Archive for the ‘Programming’ Category

This is why nobody likes Java

Saturday, June 17th, 2017 | Programming

Recently, I wanted to pass a random number into a unit test. Sounds simple, right? It probably would be if I wasn’t writing it in Java.

The problem is that the class expected a BigDecimal. But the random utils returns a string. And you can’t convert a string to a BigDecimal. So I had to convert it to a Long, and then convert that to a BigDecimal. Here is the code I ended up with:

BigDecimal pageNumber = BigDecimal.valueOf(Long.valueOf(RandomStringUtils.randomNumeric(1)));

Which started me wondering: how many ways to represent a number are there in Java? So, I looked it up. And came up with this list:

  1. AtomicInteger
  2. AtomicLong
  3. BigDecimal
  4. BigInteger
  5. Byte
  6. double
  7. Double
  8. float
  9. Float
  10. int
  11. Integer
  12. long
  13. Long
  14. short
  15. Short

Some of these are understandable. It makes sense to have separate storage for decimals and integers, for example. But do we really need a short and a Short? And a total of 15 different types of number? It’s madness.

It wouldn’t be so bad if you could just compare the two of them. Or pass in a number to a function. But it is a strongly typed language. Which means a world of pain when people use different types.

But that is what you get for trying to use a proper language, I guess.

Integrating Apple Pay with your website

Thursday, May 11th, 2017 | Programming, Tech

Over at Worfolk Anxiety, we use Stripe as our payment processor. It’s very good; I highly recommend it to anyone looking to integrate a payment API into their website.

They also have support for Apple Pay. This seems highly desirable as while it is quite easy to enter my credit card details on a desktop computer, it is far more difficult to do on a mobile phone. Being able to click a big Apple Pay button and have it all taken care of is some good magic at work.

Unfortunately, while Stripe makes it super easy to do this, Apple do not.

The dreaded developer program

Most platforms want you to write amazing software for them, so they allow you to do it without much ado. Not Apple. If you want to publish something into the App Store, you have to register for their Developer Program. That is £79 a year. A lot of money, especially if you just want to give away a free app.

However, they also restrict test accounts.

So, for example, if you just want to test whether your website is properly integrated with Apple Pay, you have to pay Apple £79 for the privilege. No wonder it is called “Apple Pay”.

Two fingers to Tim Cook

Luckily, they don’t prevent you from using Apple Pay without the Developer Program. But it does mean the only way to test is to ship code to live and then pay with a real credit card before refunding the transaction.

It’s a total pain in the ass. But it is worth it to avoid giving Apple the money? That’s for you to decide (but yes, yes it is).

How to serve .well-known on Heroku

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017 | Programming

If you want to use Apple Pay on your website, you need to serve a file from inside the .well-known directory. This is a nightmare.

For a start, you can’t create a directory called .well-known on Mac. So you have to find another solution. mod_rewrite to the rescue perhaps? You may be able to get this working, but I couldn’t. I just got a 403 permission denied on Heroku.

client denied by server configuration: /app/public/.well-known

So I decided to try Alias instead.

This was easy to configure on my localhost. I created a directory without the period and then used Alias to map it.

Alias "/.well-known" "/Users/me/Projects/ProjectName/well-known"

To configure it in Heroku, I created a custom Apache configuration file.

Alias "/.well-known" "${HEROKU_APP_DIR}/well-known"

And then configured my Procfile to load this.

web: vendor/bin/heroku-php-apache2 -C heroku-apache.conf public/

So far, so good. Except this didn’t work either because I had not given the directory permission in the Apache config. So I expanded my custom config file.

<Directory "${HEROKU_APP_DIR}/well-known">
    Options FollowSymLinks
    AllowOverride All
    Require all granted

This got it working. However, it took my homepage offline. It seems that when you include a custom Apache configuration file, it knocks out the standard DirectoryIndex that Heroku has. Or, there is something else really obviously wrong that I am missing. That’s entirely possible, but I haven’t spotted it yet.

And I did manage to fix it by adding in a new DirectoryIndex to my .htaccess file.

DirectoryIndex index.php

Finally, you have Heroku serving the directory correctly.

How to install Composer inside WordPress

Sunday, March 26th, 2017 | Programming

WordPress has an ancient and ugly codebase. When you are writing plugins, you often want to make your code less horrible and use Composer to bring in dependencies as normal. How do these things fit together?

The first thing I tried was to create plugin-specific dependencies list. Inside the plugin directory, I created a composer.json> file, then ran the install and uploaded it.

This approach works fines when you only use a dependency once and no other plugin uses the same dependency. However, when I wanted to re-use a library in another plugin I had a problem. If I included it twice it would crash.

Installing Composer globally

The solution I came to was to do a global install of Composer. I created a composer.json file in the root and listed all of the dependencies I needed for my plugins in there.

Then, in each plugin, I checked for the file and included it.

if (file_exists(sprintf('%s/vendor/autoload.php', ABSPATH))) {
    require_once sprintf('%s/vendor/autoload.php', ABSPATH);
    add_filter('the_content', 'simple_related_posts', 30);
} else {
    add_action('admin_notices', function() {
        echo '<div class="notice notice-warning is-dismissible"><p><em>Simple Related Posts</em> plugin requires <strong>Composer</strong>.</p></div>';

Drawbacks to this approach

This means plugins are no longer self-contained. You have to install the plugin and add the dependencies to your central composer.json file. That is messy.

With the code above, it does not check if the _correct_ dependencies are there. This is something you could add in. However, given the problem above, it seems like it would require so much manual management anyway that I would know what was going on.

Optimise for performance

If you are using Composer on production, do not forget to optimise the autoloader before uploading your files.

composer dumpautoload -o


Personally, I would rather lose plugins being entirely self-contained and benefit from Composer libraries. This approach works well for me because they are purpose-written plugins for my blog.

However, this approach would not work well if you were publishing your plugins as most WordPress users would not know what was going on.

How to run Webpack Dev Server with PHP

Monday, March 20th, 2017 | Programming

You are making an awesome new JavaScript-based app in React. However, it needs to live inside an existing framework, such as Symfony for PHP. You want the hot-reloading function that you get with Webpack Dev Server, but you also need the content to be served from your LAMP stack because it creates the HTML wrapper page.

What do you do?

The answer is to run two servers: both Webpack Dev Server and your existing Stack. Here is how…

Configuring Webpack

Start by installing Webpack Dev Server as usual.

npm install --save-dev webpack-dev-server

Create a script entry in package.json to run it:

"scripts": {
    "start": "node ./node_modules/webpack-dev-server/bin/webpack-dev-server.js"

We also need to make one change to our webpack.config.js file. We need to tell the output to point back at the Webpack Dev Server. Otherwise, it will point at your LAMP stack.

output: {
    publicPath: 'http://localhost:8080/scripts/'

Super. Next, let’s configure the LAMP stack.

Configuring your existing server

This step is easy. All we need to do is to point the JavaScript at the Webpack Dev Server.

Let’s say you have this at the moment:

<script src="/scripts/app.js"></script>

Change it to:

<script src="http://localhost:8080/scripts/app.js"></script>

Remember that when you are building for production, you will want to take the changes out. The easiest way to do this is to have a dev webpack.config.js file, and a production one, and have your build tool use the correct one depending on the context.

Building an online checkout with Stripe and React

Monday, March 13th, 2017 | Programming, Tech

Worfolk Anxiety recently launched its web store. We build this for a number of reasons. One is that it gives the customer a better experience because they can buy one eBook and get it in every format. Another is that it makes it a lot easier for us to offer upsells and tripwires.

Payment processor

We’re using Stripe as the payment processor. Stripe has become very popular over the past few years because it allows you to build an entirely integrated checkout process without any mention that Stripe is behind it.

How do they do this without requiring you to have PCI compliance on your server? It is all done client-side. You include their JavaScript library. This hashes the credit card details the customer enters and sends it off to stripe’s servers. Stripe then send you back a hash that you can then use to make server-side credit card charges.

Using React

Given so much of the work has to be done in JavaScript, React was a good choice for building the checkout. This allowed me to make it interactive and give the user clear and speedy feedback.

In the case of our checkout process, you are asked to enter your credit card details. Once you have done this, further fields are revealed asking you to enter your name and email address. This step by step approach is a better experience for the customer because they do not get overloaded.

Deploying with Webpack

The finally step is Webpack. This takes the JavaScript and packages it up for the browser. Because the JavaScript is written in ES6, and web browsers only support ES5, it first uses Babel to transpile it back to ES5, before loading everything into one single module and compressing it.

How Google Tags Manager can help with website analytics

Sunday, December 4th, 2016 | Programming


I use Google Analytics to report on most my websites. It is free and they have a lot of Google-only knowledge so it makes sense to make use of them. Recently, I have also started using Google Tags Manager to make things even simpler.

Tags Manager allows you to insert code into your place once, and manage all of your analytics from a central dashboard. So instead of inserting the Google Analytics code into your page, you insert the Google Tags Manager code into your page and then you use Google Tags Manager to add the analytics code in dynamically.

What is the benefit of this? For me personally, the gain is not a huge one. For a marketer, it is a wonder. Previously, they would have to involve a developer every time they wanted to change the tags on a page. This was slow and complicated. I see this process being a problem for a lot of the clients I work with.

However, in my case, I am the developer, so the benefit is less pronounced. Even then though, less messing around with the code can be a welcome feature. Take the Leeds Restaurant Guide for example. I have Google Analytics in there. Then we started running some Facebook Ads for it, so I had to add the Facebook Pixel code in. Then we wanted to track what page features people were interested in, so I had to add some Hotjar code. By this point there are three snippets of JavaScript code in the page.

Using Google Tags Manager means I only need to insert one piece of code and can add and remove these tags without having to do a code release. I can also set up specific triggers for the tags, such as certain URLs, to easily include and exclude tags from different pages.

How we built Rena Men

Monday, October 3rd, 2016 | Programming, Tech


Recently I launched a new website, Rena Men. It is deployed onto the Heroku platform and does quite a bit of cool stuff, so I thought I would document what I have done here.


It is implemented in PHP, using the Rauma framework. Rauma is a project I developed for Learn Finnish and subsequently open-sourced.

Rena Men is built in several modules. There is a website, a content management system (CMS) and an image server. Because they use common functionality like the entity classes, there is also a shared library which is brought in as a Composer dependency.

The website itself is fairly straight forward. Beyond the PHP, there is only the CSS, pre-processed with SASS, and a tiny amount of JavaScript loaded in with require. The CMS is a bit more complicated, using Babel to transpile the ES6 JavaScript, and styled up with Bootstrap.


Each module is deployed onto the Heroku platform. This makes it really easy to do as I can roll out an update just using git push. The code itself is stored in a series of private repos on BitBucket, and the Heroku build process fetches them from there.

In the case of the CMS, it also uses the Node build pack to run a Bower install. Third-party additions such as Bootstrap are pulled in on-the-fly just like we do with Composer dependencies. Heroku does not have SSH key integration for Bitbucket (it does for Github) so I’m using a ready-only account with Basic HTTP auth access.

The database is provided by one of the Heroku app add-ons. The storage is provided by Amazon S3. Heroku is built in AWS, so that fits nicely. We store originals in the file system and then crop them on-demand using the image server.


Because cropping images is expensive, the image server originally had a local file cache where it would store each crop. However, as Heroku has an ephemeral file system, you cannot write to it, so I had to turn that off in production.

Instead, we’re using the AWS CloudFront CDN. This was super easy to implement. I just created the settings in AWS, pointed CDN subdomain at AWS and it started working. Like other web proxies, it caches your content based on the headers you send it.

Combining arrays in PHP

Monday, June 6th, 2016 | Programming


If you need to combine two arrays in PHP, you first thought might be to use the + operator. However, this is unlikely to do what you want it to to. If we look at the following example, you might expect it to output an array with all three elements.


$listA = ['banana'];
$listB = ['apple', 'pear'];
$listC = $listA + $listB;


However, what you will actually get back is an array containing two elements: banana and pear. This is because when you use the + operator in PHP it combines it using array keys. Even though these are non-indexed arrays, PHP looks at them like this:

[0 => 'banana']
[0 => 'apple', 1 => 'pear']

Therefore when you add them together, it combines the keys, taking the earliest. In this case, to get the result you want, you want to use the array_merge function. For other scenarios, PHP has a range of different functions to combine arrays in different ways.

Word Search, a PHP library

Sunday, June 5th, 2016 | News, Programming

Have you ever been working on a PHP project and found yourself thinking “what I really need is a way to quickly and easily drop a word search in to this code”? The answer is almost certainly, no.

However, while working on Learn Finnish I found myself in exactly this situation. Being unable to find a good library, I wrote one and published it on GitHub. It is freely available under the MIT license and registered with Composer:

composer require xmeltrut/WordSearch "^1.0"

All you have to do is pass in some words and it will generate a puzzle. It supports horizontal and vertical words, intersecting words and comes with two alphabets by default: English and Finnish.

If you’re feeling generous, head over to GitHub and star it.