Posts tagged ‘WordPress’

A surprising number of people don’t know about or have never used this feature, so it’s something I thought I should point out.

You know all those boxes on the Edit Post page? Did you know you could turn them off? Did you know that WP 3.1 turns many of them off by default?

See? Just click the Screen Options dropdown to show or hide anything you want or don’t want to see. These settings are saved so that you can customize how your own editing screen looks, for you only, every time you go to add or edit a post. Plugins that make meta boxes get their meta box added to this list too, so if you don’t use the manual Publisher boxes from my own Facebook or Twitter plugins, for example, you can just disable them.

People often ask me why there’s a Publish box when they are using Auto-Publish in the SFC or STC plugins, and why I didn’t make that optional. So I just thought it might be worth pointing out publicly that there is already an option for it, built right in. :)

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There’s been a lot of articles on this topic over the years (I even wrote one). But I’m going to tackle this from a different angle, one that I’m not used to: A non-technical one.

Fixing a website “hack” is actually a fairly heavy technical thing to do. Most bloggers are not webmasters. They are not really technical people. They’re probably people who simply purchased a web hosting account, maybe set up WordPress using a one-click install, and started blogging. In an ideal world, this sort of setup would be perfectly secure. The fact that it’s usually not is really a problem for web hosts to figure out.

But often I find that the emails/posts I see that read “help me my site was hacked what do I do” or similar don’t get a lot of help. There’s a reason for this. People who are asking this question are not usually the type of people who are technically capable of actually fixing the problem. Guiding somebody through this process is non-trivial. Frankly, it’s kind of a pain in the ass. So those of us capable of fixing such a site (and there are plenty) are reluctant to try to help and basically offer our services for free. The amount of work is high, the frustration is equally high, and there’s not a lot of benefit in it.

So, with that in mind..

Step One: Regain control of the site

By “control”, I basically mean to get the passwords back and change them. Tell your webhost to do it if you have to, and read this codex article on how to change your WordPress password even when you can’t get into WordPress. Also, change your web hosting account password, your FTP password, the database password… Any password you have even remotely related to your site: change it. Note that doing this will very likely break the site. That’s okay, down is down, and it would be better to be down than showing hacked spammy crap to the world.

And that’s another point: take the site down, immediately. Unexpected downtime sucks, but if you’re showing spam to the world, then Google is sure to notice. If you’re down for a time, then Google understands and can cope, but if you’re showing bad things, then Google will think you’re a bad person. And you don’t want that.

The idea here is to stop the bleeding. Until you do that, you haven’t done anything at all.

Step Two: Don’t do a damn thing else

Once you have the passwords and the site is offline, leave it like that.

Seriously, don’t erase anything, don’t restore from backup, don’t do anything until you do what follows next…

Anything you do at this point destroys vital information. I cannot stress this enough.

Step Three: Hire a technically competent person to fix it for you

If you know me, then you know I rarely recommend this sort of thing. I tend to offer technical knowledge and try to help people do-it-themselves. But hey, for some people, there are times when it’s just a hell of a lot to take in. Webserver security is a complex subject, with a lot of aspects to it. There is a lot of background knowledge you need to know.

If you’re reading this and you don’t know how a webserver works, or config files, or you don’t know arcane SQL commands, or you don’t understand how the PHP code connects to the database and uses templates to generate HTML, then trust me when I tell you that you are not going to fix your website. Not really. Sure, you could probably get it running again, but you can’t fix it to where it won’t get hacked again.

So, find a website tech person. Somebody who knows what they’re doing.

(BTW, not me. Seriously, I’ve got enough to do as is. Just don’t even ask.)

How, you ask? I dunno. Look on the googles. How do you find anybody to do anything? There’s several sites out there for offering short-term jobs to tech wizards. There is the WordPress Jobs site, but note that I said you need a website person, not necessarily a WordPress person. A lot of people who know WordPress don’t know websites and security… Although many of them do and this is not an indictment on the community, it’s more a recognition of the fact that working with servers and websites in general is not really the same thing as working with WordPress. WP knowledge is useful, but generic server admin experience is much, much better in this situation.

And yes, I said HIRE. Seriously, pay up. This is a lot of work that requires special knowledge. I know that a lot of people try to run their websites cheaply and such… Look here, if you’re paying less than $300 a year to run a website, then why bother? How serious are you about your website anyway? Quality web hosting should cost you more than that, hiring a specialist for a short term day-job is going to run you a fair amount of money. Expect that and don’t give him too much hassle about it. Feel free to try to argue on the price, but please don’t be insulting. Offering $50 to fix your site is unfair, as that’s less than an hour’s pay for most consultants, and you need one with special skills here. This is a minimum of a day’s work, probably longer if your site is at all complicated. Just getting it running again without doing everything that needs to be done is probably a 4 hour job. Sure, somebody can hack together a fix in half an hour, but do you ask your automotive guy to just throw the oil at the engine until it runs? Have some respect for the fact that knowledge and skill is valuable, in any profession.

Basically, here’s what the website guy will be doing, if he knows his business.

First, he’ll probably backup the site. This includes the files, the databases, any logs that are available, everything. The idea is to grab a copy of the whole blamed thing, as it stands. This is a “cover-your-ass” scenario; he’s going to be making large scale changes to the site, so having a backup is a good idea, even if it is a hacked one. The person will need all of the relevant passwords, but don’t give them out in advance. He’ll ask for what he needs from you.

Second, if you already have regular backups (please, start making regular backups… VaultPress is invaluable in this situation and can help the process out immensely), then he’ll probably want to restore to a backup from before the hack. And yes, you very likely WILL lose content in this restoration. However, since there is a backup, the content can be recovered later, if it’s worth the trouble.

(Note, if you don’t have any backups, then he’ll try to remove the hack manually. This is error prone and difficult to do. It also takes longer and has a much lower chance of succeeding. It’s also difficult to know that you got everything out of the site. If anything is left behind, then the site can be re-hacked through hidden backdoors. This is why regular backups are critically important to have.)

Third, he’ll update everything to the latest versions and perform a security audit of the site. This means looking at all the plugins, themes, permissions on the files, the files themselves, everything. This is to make sure all the main security bases are covered and that it doesn’t get rehacked while he does the next step. They may talk about “hardening” the site.

Fourth, from that backup he made earlier, he’ll likely try to trace where the hack started from. Logs help here, as do the files themselves. This is kind of an art form. You’re looking at a static picture of a dynamic system. And unfortunately, he may not even be able to tell you what happened or how the attackers got in. Attackers often hide their traces, especially automated tools that do hacking of sites. With any luck, the basic upgrades to the system will be enough to prevent them getting in again, and a security audit by a knowing eye will eliminate the most common ways of attackers getting in. That often is enough.

Step Four: Prevention

Once your site is fixed, then you need to take steps to prevent it from happening again. The rules here are the same rules as any other technical system.

  • Regular backups. I can’t recommend VaultPress enough. After my site went offline for a day due to some issues with my webhost (not a hack), I lost some data. VaultPress had it and restoring it was easy. There’s other good backup solutions too, if you can’t afford $20 a month (seriously, don’t cheap out on your website folks!).
  • Security auditing. There’s some good plugins out there to do automatic scans of your site on a regular basis and warn you about changes. There’s good plugins to do security checks on your sites files. There’s good tools to check for issues that may be invisible to you. Use them, regularly. Or at least install them and let them run and warn you of possible threats.
  • Virus scanning. My website got hacked one time only. How? A trojan made it onto my computer and stole my FTP password, then an automated tool tied to that trojan tried to upload bad things to my site. It got stopped halfway (and I found and eliminated the trojan), but the point is that even tech-ninjas like me can slip up every once in a while. Have good security on your home computer as well.
  • Strong passwords. There is no longer any reason to use the same password everywhere. There is no longer any excuse for using a password that doesn’t look like total gibberish. Seriously, with recent hacks making this sort of thing obvious, everybody should be using a password storage solution. I tried several and settled on LastPass. Other people I know use 1Password. This sort of thing is a requirement for secure computing, and everybody should be using something like it.

These are some basic thoughts on the subject, and there’s probably others I haven’t considered. Security is an ever changing thing. The person you hire may make suggestions, and if they’re good ones, it may be worth retaining him for future work. If your site is valuable to you, then it may be worth it to invest in its future.

And yes, anybody can learn how to do this sort of thing. Probably on their own. The documentation is out there, the knowledge is freely available, and many tutorials exist. But sometimes you need to ask yourself, is this the right time for me to learn how to DIY? If you need quick action, then it might just be worth paying a pro.

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I got tired of waiting for a “proper” YOURLS WordPress plugin to come out, so I did it myself. Hey, I’ve got other stuff to do, and I needed a working shortlink solution.

Basically, this is the “YOURLS: WordPress to Twitter” plugin, with all the Twitter bits removed.

While I was in there, I also fixed the password saving bug that I kept having in Chrome (just cut out the submit button JS), switched it to eliminate the Pear_JSON package entirely (WordPress has JSON support built in already), and did some other minor things. I’m sure I missed some bits, but for the most part it was really just a hack and slash job. Eliminated about 30% of the plugin’s main code and all the ancillary Twitter libraries.

On a side note, this sort of thing only reinforces something I’ve said before: Plugins should only try to do one thing, and to do it well. Trying to have a twitter solution in this plugin when I didn’t want to use that bit at all basically just made it stop doing the shortlinks correctly. That’s a real problem when it’s really a shortlink plugin to begin with. I already had a really good twitter solution, trying to have all this extra crap in there just made it not work properly.

If I had more time, I’d also remove all the JS stuff on the settings page too. That’s not really necessary when you only have a few fields to enter. But I guess it works, sort of. Whatever. Not important.

Anyway, here you go. I won’t be putting this in the plugins repository, since it’s not really my code. But I am posting it here in case it helps anybody. And if Ozh changes his plugin to eliminate the Twitter stuff (or to at least make it optional without impacting functionality), then it would be worth switching to that in the future. I won’t be supporting this plugin anytime soon.

YOURLS – WordPress (no Twitter)

Edit: Note that I did this mainly because I wanted to use my own Simple Twitter Connect instead for posting items to Twitter. That works fine and uses the shortlink from this plugin fine. But the extra Twitter stuff in the original plugin interfered with it, and there was no good way to disable that stuff short of editing the plugin. I’m a fan of not editing other people’s plugins, but in this case there really wasn’t a lot of choice. YOURLS is a good system and I like using it, I just wish the WP plugin for it wasn’t trying to do so much. Just so you know. :)

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While the WordPress upgrade system is great, sometimes people prefer to use command line tools or similar to manage their sites.

I hadn’t done this much until recently, but when I was at #wptybee, Matt asked me to set up a site using SVN externals. This turned out to be easier than expected, and a great way to keep a site up-to-date and easy to manage. So I thought I’d document the process a little bit here.

This is actually not an uncommon way of creating sites and maintaining them. I’d just never seen it documented anywhere before. If you know SVN, you probably already know how to do this.

Prerequisites

First, you’ll need to have a website on a host. Obviously.

You’ll also need shell access on that host. SSH will do fine.

Next, you’ll need that host to have SVN. Easy way to check: just run “svn –version” at the command line.

Finally, you’ll need an SVN server. A central place to store your files. Some hosts let you set these up easily. Sometimes you’ll have to set one up yourself. How to do this is slightly outside the scope of this article.

Create the SVN environment

The first thing you’ll want to do is to check out your SVN area into a directory on the machine. You can do this part on either your local machine, or on the server. I did it on my Windows 7 laptop, using TortoiseSVN.

The basic idea here is that this site will become your new public_html directory. Alternatively, you can make it a subdirectory under that and use .htaccess rules or any form of rewriting to change where the root of your website is. Regardless, the directory as a whole will be your main website directory.

SVN Externals

Now, we’re going to get WordPress installed into your SVN. To do that, we setup the WordPress SVN to be an external of the SVN root.

If you use TortoiseSVN, then you’re going to right click inside the root of your checkout, then select TortoiseSVN->Properties. In the dialog that follows, you’ll create a new property named “svn:externals” and give it a value of “wp http://core.svn.wordpress.org/trunk/“. Hit OK to make it stick (note, do not select the recursive option).

Note, if you’re using the command line, a guide on svn externals is here: http://beerpla.net/2009/06/20/how-to-properly-set-svn-svnexternals-property-in-svn-command-line/.

What this does is simple, really. It tells the SVN that the contents in the “wp” directory will come from http://core.svn.wordpress.org/trunk , which is the main trunk version of WordPress.

Alternatively, if you’re not brave enough to run trunk all the time, you could use http://core.svn.wordpress.org/branches/3.0, which would make it get the latest 3.0 version at all times (which is 3.0.4 right now). And if you wanted to use a directory name other than “wp”, you could change that as well.

The point being that instead of having to manually update WordPress, you’re telling your SVN server that the contents there actually come from another SVN server. So when you do an “update”, it will go and grab the latest version of WordPress directly, without having to updated by hand.

After you’ve modified the externals setting for that root directory, you have to do a commit, to send the new property to the SVN server. Then you can do an update and watch it go and grab a copy of WordPress and put it into your directory directly.

Custom Content

So now we have a WordPress setup, but it’s not installed. No worries, but we’re going to make a custom installation here, so we’ll hand edit the wp-config file eventually.

Why are we doing this? Well, we want our wp-content folder to live outside of the WordPress directory. It’s going to contain our custom plugins and themes and so forth. That way, no changes to WordPress’s files in their SVN can ever touch our own files.

So we need to make a folder in the root called “custom-content”. Or whatever you want to call it. Since this name will be visible in your HTML, you might want to choose a good one.

Now inside that folder, make a plugins and a themes directory. For the themes, you’re probably using a custom theme for your site, and you can just put it in there directly.

Plugins are a different matter.

Plugins as Externals

I assume that whatever plugins you are using are coming from the plugin repository. Or at least, some of them are. For your custom ones, you can do pretty much the same as the themes and just drop the plugins into your plugins directory. But for plugins from the repo, there’s a better way.

In much the same way as we made the wp directory an external pointer to the core WordPress SVN, we’re now going to do the same for our plugins.

So step one, choose a plugin you want. Let’s choose Akismet for a demo.

Step two, in your plugins directory, do the SVN Properties thing again, and this time, add this as an svn:externals of
akismet http://plugins.svn.wordpress.org/akismet/trunk/” to get the akismet trunk.

Step three, commit and update again, and voila, now you have Akismet.

But wait, we might want more than one plugin. Well, we can do that too. Let’s add the stats plugin.

Step one, go back to the SVN->Properties of the plugins directory.

Step two, edit the existing svn:externals setting. This time, we’re going to add “stats http://plugins.svn.wordpress.org/stats/branches/1.8/” on a new line. Basically, you can have as many externals you want, just be sure to put each one on a new line.

Step three, commit and update and it’ll download the stats plugin.

Repeat for all the plugins you want to keep up-to-date.

You’ll note that I used a branch of the stats plugin instead of the trunk. That’s because the trunk isn’t the latest version in the case of the stats plugin. Not every plugin author treats the trunk/tag/branch system the same, so you should investigate each plugin and see how they keep things up-to-date with their setup.

Theme note

Note that I am using a wholly custom theme, but you might not be. Maybe you’re using a child theme of twentyten. Themes exist inside an SVN too, and you can create externals to them in the same way.

For example, in the themes directory, you could set svn:externals to  “twentyten http://themes.svn.wordpress.org/twentyten/1.1/” and get the twentyten theme for use. Any theme in the Themes directory should be available in this way.

Custom wp-config.php

Now we need to create our wp-config.php file. Grab a copy of the sample wp-config file and put it in the root. Yes, not in the wp directory. WordPress looks in both its own directory and in one directory above it, so having it in the root will still allow it to work and will keep the wp directory untouched.

Edit the file, and go ahead and add all the database details. Then add these lines:

define( 'WP_CONTENT_DIR', $_SERVER['DOCUMENT_ROOT'] . '/custom-content' );
define( 'WP_CONTENT_URL', 'http://example.com/custom-content');

You’ll need to use your own directory names and URL, of course. The purpose here is to tell WordPress that the wp-content directory isn’t the one to use anymore, but to use your custom content directory instead.

Special .htaccess

Because we’ve installed wp in a subdirectory off of what will be the root of the site, it would normally be referenced as http://example.com/wp/ which is undesirable. So I crafted some simple .htaccess rules to move the “root” of the site into the /wp directory, and still have everything work.

Options -Indexes
RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^(www.)?example.com$
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !^/wp/
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ /wp/$1
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^(www.)?example.com$
RewriteRule ^(/)?$ wp/index.php [L]

The Options -Indexes just turns off the normal Apache directory indexing. I don’t like it when people try to look through my files. :)

The rest basically rewrites any URLs for directories or files that don’t exist into calls to the /wp directory, without actually modifying the URL. The rewrite is internal, so the URL remains the same. This has the effect of moving the root to the /wp directory, but still allowing calls to the custom content directory to serve the right files.

After you’re done, save the file, and commit everything you’ve done so far.

Running it on the site

At this point, you should be capable of going to the site and loading up all that you’ve done onto it. So SSH in (or whatever) and do a checkout of your new SVN setup into the proper location for it. You may need to rename your existing public_html directory and/or set proper permissions on it and such.

If you’re setting up a new site, you’ll be able to go to it and have it create the database tables and such as well.

What’s the point?

Okay, so you may have read through all this and wondered what the point was. Well, it’s simple, really.

Go to your server, and do “svn up public_html”… and then watch as it proceeds to update the entire site. WordPress, plugins, themes, your custom files, everything on the site. The externals makes WordPress and the plugins and such all update directly from the WordPress SVN systems, allowing you to do one command to update them all.

If you didn’t use trunk, then updating is only slightly harder. Basically, you just change the externals to point to the new version, then commit and do an svn up.

In fact, if you want to live dangerously, you can hook everything to trunk and then have it automatically do an svn up every night. Not many people recommend running production sites on trunk, but for your own personal site, why not? You’ll always get access to the latest features. :)

An additional thing to keep in mind is that with a system like this, the files on the site are always backed up on the SVN server. For things like inline file uploads, you’ll need to log in every once in a while and do “svn add” and “svn commit” to send the new files to the SVN server, but for the most part, everything on the site will be in your SVN and you can work with it locally before sending it to the site proper.

And it’s expandable too. You can get your sites files from any host that has svn on it. You could run more than one webserver, and have them on a rotation or something. There’s a lot of possible configuration methods here.

It sure is a nice way to update though. :D

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Saw this post about Chrome voice searching in HTML forms on Google’s blog today. Very cool, so I had to give it a try. If you check the “Search” box in the upper right corner of the page, you’ll see a little icon (if you’re using a dev version of Chrome). Click it to do a search-by-voice.

What I didn’t expect was how totally easy it is to implement. Seriously, it’s less than a line of code.

Example. Say your search box (possibly in your theme’s searchform.php file) looks like this:

<form id="searchform" action="<?php bloginfo('home'); ?>/" method="get">
<input id="s" name="s" size="20" type="text" value="<?php _e('Search') ?>..." />
</form>

All you have to do is to add some bits to the input element box. Specifically, you add x-webkit-speech speech onwebkitspeechchange=”this.form.submit();”. That’s it. Seriously:

<form id="searchform" action="<?php bloginfo('home'); ?>/" method="get">
<input id="s" name="s" size="20" type="text" value="<?php _e('Search') ?>..." x-webkit-speech speech onwebkitspeechchange="this.form.submit();" />
</form>

Note that this won’t validate, if you care about that sort of thing. Works fine though.

You can do a whole lot more with Javascript and events and translations and multiple choices and such, if you’re thinking of developing something cool with it. I’m just shocked and amazed that this is already in my browser and I had no idea it was there. Very cool.

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Every time I look through the beta of WordPress 3.1, I find something new. Today I found the WP_HTTP_IXR_Client. The IXR_Client was there in previous versions, but it didn’t use the WordPress HTTP API, and so it rarely worked for me. This wrapper/rework of it works like a charm. Some quick examples:

Testing the client to see if it can talk to another blog:

$client = new WP_HTTP_IXR_Client('http://example.com/xmlrpc.php');
$client->query('demo.sayHello');
echo $client->getResponse();

That will print “Hello!” if it succeeded.

Testing something with parameters, like adding two numbers:

$client = new WP_HTTP_IXR_Client('http://example.com/xmlrpc.php');
$client->query('demo.addTwoNumbers', 4, 5);
echo $client->getResponse();

That will produce an output of 9… Okay, let’s do something meaningful.

$client = new WP_HTTP_IXR_Client('http://example.com/xmlrpc.php');
$client->query('wp.getOptions', 0, 'username', 'password', 'software_version');
$response = $client->getResponse();
echo $response['software_version']['value'];

It returns what version of WordPress I’m running on that test site. In this case, that would be 3.1-beta2-17056.

Take a look through the class-wp-xmlrpc-server.php file for the various things you can do. Maybe you can think of some handy ways to make your blogs talk to each other. :)

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Saw a few tweets by @lastraw today, asking Matt and others if they could make the Add Audio function in the WordPress editor work.

Well, @lastraw, the audio function does actually work, it just doesn’t do what you expect it to do.

Basically, the WordPress uploader does provide a few different kinds of uploader buttons: image, video, audio, and media. All of these buttons behave in different ways. The Audio button in particular lets you upload an audio file, and then insert a link to that file in your post.

WordPress upload buttons in the post editor

However, the link it inserts is just a bare link. This is because WordPress doesn’t come with a flash audio player, and HTML 5 hasn’t gotten standard enough to allow sane use of the <audio> tags.

Still, plugins can modify things to make audio files embed. I just wrote a quick plugin to take those bare audio links and turn them into embedded audio players using Google’s flash audio player. This is the same player they use on Google Voice and in several other locations in the Google-o-sphere.

Example:

Example Audio File

How did I do that? Easy, I activated my plugin, then used the Add Audio button to just insert the plain link to my audio file (which I uploaded). Naturally, this audio player will only show up on your site. People reading through an RSS reader or some other method won’t see it, they’ll just see the plain audio link and can download the file.

Couple limitations on this: It only handles MP3 formats. You could conceivably use a player that could handle more formats, I only made this as an example. MP3 is the most common format in use anyway, and I didn’t want to go searching for a more complicated player to use. Also, I made it only handle links on lines by themselves. If you put an audio link inline into a paragraph or something, it won’t convert it.

Here’s the plugin code if you want to use it or modify it or whatever. It’s not the best code in the world, but then it only took 5 minutes to create, so what do you expect? ;)

<?php
/*
Plugin Name: Google MP3 Player
Plugin URI: http://ottodestruct.com/
Description: Turn MP3 links into an embedded audio player
Author: Otto
Version: 1.0
Author URI: http://ottodestruct.com
*/

add_filter ( 'the_content', 'googlemp3_embed' );
function googlemp3_embed($text) {
	// change links created by the add audio link system
	$text = preg_replace_callback ('#^(<p>)?<a.*href=[\'"](http://.*/.*\.mp3)[\'"].*>.*</a>(</p>|<br />)?#im', 'googlemp3_callback', $text);

	return $text;
}

function googlemp3_callback($match) {
	// edit width and height here
	$width = 400;
	$height = 27;
	return "{$match[1]}
<embed src='http://www.google.com/reader/ui/3523697345-audio-player.swf' flashvars='audioUrl={$match[2]}' width='{$width}' height='{$height}' pluginspage='http://www.macromedia.com/go/getflashplayer'></embed><br />
<a href='{$match[2]}'>Download MP3 file</a>
{$match[3]}";
}

This is mainly intended as a demo. There’s more full featured plugins for this sort of thing in the plugins directory. If you need to embed audio, using one of them might be a better way to go.

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