Setting the PHP version in .htaccess on Apache web servers

The default PHP version on my outdoors, travel and photography website is 5.2.17 and that is getting on a bit now since it is no longer supported by the PHP project and has not been thus since 2011. One obvious impact was Piwik, which I used for web analytics and needs at least 5.3.2. WordPress 4.0 even needs 5.2.24 so that upgrade became implausible so i contacted Webfusion’s support team and they showed me how to get to at least 5.3.3 and even as far as 5.5.9. The trick is the addition of a line of code to the .htaccess file (near the top was my choice) like one of the following:

PHP 5.3.x

AddHandler application/x-httpd-php53 .php

PHP 5.5.x

AddHandler application/x-httpd-php55 .php

When I got one of these in place, things started to look promising but for a locked database due to my not watching how big it had got. Replacing it with two additional databases addressed the problem of losing write access though there was a little upheaval caused by this. Using PHP 5.5.9 meant that I spotted messages regarding the deprecation of the mysql_connect function so that needed fixing too (prefixing it with @ might be a temporary fix but a more permanent one always is better so that is what I did in the form of piggybacking off what WordPress uses; MySQLi and PDO_MySQL are other options). Sorting the database issue meant that I saw the upgrade message for WordPress as well as a mix of plugins and themes so all looked better and I need worry less about losing security updates. Also, I am up to the latest version of Piwik too and that’s an even better way to be.

Creating a test web server using Ubuntu Server 13.04 and VirtualBox

Having seen Linux Format cover tools like Vagrant and Puppet that manage virtual machines, I have been attracted by the prospect of a virtual web server running on my own PC. Certainly, having the LAMP software stack in a VM means that the corresponding tools don’t need adding to a host system should its operating system need a fresh installation.

As intriguing as tools like Vagrant, I decided that I needed to learn a bit more of getting server instances set up in VirtualBox anyway. Thus, I went and downloaded the latest version of Ubuntu Server and gave that a go. One lesson that I learned was that Bridged Networking needs to be added to the VM before installation of the operating system unless you fancy overcoming the challenge of getting Ubuntu Server to recognise an altered or additional network interface. In my case, I added an extra adapter for the Bridged Networking and left the original in place as NAT. The reason for having Bridged Networking set up is that it allows access to the virtual web server from the host once you know the IP address and that information can be obtained by executing the ifconfig command on the virtual machine.

With the networking sorted, the next step was to install the 64 bit edition of Ubuntu Server. Unlike its desktop counterpart, this is all driven by text menus but remains fairly intuitive and there is hardly anything there that you wouldn’t see with another Linux distribution. A useful addition is the addition of a menu to selecting the type of server services that you’d like to see installed. From this, I chose the web server and SSH options and I seem to remember that there was a database server one too. If there was an FTP server option, I would have chosen that too but it was no ordeal to add ProFTPd later on anyway.

AllĀ  of this set was done through the VirtualBox GUI just to keep life more straightforward. Even so, I only selected 12 MB of video memory and was tempted to cut the overall memory back from 512 MB but leaving things be for now. However, what I have begun to do is start and stop the virtual machine from the command line since servers are headless operations anyway. With SSH enabled, there is little need to have the VirtualBox GUI going. The command for starting the server is below:

VBoxManage startvm “Ubuntu Server” --type=headless

There is a VBoxHeadless command for the same end too but VBoxManage does what I need. The startvm option is what tells VBoxManage is start the server and the virtual machine’s name is enclosed in quotes. The --type=headless ensures that no window pops up. To stop the virtual web server cleanly, a command like the following is needed:

VBoxManage controlvm “Ubuntu Server” acpipowerbutton

Again, the VBoxManage command gets used and the acpipowerbutton option ensures that a clean shut down is performed. Not doing so results in the server not fully starting up according to my experiences thus far. Getting the virtual web server to start and stop with the host machine itself starting and stopping but this looks more complex so I plan to leave things a while before trying that experiment.

Setting up MySQL on Sabayon Linux

For quite a while now, I have offline web servers for doing a spot of tweaking and tinkering away from the gaze of web users that visit what I have on there. Therefore, one of the tests that I apply to any prospective main Linux distro is the ability to set up a web server on there. This is more straightforward for some than for others. For Ubuntu and Linux Mint, it is a matter of installing the required software and doing a small bit of configuration. My experience with Sabayon is that it needs a little more effort than this and I am sharing it here for the installation of MySQL.

The first step is too install the software using the commands that you find below. The first pops the software onto the system while second completes the set up. The --basedir option is need with the latter because it won’t find things without it. It specifies the base location on the system and it’s /usr in my case.

sudo equo install dev-db/mysql
sudo /usr/bin/mysql_install_db --basedir=/usr

With the above complete, it’s time to start the database server and set the password for the root user. That’s what the two following commands achieve. Once your root password is set, you can go about creating databases and adding other users using the MySQL command line

sudo /etc/init.d/mysql start
mysqladmin -u root password ‘password’

The last step is to set the database server to start every time you start your Sabayon system. The first command adds an entry for MySQL to the default run level so that this happens. The purpose of the second command is check that this happened before restarting your computer to discover if it really happens. This procedure also is needed for having an Apache web server behave in the same way so the commands are worth having and even may have a use for other services on your system. ProFTP is another that comes to mind, for instance.

sudo rc-update add mysql default
sudo rc-update show | grep mysql

Changing to web fonts

While you can add Windows fonts to Linux installations, I have found that their display can be flaky to say the least. Linux Mint and Ubuntu display them as sharp as I’d like but I have struggled to get the same sort of results from Arch Linux while I am not so sure about Fedora or openSUSE either.

That has caused me to look at web fonts for my websites with Google Web Fonts doing what I need with both Open Sans and Arimo doing what I need so far. There have been others with which I have dallied, such as Droid Sans, but these are the ones on which I have settled for now. Both are in use on this website now and I added calls for them to the web page headers using the following code (lines are wrapping due to space constraints):

<link href=”http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans:300italic,400italic,600italic,700italic,400,300,600,700” rel=”stylesheet” type=”text/css“>
<link href=’http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Arimo:400,400italic,700,700italic‘ rel=’stylesheet‘ type=’text/css‘>

With those lines in place, it then is a matter of updating font-family and font declarations in CSS style sheets with “Open Sans” or “Arimo” as needed while keeping alternatives defined in case the Google font service goes down for whatever reason. A look at a development release of the WordPress Twenty Twelve theme caused me to come across Open Sans and I like it for its clean lines and Arimo, which was found by looking through the growing Google Web Fonts catalogue, is not far behind. Looking through that catalogue now causes for me a round of indecision since there is so much choice. For that reason, I think it better to be open to the recommendations of others.

A waiting game

Having been away every weekend in July, I was looking forward to a quiet one at home to start August. However, there was a problem with one of my websites hosted by Fasthosts that was set to occupy me for the weekend and a few weekday evenings afterwards.

The issue appeared to be slow site response so I followed advice given to me by second line support when this website displayed the same type of behaviour: upgrade from Apache 1.3 to 2.2 using the control panel. Unfortunately for me, that didn’t work smoothly at all and there seemed to be serious file loss as a result. Raising a ticket with the support desk only got me the answer that I had to wait for completion and I now have come to the conclusion that the migration process may have got stuck somewhere along the way. Maybe another ticket is in order.

There were a number of causes of the waiting that gave rise to the title of this post. Firstly, support for low costing isn’t exactly timely and I do wonder if it’s any better for more prominent websites. Restoration of websites by FTP is another activity that takes up plenty of time as does rebuilding databases and populating them with data. Lastly, there’s changing the DNS details for a website. In hindsight, there may be ways of reducing the time demands of these. For instance, contacting a support team by telephone may be quicker unless there is a massive queue awaiting attention and there was a wait of several hours one night when a security changeover affected a multitude of Fasthosts users. Of course, it is not a panacea at the best of times as we have known since all those stories began to do the rounds in the middle of the 1990’s. Doing regular backups would help the second though the ones that I was using for the restoration weren’t too bad at all. Nevertheless, they weren’t complete so there was unfinished business that required resolution later. The last of these is helped along by more regular PC restarts so that unexpected discovery will remain a lesson for the future though I don’t plan on moving websites around for a while. After all, getting DNS details propagated more quickly really is a big help.

While awaiting a response from Fasthosts, I began to ponder the idea of using an alternative provider. Perusal of the latest digital edition of .Net (I now subscribe to the non-paper edition so as to cut down on the clutter caused by having paper copies about the place) ensued before I decided to investigate the option of using Webfusion. Having decided to stick with shared hosting, I gave their Unlimited Linux option a go. For someone accustomed to monthly billing, it was unusual to see annual biannual and triannual payment schemes too. The first of these appears to be the default option so a little care and attention is needed if you want something else. In order to encourage you to stay with Webfusion longer, the per month is on sliding scale: the longer the period you buy, the lower the cost of a month’s hosting.

Once the account was set up, I added a database and set to the long process of uploading files from my local development site using FileZilla. Having got a MySQL backup from the Fasthosts site, I used the provided PHPMyAdmin interface to upload the data in pieces not exceeding the 8 MB file size limitation. It isn’t possible to connect remotely to the MySQL server using the likes of MySQL Administrator so I bear with this not so smooth process. SSH is another connection option that isn’t available but I never use it much on Fasthosts sites anyway. There were some questions to the support people along and the first of these got a timely answer though later ones took longer before I got an answer. Still, getting advice on the address of the test website was a big help while I was sorting out the DNS changeover.

Speaking of the latter, it took a little doing and not little poking around Webfusion’s FAQ’s before I made it happen. First, I tried using name servers that I found listed in one of the articles but this didn’t seem to achieve the end that I needed. Mind you, I would have seen the effects of this change a little earlier if I had rebooted my PC earlier than I did than I did but it didn’t occur to me at the time. In the end, I switched to using my domain provider’s name servers and added the required information to them to get things going. It was then that my website was back online in some fashion so I could any outstanding loose ends.

With the site essentially operating again, it was time to iron out the rough edges. The biggest of these was that MOD_REWRITE doesn’t seem to work the same on the Webfusion server like it does on the Fasthosts ones. This meant that I needed to use the SCRIPT_URI CGI variable instead of PATH_INFO in order to keep using clean URL’s for a PHP-powered photo gallery that I have. It took me a while to figure that out and I felt much better when I managed to get the results that I needed. However, I also took the chance to tidy up site addresses with redirections in my .htaccess file in an attempt to ensure that I lost no regular readers, something that I seem to have achieved with some success because one such visitor later commented on a new entry in the outdoors blog.

Once any remaining missing images were instated or references to them removed, it was then time to do a full backup for sake of safety. The first of these activities was yet another consumer while the second didn’t take so long and I need to do this more often in case anything happens. Hopefully though, the relocated site’s performance continues to be as solid as it is now.

The question as to what to do with the Fasthosts webspace remains outstanding. Currently, they are offering free upgrades to existing hosting packages so long as you commit for a year. After my recent experience, I cannot say that I’m so sure about doing that kind of thing. In fact, the observation leaves me wondering if instating that very extension was the cause of breaking my site. In fact, it appears that the migration from Apache 1.3 to 2.2 seems to have got stuck for whatever reason. Maybe another ticket should be raised but I am not decided on that yet. All in all, what happened to that Fasthosts website wasn’t the greatest of experiences but the service offered by Webfusion is rock solid thus far. While wondering if the service from Fasthosts wasn’t as good as it once was, I’ll keep an open mind and wait to see if my impressions change over time.