not exist in PHP 7. No matter. Uploaded phpBB 3.2.2 and the database update worked fine. I replaced the logo. I removed dead ACP modules. Later, I discovered I apparently I upgraded the wrong database (an older version of the forum), so changed config.php to point to the correct database and upgraded that with no issues.
  • Troubleshooting on a phpBB 3.0 forum. Database exceeded it’s quota of 1GB. The issue was a tapatalk_push_data table, which had 779MB of data in it. I truncated the table. I recommended updating the mod as it seems to be a bug or moving to phpBB 3.2 or rehosting.
  • Clicking on some thumbnails did not bring up the larger image. It appears there were some lost images due to a RAID failure in 2016. Some files in the files folder showed 0 byte length. Some files did not exist. I could not find a backup of these images. So I wrote a script to sort of fix the issue by making the thumbnails the actual photo: changing the filesize attribute in the attachment table to the thumbnail’s size and making the thumbnail column 0. In 88 cases the thumbnail files did not exist either. Provided client with a screen capture of all these abnormalities so he can decide if he wants to delete or edit these posts.
  • In part one of a two part job, I upgraded forum from phpBB 3.0.4 to 3.2.2. Since the forum was integrated into a larger commercial site, I did an extensive analysis of what would be lost with an upgrade. There were many code insertions into phpBB to do some things unique to the business. With the new architecture, this should not be done, but there were no extensions to do the previous functionality. Much of it revolved around a “Get a quote” service. The best i could suggest was to allow these installers to have standard signature lines that would embed this information and link to their referral program. Once we agreed on all the workarounds, I started off with upgrading the less trafficked site as the first test. I applied the AllanSubsilver style. I made some CSS and template changes to accommodate site heading and Google site search, changed some colors, changed some container widths, and address some font issues. I installed and configured the Google Analytics extension. I installed the Advertisement Management extension but did not add any ads at this time. I demonstrated the Get a Quote feature in a signature line. I removed contact information from view topic screen by hiding it. I did various other tweaks. I added the announcement on index extension. I configured reCaptcha and removed thousands of bogus registration and spam posts that quickly accumulated when the forum went live. I suggested they might want to use Cleantalk extension and service. Later I addressed a reCaptcha issue of the CAPTCHA image not showing upping PHP from 5.4 to 5.6. It turned out though that there was some other PHP software on the site that could not use PHP 5.4. PHP was reverted to 5.4. I found a setting in Plesk to set allow_url_fopen to on and the issue went away. More than a week later, I did part two (second domain). A lot of the work was the same as the first part, so it went somewhat faster since I knew what the issues were. Header was different with dynamic content scripts I could not integrate, so I copied/pasted the resulting code. Installed same extensions. Configured reCaptcha. Hid logo block entirely since that was the way it was on the old forum. Did not put fuzzy image along borders of main content area to match what was there before. Changed PHP to allow it to open external links. Changed script for main site to not retrieve a block of recent topics since the database schema had major differences. Likely more tweaks to come in April to close off this project.
  • I upgraded a forum from phpBB 3.1.10 to 3.2.2. Client has a ton of extensions. He decided to upgrade those himself and just have me do the upgrade. The style for Platinum for phpBB 3.2 was not official and I found issues when I installed it. For example, navbar.html did not have logoff and other links! So copied and pasted the version from prosilver and used that and it worked with the old style.
  • I finished an update/upgrade the client started but failed. I could not login to forum with credentials given. I could not use FTP with credentials given either, but was able to create some in cPanel. I tried a few obvious things to get the upgrade/update to finish that did not work. I ended up copying up the entire 3.2.2 source code and it was able to finish the upgrade/update. I placed the logo image using the File Manager editor in cPanel.
  • New install of phpBB on a test server that would eventually be migrated to a production domain. Client wanted to imitate the forum at another website and wanted it put together on the test domain. Some wasted time because I thought he wanted me to imitate his existing website. Most of the work was trying to make the styling acceptable. Client selected the AllenSUBSILVER style. I installed the Advertisement Management extension and placed a sample ad. I installed Pages extension because client wants a bunch of static pages like Contact, Ads, etc. They have placeholder text. Styling was challenging because I decided to use the navigation bar for his other pages and I had to make it red, but doing this made a lot of text and icons impossible to see. So I had to change CSS for submenus so the desired look was accomplished. 90 minutes of tutoring online followed some days later.
  • After an upgrade I did in February there were dead extensions showing on the Customise tab, extensions that worked in phpBB 3.1 but were not available for 3.2. I fixed the by deleting these rows in the phpbb_ext table using phpMyAdmin. Client asked if there were ways to improve performance. I suggested upgrading PHP to 7.2.
  • More work for a client I helped in February. He had weird database permissions issues which caused certain extensions not to install. He moved the forum to a different server, and that seems to have solved previous database permissions issues. Basically the people on this site like lots of features, and wanted me to install a boatload of extensions, many of which were problematic because they were in development, beta, etc. After being assured that I would be paid for extensions I installed that might not work on phpBB 3.2, I ended up installing a total of twelve extensions, some of which as I expected had issues and were subsequently disabled.
  • Upgraded a forum from phpBB 3.0.10 to 3.3.2. Installed Revolution style but tweaked it quite a bit. Background color changed from black to white. Increased minimum widths for content area. Reduced vertical space for logo and content area as it was too generous. Styled the search box to make it look similar to other content areas. Installed reCaptcha V2 as spambot countermeasure.

February 2018 work summary

The nature of my business seems to be that it the work is few and far between or it all comes in at once. The first half of the month was mostly quiet. The second half was mostly busy … too busy. Anyhow, here’s a summary of my work in February. As always, I am not identifying my clients:

  • A lot of work here for one client. Basically, the client wanted a whole lot of changes to his forum. The endeavor was sort of successful.
    • I installed a development radio extension. This puts a player on the screen that plays music from a playlist for all members on the forum. I had to tweak the composer.json file to get it to install. To get the radio player images to appear on the portal, I had to hack one of the programs for the extension to use an image path that starts with / or they would not appear on the portal.
    • I tried to install Tapatalk a number of times but to no avail. I kept getting an installer error creating the Tapatalk tables. Upgrading phpBB didn’t work. So I tried installing an earlier version of Tapatalk. That didn’t install either. Since the issue was with the Tapatalk table not being created, I installed Tapatalk on a test environment, got the needed SQL there using phpMyAdmin and recreated it manually on the client’s site in phpMyAdmin. I changed the phpbb_ext table to make it active and cleared the cache. I could then see it in the Extensions tab and could enter the key.
    • Created an Apache redirect so non-www URLs went to www instead. Lines were added to .htaccess file.
    • Changed the color of the text in mChat when editing chat text. It was white on white, made it black on white.
    • Added a favicon for the site
    • Installed an extension to open external links in new tabs
    • Installed the Profile Flair extension. This allows badges to be created.
    • Installed the YouTube Video Gallery extension. It requires creating an application in Google console to enable, which the client did.
    • Updated phpBB 3.2.1 to 3.2.2. Applied three manual changes afterward, bugs that were subsequently found in the release.
    • Edited some colors on the portal sidebar that kept text from being seen.
    • Fixed a resizing issue with embedded videos on mobile devices by adding max-width:100% and max-width:100% CSS directives for the object tag.
    • Made more tweaks to colors for the “time” line near the navigation bar, made better CSS selectors for poll links in the portal and moved vote buttons in the portal more to the right, along with vote totals.
    • Radio extension turned out not to be viable. So I disabled it. I tried to place the player manually. I tried a number of approaches, once I figured out how to write the Javascript correctly. The easiest way was to turn it into an ad in the Advertisement Management extension and place it above the navigation bar.
    • More trouble with Tapatalk when the client tried to add a permanent Tapatalk key. Again the extension failed in an ugly manner and again the issue was some sort of database privilege that should have been there was not, probably for creating new objects like tables, columns and indexes. I commented out some code in the extension to get it to come up so the board was usable, but feels jury rigged. Installed some smilies that client needs to configure. The client is getting with his web host to try to solve the underlying issues of database privileges needed to create new tables that seems to be the issue with Tapatalk.
  • I upgraded forum from phpBB 3.0.10 to 3.2.2. I applied patches to 3.2.2 after the upgrade. There were two issues during the upgrade. The first (duplicate row in config table) went away by running the upgrade again. The second required using phpMyAdmin to edit the prosilver style and make it active. Then the upgraded completed. I removed some dead modules carried over from phpBB 3.0. I created keys on reCaptcha site and entered them into reCaptcha spambot settings, but they were not recognized. I eventually discovered if I requested invisible reCaptcha those keys would work. There was a similar issue with a Cleantalk authorization key. The client had to generate a key on Cleantalk site and he installed it himself. I also installed the Advanced BBCode extension. I noted an email error I encountered with the upgrade. It may be an issue with integration with email. Later that day when the client removed my FTP account (since it gave access to the web root) it also removed everything in the public_html folder! So his whole web site including the forum was gone! The web host had to recover it. The next day I reapplied the file changes for the upgrade and uploaded the programs for the extensions that were installed. The database was still good so I didn’t need to run the upgrade program again. The client asked me to look into errors in some 3rd party software tied to phpBB in his members folder. It asked for PHP 5.4. I changed his .htaccess file but that exposed an issue that the code was using super globals, so it didn’t work. I suggested contacting the original author and having him update the program to use the new phpBB 3.2 libraries. Client eventually figured it out himself.
  • Lots of work for this client too:
    • I converted a forum from phpBB 2.0.23 to 3.2.2. About 200,000 posts with about 7000 attachments. The conversion went smoothly. Allen Subsilver style installed. I replaced the logo. I recreated search index. I moved the old forum into old_forum folder where it exists as an archive.
    • Later I installed a Board Rules extension and Custom Registration Agreement extension.
    • Customer discovered a weird problem. When using the search index, sometimes a XML parsing error occurred. After lots of puzzling it through I realized I had seen this before. Non UTF-8 characters (probably belonging to the Windows character set) were in post_text column and other columns. The parser could not parse these characters because they were not translatable into UTF-8. I fixed it with SQL using MySQL CAST and CONVERT functions on all columns in tables where users type in text.
  • Removed and re-place some ads in overall_header.html for a phpBB 3.0 forum
  • I got called in as a consultant for a huge forum, the biggest I’ve ever seen: 14M posts! That’s about 4 times as many posts as are on phpbb.com’s forums which have been running since 2001! What a strange issue they were having! For about 48 hours they could operate as normal, then the database would freeze updating num_posts in the phpbb_config table. All they could do is recover the database and start again, then 48 hours later it would happen again. They were very frustrated. The error message suggested that some transaction was not getting completed. In addition, the value for num_posts in the phpbb_config was not consistent with the actual number of posts. On top of all this, this phpBB 3.0 forum has a site Wiki outside of phpBB, and the Wiki made posts to their forum using a MySQL stored procedure. What to do? It took hours to get command line access just so I could look around. Once inside MySQL I looked at the tables. Most were using the MyISAM storage engine, but the phpbb_config table where the problem was happening was using the InnoDB storage engine. If I changed its storage engine to MyISAM, would the problem go away? I did and the problem went away! Oh, I also wrote some SQL so num_posts matched the actual number of posts in the phpbb_posts table.
  • Upgraded a forum from phpBB 3.2.1 to 3.2.2. No surprises.
  • Updated a forum from phpBB 3.2.0 to 3.2.2. A direct 3.2.0 to 3.2.2 update would not work and caused Symfony errors. After much trial and error an upgrade to 3.2.1 then to 3.2.2 worked. I reapplied the logo and styles. I was asked to set permissions so users could edit their own posts and to fix an issue with their posts not going through moderation. It took some puzzling to figure this out. Apparently when a new user registers, they are placed in both the Newly Registered Users group and the Registered Users group. Unless permissions for Newly Registered Users are set to Never the privileges for Registered Users, if more generous, will take precedence. So for Newly Registered Users, I added Never permissions for seeing forums they weren’t supposed to see. Although newly registered users were required to have one post before they were considered registered users, posts are only moderated if the moderation permission is enabled, which it was not. So I turned on these permissions for this group.

Some pricing changes

I’ve upped some of my prices. You can see a list of all my prices on my services page.

I’m trying to recapture the labor involved in answering your questions prior to you hiring me. Not everyone who inquires of my services hires me of course. Typically there is at least an hour of time involved in back and forth emails with clients. This time was not built into my pricing structure, meaning I am effectively discounting my own labor rates by giving away this time for free.

So mostly this amounts to $10 or $20 increases for services I do most of the time, such as updates, upgrades, conversions and extension installations. My basic labor rate is unchanged. Obviously if you choose not to hire me you don’t have to pay anything. But if you do I want the work I do for you to reflect the full amount of my effort. And that typically involves at least an hour of back and forth communications over email, often more, usually over many days, as details about the work are refined.

My prices remain very competitive. If you can find a better deal out there, please go for it.

I also updated the page to discuss developing extensions for clients. In general I don’t do it, but I will refer you to other extension authors I trust. Mostly it’s due to a lack of time as developing extensions takes considerable time. Extension development is quite costly and most clients usually decide they cannot afford to have custom extensions developed anyhow.

January 2018 work summary

I didn’t do much work in January, mainly because I spent most of it on vacation: 19 days in total! It was a great vacation: a 16 day circuit of the Panama Canal on Holland America, from Fort Lauderdale to San Diego with lots of ports of call. In addition we stayed an extra day in San Diego to see its infamous zoo! I do have a few buns in the oven at the moment including a large project for a large client that I am starting work on that may take a month or two.

During my vacation my site’s certificate expired. I tried to fix the issue remotely when I had Internet, but just couldn’t do it with my Windows laptop. That may have cost me some business. It’s all fixed now.

On the infrastructure side, I upgraded my iMac to use a solid state drive. Things are so much spiffier now!

Before and after my vacation though I did squeeze in some jobs:

  • A client got rid of his forum due to low traffic but wanted me to do some WordPress work for him. He was been having WordPress security issues. I examined his WordPress .htaccess file. I found no issues there but redundant duplicate code was removed. I explained how the .htaccess file works and provided advice on updating, finding, fixing and proactively handling security for WordPress including Wordfence and UpdraftPlug plugins.
  • Two forums were upgraded for the same client, both from phpBB 3.0.12 to 3.2.1. Since the forums caters to German speakers, with the upgrade I installed two German language packs (casual and formal honorifics). On the first forum, I installed the prosilver_se style. I installed the Navbar search extension thinking it would help with styling but eventually disabled it as it was not needed. I changed style a bit to somewhat match old logo and background, experimenting with CSS until I found something that fit. Since the user could not login, I created a new account (after enabling registration) and gave myself founder privileges in the database. The next day I upgraded the second forum. I integrating the old logo but it did not look right with the new style. I tried changing the background color for the style but it still looked off. However, it was acceptable to the client. I then installed version 3.2.6 of my digest extension, and set up and tested the system cron job to ensure digests went out in the hour requested. I used curl and set the cron to run at top of the hour. I resolved a permissions issue that allowed any registered user to be a global moderator. There were some hosting issues: I could not find a link to cron in the web host control panel until the customer added it to my account. The next day I fixed a database issue: changed default for user_topic_sortby_type from m to t. This was apparently changed by some phpBB 3.0 mod. I updated the database to change this value to t for all users.
  • Troubleshooting. A forum gave a “is_dynamic missing” error message, which was actually a row in the phpbb config table. It took a bit of puzzling but it turned out that the forum’s config.php file was pointing to a phpBB2 database! No wonder the row was missing! I searched and found another database that looked like it had the tables for phpBB 3. But it was missing the last 5 tables. I found a copy of the database in the store folder dated 12-18-17. With customer’s permission, I reloaded that database. Bringing up board, the phpbb_login_attempts table was missing so I created it manually. I could not login with customer’s credentials so I created an account for myself and gave myself founder privileges via the database. The subsilver2 style was misidentified as Red Silver. I renamed it to subsilver2 in the database and enabled the Red Silver style. This fixed the styling issue and the site’s logo appeared in the header like before.
  • I upgraded a forum from phpBB 3.2.1 to 3.2.2. An issue with quoted characters repeating themselves horizontally and vertically, overwriting the quote, was solved with upgrade. Replicated logo in header and changes to footer. This was my first attempt to update to phpBB 3.2.2. I quickly learned that (a) the incremental update still does not work reliably and (b) you need to apply some patches.¬†Other than that (to quote Monty Python), phpBB was perfectly fine!
  • I upgraded another forum from phpBB 3.2.1 to 3.2.2. Database updater failed due to timeout. The real issue were some bugs in 3.2.2 and had to apply some patches to complete the upgrade. I reapplied the logo. The search index erroneously pointed to nonexistent MySQL index. Pointed it to phpBB native and message went away.

December 2017 work summary

December was a very slow month. December often is as clients have other priorities as did I. I finished teaching a class and issues two new releases of my digests extension. Revenue-wise, 2017 was my best year so far. Here is a summary of my paid work in December. All client information has been anonymized. Since I will be on vacation for 18 days in January, I expect next month will be slow as well.

  • Undertook a painful upgrade of a forum from phpBB 3.0.1 to 3.2.1. It ended up taking most of the day. A database timeout meant I could not upgrade phpBB on the client’s site. So I had to extract the database, download it, recreate it on my machine and convert it there. Some tables requires multiple extracts to export due to timeouts. Because I have PHP 7 on my main computer and I needed to first upgrade the forum to phpBB 3.0.14 (which does not work on PHP 7), I had to do the conversion on my laptop. After I upgraded the forum on my laptop, extracting the database from the laptop turned out to be an issue until I explicitly told mysqldump to export as UTF 8 (UTF-16 was the default). This seems to be a MySQL peculiarity when it runs on Windows. In addition, the client’s file manager was rudimentary. All files had to move using FTP. Installed the Advertising Management extension and mChat extension but left client to configure. Client will handle styling. Upgraded PHP to 5.6 (was on 5.0).
  • Moved a forum from Westhost hosting to A2 hosting. Client had a temporary domain name on the new host. I first tried to upgrade forum on old server but it didn’t work. I created a new forum on new server but database and files were not moved by the new host. Client provided a copy of the database. I loaded it on local machine (3.1.9 database) and upgraded it there to 3.2.1. I then created a new forum database on new host. I populated it with upgraded database from my machine. I changed folder permissions to standard. Moved /files, /images and /store folders from old server. Changed Imagemagick path as it had changed so embedded images would display. Installed ID_Launch Fresh Style. Installed Google Analytics and Shareon extensions.
  • Installed Authorized for URLs extension. I went through the client’s numerous user groups and disabled privilege for bots, guests and newly registered users. I enabled extension to work for every other group. I provided instructions for its use.
  • Troubleshooting. Slow server, mostly manifested in slow database but also a lot of spam traffic. I discovered a WordPress temporary table issue. Two search tables in phpBB had repair issues as well; repairs would not stick for long. To keep a lot of the spam traffic from ever reaching the server, I installed Tapatalk both for WordPress and phpBB and enabled its spam firewall feature. I changed the storage engine for forum tables to use InnoDB. Converting the search tables to InnoDB required doing it from the command line as phpMyAdmin would time out.
  • Issue with routing and mChat on other than first page of the mChat display. Not sure what was causing issue is. .htaccess file for forum was missing uploaded it but didn’t solve the issue. Suggested disabling mod_rewrite. Installed SEO Sitemap extension and Italian language translation for it.

November 2017 work summary

Business here at phpBB Services was a bit slow in November but it picked up toward the end of the month. It worked out to a nicely profitable month in the end. Here is a summary of the work done this month. All identifying client information has been withheld, of course:

  • Tried to fix more malware issues for a client who uses WordPress for a site to advertise his business. Because of the malware, his web host would not allow me access to the site to fix it, but they did provide a Dropbox with the files and identified the known files with vulnerabilities. Setting it up on my machine was complicated but I finally got it to work. I corrected the known problems and compared WordPress and all plugins with referenced files. I checked the database too for malware. I removed all unused themes, including one with a known vulnerability. I updated a few plugins and WordPress itself. I zipped everything up and sent it to the web host, who installed it and found no errors. But later on despite my best efforts and scanning all the files by the web host, the malware returned. The malware looked like it has been injected into a business theme. The frustrated client ditched WordPress. Not sure what he is using now but I think he moved to weebly.com. I can’t say I blame him. I tried to fix this for him as a favor. While I dabble in WordPress but don’t consider it an area where I have any particular expertise.
  • I installed the Advertising Management Extension on a forum running phpBB 3.2.1. I spent extra time troubleshooting and analyzing his ad placement questions … apparently there was an ad missing in the footer. I found one missing on the portal page and suggested checking his Adsense code to see if it is still correct, as it left a blank area on the page.
  • I upgraded a forum from phpBB 3.1.9 to 3.2.1. Since the client has a SCCS-based style, I reinstalled the Artodia SCCS compiler extension after the upgrade so I could give it the desired look. The colorizeit.com site unfortunately doesn’t work on phpBB 3.2 styles, so I looked at changes made originally using colorizeit.com to his Elegance style for 3.1 and replicated them for his Elegance style for phpBB 3.2, creating new custom style I called Elegance Orange. There were some issues with drop down controls and the style that the client noticed. Fortunately, I found a newer version maintained by another style artist that fixed these bugs. I installed that version of Elegance, made a new Elegance Orange style again and reapplied the code changes to the theme and templates. Customer satisfied!
  • Client had issues accessing tabs in the Administration Control Panel. I tried to look in the database using phpMyAdmin but got a token error trying to run phpMyAdmin. I figured the issue was with the database itself, so I repaired it outside of phpMyAdmin. There were still issues so I deleted the cache manually and the errors stopped. The client approved converting tables to InnoDB to reduce likelihood of further issues. I had to put Unix 777 permissions on the cache/production folder. For some reason they did not inherit. I recommended that the client complain to web host and ask to be moved to newer hardware and software as he was constantly running out of quota and they were using old Windows hosting.
  • I updated the Tapatalk extension from version 2.0.3 to 2.0.5 based on email client received from Tapatalk.
  • I moved a forum from FastComet hosting to TMD hosting, both the database and files including files for the website, not just for the forum. I changed the DNS in GoDaddy to point to the new hosting.
  • I updated the Tapatalk extension from version 2.0.3 to 2.0.5 for another client.
  • I installed the Advertisement Management Extension on a phpBB 3.2.1 forum using the standard prosilver style.
  • I installed my digests extension (version 3.2.4) on a new phpBB forum. There were some issues getting the cron to work right. It required a support ticket to the web host to get path to curl.
  • I updated a forum from phpBB 3.2.0 to 3.2.1. I had to upload all the files rather than the changed files because the upgrade would not work otherwise.
  • I upgraded forum from phpBB 3.0.10 to 3.2.1. Due to the high availability requirement of the forum, it was a two step process, first to verify it could be done at all. In the first step, I created a test database and copied the production database into it. This exposed MySQL shared hosting quota issues, so it took a while to copy all the tables correctly. Trying to recreate the search index on the test forum also caused MySQL quota issues. I installed the Flat style and integrated the old logo, changing some CSS to place the transparent logo image on a black background like before. Converting the production forum was straightforward. I placed a copy of files and database into a backup folder first. I copied theme as I configured it from test forum to save time. It all looked good so I deleted old database, the test forum folder and subdomain too.
  • Client worked with his web host to move his WordPress site and phpBB forum to a new server. The forum did not come up. Upon investigation, I determined that the forum’s files were moved but database hadn’t been moved. I exported the database from the old hosting and imported it into a new database on the new hosting. I edited the config.php file so it correctly connected with the new database. I purged cache manually otherwise the cached file would still try to connect to the old database. I set folder permissions correctly. I then upgraded the forum from phpBB 3.1.9 to 3.2.1. There were no complications, just one image to replace. Later the user discovered that post images weren’t showing. When I tried to bring up the forum but the phpBB3 folder was gone! I recovered it using File Manager. The post images still didn’t show. It turned out that the path to Imagemagick had changed from the old machine. Once the path to it was fixed the images showed. I also changed some settings to use the new security certificate installed.
  • I fixed a weird issue that developed with Forumrunner modification installed on a forum running phpBB 3.0.10. Forumrunner is similar to Tapatalk in that it allows a forum’s posts to be seen inside of a smartphone app. In the forum’s error log, I discovered an error that said the Forumrunner program expected to write to a missing fr_token column in a table. I scoured the web for a reference and found its datatype (tinyint), then added the column to the table with phpMyAdmin. It should make this issue go away. I also provided an estimate for upgrading to phpBB 3.2.1 but the client is not interested at this time. Hopefully there are no more Forumrunner issues like this!

October 2017 work summary

October was a very profitable month for me, best of the year so far. It’s a little mysterious to me why it was so, but I did collect on a few projects I was owed so that helped. Anyhow, here’s a summary of the work I did in October. All client information has been anonymized, of course:

  • Upgraded a forum from phpBB 3.0.9 to 3.2.1. The vendor folder was corrupt in my archive, which I think was due to a bad release by the phpBB Group since corrected. I fixed my archive, installed the prosilver_se style and applied the client’s logo. I also installed my digests extension (version 3.2.4) and tested it. In programming the cron job, since HTTPS was used, I added -K option to curl so it didn’t verify the certificate.
  • Client upgraded from phpBB 3.1 to 3.2. He had the portal extension installed but the upgrade caused an error rendering the portal page. Updating the extension to 2.2.0-b1 solved the problem although it should be noted there is not an approved version of the portal for phpBB 3.2 at this time.
  • Client was having trouble getting version 3.0.7 of my digests extension to mail from a phpBB 3.1.10 instance. I figured out the issues were due to incorrect manual testing procedures. Then wanted me to create a customized version that removed certain items from the digest email. I made changes which also required a change to the mailer program. I also found a digests 3.0.7 French language translation and installed it (since the board is hosted in France) and modified that language file as well as the English version to accommodate the requested changes. I tested it on a 3.1.9 instance on my machine and since I did not have installation permissions, I placed a copy on Google Drive for the client to access and install, with instructions. Later there was additional work. Now with full permissions, I upgraded the client from phpBB 3.1.10 to 3.2.1. I installed a new version of we_universal style, but the development version has a few issues (quote icons and the like would not show). I reapplied custom code changes to my digests extensions. In addition the client wanted additional template changes with banner images in the digests. These plus communication challenges added a lot of time.
  • Client said he had managed to acquire the domain name a competitor was using, which had expired. Changed DNS to redirect to the selected domain but the action never completed. However, I later learned that the domain did not expire but GoDaddy let him buy it anyhow. Client paid me for my time.
  • Upgraded a forum from phpBB 3.0.12 (subsilver2 style, no mods) to 3.2.1. Changed the style with the upgrade to Allen Subsilver. I added the old logo. I added an extension so external links render pages in new tabs. Redirect issues were solved by removing cPanel redirects and creating an index.html file with a meta tag to redirect to forum. In addition, SuperCacher was turned on. I had to flush SuperCacher in cPanel to affect logo changes. I created a question on registration but registration is currently disabled. I suggested configuring the new reCaptcha if this is enabled.
  • Another error was reported by client I helped last month. I looked at the error log. I determined that German language pack said it was installed by the files were not there and that triggered the error. I added the German language pack for phpBB 3.1.10. Another error pointed to something wrong with the Profile Side Switcher extension. Version 0.0.1 was installed, updated to 1.0.0 and that error went away. I also removed some dead modules. I changed permissions on cache, files, images/avatars/upload and store folders. I cleared the cache. The extensions tab did not show. This may be a database issue with the modules table. Waited for feedback or additional permissions. Client paid me for the work to date.
  • I completed a month plus long project to change the website’s front end from static pages to WordPress. Originally I placed WordPress in a /wordpress folder. I moved the old files into an old_files folder, moved WordPress into the root folder, installed a plugin to change some paths and changed some database columns to get it to work from the root folder. The move to WordPress included creating a shopping cart and testing it, replicating a members only area by doing it inside of WordPress, installing a theme, installing a form generator for membership applications and creating the membership form, and the integration of a photo gallery using a plug in. So while phpBB is my specialty, I can do a lot of WordPress work too, so it doesn’t hurt to ask if you want me to do some WordPress work for you.
  • Upgraded a forum from phpBB 3.2.0 to 3.2.1. Reapplied logos. Updated American English language pack.
  • Removed malware from site using cPanel’s file manager, placed bad content in Trash for customer’s review then submitted it to Google for a check. Later, client encountered more spam issues. Web host said WordPress plugins were sending spam. They blocked access to the site so I couldn’t go in and do anything. Sent support an email. Never replied back but a couple days later I could get into WordPress. Client has both a French and an English site. Updated plugins and updated WordPress on both sites. Installed plugin that automatically updates plugins on both sites.
  • Upgraded a forum from phpBB 3.0.14 to 3.2.1. Work involved rehosting the forum too as the customer’s virtual server was underpowered, making database operations problematic. Customer eventually chose a new web host and it took about a week to move the content over along with the WordPress content. Resource limitations occurred trying to upgrade forum on old host, requiring me to move it to my machine, do the work there and upload it. However, bigdump.php would not complete loading the database, due to resource limitations on the database (first time I’ve seen this for virtual hosting). Many tables had primary keys and indexes missing. Eventually the new host got WordPress working correctly for the client. I had to reload the phpBB database to recreate the indexes and primary keys that were missing. While running bigdump.php on the new host I encountered a Javascript error but I was able to load database from the command prompt instead. Installed the Hexagon style, configured the logo, placed a special tile background image and uploaded old icons for forum and topic images. In some cases browser resized them, making them a bit fuzzy. Installed the Advertising Management Extension and added two ads in two locations. Upgraded PHP to 7.1 and tested. Installed the Advanced BBCode Box extension. Uploaded his many old images used in the headers principally to /styles/Hexagon/theme/images.
  • Troubleshooting. Email interface wasn’t working. It was set to send mail via SMTP. I turned it off and tested it and received a sample mass email.
  • Upgraded a forum from phpBB 3.0.11 to 3.2.1. Kept the prosilver style and reapplied the logo. Installed Google Analytics extension. Installed Advertising Management extension but HTTP 403 errors triggered when creating ad. Asked client to file a support request to get this addressed. Advised about placement of skyscraper ads (not a good idea for phpBB). Forum is inside a frame. Recommended this be addressed. Later, working with security rules were setup to bypass modSecurity for ad placement. Installed reCaptcha.

Pricing changes (most clients unaffected)

I have updated my pricing. Most of my customers are not affected by the price increases. It only affects those in the corporate/moneyed sector.

Many of my professional customers have already paid me more than I have billed, some calling attention that I am dramatically underpriced in this market. So I have doubled my labor rate for this class of customer to $60/hour and doubled my fixed prices for them as well.

How do you know if you have to pay my professional rate? My services page has all the details. In general, if you need an invoice, you are billed at my professional rate. If you have staff and offices, a professional rate applies. It does not apply to hobbyists and small non-profits where pretty much everyone is a volunteer and you run your site on a shoestring. The quality of the service is the same regardless.

If there is a conflict between professional work and other work, understandably I will put those paying at the professional level first. In most cases this is not an issue.

It’s nice that my professional customers are increasing as a share of this business and the extra income is nice as well.

September 2017 work summary

September was a very slow month, probably the slowest so far this year. In a way it was good because I was kept hopping preparing for and teaching a website development class, and I needed to focus on that. Here is some of the work I accomplished in September for various clients:

  • A forum’s users were experienced HTTP 500 errors when accessing forum. I downloaded the error log and noticed numerous TWIG errors complaining about a link missing to Viglink in overall_footer.html. I’ve seen this issue before and I’m not sure what’s causing it, but I think it may be due to enabling Viglink, then disabling it without purging the cache, which should not be necessary. I used the web host’s file manager to manually remove files from the /cache/production folder. The forum came up but there was a HTTP 500 error on initial login, which did not recur. Also, I noticed that a folder was missing where the main site images were kept. The client was able to restore these pictures. I suggested and installed the latest Cleantalk extension (not yet on phpbb.com) and enabled its SpamFirewall feature because the client was getting hammered by spambots. This solution is working well.
  • Some users reported a white screen after making a post. It seemed to mainly affect Firefox users and seemed to be somehow related to the cookies. I examined error log and found a TWIG error referencing a missing link for Viglink, similar to the last problem. I manually refreshed the cache. No further problems were noted.
  • Troubleshooting. User had installed a security certificate so the forum would use https without changing phpBB’s server settings. I fixed the server settings to use https and to NOT use port 80. I suggested changes to force all links to use HTTPS with a .htaccess hack and to fix WordPress links using a WordPress plugin.
  • Performed a simple upgrade from phpBB 3.0.13-PL1 to phpBB 3.2.1. Used the default prosilver style. Logo is wide at 900×150, suggested that it would flow better if it were smaller. I hid the site title and site description in header so it would look similar to what they had before the upgrade.
  • Troubleshooting trying to figure out why mass emails were not going out to about 80 users. It turned out the new web host has email quotas and that was part of the problem. I tried to connect the forum using SMTP to old mail server where this wasn’t an issue, but discovered that the new web host does not allow outgoing SMTP connections. Based on what the new host said it’s outgoing email policy was, I suggested an email package size of under 25 and setting up a system cron to run every five minutes.
  • The web host siteground.com complained to the client that her site was getting hit by too many spambots. Similar to the first client, I solved the problem by installing the latest version of the Cleantalk extension and enabling its SpamFirewall feature. I also updated the forum from phpBB 3.2.0 to phpBB 3.2.1.
  • I updated a forum from phpBB 3.1.3 to phpBB 3.1.11 and installed Cleantalk extension 4.7 (a higher version would not work with 3.1) to solve a persistent spam registration problem. Client did not want to upgrade to phpBB 3.2 since a couple of extensions would not work.