Let's get it working on DreamHost!


Too long; but I'll read it anyway.

A reasonably unabridged history

After moving some domains over to DreamHost I became involved at the Discussion Board answering questions from other DreamHosters who were seeking advice on how to do this or how to do that. It became apparent that a few questions in particular were being asked on a very frequent basis - mostly regarding custom php.ini and ionCube - and although the DreamHost Wiki had good instructions available it seemed people were still having trouble.

Long-time DreamHoster, Discussion Board Guru, and Wiki admin rlparker (who is now employed with DreamHost - go Robert!) PM'd one day asking if I had any thoughts on why many people seemed to be having trouble following the Wiki instructions, or were adamant they were following them correctly yet failing to gain their desired outcome - which resulted in the regular visitors like ourselves answering the same questions.

It's such a simple process! Why all the problems?

Alice in Wonderland

It appeared to me that users who only required access to a custom php.ini or to loaders such as ionCube were being led to the false assumption that they needed to install an entire custom PHP environment in order to meet their goals.

This process was not only unnecessary, but regrettably for some the working instructions provided for a complete PHP installation in the Wiki didn't quite work "copy/pasta" on the newer, uberer, 64-bit servers.

The Wicker Man

Another concern became apparent in that when other users muddled through and hacked up something that appeared to work on their machines they'd sign up to the Wiki and edit good instructions with fairly ordinary hacks such as removing SSL from IMAP or switching the SSL/cURL order so as to avoid error messages that they wouldn't have gotten had appropriate paths been set correctly in the first place.

Good intentions, certainly, but not only were they depriving themselves of the secure environment with many features that are enabled by default, they were moving the accounts completely away from the DreamHost default (and correctly built) standard with the end result being that if they ever required official Support at some stage in the future they quite possibly weren't going to get it. And neither were any users who followed the freshly-edited or "new" instructions.

Many were being led blindly into a very dark and very lonely "you have to fix it yourself now" territory.

And 99.99% (plus 50 GB) of users didn't even need to do it anyway!

The Taming of the Shrew

The best thing I could think of at the time that might possibly curtail this most unnecessary answering of duplicate questions and hopefully quell the surge of DreamHost mice from following the Pied Pipers of Wiki down Hamlin Street and off the Jetty of No Support was to knock up some scripts that would just... work.

The requirements as I saw them should enable our fellow DreamHosters to:

  1. Get fast and hassle-free results
  2. Automatically stay up to date with DreamHost's latest binaries
  3. Remain party to the DreamHost defaults, maintaining environment useability and security
  4. Be able to retain official Support from DreamHost for other issues that might be faced at some stage because the "new" environment is still using the stock (supported) DreamHost setup.
    The above requirements are met in the Wiki instructions - if you don't look too hard.
  5. Put an end to users asking the same thing every other day!

Okay, number 5 was the priority as it enabled me to get back to important procrastination.

But it looked better in that order.


Being very possessive of my procrastination time, the first scripts were quick 'n dirty shell scripts that fellow DreamHosters could upload and run in shell. After a few hundred downloads I counted the number of emails asking "But what is shell?". Eight - just under 2.5%. Far from reasonable.

I'm of the opinion that anything over 0.05% means something needs to be looked at. Oh sure, 0.00% issues is great, but I think we can allow ourselves a 0.05% buffer to be written off as end-user confusion as opposed to actual application failure.

Another rule of thumb I use is that if it takes you more than 2 minutes to get something done then you are spending far too much time doing it.

The missus doesn't agree with that attitude under some circumstances, but I remain firm on the matter.

Or not, as the case may be.

Smoke and Mirrors

The user accounts at DreamHost are without doubt the most feature-rich of any shared hosting solution I've seen. Each user account can do practically anything that doesn't requite full root. This meant I could knock up some PHP scripts that wrote the shell scripts and then ran them as if the user had run them in shell.

After converting the shell scripts to a format that DreamHosters could simply upload into their domain via FTP and open in a browser the "But what is shell?" mattered not. Another bonus was that it would take even the very greenest of new DreamHosters 2 minutes or less to get things installed.

The only point of failure was if the user ran the scripts on an old account that was still running under PHP4. Easily fixable, but not worth wasting precious procrastination minutes really as this was both an extremely uncommon problem and by this time I had the scripts hosted on a phpBB3 forum where users could read things like "if it doesn't work make sure your domain is running PHP5" or something along that line.

Download count: 3177 - actual issues: 1 (PHP4 on old accounts).

0.03% problems, nulled to 0.00% with a post in the forum specifying the fix.

Back to procrastination!

Or not...

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Ahh yes, the forum. I had installed PHPBB3 because it was available as a One-Click and it seemed logical that a One-Click process be used, you know, to keep with the automatic theme of what this whole thing was all about.

Yeah, okay - laziness played a far more prominent role in the decision.

But it sounded good, right?

phpBB3 was the pick for ease of attaching files to posts. This was how it was going to go:

  1. Make post with script attached
  2. See ya later forum!

The above process would take me about 2 minutes. Done!

Oh, how wrong I was.

Mars Attacks!

Do you love spammers as much as I? If I met one in real life I'd hug them.


Very, very tightly.

The open forum quickly became a mess of links to game affiliate sites promoting World of Warcraft and the like. I mean come on! Where has the Internet gone? At least throw some porn in the mix! Anyway, I had no choice but to lock it down. This meant fellow DreamHosters who wanted the scripts had to sign up in order to get them, but that's how it had to be.

The Verdict

I was wincing at the thought of forcing people to sign-up to a forum in order to get at the goodies and thought it would be a point of contention with many, but what happened is that some people actually came back just to post a Thank You message. Because they could. Not many people donate to free software (of which I was already aware) but seeing users make the effort to return to express their appreciation was awesome. It's one thing seeing Google Analytics counting thousands of downloads so you know it's been worthwhile, but quite another to see people return to post their gratitude.

Thank you!

Fatal Attraction

phpBB3: Available as a One-Click installation - installs in 2 minutes

phpBB3: Group Settings, User Restrictions, inbuilt cAPtCH4 - Awesome Software

phpBB3: Like all popular software - SPAM MAGNET

The Good, the Bot, and the PeopleBot

Alas, the spammer is a tenacious and undeterrable beast. These days there are what I call peoplebots. Peoplebots are actual real-life members of our species who make seemingly legit posts and comments for no other reason than to leave a nefarious trail of slimy backlinks on your website - and apparently get paid to do it! Then there are the scripts. Gotta take your hat off to some auto-spammer programmers out there really - those guys can really code. I've even seen people reply to the latest spambots within the sanctity of the DreamHost Discussion Board! Granted the posters in question were replying for no other reason than to get their own link up there as well... but yeah, the spambots available nowadays are pretty incredible.

Mainly because their posts make more sense than the peoplebots and regular link-droppers do.

The Fixer

Forum software that isn't heavily targeted. A forum script "Macintosh", if you will.

├ćon Flux

A "port" of PunBB (direct copy), FluxBB offers SQLite, low maintenance, and is FAST.

I had already decided to use phpMySQLiteCMS rather than WordPress in order to get away from any dependency on MySQL. SQLite is great if you have under a million or so items to track so I felt it to be the sensible choice for a small site like this. No MySQL calls means the MySQL link can go down without having any effect on this website.

If the server is on, the site is up! Like me!

For way longer than 2 minutes! No comment...

The Conversion -ationalist

Here are some facts I found out after making the decision to convert from phpBB3 to FluxBB:

  • There are no converters from phpBB3 to PunBB / FluxBB
  • There are no converters from MySQL to SQLite

It took longer than 2 minutes to do the conversion.

Much Ado About Nothing

Of the 3400 users that had signed up to the forum 1300 were just spammers - either automated or peoplebots - and those accounts had already been deleted. Of the 2100 left, the majority were just forced sign-up accounts leaving well under 100 that had actually posted anything. So why bother converting?

The thing was that some people had taken the time to post something - and it didn't seem right that their much appreciated effort be dismissed by just "starting fresh". So convert I did.

To Be Continued...

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