Improving a website contact form

On another website, I have had a contact form but it was missing some functionality. For instance, it stored the input in files on a web server instead of emailing them. That was fixed more easily than expected using the PHP mail function. Even so, it remains useful to survey corresponding documentation on the w3schools website.

The other changes affected the way the form looked to a visitor. There was a reset button and that was removed on finding that such things are out of favour these days. Thinking again, there hardly was any need for it any way.

Newer additions that came with HTML5 had their place too. Including user hints using the placeholder attribute should add some user friendliness although I have avoided experimenting with browser-powered input validation for now. Use of the required attribute has its uses for tell a visitor that they have forgotten something but I need to check how that is handled in CSS more thoroughly before I go with that since there are new :required, :optional, :valid and :invalid pseudoclasses that can be used to help.

It seems that there is much more to learn about setting up forms since I last checked. This is perhaps a hint that a few books need reading as part of catching with how things are done these days. There also is something new to learn.

Killing a hanging SSH session

My web hosting provider offers SSH access that I often use for such things as updating Matomo and Drupal together with more intensive file moving than an FTP session can support. However, I have found in recent months that I no longer can exit cleanly from such sessions using the exit command.

Because this produces a locked terminal session, I was keen to find an alternative to shutting down the terminal application before starting it again. Handily, there is a keyboard shortcut that does just what I need.

It varies a little according to the keyboard that you have. Essentially, it combines the carriage return key with ones for the tilde (~) and period (.) characters. The tilde may need to be produced by the combining the shift and backtick keys on some keyboard layouts but that is not needed on mine. So far, I have found that the <CR>+~+. combination does what I need until SSH sessions start exiting as expected.

Updating Piwik using the Linux Command Line

Because updating Piwik using its web interface has proved tempestuous, I have decided update the self-hosted analytics application an ssh session. The production web servers that I use are hosted on Linux systems so that is why any commands apply to the Linux or UNIX command line only. What is needed for Windows servers may differ.

The first step is to down the required ZIP file with this command:

wget https://builds.piwik.org/piwik.zip

Once the download is complete, the contents of the ZIP archive are extracted into a new subfolder. This is a process that I carry out in a separate folder to that where the website files are kept before copying everything from the extract folder in there. Here is the unzip command and the -o switch turns on overwriting of any previously existing files:

unzip -o piwik.zip

Without the requirement folder in web server area updated, the next step is to do the actual system update that includes any updates to the Piwik database that you are using. There are two commands that you can use once you have specified the location of your Piwik installation. The second is needed when the first option cannot find where the PHP executable is stored. My systems had something more specific than these because both PHP 5.6 and PHP 7.0 are installed. Looking in /usr/bin was enough to find what i needed to execute in place of php below. Otherwise, the command was the same.

./[path to piwik]/console core:update

php [path to piwik]/console core:update

While the upgrade is ongoing, it prompts you to permit it to continue before it goes and makes changes to the database. This did not take long on my systems but that depends on how much data there is. Once, the process has completed, you can delete any extraneous files using the rm command.

Overriding replacement of double or triple hyphenation in WordPress

On here, I have posts with example commands that include double hyphens and they have been displayed merged together, something that has resulted in a comment posted by a visitor to this part of the web. All the while, I have been blaming the fonts that I have been using only for it to be the fault of WordPress itself.

Changing multiple dashes to something else has been a feature of Word autocorrect but I never expected to see WordPress aping that behaviour and it has been doing so for a few years now. The culprit is wptexturize and that cannot be disabled for it does many other useful things.

What happens is that the wptexturize filter changes ‘---‘ (double hyphens) to ‘–’ (&#8211; in web entity encoding) and ‘---‘ (triple hyphens) to ‘—’ (&#8212; in web entity encoding). The solution is to add another filter to the content that changes these back to the way they were and the following code does this:

add_filter( ‘the_content’ , ‘mh_un_en_dash’ , 50 );
function mh_un_en_dash( $content ) {
$content = str_replace( ‘&#8211;’ , ‘--‘ , $content );
$content = str_replace( ‘&#8212;’ , ‘---‘ , $content );
return $content;
}

The first line of the segment adds in the new filter that uses the function defined below it. The third and fourth lines above do the required substitution before the function returns the post content for display in the web page. The whole code block can be used to create a plugin or placed the theme’s functions.php file. Either way, things appear without the substitution confusing your readers. It makes me wonder if a bug report has been created for this because the behaviour looks odd to me.

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.