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DrupalCon Portland is Coming Up... and Spam-Fighting News!

Druplicon at DrupalCon - balloonDrupalCon Portland is only a couple months away (early bird registration ends soon, so get your tickets if you haven't already!), and I'll be headed out that way. If this will be your first time attending a DrupalCon, be sure to read my First Timer's Guide to DrupalCon from last year.

At this year's DrupalCon, I'm excited to hear about everything going on with Drupal 8, as we're nearing the end of the development cycle, and a release candidate is on the not-too-distant horizon.

After having a baby and shying away from much Drupal contrib/core work, I finally had some time in the past few weeks to get up to speed on many of the Drupal changes that have been committed in the past month or so—and boy are they amazing (CKEditor in core, new node edit form, new responsive layouts, new admin toolbar, config, views, etc.)!

Setting a max_execution_time limit for PHP CLI

PHP's command line interface doesn't respect the max_execution_time limit within your php.ini settings. This can be both a blessing and a curse (but more often the latter). There are some drush scripts that I run concurrently for batch operations that I want to make sure don't run away from me, because they perform database operations and network calls, and can sometimes slow down and block other operations.

Memory usage - PHP and MySQL locked from runaway threads
Can you tell when the batch got backlogged? CPU usage spiked to 20, and threads went from 100 to 400.

I found that some large batch operations (where there are hundreds of thousands of items to work on) would hold the server hostage and cause a major slowdown, and when I went to the command line and ran:

$ drush @site-alias ev "print ini_get('max_execution_time');"

Need to evaluate a Drupal module, theme, or distro quickly? [Updated]

...there's a site for that.

Simply Test.me Screenshot

I just found out about SimplyTest.me today, and it allows you to, well, simply test any Drupal.org-hosted module, theme, or distribution in seconds.

No longer do you need to spin up (or maintain) a live website locally (which usually takes an extra minute or two—at least) just to check out a module or make sure a theme or distribution fits your needs before using it on a live or development site.

Instead of simply getting a screen shot or trying a theme on a demo site, you get a full Drupal website set up and configured with the module/theme/distro (as well as it's dependencies), so you can play with it to your heart's content (for 30 minutes if you don't have an account on the site, an hour if you do).

Drupal News from the Midwest!

Some random bits of news from Midwestern Mac, LLC:

St. Louis-area Drupal Group

After taking a hiatus for the month of December, the St. Louis area Drupal Group will be meeting up (hopefully) on the third Thursday of the month as normal. We're hoping to have more structure to our meetups, and there are already some great ideas for meeting topics in 2013.

If you live in or around St. Louis and use or contribute to Drupal, please make an effort to join us and build up the Drupal community here in St. Louis!

As an aside, we still have a separate website for the St. Louis Drupal group—if anyone has ideas for how we can use that to spread the Drupal love in the center of the U.S., please let us know!

Server Check.in Launched

A couple weeks ago, we (Midwestern Mac, LLC) announced our newest service, Server Check.in, a website and server monitoring service that checks on your sites and servers every 10 minutes, notifying you of any problems. The service runs on Drupal, and integrates with services like Twilio and Stripe to handle SMS messaging and payments, respectively.

I (geerlingguy) wrote up a case study for Server Check.in and posted it to the Community showcase on drupal.org. This is the first application-type service built on by Midwestern Mac on Drupal, and we've already been hard at work improving the service.

If you have any questions about Server Check.in, or how it was built, please ask away; I had a great discussion with some other developers in this thread on Hacker News.

Hosted Apache Solr Search updated to 3.6.x

At the request of many people who wanted to do some neat new things with Solr on their Drupal sites, we've finally followed Acquia's lead and updated some of our Solr search servers to 3.6.x, meaning things like Location-based searching are now possible. And our servers are happier :)

Server Check.in - Website and Server uptime monitoring

Server Check.in is a simple and inexpensive server and website uptime monitoring service I've recently launched.

Server Check.in logo

If you have a website or online service you need to make sure is running, Server Check.in is a great way to get notified when there's a problem. Unlike most other monitoring solutions, Server Check.in offers free SMS (text) messages and email notifications, and it only costs $15/year (just $1.25/month!).

The Motivation

There are probably thousands of other uptime monitoring services on the web, and it's typically a good idea to use existing tools rather than build your own—if they're practical for your needs!

I had three main requirements for any service I wanted to use:

Preventing Security Holes

I was recently browsing a very popular review website, when I noticed the following warnings popping up:

Angie's List website errors

From simply loading their web page and seeing these error messages, I could conclude:

  1. The website is using Drupal.
  2. The website is using memcached.
  3. The website is running on Acquia's managed hosting cloud.
  4. The website has error reporting set to print all errors to the screen.

If I were trying to break into this review site, or cause them a bad day, the information presented in this simple error message would help me quickly tailor my attacks to become much more potent than if I started from a blank slate.

Security through obscurity

I will quickly point out that security through obscurity—thinking you're more secure simply because certain information about your website is kept secret—is no security at all. However, that doesn't mean that obscurity is not an important part of your site's security.

Line breaks instead of Paragraphs in TinyMCE (by default)

Most people who have grown up on the web, and have used Wysiwyg utilities online, or newer text editors/word processing applications are used to having a simple 'return' create a new paragraph, with (on average) one extra line of empty space between the new paragraph and the one before it.

However, a lot of people like having the 'return' key just go down one line. There are a few ways this is possible in most Wysiwygs:

  • You can change the block style from 'Paragraph' (which creates <p> tags around new lines of text) to 'div' (which creates <div> tags around new lines of text).
  • You can press Shift + Return when you want to just go down one line (using a <br /> tag instead of a <p> tag).

I use the second method when I'm using a Wysiwyg, as I like using paragraphs (which are semantic for text, and which allow for better CSS styling than a monolithic block of text with linebreaks). I also rarely use a Wysiwyg editor, so it's not really an issue for me anyways ;-)

APC Caching to Dramatically Reduce MySQL traffic

One Drupal site I manage has seen MySQL data throughput numbers rising constantly for the past year or so, and the site's page generation times have become progressively slower. After profiling the code with XHProf and monitoring query times on a staging server using Devel's query log, I found that there were a few queries that were running on pretty much every page load, grabbing data from cache tables with 5-10 MB in certain rows.

The two main culprits were cache_views and cache_field. These two tables alone contained more than 16MB of data, which was queried on almost every page request. There's an issue on drupal.org (_field_info_collate_fields() memory usage) to address the poor performance of field info caching for sites with more than a few fields, but I haven't found anything about better views caching strategies.

Knowing that these two tables, along with the system cache table, were queried on almost every page request, I decided I needed a way to cache the data so MySQL didn't have to spend so much time passing the cached data back to Drupal. Can you guess, in the following graph, when I started caching these things?

MySQL Throughput graph - munin

Reclaim Your Hard Drive - Saving Tons of Space with MySQL InnoDB tables

Drupal 7 uses InnoDB tables. InnoDB provides many benefits, but can cause some unexpected headaches. One headache for me is that, by default, MySQL tells InnoDB to create one file on your system, called ibdata1, to hold ALL the data from EVERY InnoDB table you have on your MySQL server. This file never shrinks in size; it only expands to contain new data. If you delete something from MySQL or drop a table, the space that table was using is reallocated for other new data. This isn't a bad thing, especially for those who have a lot of drive space, and not many databases that are altered or dropped quite frequently.

I develop a lot of sites on my little MacBook Air (with a 128GB SSD), so I often download database snapshots from live and testing environments, empty out the tables on my local environment, then import the database dumps. Can you spot the problem here?

Using Daisy Disk I just noticed that my ibdata1 file had grown to more than 10 GB, and my Air's drive only had about 5 GB free space!

So, after reading through MySQL's InnoDB Engine documentation and this answer on Stack Overflow, I found that it's not too hard to change MySQL to keep data tables in their own files, and delete the files after the tables are deleted (thus saving me a ton of space). It just takes a little time and annoyance.

Here's how to do it, roughly:

PSR-0 PSR-1 PSR-2, Drupal, and You!

For the past couple years, discussions about 'PSR-0', PHP standards, and some sort of framework standardizations have been popping up here and there. It wasn't until a bunch of 'PSR-0 Interoperability' patches started popping up in the Drupal core issue queues that I decided to take a closer look at PSR. (The latest? PSR-1 (Basic Coding Standard) and PSR-2 (Coding Style Guide) have been accepted).

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