Archive for the ‘Programming’ Category

How Google Tags Manager can help with website analytics

Sunday, December 4th, 2016 | Programming

google-tags-manager

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

rena-men-september

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.

Code

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.

Deployment

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.

Delivery

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

html-code

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.

<?php

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

var_dump($listC);

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.

word-search

Autoprefixer

Saturday, June 4th, 2016 | Programming

html-code

Web browsers come in various shapes and sizes: different users will have different ones, and inevitably different versions of the same one. When CSS3 arrived browsers began adding support for it before the specification had been finalised and so used vendor prefixes.

The result, now we have a standardised CSS3, is that some users have proper CSS3 support and some have the support, but only behind a complicated series of vendor names. Therefore, if you want to use flexbox for example, you cannot just rely on display: fiex; as for some users it will only work with the appropriate vendor prefix.

This means you have to tediously insert all of these vendor prefix statements to get cross-browser compatibility. However, there is a tool called Autoprefixer that takes this hassle away. It is an NPM module that converts your regular CSS into CSS with vendor prefixes. You write:

display: flex;

And you get:

display: -webkit-flex;
display: -ms-flexbox;
display: flex;

This means you have to compile your CSS. However, if you are already compiling from LESS or SASS, it’s really easy to integrate it. On one of my current projects I already had Gulp compiling SASS, so it was one-liner to add the step in. SitePoint have a tutorial on how to set it up.

Travis CI

Monday, May 30th, 2016 | Programming, Tech

travis-ci

Travis CI is a cloud-based continuous integration tool. Notably, it is also free for open source projects. They do paid subscriptions as well if there is a private repo you want to test. If you just want to test a public GitHub project though, it’s free and really easy to set up.

You can log in with your GitHub account. Once you have done this, you are given a list of your projects and you can turn on Travis CI for each one individually. Using the GitHub hook, you can configure Travis CI to automatically run a build every time code is pushed to the repo.

It supports an array of different languages and platforms. To get up-and-running, you need to add a config file into your repo. This is pretty simple. Here one I am using for a PHP project:

language: php

php:
– ‘5.5’
– ‘5.6’
– ‘7.0’

install: composer install

This configures it to run it on three different versions of PHP, and install the dependencies before starting the test. It comes with many of the common PHP extensions already enabled, and an additional list of ones you can enable if you need them.

Badge Poser

Sunday, May 29th, 2016 | Programming

badge-poser

Badge Poser is an online tool that generates badges your PHP projects’ readmes. There is zero setup: it integrates with Packagist, so once you have your package setup you simply go to the website, enter your package name, and it generates the badges for you.

It then generates a series of Markdown for you to insert into your readme. This will then display anywhere where your readme is rendered: GitHub and Packagist for example.

Currently, it can generate badges for:

  • Stable and dev branch names
  • Total downloads
  • Monthly and daily downloads
  • License

Myth CSS preprocessor

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016 | Programming, Tech

myth-css-preprocessor

Myth is a CSS preprocessor that allows you to write easier-to-manage CSS, similar to LESS and SASS. The difference with Myth though is that you are writing “pure CSS” while still using features that will be available in the future (such as variables and maths). It then acts as a polyfill for browsers that do not support it.

You can see the full spec on the Myth website.

Should you use it instead of LESS and SASS? In my opinion, no. Not yet anyway. While it does offer some of the features, it does not offer the really useful ones yet. Nested roles and mixins are the big winners for me. Myth does not have these. Nor does it support includes.

It’s one advantage is that it does fill in prefixes. So if you are using flexbox, you can just have a flexbox entry, rather than the endless series of browser-targetted prefixed flexbox commands you currently have to use. You can do this using mixins in LESS and SASS, but it is messier than the way Myth implements it, where you just type the standardised CSS property.

While possibly not that useful right now, Myth is one to watch for the future.

Modernizing Legacy Applications In PHP

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015 | Books, Programming

Modernizing Legacy Applications In PHP is a book by Paul M. Jones on how to bring legacy codebases up to date. Jones is a relatively big-whig in the PHP community, being involved in most of the PSR standards and a contributor to the Zend Framework.

For me, the book was both excellent and uninformative. What I mean by that is that I do not think I learnt anything from reading it. However, I flatter myself that I am pretty good at PHP and have spent many years working with legacy codebases. It was always been an interest of mine, and I have previously submitted conference papers on the subject. I have been doing just what this book describes with my current client.

That in itself shows the quality of the book though. It describes every step I have been going through in a logical and clear order. It explains introducing autoloading, separating out the concerns, adding unit testing and injecting your dependencies. It says you from the tangled mess to a clean and modern application in an easy-to-follow manner. In short, it is pretty much everything I would recommend to someone starting to clean up a legacy application.

It has code examples and some tips and tricks in it, but for the most part it is quite high level. It also deals with PHP 5.0 and onwards. There is perhaps room to expand here. At Buzz I had to come up with techniques to support ancient problems like register globals, and at the NHS I ran into PHP 4.6 installed on their servers. Solving these kind of problems, and the little code tricks you can do, might have been a useful additional also.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who feels the least bit daunted by the idea of modernising a legacy PHP codebase. It is clear, easy-to-follow and takes you through exactly the steps you should follow.

modernizing-legacy-applications-in-php

SHOUTCLOUD WORDPRESS PLUGIN

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 | Programming

HAVE YOU EVER WANTED TO CONVERT ALL YOUR BLOG CONTENT TO UPPERCASE? IF SO, I HAVE THE PLUGIN FOR YOU! I HAVE PUBLISHED A SHOUTCLOUD WORDPRESS PLUGIN THAT AUTOMATICALLY INTEGERGRATES YOUR BLOG WITH SHOUTCLOUD.

ADVANTAGES

  • AUTOMATICALLY CONVERTS ALL OF YOUR TITLES, CONTENT AND TAGS TO UPPERCASE
  • ZERO CONFIGURATION
  • ALL STRING MANIPULATION IS DONE IN THE CLOUD
  • INCREASES ANTIPCIPATION BY DRASTICALLY INCREASING LOAD TIME

DISADVANTAGES

  • NONE, EVERYTHING IS BETTER WHEN IT IS DONE IN THE CLOUD!

screenshot-1