Archive for the ‘Other’ Category.

If you read “how-to” stuff for WordPress sites around the web, then you frequently run across what many people like to call “snippets”. Short bits of code or functions to do various things. I myself post snippets frequently, usually made up on the fly to solve somebody’s specific problem.

One question I get a fair amount is “where do I add this code?”

The usual answer to this for a lot of people is “in the theme’s functions.php file”. This is a quick solution, but it is often a problematic one.

The reason this has become the more or less go-to place to add these snippets is because it’s complicated to explain to a newbie how to make a plugin and activate it, or to point out the problems with modifying core code, or plugin code. Saying to look for a specific file in their theme, on the other hand, is quick and easy, and until recently theme upgrades have been fairly rare.

However, as themes get upgrades, it becomes more and more incorrect to tell people to modify them directly. And telling people how to create child themes is complex, even if it’s easy to do.

So I’d like to start a new trend, and recommend that people start making Site-Specific Plugins. Most people who run WP sites on a serious level do this in some way already, but if you make it sorta-standard practice, then it’ll make things simpler all around.

How to create a Site-Specific Plugin

1. Create a new directory in the plugins directory. Name it after the site in some fashion. For example, /wp-content/plugins/example.com or something like that.

2. Create a new php file in that directory. Name is dealer’s choice.

3. Put this in the file:

<?php
/*
Plugin Name: Site Plugin for example.com
Description: Site specific code changes for example.com
*/

4. Finally, go activate your new blank plugin on the site.

Now you have a simple and specific place to add snippets. It will survive upgrades of any sort, and you can edit it to add new code on an as needed basis. What’s more, it’s kinda sorta break-proof. If the user uses the built-in plugin editor to edit it, and they add code that breaks the site, then the editor detects that on saving the code and deactivates the plugin, preventing the “white screen of death” for their site.

This is a much better way to use “snippets” than the theme’s functions.php file, and we should really use it more often in our replies to users.

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I’ve been hosting my sites on GoDaddy for years, despite everybody saying that they suck and so forth. I’ve even defended them. Their interface is crap, but it’s not terrible once you get used to it. It works well enough. Their shared servers are indeed overloaded, but with a little super-caching they tended to work alright. Their new cloud hosting service is definitely faster.

But if there’s one thing I can not stand, it’s censorship.

I recently discovered that a couple of old posts of mine about decoding code used by hackers were no longer loading up. Everything else worked, but not those posts. I couldn’t even pull them up in the WordPress post editor.

After some trial and error and back and forth, I discovered that any HTTP or FTP request that contains the string “eval(base 64_decode(” or similar variants, is blocked. FTP just stops dead, as does HTTP requests, with a continual spinning loading icon. Apparently they have some form of filtering in the TCP stack somewhere that just stops those connections dead in their tracks.

(BTW, the irony here is thick. GoDaddy’s malicious code scanner was blocking my “Scanning for Malicious Code is Pointless” post.)

GoDaddy… guys, I loved your service in the past, but I have to tell you that this is a *shit* approach to security.

After some tweeting back and forth, I found out from the horse’s mouth that this is intentional and cannot be disabled.

And as much as they’d like to claim this isn’t censorship:

Guys, you’re wrong. It is censorship. I wrote that post content, and they’re refusing to serve it over HTTP. You can spin that any way you like, but GoDaddy hosting is now censoring me.

What’s more, this is a *new* problem. Those posts worked fine when I wrote them. What changed? I dunno. I did move to their 4GH hosting, but nowhere did I see in the documentation that they would be intentionally blocking my content.

Anyway, I’ve worked around the problem for now with a plugin to add spaces to the proper places in my HTML content, thus bypassing their filter. However, in the long run, this will not stand. GoDaddy thinks it’s okay to block my personal content. I disagree with them, and no amount of argument is going to make me change my mind on this topic. Blocking my own content from being served is NOT a security measure.

As you might be able to tell, I’m a bit angry.

Therefore, I am now looking for a new hosting service. Some requirements of mine:

  • Traffic-wise I serve about 6000 page views a day, all told. In terms of total HTTP requests, I’d say somewhere around 30,000 or so.
  • Bandwidth tends to be in the 1.5 GB per day range. So, 50 GB per month, say.
  • Obviously, any form of censorship or technical limitations is unacceptable.
  • SSH access is a must-have.
  • I don’t necessarily need dedicated hosting or virtual dedicated hosting, shared is fine if it can handle it.
  • Speed would be nice. GoDaddy has always sucked in terms of time-to-first-byte. Their cloud hosting made it better, but not great.
  • MySQL Databases. I need at least 10 of them.

So, not too heavy requirements, I’d say.

I’ve heard suggestions for DreamHost in the past, and A Small Orange has always gotten favorable reviews from people I’ve talked to, but what the heck, might as well solicit the opinions of the internets in general, yeah?

Suggestions are happily accepted. If you can provide estimated pricing or links, I’d love to take a look at them. :)

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My post about how to customize WordPress images with tricks like greyscale and such got me lots of feedback, so I figured I might as well turn it into a plugin.

The ImageFX plugin allows you to customize the image sizes from WordPress or custom ones for your theme, by applying filters to them.

The way it works is basically identical to my original post on the topic, only it allows the filters to be defined on a per-image-size level. It also allows the addition of a “slug” to be appended to the image filename, which is useful for cases where you want to have two images at the same size, but with different filters.

Since it was easy to do, I went ahead and created several other simple image filters that you can use for your images:

  • Greyscale (black and white)
  • Sepia tone (old-timey!)
  • Colorize with red, yellow, green, blue, or purple
  • Photonegative
  • Emboss
  • Brighten
  • Greyscale except red, green, or blue (classy!)

Here’s some examples. This a pic of me, Nacin, Rose, and Matt at WordCamp San Francisco. I ran it through the sepia, blue colorize, and grey-except-red filters.



These are some of the default filters included, but since I could, I went ahead and made it easily expandable too. All you have to do to define a filter is to create a function to do the image filtering you want, then call the imagefx_register_filter() function to add it.

To implement your own custom filter, you can do it like this:

imagefx_register_filter('custom-name','my_custom_filter');
function my_custom_filter(&$image) {
 // modify the $image here as you see fit
}

Note that the $image is passed by reference, so you don’t have to return it. This is because the $image resource takes up a lot of memory, so to save on memory usage, you are manipulating it in place, sort of thing.

You can use any of the image functions in PHP to change the image however you like. The filters I’ve implemented are mostly pretty simple. You can see them all in the filters.php file, in the plugin.

Caveats: The plugin will only filter JPG images, to avoid the overhead of recompressing PNGs and to avoid breaking animated GIF files. Also note that I haven’t tested these filters extensively. They’re only a starting point, sort of thing. I spent all of about 20 minutes writing them, so don’t expect miracles. :)

You can download version 0.1 of the plugin from the WordPress plugin directory: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/imagefx/

Enjoy!

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Seen this a couple of times on various sites and had a couple people ask me on Twitter about it.

Starting October 1st, Facebook will start requiring two new things:

1. OAuth 2.0 support. SFC has this in version 1.1, which will be released shortly (tomorrow, probably).

2. Canvas and Page Tab Applications will require HTTPS/SSL support.

Both of these are true.

However, some people are interpreting that second one to mean that you need to buy an SSL certificate for your own domain to use Facebook Connect type of functionality, like my plugin Simple Facebook Connect provides. This is false.

A “Canvas” application is one that runs on your site, but shows up on http://apps.facebook.com. A “Page Tab” application is similar, but can show up anywhere on the facebook.com website, depending on how it’s written (it makes a “tab” for somebody’s “Page”). Both of those have something in common: Your website’s contents are actually showing up on *.facebook.com.

Simple Facebook Connect does neither of these things. SFC is a way for you to integrate Facebook connection functionality back into your own site. It can publish stories to Facebook, it can let users comment using Facebook, etc., but the whole point of it is to take things from FB and put them on your site. SFC does not enable your site to appear under the *.facebook.com domain name.

You do NOT need an SSL certificate to use SFC, and you will continue to not need one after October 1st.

You will, however, need to upgrade to SFC 1.1. Old versions, including 1.0, will cease to function.

SFC 1.1 will most likely be released tomorrow, and should be a painless upgrade from 1.0. Sorry for the delay.

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Facebook recently made a breaking change to the developer process, which makes it impossible for new applications to get the correct API keys. Since this essentially broke all previous versions of SFC, I went ahead and pushed the beta version public. It’s still unfinished, but Facebook didn’t really give me a lot of choice.

So, this is a quick walkthrough of some of the new features of SFC 1.0.

Upgrade Process

The upgrade process is slightly more involved for this one. It is recommended that you deactivate the old SFC plugins before upgrading. Why? Well, if you don’t, you’ll get a bunch of errors when visiting the Plugins screen later, saying that all the old SFC plugins either don’t exist or have an invalid header. These errors are normal, because of the next feature:

One plugin only

No more sub-plugins

Simple Facebook Connect is now a single plugin, with modular features. If you examine the plugins screen, you’ll find only one entry: Simple Facebook Connect.

The many-plugins-in-one was a useful experiment, IMO, and I still think it’s a better way to do things. But many people find it confusing, and some have disagreed with the notion. A lack of useful core support for plugin dependencies and user feedback convinced me to switch it up. So now, SFC is one plugin. But it’s still modular!

Sub-module selections

As you can see in the image, you can still turn on and off pieces of the plugin. Why have a piece running and consuming valuable resources if you’re not using it? Turning a module off completely disables it in the code. And the core of SFC itself is still written modularly, for maximum performance (since integrating Facebook itself is such a drag on performance for a site to begin with).

Support for new Facebook code

Over a year ago, Facebook stopped supporting the original Facebook Connect libraries. This was a major problem for sites, however the old code still worked. So as time went on, and the old Connect libraries started to degrade and become less and less useful, SFC was rewritten from the ground up to use all the newer supported libraries. Facebook’s JS SDK is used. FB’s Graph API is used. The old Facebook REST Platform code is completely gone, as are the older incompatible Facebook Connect libraries. OpenGraph meta tags (including embed info for images and video) are inserted into the entire site, completely automatically, allowing Facebook to see the content of your site and act accordingly.

Many of the plugins themselves have been rewritten fairly extensively as well, but with this comes some removal of older code.

Faux Share button settings

The Share button is gone. It was previously implemented using the older Connect libraries, but with the newer libraries from Facebook, it’s been completely removed. There was just no good way to retain it, Facebook has simply dropped any and all support for it. So, in it’s place (because it was so handy) is a modified Like button, which can still look sorta like the old Share button. The SFC module is still named Share, for ease of transition. The Like button itself is still around too, so you can use both Like and Share to get two Like buttons on the same post, perhaps for different placement.

The Bookmark widget is gone. It simply isn’t supported anymore, and didn’t work anyway.

The Find on Facebook widget is gone. This didn’t do really anything special to begin with, other than place the Find Us image into a widget, with a link to the Facebook Page. The image it once used is still included in the plugin, for people that want to do this themselves via a text widget.

The Connect widget is gone, but may make a return in the next version, as soon as some bugs are sorted out.

The Upcoming Events widget is gone. It rarely worked properly to begin with, and the newer XFBML libraries doesn’t have support for it anymore. A alternate approach to this may make it back into the next version.

All the remaining widgets have been combined into a single module for use on the widgets screen. In addition, most of them still have a way to access them directly, such as from a function call in a theme.

Publisher settings

The Publisher has been simplified greatly. For one, auto-publishing now works even for Applications! The confusing permissions dialogs have been reduced to one. Colored indicators have been added, showing when the plugin has the necessary “tokens” from Facebook in order to be able to publish properly. The manual publishing functionality is still on the edit post screens too. And for those people using the auto-publish, a new system for pulling Facebook comments on their published posts back into the blog has been implemented.

For those who wanted it, Custom Post Type support has been added to the publisher as well. Any CPT marked as “public” gets shared like everything else.

Register screen

The Register system has been completely rewritten to take advantage of Facebook’s new register plugin functionality. It can handle standalone registrations, or registrations using Facebook information. It even adds a Facebook created captcha to prevent spam registrations.

Login has been improved. One of the most common complaints was “What does ‘User not recognized’ mean?” This should be severely reduced now, since the Login module will auto-detect existing users and automatically connect their local WP accounts with their FB accounts, when they try to login. This follows Facebook’s own Registration Flow Models for connecting users to sites.

The Comment system has been improved. The share-after-comment system now happens in the background, no extra popups for users to have to click on. The whole system is now using the Graph API, so no more strange javascript errors causing weirdness. Although there is still some javascript to display the user their picture and info after logging in, so it still has that same look and feel.

There’s a lot more too. I’ll be updating this post with new stuff soon!

 

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Added a new feature that people have been asking me for since I created SFC to begin with: Comments Integration.

Facebook Comments

Facebook comments

When you make a post with SFC, the publisher plugin has the ability to push that post to either your Facebook Page or Profile. Up until now, the auto-publish feature has been doing this and storing meta-data with the post about the resulting “story” id that Facebook sends back. This data was stored, but not really used.

No longer. Now, if you auto-publish to Facebook, you have the option to pull comments back from that automatically published Facebook post and show them in the blog as if they were normal WordPress comments.

You can see this in action here on my own site. On the SFC 1.0 Photo Support post, you’ll find a comment at the bottom made by a user named “Kartsios Vasilis”. That comment wasn’t left here on this site, it was left on the Facebook story corresponding to that post. As you can see, the avatar for the user shows up on the comment, it’s styled differently (I felt the blue background sort of distinguished it), and it doesn’t have a reply link.

Since these aren’t “real” WP comments, and don’t live in the WP database, you can’t reply to them properly. So the reply link is automatically removed for them. I used a styling rule in the CSS to add the “This comment was originally made on Facebook, so replying to it here is not allowed.” message where the Reply link would normally be. Because this is just using a simple CSS style rule, you can make that message anything you like, or not have it at all. That’s up to you and your theme.

The new feature is relatively painless too. No configuration is needed. Every 6 hours (minimum), the plugin will retrieve the relevant comments from the Facebook posts, then store them as a transient. This reduces the amount of work since it doesn’t have to talk to Facebook every time. The comments are then integrated in with the normal comments for the post, and the comment count is updated to reflect the right number.

There’s still some minor detail work to be done. Right now, for example, the comments are just added onto the end of the list of comments, and so they’re out of order. The final version will have the comments integrated in correctly by the date and time they were made. Edit: This is now working, comments are added in the proper order.

If you want to use the beta version of SFC (currently marked as version 0.999) you can find it in the WordPress Plugins SVN repository.

Edit: The CSS to add this text, since people asked, is this:

li.comment.facebook .reply:before {
content:"This comment was originally made on Facebook."
}

Simple, really.

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