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.

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.

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.

August 2017 work summary

Not too much work in August. However, what work I got involved some pretty challenging stuff! In addition clients that owed me some serious money finally paid up, making it the most profitable month of my year so far. One client liked my work so much he paid me double my regular rate! Here’s a summary of the work performed:

  • Updated the Cleantalk extension to version 5.2 for a client on whose forum I had recently installed Cleantalk 4.6. I assumed version 4.6 on phpbb.com was the latest but it was somewhat dated. It looks like Cleantalk has to wait months for extensions to get checked and approved like the rest of us. To get rid of the update message for the client, I found the latest version on GitHub and installed that. It has since been updated by Cleantalk and is now version 5.4.
  • Updated forum from phpBB 3.2.0 to 3.2.1 using the careful (all files refreshed) method. Experience has shown that using other methods introduces problems. I also updated the client’s Eles style to version 2.2.2. As requested I tried to paste a Facebook video into a post topic using ABBC3 extension and it worked.
  • Another moving a client from phpBB 2.0 using the dreadful Aabaco hosting to GoDaddy running phpBB 3.2.1. I blogged about it if you want all the details. What a mess!
  • Client wanted a way to see any posts that were posted without having to visit his forum. I suggested using my digests extension. He agreed so I installed version 3.2.4 of digests and programmed a cron to make it work automatically.
  • Moved forum to new host. The client did much of the legwork including DNS changes. I just moved files, created and populated a new database, set some permissions and changed config.php. No big deal.
  • Changed links to some videos that were embedded in the header of the forum to different URLs.
  • Updated a forum from phpBB 3.2.0 to 3.2.1 on Bluehost. Since prosilver_se is now available (client reverted to prosilver when I earlier upgrade him to phpBB 3.2) I reinstalled that style and applied a small version of the site logo.
  • Finished WordPress work started in January. Yes, I do some WordPress work in addition to phpBB. Back in January I installed WordPress for the client and he was going to have someone do the styling. All these months later that was finally finished and he wanted to make it live. So I moved WordPress which was in a /wordpress folder to the web root and put old Joomla CMS in a joomla folder. This was more complicated than it seems because WordPress database had to be searched to change path to take out /wordpress. This took a while to puzzle through. To do it I used two WordPress search and replace extensions. I then converted the phpBB 2 forum to phpBB 3.1.11. 3.1 was used because Slovenian language pack not available for 3.2. This type of conversion is always problematic, but it went smoothly. I used SQL to change all user’s default language to Slovenian. I installed the Elegance style then did a lot of customizing of Elegance style to make it match header on the old phpBB 2 forum. I added old logo and site menu below it which meant changing the style so that things matched the width of the logo at 1050 pixels. I also added a sidebar on right. I rebuilt search index. Later I was provided with a new new logo 1200 pixels wide. I installed it and adjusted styles to make it match the original 1200 pixel layout for the Elegance style again. Installed Google Analytics and open external links in new windows extensions. I fixed a letter in menu that wasn’t rendering correctly in Slovenian/ I made tweaks to sidebar. I explained how and where to make additional style changes. I provided guidance on spambot countermeasures.
  • I finished a long job started in May for an existing client. This was not glamorous work because she has a mixture of domains and web hosts and was trying to centralize all the hosting and domains. Trying to move all the domains into GoDaddy and all the hosting into a new host. It was very confusing work because she does not understand much about these topics and the information I needed to make these things happen were scattered among many vendors. In addition she has one consultant who did not want her to reclaim her domain and for a while would not change the domain to point to the new hosting. Quite a mess. There are still a few details left for the future but most of it was finished.

July 2017 work summary

The phpBB Group released a new version of phpBB, 3.2.1 in July. For me and a number of my clients updating and upgrading to it has been nothing but trouble. In two cases I was simply unable to get the upgrade/update to work on their machines. Both the automatic update and the changed files methods didn’t work. When I’ve had success it was from copying up all the files (minus the config.php file) and then running the update. This can mess up any style changes that were made, so they have to be reapplied. Notes on these upgrades are below. Work in general was slow in July and due to the upgrade issue time consuming and not very profitable. I hope the phpBB Group gets this figured out. As usual all client information has be anonymized.

  • A client that sent me $50 in February finally asked me to do some work. He tried to upgrade to phpBB 3.1.10 and failed. I helped straightening out issues with his site after his upgrade. There were module errors (caused by a duplicate extension tab) that required replacing the content of the modules table with content from a reference database. After trial and error I also reinstalled Tapatalk. I then reinstalled the BOOTS proprietary style.
  • Client failed installing my digests extension (3.2.2). An error said the ACP digest module category already existed, which was most likely a result of not installing it correctly. I removed the digests modules from modules table, uploaded digests version 3.2.3 and it installed. I made corrections to address timezone object bug. Testing however revealed issues. Digests were going out for periods months in the past as the extension had not been working for many months. Resetting the digest mailer didn’t work, or changing the last timestamp for digests going out to the current time. So there was a large queue to get through. Also the digest cron seemed to work when digests are disabled. This condition was not detected before and should not happen due to the extension architecture. Some sort of cron seems to be triggered on the forum once a minute causing digests to go out.
  • Troubleshooting. Alleged malware, not in the forum (I checked forum software against a reference) but found in site’s index.htm file, at the bottom. Removed <div> tag on the page, started a rescan and sent a support ticket to Siteground to unblock the site.
  • Client had a new version of the black style he wanted installed to fix an annoying issues with the navigation dropdowns, which were shown by default overlaying content for the first post in a topic. Moved the old version to an old_black folder. Placed new version of style in the black folder. Reuploaded the two logo files. Since it is a SCCS style, I edited _style_config.sccs to hide the forum sitename text. Recompiled style by first downloading Artodia’s SCCS compiler and using that to recompile the style. Made some minor stylesheet edits to not show the navigation dropdown by default, which took a lot of testing using the browser’s object inspector to figure out what CSS changes were needed.
  • Moved a website plus its forum to a new host. phpBB was performing oddly on old host. Moved to siteground.com on my recommendation. There were lots of files to move. Unclear for awhile which files to move. HTTP authentication was set to get into forum, so the mechanism had to be recreated on the new host. Changed absolute path to .htpasswd file but it didn’t work. It resulted in HTTP 404 (not found) errors. Eventually after futile tech support chat I figured out it was due to PHP not being enabled. Enabled PHP 7.0 and it worked. Client asked me to install extensions I thought would be useful so installed Advanced BBCode, Precise Similar Topics and Recent topics extensions.
  • Updated forum from phpBB 3.2.0 to 3.2.1. Discovered an apparent bug in the update program, as I had to delete vendor folder, upload 3.2.1 source for the folder, delete cache/production and then I could run the database update.
  • Updated forum from phpBB 3.2.0 to 3.2.1. Expected errors occurred when uploading only changed files so I uploaded all files, purged the cache and the upgrade worked. This approach meant I had to reapply the logo.
  • Attempted to upgraded forum from 3.0.12 to 3.2.1. There were issues during upgrade, essentially and inconsistent database. Cleaning up the database with Support Toolkit (STK) caused a STK error. I eventually figured out the STK error was due to language file common.php not being in the en folder. Upgraded to 3.0.14, then 3.1.7-PL1 (could not get into ACP), then 3.2.1. Applied flat style and logo. The upgrade seemed to work, at least for me, but failed for the client the next day during multiuser use. The failures produced core dumps, but the local system administrator could not determine the exact issue. This is still ongoing. I suspect there are new things about phpBB 3.2 that won’t work on the current host that are causing the issue. I suspect he could upgrade to 3.1.11 successfully.
  • Ultimately failed attempt to upgrade plain vanilla forum on GoDaddy hosting from phpBB 3.1.10 to 3.2.1. Issue was during updating the database. A “No file input” error message was traced to incompatibility between FastCGI or nginx and the Symphony2 library. Symphony2 could not see the file. Attempted to use SSH to upgrade the database. Issue for me was I could not connect reliably with SSH over my Comcast connection. Apparently Comcast routers slow down SSH traffic, at least to GoDaddy and there’s nothing I can do about it! Client was able to SSH successfully and tried to run a manual database upgrade. He tried various versions of PHP and couldn’t find PHP 5.4+. So restored 3.1.10 forum and provided guidance for future. When GoDaddy contract is up client may rehost elsewhere. He is considering Siteground.
  • Applied a new logo on a phpBB 3.0.13-PL1 forum. Turned off mChat.
  • Updated a client from phpBB 3.2.0 to 3.2.1 but it would only work by uploading all the files for 3.2.1. This messed up his styles which inherited from prosilver. Reapplied the file changes as best I could, however the icons and row heights look a bit off. However, the client was satisfied.

June 2017 work summary

I took a week off in June during which time I was not working. Otherwise it was a pretty average month. Here’s a summary of work performed in June. Client identification has of course been left off:

  • Continued work for an existing client, not so much phpBB related as just helping her reclaim her various domains and get them better managed and hosted. It’s been quite an adventure because some domains and their hosting have expired. One was effectively hijacked by a developer who didn’t want to give it back and one has a .ca domain, and the .ca register has strict rules about how frequently you can change registrars. So that one cannot be moved to a new registrar until August. Attempting to move all of her domains under GoDaddy management but it is hard because in some cases the email addresses associated with the domain cannot be accessed, and GoDaddy won’t allow domains to be changed unless you reply to an email sent to this address, even with a registrar’s EPP code. She did eventually decide on new hosting and two of her domains are now served from the new host. I’m hoping I can wrap this work up soon, but it’s challenging and tedious work to reclaim domains gone dormant from people with dubious intentions.
  • Continuing work for a client that I started doing work for in May. Client wants to move from phpBB 3.0 to phpBB 3.2 and wanted the new style to look as close as possible to the old style, which was heavily customized but not available for phpBB 3.2. Client wanted a different logo image to appear on the index vs. other pages. He also wanted finger icons to appear on the index only to show forums read and unread. I later spent about two hours tinkering mostly with templates and stylesheets to replicate the look of the current forum to the extent practical, including adding more “hand” icons, changing placement of items on the navigation bar and quick links, etc. Finally the design was approved and I did the conversion. I ran the upgrade with no issues. I reenabled the extensions and disabled Viglink. I reenabled styles and made custom the default, then installed the ABBC3 extension. Later, I spent some time making more minor style fixes. Eventually, installed a different icon set that was acceptable.
  • Moved a phpBB 2.0.15 database extract from 2010 to a new domain, converting it to phpBB 3.2.0. This was much more challenging than expected due to inability to get FTP to work, so I had to use cPanel’s file manager instead for both uploading and editing files. German characters were hard to load into database and hard to transfer during conversion (had to run SQL to fix many columns so they would show up). I discovered that bigdump.php, a staggered importer, does not work reliably with non-Latin character sets, so the database was imported via phpMyAdmin instead, in a very tedious fashion as it would time out, so I had to resume the import many times. It finally did finish correctly. I installed German and French language packs, added small logo on default prosilver style.
  • 1 hour of tutoring.
  • Installed phpBB 3.2. Installed X-Creamy style, shrank logo 50% and placed it. Installed German and French language packs, made German the default language.
  • Received a $100 donation for my digests extension!
  • Upgraded a forum from phpBB 3.0.5 to 3.2.0. I first had to upgrade it to 3.0.14. I changed the style to AllenStyle-SUBSILVER and reapplied logo. I added a default spambot countermeasure and suggested it be strengthened or the measure changed.
  • Client with a customized version of phpBB wanted to roll out my digests extension with it, so a test environment was created. I tried to install Digests 3.0.7 (last version that supports phpBB 3.1) on phpBB 3.1.8, on a customized integration of phpBB with a CMS, in a test area. But it would not install. An analysis determined it was because the migration files asserted that at least phpBB 3.1.9 was needed. I edited the migration files to assert it works with phpBB 3.1.8 and it installed. However, digest’s user control panel interface did not come up. Clicking on tab in style caused logout. Later I determined that the style did not inherit from prosilver so it wasn’t finding the UCP template. I tried turning on style inheritance but it didn’t work. I tried copying templates into extensions all folder but it didn’t work. However, copying the templates directly into his style folder worked. Test email worked. Client will create a phpBB 3.2 environment for deployment they so won’t get a buggy version of the digests extension. I expect to finish this project in July.
  • Completed an analysis for a long established client for upgrading his customized phpBB forum. Waiting for feedback.
  • Upgraded forum from phpBB 3.0.14 to 3.2.0. Calendar mod modules were deleted. Installed the Softblue style. There were gateway timeouts backing up the database and recreating the search index, otherwise no issues. Later: wanted SE Square Left style installed instead. Reapplied logo and at request I centered the logo, site name and site description. Later: decided to drop the search index as it put them over their Siteground database quota and they didn’t want to upgrade their hosting to have a search index.
  • Upgraded forum from phpBB 3.0.12 to 3.2.0. Changed style from prosilver to a custom style I created that inherited from the Flat Style. Custom style changes logo image and moves avatars to the right side of the frame on the view topics screen. No issues during upgrade but I couldn’t get FTP to work so I did all file editing in Hostgator’s file manager.
  • Upgraded a forum from 3.0.12 to 3.2.0. There were a number of mods too. First attempt on host failed, so I moved it all to my machine and converted it there. Conversion was done slowly to 3.0.14, to 3.1.7-PL1, to 3.1.9 then to 3.2.0, cleaning up the database after conversion to 3.0.14 with the STK (although some functions would not work due to DB issues). Upgrade failed during upgrade to 3.2.0. Sought support on phpbb.com. Issue turned out to be a BBCode that had the word “object” in its HTML, which tripped up the update program. Once removed the upgrade finished. Uploaded database again and used bigdump.php to load the database. Customer will install and configure his Milk style along with any extensions.
  • Upgraded forum from 3.0.1 to 3.2.0. Had to do it on my laptop because I could not use PHP 7 for this upgrade. Client is a phpBB developer and he had me do a multi-step upgrade and had me use the STK at various points to clean up the database. Images in the /files folder provided by his client turned out to be corrupt. Eventually I uploaded the files and database and brought the forum up using a default prosilver style per client’s requirement, although usable images are still missing.

May 2017 work summary

Compared to April, May was kind of slow here at phpBB services. This was not a bad thing. I had a Javascript class to wrap up, grades to assign and between it and the work that poured in during April I needed some downtime. So thanks clients for not taxing me too much last month. Anyhow, here’s a summary of my work during May. As usual all information about my clients has been anonymized:

  • I provided an estimate for upgrading phpBB and Tapatalk, and general rehosting advice. More in June when my client’s client decides how he wants to move ahead with the rehosting, then I’ll likely move the forum.
  • I did an analysis of the work to import a phpBB2 Smartor gallery into phpBB 3.2, importing pictures and meta information about the pictures in the gallery into the phpBB Gallery extension. This continues work for a client I did in April. This will move forward when the phpBB Gallery extension is approved for phpBB 3.2.
  • I upgraded a forum from phpBB 3.0.12 to 3.2.0 using the default prosilver style. To upgrade it, I had to move it to my machine. However, database backups kept timing out. I had to partition it into 3 backups to get it all. FTP would not work so I used cPanel’s file manager to upload phpBB, expand the archive then move the /files, /images and /store folders into the upgraded folder. The upgrade worked but was very slow. In addition there were CloudFlare CDN issues such as causing the ACP stylesheets not to show. Some forum icons wouldn’t appear either. I asked him to refresh his files in CloudFlare and hope that solves the issue. Curiously, could not see PHP information in the Administration Control Panel. The web host disallowed it. After these issues were resolved I installed the Cleantalk and mChat extensions.
  • Welcome to the forum emails were not going out for new forum members. GoDaddy said to upgrade phpBB which meant upgrading PHP to 5.4 first. Client tried this approach but the upgrade did not work. “File not found” error message appeared when clicking on the upgrade tab during install. I tried doing my own upgrade but with the same result. I could not connect with SSH to use the CLI way of upgrading phpBB as an alternative. It looked like SSH was being blocked somewhere between me and GoDaddy. Working with GoDaddy I eventually figured out the email issue was due to the forum name not being in the intro email, and that was because sitename is blank in the Administration Control Panel, Board settings. This causes it to get trapped as probable spam by GoDaddy’s email servers so they weren’t actually sent out. Adding it and recovering the phpBB software to 3.1.5 brought up the forum again. Adding the sitename (and commenting it out in the overall_header.html template where it is used if wanted) allowed emails to go out. Later I deleted the phpBB 3.2.0 program files and uploaded 3.1.5 files. I had to change config.php to use the IP of the database server, because using the logical name did not work. I also had to upload the American English language pack. I put the site name back in so new member emails would go out. Later, I tested registration and reminder emails (worked) and answered some questions. Later, there was some rework. The Euro symbol would not translate. Problem was somewhere in bigdump.php which I used as a staggered importer after converting the database on my machine. I was able to upload via phpMyAdmin after several attempts due to the large size of file but it meant a few recent posts were lost.
  • Client upgraded his forum to phpBB 3.2.0. New topics were getting appended to existing topics. I reuploaded phpBB 3.2.0 source files, reapplied the logo and the issue no longer occurred.
  • Moved a forum from prophpBB (a phpBB free hosting site) to a new VPS. Forum was running phpBB 3.0.11 on prophpBB, with some custom changes made by prophpBB. VPS hosting on the new host supported only PHP 7 so I had to install phpBB 3.2.0. The upgrade was somewhat time consuming as prophpBB had the styles table set in a nonstandard fashion (prosilver was not style_id = 1). Mucking with the database using phpMyAdmin, I eventually got it to work. Setup question on registration spambot countermeasure. Changed some configuration variables for server name and cookie domain to reflect the new hosting. Changed nameservers to point to the new hosting. Curiously, the forum won’t be on phpBB for long. Client wants to move it to the IMS forum solution and this was an interim step.
  • My client was having an issue with session hijacking. Upgraded from phpBB 3.1.5 to 3.1.10 to see if it fixed the problem. Awaiting feedback but I think I understand the cause of session hijacking now.
  • Created a new forum on Bluehost hosting which for some reason did not work using their scripting center. Installed Flat style and integrated logo after cropping it and reducing it in size by 50%. Provided links to some of my blog posts on setting up a new forum. Later: centered logo and provided guidance on useful extensions.
  • Work upgrading a forum from phpBB 3.0.11 to 3.2.0. Client wants to keep close look to existing style with hand icons and a centered logo. This involves making another style match reasonably closely. Client eventually decided he didn’t need his sidebar, as adding it detracts from the responsive design of the modern styles. It was pretty tedious work and is not completed yet due to the client going out of country for awhile. I am doing the styling in a phpBB3 test forum until the styling meets all of client’s requirements, then I will do the actual upgrade.
  • I upgraded the Tapatalk extension to version 2.0.3 for a client.
  • I changed forum tables to use InnoDB storage engine with the exception of the sessions tables which were changed to use the MEMORY storage engine. The forum was brought down when the sessions table needed repair. This makes it less likely it will happen in the future.
  • Posts required moderation that shouldn’t have. Investigated. It turns out the problem was limited to global moderators. For all forums, when they post their own posts are placed in the moderation queue which they then have to approve! Changed it so they have full access to all forums. The forum moderators group had no role assigned to all forums. Changed this to full access too. Approved three posts in the moderation queue.
  • Starting a new project for a previous client. She wants to reclaim some domains that expired and get all domains under one registrar and all hosting under one host. It’s all pretty scattered. This will be an ongoing project for a while which I will finish in June.