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.

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

Sorting out MySQL on Arch Linux

Seeing Arch Linux running so solidly in a VirtualBox virtual box has me contemplating whether I should have it installed on a real PC. Saying that, recent announcements regarding the implementation of GNOME 3 in Linux Mint have caught my interest even if the idea of using a rolling distribution as my main home operating system still has a lot of appeal for me. Having an upheaval come my way every six months when a new version of Linux Mint is released is the main cause of that.

While remaining undecided, I continue to evaluate the idea of Arch Linux acting as my main OS for day-to-day home computing. Towards that end, I have set up a working web server instance on there using the usual combination of Apache, Perl, PHP and MySQL. Of these, it was MySQL that went the least smoothly of all because the daemon wouldn’t start for me.

It was then that I started to turn to Google for inspiration and a range of actions resulted that combined to give the result that I wanted. One problem was a lack of disk space caused by months of software upgrades. Since tools like it in other Linux distros allow you to clear some disk space of obsolete installation files, I decided to see if it was possible to do the same with pacman, the Arch Linux command line package manager. The following command, executed as root, cleared about 2 GB of cruft for me:

pacman -Sc

The S in the switch tells pacman to perform package database synchronization while the c instructs it to clear its cache of obsolete packages. In fact, using the following command as root every time an update is performed both updates software and removes redundant or outmoded packages:

pacman -Syuc

So I don’t forget the needful housekeeping, this will be what I use in future with the y being the switch for a refresh and the u triggering a system upgrade. It’s nice to have everything happen together without too much effort.

To do the required debugging that led me to the above along with other things, I issued the following command:

mysqld_safe --datadir=/var/lib/mysql/ &

This starts up the MySQL daemon in safe mode if all is working properly and it wasn’t in my case. Nevertheless, it creates a useful log file called myhost.err in /var/lib/mysql/. This gave me the messages that allowed the debugging of what was happening. It led me to installing net-tools and inettools using pacman; it was the latter of these that put hostname on my system and got the MySQL server startup a little further along. Other actions included unlocking the ibdata1 data file and removing the ib_logfile0 and ib_logfile1 files so as to gain something of a clean sheet. The kill command was used to shut down any lingering mysqld sessions too. To ensure that the ibdata1 file was unlocked, I executed the following commands:

mv ibdata1 ibdata1.bad
cp -a ibdata1.bad ibdata1

These renamed the original and then crated a new duplicate of it with the -a switch on the cp command forcing copying with greater integrity than normal. Along with the various file operations, I also created a link to my.cnf, the MySQL configuration file on Linux systems, in /etc using the following command executed by root:

ln -s /etc/mysql/ my.cnf /etc/my.cnf

While I am unsure if this made a real difference, uncommenting the lines in the same file that pertained to InnoDB tables. What directed me to these were complaints from mysqld_safe in the myhost.err log file. All I did was to uncomment the lines beginning with “innodb” and these were 116-118, 121-122 and 124-127 in my configuration file but it may be different in yours.

After all the above, the MySQL daemon ran happily and, more importantly, started when I rebooted the virtual machine. Thinking about it now, I believe that was a lack of disk space, the locking of a data file and the lack of InnoDB support that was stopping the MySQL service from running.Running commands like mysqld start weren’t yielding useful messages so a lot of digging was needed to get the result that I needed. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why I am sharing my experiences here.

In the end, creating databases and loading them with data was all that was needed for me to start see functioning websites on my (virtual) Arch Linux system. It turned out to be another step on the way to making it workable as a potential replacement for the Linux distributions that I use most often (Linux Mint, Fedora and Ubuntu).

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.

On Upgrading to Linux Mint 11

For a Linux distribution that focuses on user friendliness, it does surprise me that Linux Mint offers no seamless upgrade path. In fact, the underlying philosophy is that upgrading an operating system is a risky business. However, I have been doing in-situ upgrades for both Ubuntu and Fedora for a few years without any real calamities. A mishap with a hard drive that resulted in lost data in the days when I mainly was a Windows user places this into sharp relief. These days, I am far more careful but thought nothing of sticking a Fedora DVD into a drive to move my Fedora machine from 14 to 15 recently. Apart from a few rough edges and the need to get used to GNOME 3 together with making a better fit for me, there was no problem to report. The same sort of outcome used to apply to those online Ubuntu upgrades that I was accustomed to doing.

The recommended approach for Linux Mint is to backup your package lists and your data before the upgrade. Doing the former is a boon because it automates adding the extras that a standard CD or DVD installation doesn’t do. While I did do a little backing up of data, it wasn’t total because I know how to identify my drives and take my time over things. Apache settings and the contents of MySQL databases were my main concern because of where these are stored.

When I was ready to do so, I popped a DVD in the drive and carried out a fresh installation into the partition where my operating system files are kept. Being a Live DVD, I was able to set up any drive and partition mappings with reference to Mint’s Disk Utility. What didn’t go so well was the GRUB installation and it was due to the choice that I made in one of the installation screens. Despite doing an installation of version 10 just over a month ago, I had overlooked an intricacy of the task and placed GRUB on the operating system files partition rather than at the top level for the disk where it is located. Instead of trying to address this manually, I took the easier and more time-consuming step of repeating the installation like I did the last time. If there was a graphical tool for addressing GRUB problems, I might have gone for that instead but am left wondering at why there isn’t one included at all. Maybe it’s something that the people behind GRUB should consider creating unless there is one out there already about which I know nothing.

With the booting problem sorted, I tried logging in only to find a problem with my desktop that made the system next to unusable. It was back to the DVD and I moved many of the configuration files and folders (the ones with names beginning with a “.”) from my home directory in the belief that there might have been an incompatibility. That action gained me a fully usable desktop environment but I now think that the cause of my problem may have been different to what I initially suspected. Later I discovered that ownership of files in my home area elsewhere wasn’t associated with my user ID though there was no change to it during the installation. As it happened, few minutes with the chown command were enough to sort out the permissions issue.

The restoration of the extra software that I had added beyond what standardly gets installed was took its share of time but the use of a previously prepared list made things so much easier. That it didn’t work smoothly because some packages couldn’t be found the first time around so another one was needed. Nevertheless, that is nothing compared to the effort needed to do the same thing by issuing an installation command at a time. Once the usual distribution software updates were in place, all that was left was to update VirtualBox to the latest version, install a Citrix client and add a PHP plugin to NetBeans. Then, next to everything was in place for me.

Next, Apache settings were restored as were the databases that I used for offline web development. That nearly was all that was needed to get offline websites working but for the need to add an alias for localhost.localdomain. That required installation of the Network Settings tool so that I could add the alias in its Hosts tab. With that out of the way, the system had been settled in and was ready for real work.

In light of some of the glitches that I saw, I can understand the level of caution regarding a more automated upgrade process on the part of the Linux Mint team. Even so, I still am wondering if the more manual alternative that they have pursued brings its own problems in the form of those that I met. The fact that the whole process took a few hours in comparison to the hour taken by the in-situ upgrades that I mentioned earlier is another consideration that makes you wonder if it is all worth it every six months or so. Saying that, there is something to letting a user decide when to upgrade rather than luring one along to a new version, a point that is more than pertinent in light of the recent changes made to Ubuntu and Fedora. Whichever approach you care to choose, there are arguments in favour as well as counterarguments too.