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09Feb2018

Joomla! books reviewed

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872 hits Updated: 09 February 2018

A list of useful books on Joomla!

When I first became interested in Joomla I knew very little about it.  Until that time I had created intranet websites “by hand” using nothing more than a text editor, a web browser and an understanding of Microsoft IIS.  Therefore, when someone suggested that I look into GUI-driven website creation (based on Apache, PHP and MySQL) I had no idea how out-of-touch I had been.  That was over 10 years ago and today, even though I don't buy new books on Joomla, it’s been one of my unfulfilled intentions to share the names of a few books that I've purchased on the subject.  I suspect that most people reading this list will probably find that some of the books are outdated (and there are probably better other titles on the market).

This article is a “bookend” to my earlier article on books about webcraft in general.

This article contains a list of books about the Joomla! content management system:  the list includes user guides as well as some more specialised aspects about building extensions for Joomla.  The following books are from my personal library—sorted alphabetically by title by publisher—together with a few notes about each of them.

30Jan2018

General webcraft books reviewed

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1117 hits Updated: 31 January 2018

A list of useful books on webcraft

Books are one of the things that you can buy that will make you richer.Kajal Thakkar, Why do we love books?, 30-Aug-2016

Although the internet puts us instantly in touch with up-to-date information (even if it’s a bit like the “wild west” out there) I’ve always like books—non-fiction, technical, reference books in particular—because there’s something comforting about their feel, their durability.  In the thirty or so years that I’ve been involved in webcraft—professionally and as a hobby—I’ve collected a small library of books on various subjects related to this pursuit.  Owing to speed at which we’re seeing developments in webcraft occurring, coupled with the disappearance of book stores because of the growth in e-publishing, it has become increasingly difficult to find real books—ones that are printed on paper—to satisfy all our needs.

This article contains a list of general purpose books about webcraft:  the list includes books on web-design and style, programming languages, web-based applications, theory and practice.  The following books are from my personal library—sorted alphabetically by title by publisher—together with a few notes about each of them.

26Jan2018

Who’s snooping around your website?

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1128 hits Updated: 26 January 2018

Indications of possible site attacks

What you can do if someone is snooping around your website

What makes a website a target of attack?  Is your website a potential target?  Do you know if your website is being targeted?

I don’t know what makes a website particularly attractive to hackers.  Some people just have too much time on their hands, I guess.  The purpose of this article is to share some ideas about how to detect the ways that people use to probe websites in order to eventually to crash through the security measures that site owners have put in place (or not put in place) to prevent such attacks.

All too often we read on internet discussion forums about people asking about the source of successful attacks on their websites (including the discovery they've made about “peculiar”—meaning odd/unexplained—files that have been added to their websites).  Usually and unfortunately, these questions are raised after websites have been hacked and vandalised.

After many years of operating their website(s), a lot of people puzzle over why other people might be interested in attacking them.  People also ask how they may be fore­warned of im­pen­ding dan­ger.

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20Jan2018

“I think I may need to update my version of Joomla”

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1123 hits Updated: 13 August 2019

Telltale signs that you need to overhaul your website

How often should you update or rebuild your website?

Joomla version release dates

Calculating the Joomla “version gap”

The title of this article is a paraphrase of the thousands of questions posted on internet dis­cussion forums about problems that people en­coun­ter before, during and after up­dating or upgrading from one version of Joomla to the next.  I’ll use the term “updating” in this article even though it does not apply—in a strictly tech­ni­cal sense—when migrating be­tween major re­leases of Joomla (i.e. J! 1.0 → J! 1.5 → J! 2.5 → J! 3.x)

Here are a few examples of the questions, problems and issues (and complaints) on this subject:

  1. “I'm trying to upgrade from J! 3.2.7 to J! 3.7.4 but not getting very far, because neither the Joomla! Update component nor the update-Joomla-via-the-extension-manager “method” are working the way I understand they’re supposed to.  My Joomla! Update component does not recognise that J! 3.7.4 exists; it displays No updates available.  You already have the latest Joomla version, 3.2.7”.
  2. Why does it take so long for people to realise that J! 3.2.7 is outdated—that the version of Joomla running their website is now over thirty-something releases behind a more recent version?  It should also be noted that, when J! 3.7.4 was the latest version at the time, J! 3.2.7 was already more than 3½ years old.  This means that, for 3½ years, this person[1] had been unwilling or unable to update their version of Joomla.

  3. “I tried to upgrade from J! 3.2.7 to 3.5.1 using Extensions » Manage » Install but I ran into problems as I did when trying to use the Joomla! Update component to go to J! 3.7.4: The new error message reads Cannot find XML setup file.   I feel like I must be doing one of the steps incorrectly.”[2]
  4. Without putting too fine a point on it, yes, this person was not “doing one of the steps” correctly.  Joomla extensions are installed (and updated) with Extensions » Manage » Install;  the Joomla CMS—the core of Joomla—is up­da­ted with Components » Joomla! Update.  These are two completely different processes.  The Joomla! Update component was introduced with J! 3.0; before J! 3.5.0 it was possible to use the Extensions » Manage » Install method but, from J! 3.5.0 onwards, the only supported method was to use Components » Joomla! Update.  Why people think they can use the “installation method via the extensions manager”, to workaround problems they were having with Joomla! Update, is a mystery that no-one can explain.  Folklore is no substitute for science.

  5. “I ran into nasty problem with old Joomla 3.x install from an old server on a new one with PHP 7.  The Joomla filesystem and MySQL database tables have been copied to the new location.  However, my website is unusable because of some incompatibility with PHP 7
    stderr: PHP message: PHP Fatal error: Cannot use Joomla\\String\\String as String because 'String' is a special class name in /libraries/vendor/joomla/registry/src/Format/Json.php on line 12.
    My original server is no longer available to me anymore and therefore it’s not possible to upgrade Joomla there and do the move again; fur­ther­more, the new server does not have PHP 5.5, so it’s a catch 22.”[3]
  6. People should remember, when asking for help on a technical forum, that technical people—who offer their help—like to see technical details relating to problems.  Terms, like “old Joomla install”, don’t convey any meaningful level of technicality.  When someone uses the word “old” this will be interpreted in different ways by different people.  In the world of website development, I happen to believe that software older than six months ago is old; some people put the figure at closer to 2½ years.  Whatever definition you have for the word “old”, we can all agree that if someone states they’re currently using a specific version number of something (e.g. J! 3.4.8) then we all know what we’re discussing.  So, while people seek advice about an unspecified version [number] of Joomla—about which we have no idea how “old” it may be—they’re customers of webhosting providers who, themselves, withdrew support for PHP 5.5.  As more versions of PHP reach end-of-life, more webhosting providers will withdraw support for outdated versions of PHP with the result that a many more Joomla websites will eventually become unmaintainable unless they’re also updated; it’s as logical as night following day.

  7. “After a few years using Joomla 1.0.13, I get a blank page in my frontend all of sudden; the backend works OK and I haven’t made any changes at all.  I enabled Joomla debug but I had no luck in discovering the cause of the problem.  I’ve looked everywhere but can’t find the solution to my problem.”[4]
  8. The operative words in this example are “after a few years” and “I haven’t made any changes”.  In other words, this person has admitted they have not undertaken regular site maintenance over a number of years and now, “suddenly”, they’ve discovered problems.

  9. “I think I need to update my version of Joomla.  I don’t know which version of Joomla I am currently using because I cannot access my backend.  What is the best version of Joomla that I should use instead?  I have not received any news about new versions of Joomla since I originally built my website about 10 years ago.  I am very happy with Joomla except that I cannot login to my backend to update things.  Can anyone give me pointers on what I should do next”.
  10. If this sounds like you then I feel sorry for you.  How would you react if someone asked you this question?  I don’t think this kind of question needs deep analysis.  If anyone can solve this kind of problem quickly, easily and at no financial cost, I would love to hear from you.  How­ever, there may be some useful tips in this article that will help.

A common element in the above examples is the increased risk that problems occur as websites age over time resulting in those site becoming no non-maintainable.  We will see how the risk of non-maintainability increases with website age, how often people should be updating their Joomla software (in order to reduce that risk) and a ready-reckoner to show you how out of date your Joomla website may actually be.

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