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CHAPTER
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Modifying phpBB
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ne of the key advantages of using a package such as phpBB to power your forum solution is that you can add modifications to the software. Your modifications can range from small changes to the software s behavior to adding entirely new features that you can offer your members. The hacking scene not the scene commonly associated with malicious users breaking into computer systems, but rather the community of forum administrators who author and release such modifications commonly known as hacks has thrived for each major piece of forum software for years. Some hacks add features so popular that they are officially added to subsequent releases of the software. This chapter covers two aspects of modifying phpBB. The first section will discuss the mechanics of installing modifications to your phpBB software, and the second section will detail how to create hacks for your board and prepare them for release to the community, if you so desire.
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Installing Modifications
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A vast number of modifications are available for the phpBB software. The advantages to using existing modifications are numerous. You do not need to be an expert in PHP coding to install these modifications, and they have likely been put through a series of tests to make sure they work as advertised. Plus, you will have a whole community to consult if something goes wrong, which may not be possible if you write your own modifications.
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Getting Ready to Install a Hack
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Before you jump into modifying your board, you should perform a few tasks to make the modification process as smooth and uneventful as possible. You will be delving into phpBB s underlying source code now, so it does not hurt to be prepared!
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Making Backups
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When you install modifications, you change the behavior of your phpBB setup in some fashion by editing the source code. The gravity of this task means that you should make a backup of your existing phpBB script files and store it in a safe location. If something goes wrong, you can revert to the old copy immediately. It also is a good idea to make a backup of your database s structure and data, as described in 10, as some modifications alter the database s tables. Nothing angers a member
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CHAPTER 11 MODIFYING PHPBB
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base, and of course, an administrator, more than massive data loss. The age-old adage applies: better safe than sorry!
Avoiding Excessive Downtime
When you modify your board, a little downtime is inevitable. Something may not work quite right, or you might have missed a line and caused something to go wrong. It happens to the best of us. While eliminating outages completely is probably impossible, you can do a few things to make your downtime short-lived and as little of an inconvenience as possible. Use a test installation, separate from your production forums. Having a test board is a great idea, especially if you are just getting started with modifying phpBB. You can freely test features you wish to add and thoroughly test your modifications, without disturbing the day-to-day operations of your production site. Plus, you can simply upload the modified test copy of the board to your production site once you know it is stable, which will put in all the necessary modifications. (If your modifications require that you perform some updates to your database, you will still need to do that in addition to uploading the test copy.) Since phpBB 2.0 permits you to install multiple copies in the same database, there is no reason not to have a test board, especially if you plan to do a lot of modification work. Schedule modification work for off-peak hours. If you have some time when your board is not heavily accessed, use that time to make changes to your board, if at all possible. That way, potential problems that can arise will have less of an impact on your operation. Let your members know what s happening. Finally, let your members know that you will be adding new features to the board during your scheduled time window, and make them aware of the possibility of outages or other issues during that time. This is especially critical if you must perform your modifications during times of higher activity. It s a nice, common courtesy, and can help in advertising some of the new features you may add.
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