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Planned Site Upgrade - July 5


  • Planned Site Upgrade

    I promise... a month from now I'll stop talking about how old the software we use here is.

    If you're new or haven't heard, it's really, really old.

    Not MSTS old, but old enough that VBulletin (the company who wrote it) refuses to support it any longer. Fortunately, they have a newer version that offers most of the same core features for managing access to the site including user accounts, password changes and memberships. There should be little to no change in how everyone accesses and uses the site. Supposedly passwords will be preserved ad well, although I don't have a good way to guarantee that.

    But.... then there are some gaps. And we have to mind the gaps....

    In IT, we use the term gap to refer to all the features and functions you're used to having in your old software that the new software no longer supports, so something else is needed to bridge the gap.

    For those of us that date back to the earliest days of the site, you might remember that there used to be a separate login for the file download library versus the web forums. That was all integrated 12 years ago.

    Without diving into the weeds too much, version 4 of vBulletin had a way to write custom pages that could borrow the header, footer, and login functions for the site fairly easily. This is how many of the help pages, tutorials, and everything related to the Library were introduced. It allowed the general look and feel of this site to be the same from page to page, which is reasonably important from a usability perspective.

    Apparently after version 5.6 was released, the software developers discovered the hard way that how they implemented all that was a really bad idea. vBulletin 's own corporate site was essentially hacked and taken over by somebody else that found a way to exploit their custom page functionality. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of how secure your product is.

    Thus, all of the wrapper functions were quickly removed from the product and replaced by a more complicated API function. That rendered our set of custom pages entirely useless, and is the main reason why the site was never upgraded. Neither Nels or Rick had the time to invest in doing a total rewrite.

    I mentioned in a discussion post last week how faced similar upgrade issues, since all the custom pages on that site were the same as what we have here. The first company that bought the websites from Nels spent time looking at how to solve the problem, and decided that selling the problem was the best option for them.

    Nick and Adrian, who they sold it to, were facing a time crunch to get the servers moved, and chose to ditch vBulletin and go with an out of the box solution that gave up the custom library functionality altogether (essentially choosing a newer version of the software package our friends at Elvas Tower use) . Little things like searching by author and bigger things like previewing the contents of a zip file prior to downloading disappeared.

    There was a lot of negative backlash when that move happened, and I made a conscious decision that eliminating functionality wasn't an option for this community. You shouldn't have to download a file to find out what's in it.

    Over the last few months, I've been working on gap remediation, specifically, all trying to maintain all of the main aspects of the library.

    Uploading, searching, downloading, and previewing the contents of the uploaded files are all things that had to be entirely rewritten, along with managing and organizing them on the servers. Since rebuilds are an opportunity to break with structural constraints, the databases and file structures got a makeover as well.

    If it sounds like a lot, it is. Around 400 hours so far, but that work is now largely done aside from a few tweaks here and there.

    If you've upload files to the library recently, then you've already seen some of the changes that came out of the rewrite. Files are now being approved faster, and as of this week, you can upload more common image formats like jpg and png for your catalog thumbnails instead of only gif images.

    The quota system that you either love or hate is another one of those changes. Like it or not, banning the people downloading 500+ files a month has reduced the peak downloading activity by almost a third. That's a lot of bandwidth saved that we don't have to pay for, and results in better server availability for everybody else to enjoy. I won't lie, the limits have also created a few new paid users through the $5 a month plan.

    What you don't see is an email and text message get generated when a new file gets uploaded. It used to be a daily task to seek those out and required being at a PC with a FTP client. We can now approve files via a smartphone.

    If we ever get more moderators or somebody that wants to volunteer to help curate the file library, they will be able to approve files into the library as well.

    One of the biggest silent changes in the file Library software.... With the original custom software, if a file administrator working in the catalog accidentally deletes a file, it's gone without any possibility of undoing their actions.

    All traces disappear. Poof. Gone.

    Now, files can be removed from the catalog but cannot be deleted from the library short of a server administrator physically going in and removing the file. It's a lot safer, and we also have an offsite copy of all files just in case.

    So... look for an announcement soon with dates. It's going to depend on my work and travel schedule, but if a block of 48 hours opens up, it'll happen.

    I don't expect the actual changeover to take more than about 6 to 8 hours. I'm trying to minimize the potential for losing user posts and files, so the site will be locked down for a short timeframe (maybe 2-3 hours). Fortunately, both servers will be in the same data center, so copying information between them will be a lot less complicated than when we did the data center move last March.

    I'm looking forward to a little more free time after this project is done so that I can get back to route building, relearning Blender, and packaging up a few more things to go into the library.

    If you have questions about the move, feel free to leave a comment. Should you be interested in learning what is involved with being a moderator or file administrator, feel free to send me a pm.

    As always, if you contribute to the library, forums or as a paid member, thank you so much because this site would not be possible or viable without you.

    If you are on the fence over whether or not to become a paid member, i hope you'll look at all the things going to improve the experience here, and consider starting with $5 membership. It may not seem like a lot, but those really helped us ride out the last couple months.

    Lastly... thanks for being part of the community. Without you, we wouldn't exist.

    Now go download something random and have some fun!

    • magmateus
      magmateus commented
      Editing a comment
      Originally posted by westerngy
      Some people can not handle change plain and simple. Some look forward to change. Some want it to stay the same. Some want to go back to the 50 for them stop looking back and look forward or forever keep looking in the rearview mirror never seeing forward.
      Eric has done a great job on informing everyone here of changes to come so lets support him and the community.
      I completely agree.
      In my opinion, the changes went as smoothly as possible and were very well followed and explained by Eric.
      Thanks Eric for your work and endurance.
      Best regards.

    • landnrailroader
      landnrailroader commented
      Editing a comment
      Only one issue

      Originally posted by magmateus
      I completely agree.
      In my opinion, the changes went as smoothly as possible and were very well followed and explained by Eric.
      Thanks Eric for your work and endurance.
      Best regards.
      So far, the new software, layout, etc. is great. I am not sure about the new method of uploading files
      through the new form, but I'll worry about that when I have something to upload. Other than that there is
      a issue that I noticed a while ago. I have a password manager, so when I login to the site, and I see
      "landnrailroader" in the name area with ***** or nothing in the password area, I figure it ought to
      go in correctly. But every time I get a "wrong name/wrong password" indication and the screen changes
      to one that still shows the same data. So when I tell that to login, it goes through correctly. Double
      clutching like that is a minor nuisance, just seems a bit odd.

      Jerry Sullivan, Florida

    • eric
      eric commented
      Editing a comment
      That's actually the old software doing that, Jerry. We haven't switched yet.
    Posting comments is disabled.



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