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Why do Joomla! updates fail?


Wednesday, January 31st, 2018 - General

Joomla! is a very powerful and very popular Content Management System used on many websites. However updating Joomla! and keeping it up to date is often very difficult. We know this, but unfortunately we don’t have many answers.

Why should I update my Joomla! script?
You’re kind of between a rock and a hard place when it comes to weighing the virtues of updating your Joomla! script and leaving it out of date. Joomla! is a heavily targeted CMS for exploits and abuse – this means that if you don’t keep your Joomla! script up to date the chances of your web hosting account being hacked and used for abuse goes up. However, on the flip side, attempting an update of your Joomla! site increases the chances that your website will break due to the update process. So you really are between a rock and a hard place.

Unfortunately for us, we believe security trumps everything else, so it’s really wise to keep your scripts – including Joomla! – up to date. So failing to keep your Joomla! script up to date can lead to security issues on your account and can lead to the suspension of your account. While we do recognize just how finicky Joomla! is about it’s update process, we really just can’t stand by while outdated Joomla! scripts are compromised and used for abuse.

How can I increase my odds of a successful Joomla! update process?
Keeping your Joomla! script up to date will help alleviate some of the strain in the Joomla! update process. For example, Joomla! 3.8.4 was just released this week. If you are using Joomla! 3.8.3 then the update process to Joomla! 3.8.4 is much, much more likely to go through successfully compared to a Joomla! 3.6.1 to Joomla! 3.8.4 update. Any Joomla! 3.8 script is more likely to have a successful Joomla! 3.8.4 update process compared to any previous versions.

The further down you are updating from, the less likely the update process will go through successfully. In fact, if you are using anything less than Joomla! 3.6.5 then the chances of a successful update go down rather substantially. If you are not even using Joomla! 3.x.x then an update isn’t even possible.

If you are attempting an update of your Joomla! script and you are not using any where close to a latest version of Joomla! then we highly suggest that you reach out to the Joomla! Community Forums at:

https://forum.joomla.org

because they are much more aware of what steps need to be taken before attempting an update that can help for a smooth and successful update.

(Just a note – at the time of this post – January 31, 2018 – the latest version of Joomla! was Joomla! 3.8.4)

Why are Joomla! updates so difficult?
This is a good question, and we encourage you to ask and participate in discussions involving this at the Joomla! Community Forums

https://forum.joomla.org

The Joomla! developers will tell you that more times than not issues related to Joomla! updates stem from the various components, themes, extensions, and plugins that end users have installed on their Joomla! site – and they’re probably not wrong. There are a ton – an uncountable number – of various Joomla! themes, extension, plugins and addons that can be added to Joomla! to extend it’s use. It is impossible for the Joomla! developers to stay in tuned with all of these addons to know how they will react to certain updates. A lot of those addons are either poorly written or were abandoned many, many years ago and are no longer receiving any updates or attention from their respective developers.

We would encourage you to keep your Joomla! addons to a minimum – this helps to alleviate potential conflicts with update processes.

We also encourage you to use well written and reputable addons on your Joomla! site. The higher the reputation is with the developer of an addon (theme, extension, plugin, etc) then the higher the chances are that the developer has released an update for the latest version of Joomla! and will be there to help you should you have any problems.

All Joomla! addons are written based on the Joomla! framework. When that framework changes between major Joomla! versions, this has an adverse affect on how those addons operate within the Joomla! update process.

This all points back to using well written and reputable addons. If you are using an addon that hasn’t been updated in years, then chances are it’s abandoned and it will cause issues during the Joomla! update process. If you have other concerns about any addons, we really recommend that you discuss all of this with the people at the Joomla! Community Forums:

https://forum.joomla.org

Can I continue to use my outdated version of Joomla! on my site?
I suppose the best answer to this is both Yes and No.

The answer is No because using an outdated version of Joomla! on your site is a security issue. If you continue to use an outdated version of Joomla! your web hosting account will get hacked, compromised, and used for abuse. It is not a matter of IF but a matter of WHEN. And when that does happen, we will have no choice but to suspend your web hosting account and you will basically have to start your website over from scratch.

So while the answer might be Yes that you can continue to use your outdated version of Joomla! you should really realize that you are running it on borrowed time. It is only a matter of time before it will be taken down.

If you have concerns over why you should update your Joomla! site or the update process in general, again we really want to point you to the Joomla! Community Forums:

https://forum.joomla.org

Tell them that you don’t like the Joomla! updates breaking your site. Or the fact that you have to keep your Joomla! site up to date to prevent hackings, compromises, and abuse. Voicing your concerns with the Joomla! developers and communities is the only way changes are going to be made to this process.


Net Neutrality and Internet access


Tuesday, December 12th, 2017 - General

In the US, the FCC is waging a war against Net Neutrality. On December 14th, the FCC is going to vote on how to classify Internet Service, which can lead to an end to Net Neutrality.

What is Net Neutrality?
Basically Net Neutrality is a set of rules that says Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can’t purposefully give one connection more priority over another connection. In layman’s terms it means that ISPs can’t intentionally throttle a connection to NetFlix while not throttling a connection to DirecTV Now.

What does this mean for you?
As more and more users “cut the cord” with their television viewing habits, a lot of people are replacing that with subscriptions to various video streaming services – NetFlix, Amazon Video, Hulu, Sling TV, DirecTV Now, Playstation Vue, etc. This is all due to the high carriage fees that TV providers have to pay in order to show content from your favorite TV networks. But those fees are never made public, so it’s entirely possible for TV providers to increase prices during these carriage disputes and pocket some of the profit.

A lot of the Internet Service Providers in the US are also TV Providers. When users cut the cord and don’t pay for TV from these providers, those providers lose some money that they would otherwise profit from.

If Net Neutrality is voted down on December 14th, then it may become possible for Internet Service Providers to slow down access to services like NetFlix, Amazon Video, Sling TV, etc. And if users can’t stream video from these video services, they would be forced to either pay more for an Internet package that allows for streaming or go back to subscribing to TV from their Internet Service Provider so that the TV provider can get more profit.

Bottom Line: Voting out Net Neutrality is a win for TV and Internet Service Providers and a loss for consumers. Unless those TV and Internet Service Providers turn that extra money consumers are paying them into better infrastructure and extending their coverage areas. But will they do that? Not a lot in the history of TV and Internet Service Providers says they will.

What does all of this mean for the web hosting industry?
The short answer is, we don’t know. It probably won’t affect connections to our hosting services very much. There’s just no real reason for ISPs to block or throttle connections to regular websites. Their main concern is going to be the various streaming services out there. But, without Net Neutrality rules in place – ISPs will have the opportunity to throttle connections to certain servers that host websites. If a website is extremely popular, ISPs could decide to cash in on that opportunity and charge consumers extra for the ability to access those popular websites. This would be a strict money grab, but without Net Neutrality rules in place, it would not be illegal.

How can you help?
You are encouraged to contact your congressional representatives and tell them that you want Net Neutrality rules to remain. If elected officials feel the heat from their constituents that they may not be re-elected if Net Neutrality ends, then more of those elected officials will start listening.

You can help by going to:

https://www.battleforthenet.com/breaktheinternet

and seeing all of the ways you can help.

These is also more information at:

https://www.savetheinternet.com


The Importance of Password Security


Wednesday, November 15th, 2017 - Security

We have seen a growing number of web hosting accounts being hacked and when investigating and tracking down the reasons for the hacks, we are finding most of those accounts are hacked through weak admin passwords on their website CMSs (WordPress, Joomla!, Drupal, etc).

One thing you should understand, if you are using a weak admin password for anything tied to your web hosting account then you share some of the blame for it’s hacking. That may seem harsh to say that, but it is the truth. Being an administrator of your web hosting account you are responsible for practicing good security on your web hosting account. Sure, it sucks that there are malicious users and hackers out there taking advantage of your web hosting account – but there is also some level of responsibility on you for allowing a weak password to be used.

How do I choose a secure password?

A good password will use a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and non-alphanumeric characters. I like to use the Password Strength meter at

http://www.passwordmeter.com

to determine how strong a password might be. I generally aim for something above 80% and the closer you can get to 100% the better.

I also encourage the user of local password managers. I’m less thrilled by online password managers, because if those get hacked, then all of the passwords you have stored there could then potentially be hacked as well. I like the portable version of KeePass. The portable version allows you to run it from a USB thumb drive – this way the database is not installed on your local computer. If you have a password manager installed on your local computer, and your local computer gets infected with malware, a virus, or a keylogger then the information stored in the installed password manager could potentially be compromised.

Putting a password manager – like KeePass – on a USB thumb drive and keeping it near your computer insures that your passwords are safe from any malware infections you might have on your local computer, and also available to be used whenever you need it.

To download the portable version of KeePass, see:

https://keepass.info/download.html

Instructions for setting up the portable version of KeePass is at:

https://keepass.info/help/v2/setup.html#portable

Why do hackers hack into my site?

The simple answer is because they can. You might think that you have a small web site that doesn’t really garner a lot of attention. But if you are using a weak password, outdated script/plugin, or otherwise have something in place that would allow malicious users to take advantage of your web hosting account – you’d better bet that they will eventually.

Commonly hackers and malicious users will hack into a web hosting account to setup phishing sites, send out spam, SEO Spamming, or Search Engine Poisoning.

Phishing sites have to do with creating a look-a-like mirror of a popular with the intent of tricking visitors to disclose personal information about their real account at these popular websites. A NetFlix phishing scam recently went through this cycle, hackers had to have a place to host the NetFlix look-a-like site. They do this by hacking and exploiting other smaller websites.

Spamming pertains to the sending of unsolicited messages. We’ve all received spam messages and we all know what spam messages look like. Most of those messages are sent out because someone allowed their web hosting account to become compromised.

SEO Spamming or Search Engine Optimization spamming has to do with building a network of links to raise the search engine rankings of one website. That website can then monetize this popularity with ads.

Search Engine Poisoning is similar to SEO Spamming but has to do with poisoning the content that search engine crawlers see when they crawl your website. This can have the effect of associating your website with various pharmaceuticals, gambling, or other shady businesses.

How do I keep my web hosting account safe?

• Keep your scripts, plugins, themes, components, etc. all up to date. When an update is released by it’s developers that update is not automatically applied to your installed version. You will need to update it. Sometimes this is simple, sometimes it is not. But not doing the update is dangerous to the well being of your web hosting account.

• Use reputable scripts, plugins, themes, and components. Stick to popular and well maintained scripts. When looking at plugins, themes, and addon components check to see when it was last updated. The further back this is, the less reputable this plugin is. Check to see how many active installations the plugin is said to have, the more the better. Check the plugins overall rating, the higher the rating, the better. A plugin that was last updated 3 years ago, has less than 1000 active installations, and 3 or fewer stars is probably not reputable and probably something to avoid.

• Use strong and secure passwords. The weaker a password is, the easier it is for hackers and malicious users to guess the password and log into your account. If your website is important to you, then you will want to insure that you are using strong and secure passwords.


Joomla! Updates


Tuesday, November 7th, 2017 - General

The Joomla! developers recently released Joomla! 3.8 of their popular CMS software. Suffice it to say, there has been a lot of scrutiny with this release. There have been a lot of issues with the update process for Joomla! 3.8. On many occassions updating to Joomla! 3.8 breaks the website and it is a painstaking endeavor to get the website back up and running. To be fair, there are several other instances where updating to Joomla! 3.8 went smoothly. So to say that the update problems are an underlying problem with Joomla! is a false statement. But it still can’t be discounted that at lot of people are having issues with the Joomla! 3.8 update process.

As a web hosting provider, and one that cares about security, we have to advise you to keep the software and scripts on your website up to date. Because of this, we have to advise you to insure that you are running the latest version of Joomla! (Joomla! 3.8.2 at the time this post was published). But at the same time, we also recognize that there are issues related to some websites attempting a Joomla! 3.8 update.

All of these issues with Joomla! updates is making it very difficult for us to recommend Joomla! as a website platform. Joomla! may be great Content Management System for managing your website, but it’s updating process leaves a bit to be desired. If you are considering reworking your website altogether, you may want to look at alternative CMS software – such as, but not limited to, WordPress – to manage your website.

How can you be better prepared for the Joomla! 3.8 update?

• Backup your account before attempting any update
If you have a Joomla! extension that can backup your site, you may be able to use that to create a backup of your account before attempting any update. If you need us to make a full backup of your account before attempting any update, we can do that for you – just open a support ticket.

• Make sure you are using a reasonably up to date version of Joomla!
From what we have been able to ascertain, if you are using a version of Joomla! that is older than 3.6.5 (meaning your Joomla! version is less than 3.6.5) then you will most definitely have issues updating to Joomla! 3.8. You will need to update to at least Joomla! 3.6.5 before attempting the Joomla! 3.8 update. How exactly you do that is uncertain – Joomla! does not provide direct instructions on how to do that, just simply stating that it’s best if you are updating from Joomla! 3.6.5 or newer.

• Make sure your components are up to date and reputable
A lot of the issues related to the Joomla! 3.8 update seems to revolve around websites using outdated, abandoned, insecure, or just poorly written extensions and components. How exactly you determine if a component or extension is reputable, up-to-date, and secure – again that is not directly provided by Joomla! But you should review all of the components and extensions you have installed prior to attempting a Joomla! 3.8 update.

• Updated and still have issues?
If you attempt a Joomla! 3.8 update and you have issues with your website, our best advice is to seek help at the Joomla! forums – whether or not if they can help you, I do not know. But they have a much better understanding of Joomla! and what might be wrong and what needs to be done to fix it. Trying to resolve the issue might become very technical, but unfortunately that is just part of running a Joomla! site.

One of the best things you can do to insure that future updates will work better for you is to insure that you are using reputable components, extensions, and themes. There are lot of components and extensions out there for Joomla!, but a lot of them are poorly written or not properly maintained. If you can avoid using components and extensions that are not reputable, this will better insure that the developers that write the components you are using are updating their components to work with updated versions of Joomla!


Upcoming PHP 7.1 Upgrade


Tuesday, October 24th, 2017 - General

Is your website ready for PHP 7.1?

We are finalizing plans to switch all of our servers over to PHP 7.1 by default beginning December 1, 2017. What does this mean for you?

If your scripts are up-to-date and are being kept up-to-date, then you should not be affected by this. In fact, you will likely see a performance boost because PHP 7.1 is showing to be much faster than PHP 5.6. If you are not keeping your scripts, plugins, components, and themes up to date, then now would be a good time to be doing that.

Why are you doing this?

Currently our servers are using PHP 5.6 by default. PHP 5.6 is expected to reach end of life on December 31, 2018. While that date is still over a year away, we just want to be sure that we are ready for this deadline.


http://php.net/supported-versions.php

Switching to PHP 7.1 by default will better insure that our accounts are ready once PHP 5.6 support officially ends.

What does by default mean?

Unlike a lot of software on the server, with PHP we are able to run concurrent versions. We are able to have multiple versions of PHP available for your account to use. Currently we support PHP 5.6, PHP 7.0, and PHP 7.1 – meaning that your account can be using any of these PHP versions.

The term by default simply means that this is the version of PHP your account is using if you have not made any prior PHP version changes. Currently our default version is PHP 5.6. This means that unless you have told us or otherwise made changes to the PHP version on your account, then you are using PHP 5.6 on your account. When we change the default version to PHP 7.1, everybody that was using PHP 5.6 will switch to using PHP 7.1.

Can I continue to use PHP 5.6?

Absolutely! We are not killing support for PHP 5.6, we are merely changing the version of PHP that is assigned by default. All that being said, however, please understand that support for PHP 5.6 will be ending sometime in 2018 – before December 31, 2018. If you are depending on PHP 5.6 for your script, then you need to be making arrangements to upgrade that script or fixing the script to work with PHP 7.1 and later. The people that develop the PHP language will stop supporting PHP 5.6 on December 31, 2018. We cannot provide software that is no longer being supported by its developers on our servers. So you will need to be making arrangements to fix the script before this deadline.

When will you remove PHP 5.6 completely?

That date hasn’t been determined yet. It will be before December 31, 2018, but just when has not been determined. We will probably review our servers during the summer 2018 and see if PHP 5.6 is still being used, if it’s not being used it may be phased out at that time.

Why are you skipping PHP 7.0?

The developers of PHP voted in early 2016 to extend support for PHP 5.6. As a result of this, the lifetime of PHP 5.6 is actually longer than PHP 7.0. For this reason we decided to skip over PHP 7.0 as a default version. PHP 7.0 is still available for you to use if you specifically need it. However, we have found that most updated and actively developed scripts will work just fine with PHP 7.1, essentially making PHP 7.0 a skippable version. Our support for PHP 7.0 will follow our support of PHP 5.6 – we will review it’s usage during the summer 2018 and may phase it out at that time.

What happened to PHP 6.0?

The PHP developers also voted to skip version 6.0 in PHP. When PHP 5.0 was being developed some extensions were proposed to extend PHP, while this was being developed it was often referred to as PHP 6. However those extensions were later adopted into the core PHP 5 code. The general public probably didn’t know much about this developmental PHP 6 code, but there were books released concerning these extensions. The PHP development council voted to call PHP 5’s successor PHP 7 in order to avoid any confusion with the unreleased PHP 6 code base. Essentially PHP 5.6 is the last release of PHP 5 and it’s direct successor was PHP 7.0.


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