Categories
Development Guides

Replace LAMP with Docker, the Easy way

Just about to install LAMP, XAMPP, or MAMP? Stop. Right. Now. Docker’s gotchu, fam.

LAMP stacks are great. They are an absolute fundamental to development, unless you enjoy the thrill of writing your code on your production environments.

Seriously, LAMP is the absolute fundamental in the toolbox for website development.

But do not install it.

Cancel that download, uninstall that software. Because there’s a better solution.

😢 Problems with LAMP

LAMP (XAMPP, MAMP, etc included) kits you out with all the essentials needed for running a website. Web server, language runtime and database. It can come with all the additionals you may need such as email and request logging.

Sounds good. So what’s wrong?

An immediate problem here is that the package you downloaded was tailored for your machine. This is especially a pain point for Windows, which will grab Apache compiled for Windows. More than likely you’ll be deploying to a server running Linux, in which case the environment already does not match. Mac is a lot closer, but is built on BSD which is still not Linux.

The chances of hitting a problem due to mis-matched environments is low, but when dealing with complexities such as encoding, you may experience a problem here.

Oh no, you got a cryptolocker virus! You backed up your code like a good human, flipped the bird at the locker screen, and bought a new laptop. Hooray!

You spend some time to install your chosen LAMP stack again… Wait, why isn’t it working…

Here’s a joyful problem – differences in environment. This can be painful when sharing code, as your great new changes are broken on someone else’s machine. There could be a whole range of causes; The LAMP build you now have has a tiny build problem, Dave gave you a corrupted font file, or you didn’t realise you’re using PHP 5 instead of PHP 7.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could have an environment that each machine could share? This way the machine is identical on each machine, and does not experience this kind of machine-limitation?

Well I have just the solution for you!

🐋 Docker!

Docker is complicated, so I will keep things short and brief. Feel free to shout at me in the comments for it.

Docker runs a small server on your machine, which can run server software as containers. This will split out the tasks into various mini-servers, but share the resources that each container can use. The minature server is set up by your instructions, and these instructions can be shared with others, rather than lugging a whole VM with you.

So with Docker, we can write a file that tells Docker what stuff we need to work our development site, and it will do all the heavy lifting to give you the environment that you need!

ooft, my head…

Docker is complex. However, you don’t need to necessarily understand how it works. This guide will cover the basics needed to achieve what you want, and then you can expand on your learning if you want!

🎼 Docker Compose

Here’s a script, docker-compose.yml

version: '3.6'
services:
  db:
    image: mysql:latest
    environment:
      MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD: password
  www:
    depends_on:
    - db
    image: php:latest-apache
    volumes:
    - "./www:/var/www/html"
    ports:
    - 8080:80

Now what does this do?

  • Created two containers – www and db.
  • Grabs the latest Dockerhub images of PHP (using Apache) and MySQL.
  • Sets them up based on their default configs.
  • MySQL sets the admin password to ‘password’ based on our environmental variables.
  • Requests from our local machine port 8080 (http://localhost:8080) are fed into port 80 of our PHP container.
  • A directory called ‘www’ is created in our docker-compose directory. Anything in this folder is now in the web root of our container.

What’s Docker doing?

This powerful little script has just made you a server on your machine that would’ve otherwised taken some time to setup and configure! Yay Docker!

The Docker-compose also creates a network adapter for these containers. What that means is that they can freely talk to each other, but your PC can only see what ports you have bound to it. With the above config, you can access port 80 on your www container easily, but none of the rest. However, the www container can happily chat to the db container without a hitch.

Something important to note – When a Docker container is removed, all the data stored within it is lost. if you wish to keep it, set up a volume binding – like our www container. Anything stored on in a volume isn’t removed when the container dies. In my example, the database is not persisted. In the end example, I’ll show you how to keep it on container deletion.

You can modify the file to add more services if you wish. For example, let’s add mail!

version: '3.6'
services:
  db:
    image: mysql:latest
    environment:
      MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD: password
  www:
    depends_on:
    - db
    image: php:latest-apache
    volumes:
    - "./www:/var/www/html"
    ports:
    - 8080:80
  mail:
mail:
    image: mailhog/mailhog:latest
    ports:
    - 8081:8025

Simple! Using Mailhog‘s Dockerhub container, we now have a great development catch-all email server. We can access the GUI via http://localhost:8081, and configure the application to send email to hostname mail on port 1025.

So we got web, db and mail. That’s all well and great. But how do you use it? Simple! Open a command prompt/terminal where your docker-compose file is, and run docker-compose up.

That’s it. Literally.

💪 Full LAMP stack

Okay okay, enough with the lecturing. Here’s a full LAMP stack I whipped up earlier (where’s my Blue Peter badge?).

version: '3.6'
services:
  db:
    image: mysql:latest
    command: --default-authentication-plugin=mysql_native_password
    environment:
      MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD: e9w86036f78sd9
    volumes:
    - "./database:/var/lib/mysql"
  db_pma:
    image: phpmyadmin/phpmyadmin:latest
    depends_on:
    - db
    ports:
    - 8082:80
    environment:
      MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD: e9w86036f78sd9
      PMA_USER: root
      PMA_PASSWORD: e9w86036f78sd9
  mail:
    image: mailhog/mailhog:latest
    ports:
    - 8081:8025
  www:
    depends_on:
    - db
    - mail
    image: php:latest-apache
    volumes:
    - "./www:/var/www/html"
    ports:
    - 8080:80

Looks awful, right? Here’s a highighted gist version.

This is what this bad boy does:

  • Creates a MySQL Server.
    • Stored (persisted) in a folder called ‘database’ where your compose file is.
    • The ‘command’ switches new MySQL back to the old auth type, supported by most PHP apps.
  • Creates a phpMyAdmin access point.
    • Web GUI accessible on port 8082.
  • Creates an SMTP Mail Catcher.
    • Configure your apps to send emails to host mail on port 1025, with no authentication.
    • Web GUI accessible on port 8081.
  • Finally, creates a PHP (Apache) frontend.
    • HTTP accessible on port 8080.
    • Uses content found in folder ‘www’ relative to where your compose file is.
    • Loads last, after DB and Mail have been setup by Docker.

Run with docker-compose up and congratulations – You have a development LAMP stack running via Docker!

This will serve you for simple applications, but I absolutely insist that you edit, tinker and break this script to truely discover what Docker can give you. If you mess it up beyond belief, then simply run docker-compose down, and start again!

🐛 More command info

docker-compose (up/stop/down)

Docker compose is the magical command that translates your yml configuration file into docker commands.

  • up runs the containers detailed in the config file (will create them, or start up stopped containers).
  • stop pauses the containers, like clicking shutdown on your PC.
  • down stops and deletes your containers, ready to start fresh. Data in volumes are not deleted.
  • Bonus: exec <container name> /bin/bash lets you run Linux commands within the container!

If your docker-compose file has a strange name, or isn’t stored where it expects, you can use docker-compose -f /path/to/your/docker-compose.yml. As yml and json are compatible, you an use this command to write your compose file in JSON notation.

Make sure when running these commands, your terminal is local to where the docker-compose file is. Also, my script will create folders relative to where docker-compose file is. You can modify the volume paths to change this.

👍 Closing Notes

The great level of flexibility with docker-compose files lets you think outside of the box. With a traditional LAMP stack, you would install it then stuff your PHP scripts into it’s www/htdocs directory. With Compose, you can actually create the docker-compose.yml inside your project directory, and tailor the script around it.

Confused? Say you wrote a WordPress plugin. You can craft your docker-compose to setup a full WordPress environment, and bind the project directory into the WordPress plugin dir. You can then access WordPress with your plugin already loaded in!

So get creative with your newfound Docker experience, and let me know what you achieve with Docker. I’m also by no means an expert, so if I’ve missed something please give me a shout and I’ll revision this with all the great stuff you find!

Categories
Miscellaneous

Colour Firefox like Netscape and Pretend it still exists

I love Netscape. I still haven’t forgiven AOL for the event that occurred February 2008.

Firefox has decided that the colouring of your browser should be left to you. While it may not be the elaborate and fancy themes of old, at least you can still have a level of customisation to your boring browser window.

Here are some colour themes I have created to re-live the glory days of Netscape Navigator.

Netscape Fusion

Firefox browser with orange buttons, an aliceblue toolbar background, and black header bars.

Fusion Revised

Firefox browser with blue buttons, an grey toolbar background, and black header bars.

I’ll add more soon…

Categories
Development Guides Windows

The Complete Guide to Running WordPress on Windows/IIS

So you’ve discovered to your absolute horror that the WordPress site your company has inherited is running on Windows… on IIS?

Before you stand up, throw your computer chair out the Window, maliciously eat your co-workers salad and enjoy it, or drop all the production databases, relax. We’ve got you covered.

🤷 What’s the problem?

Good point. IIS (Information Internet Services) is the home-grown proprietary (for now) web server provided by Microsoft for Windows customers. IIS is fantastic at what it does, and can serve as an efficient web host as well as an absolutely golden reverse proxy server.

So what’s the problem?

🙅🏾 Support

Zilch. Nada. No dice. WordPress is absolutely not designed to be run on IIS and probably never will be. This doesn’t mean your server is going to burst into flames when you run the site, but means that when support is needed you can be damn well sure your first bit of advice will be “don’t use Windows”.

So don’t use IIS? Simple?

Except that currently NGINX is crippled on Windows (source), and Apache, which is thankfully available on Windows via unofficial channels… But you still have very little support since it operates differently being on Windows.

However, WordPress requirements state:

We recommend Apache or Nginx as the most robust and featureful server for running WordPress, but any server that supports PHP and MySQL will do.

– so don’t lose hope just yet.

⚙️ Setting up WordPress

First you will need a database. It is recommended you have the database on a different server for performance and security reasons, but you can also have MySQL running on the same server as IIS.

MySQL runs well on Windows, and is very well supported. You shouldn’t expect much push-back in the way of configuring MySQL. However, if you wish to use Microsoft SQL Server, you may wish to check out Project Nami.

Once completed, setup a database and access user like you would a Linux-based setup installation.

Also, while it’s best to always be running the latest version of Windows Server, please consider using a version no later than IIS 10 (Windows Server 2016). This is because older versions of IIS do not have support for HTTP/2. Technically speaking the minimum requirement is IIS 7 (Windows Server 2008).

🐘 PHP on Windows/IIS

Prerequisites

You will need to configure IIS to use CGI processing for IIS (which isn’t enabled on default IIS installations).

You also need the URL Rewriting module for IIS, unless you are planning on using those super ugly index.php URLs.

PHP is fully supported on Windows. To download PHP, visit their website at windows.php.net. You will also need the C++ Redist 2019 which is found on the sidebar on their website downloads.

This guide will use FastCGI, which will require a Non-thread safe version (NTS) of PHP. Typically the first download listed in each PHP version on their site will be the ideal version for IIS.

Download the correct zip file and extract it to a place of your choice on your server (Program Files is acceptable). My choice is normally C:\PHP\X.X.X (version number).

If you’re planning on running any PHP tools such as WP-CLI, it would also be a good idea to add the above path to your system Path environmental variable.

To do so, open Run (Win key + R), and run rundll32 sysdm.cpl,EditEnvironmentVariables. Append the path to Path found under System variables.

Installing WP-CLI (optional)

Now is a good time to install WordPress CLI if you’re planning on using it. They provide a fantastic guide to setting up WP-CLI on Windows.

PHP Manager IIS Plugin (recommended)

There is a plugin for IIS called PHP Manager, which is able to do most of the heavy-lifting for you in configuring PHP. This will enable you to register new PHP versions, adjust plugins, edit configurations and even split containers to different IIS versions as simply as possible via GUI.

Simply download their extension and install it on your server. When you next run IIS you will find a new PHP module on the snap-in.

You can register a parent PHP version and it will affect all children sites. If you register an alternative version on a child site, it will over-ride the parent and so on, in a hierarchical manner. Multi-version PHP, hooray a benefit!

PHP Manually (experienced)

If you opt not to go for IIS manager (not a fan of community IIS modules), then you can still go ahead configuring PHP manually to the IIS container.

First you need to tell the FastCGI system about your PHP installation.

  • Open IIS.
  • Click on the root server (just below Start Page on the left pane).
  • Open FastCGI Settings.
  • On the right hand side, click on Add Application…
  • In Full Path, navigate to php-cgi.exe in your extracted php setup.
  • In Monitor changes to file, set this to your php.ini file.
  • Click on … on the end of the row named Environmental Variables.
  • Click Add.
  • Add PHPRC variable with the value of the PHP installation path, where your PHP-CGI file was above.
  • Create another variable named PHP_FCGI_MAX_REQUESTS, and match it to the value in Instance MaxRequests (recommendation for both is 10000).
  • Click OK.

Cool! IIS now knows that your PHP folder is a CGI process, it now knows how to handle requests to PHP with this processor. Now let’s set up the individual website to use PHP CGI.

  • Find your container in IIS (e.g. Default Web Site) and click it.
  • Open Handler Mappings.
  • On the right-hand side, choose ‘Add Module Mapping‘.
  • Add the following entry:
    • *.php for Request Path.
    • FastCgiModule for Module.
    • Path to your PHP CGI for Executable.
    • Whatever you want for Name.
  • Head back, and go into Default document.
  • Add index.php to the list (your choice).
  • Test in your browser if PHP loads up.
    • Try index.php file with <?php phpinfo();

If you do the above for the topmost entry (normally your machine name), it will copy to all new containers, so you don’t need to do this process for each site.

Recommended php.ini Configuration

The perfect php.ini configuration is very much a game of trial and error. Believe me, it’s difficult to find the best config balance when it comes to PHP, WordPress and Windows. Here are some essentials:

  • cgi.force.redirect = 0 (essential!).
  • fastcgi.impersonate = 1
  • extension_dir = <Absolute path to install>/ext

These are set when using PHP Manager. This configures PHP to understand that it is operating via CGI mode. The second configuration also helps to link the PHP operations into how IIS works, enabling better interop between PHP and IIS.

The third is recommended especially if your PHP installation is not located on the C drive. Absolute stops PHP trying to interpret where the extension dir is, which is can get very wrong if not located on the C drive.

Setting up WordPress

Now for an easy part – the WordPress installation! Thankfully this is as easy to do, if not easier than the Linux server counterpart.

Create your desired site in IIS. If you’re binding this a domain or subdomain, create a new site. Otherwise, you can create a subfolder (or virtual subfolder) in IIS to setup a subfolder WordPress installation.

In the folder you bound to the container, extract the WordPress installation zip (or use WP-CLI if installed earlier). If done correctly when you visit the URL in the browser you will see the good ol’ 5 minute installation screen.

Run through the installation as per a normal site, and congratulations – you have a WordPress site running on IIS!

ℹ️ FAQ

I received an error: 500 The FastCGI Processed exited unexpectedly.

Each version of PHP for Windows depends on a Visual C++ Redist package, which is mentioned in the download title. Normally recieving this error means your system does not have the one it needs, causing the CGI process to error.

In each download segment on the downloads website, check for VCXX (X being numerical). The left-hand sidebar will tell you which redistributable package you need and how to obtain it. Once installed, this error will stop.

If – for whatever reason – you are installing the Legacy 5.6 releases, download the 32-bit redistributable, regardless of your server architecture type.

Pretty Permalinks, and .htaccess

WordPress is smart enough to know it’s on IIS, so when you go to adjust permalinks instead of creating .htaccess, they will create a web.config file, which is the IIS equivalent. If you need additional rules the IIS rewrite module can attempt to parse your htaccess file in the IIS module.

If you create a .htaccess file, it will be ignored – IIS rewrite can attempt to convert these files, but not use them.

How do I set permissions?

The container will default to using the account IUSR, which won’t have access rights by default. For starting out, you could simply give IUSR full permissions to the folder, and your website will work. Updates will occur, cache will write, all gold.

This sometimes does not work, in which an alternative you can do is change Anonymous authentication in Authentication on the container to Application Pool identity, and give IUSRS group full access.

Both of these are not recommended for production use, as in the event of a compromise the hacker will have full write access. You can check out the guide on permissions from WordPress, as the permission fundamentals are similar.

How do I enable HTTP/2?

HTTP/2 is only supported in IIS 10 or above, which requires Windows Server 2016 or higher.

How do I increase the runtime limits?

In PHP Manager, on the container you wish to adjust, click on Set runtime limits. This will show the php.ini config options to quickly change these limits. For everyone else, you can find the limits within php.ini like always.

If you wish to increase the maximum execution time, please note that both PHP and IIS track timeouts differently. As well as increasing this via either PHP Manager or php.ini, you will need to tell IIS too.

Pop over to the root (underneath Start Page on the left panel in IIS). Open FastCGI Settings, and find the CGI you wish to modify. Click edit, and you should see two settings called Activity Timeout and Request Timeout. Set these both to whatever limit you want, and make sure all three (inc. PHP’s max_execution_time) match. Your timeout should now be sufficiently increased!

Should I choose Windows over Linux for WordPress?

No. Absolutely not.

Can I hook WordPress into Microsoft SQL Server?

Project Nami is a fork of WordPress that is designed to work with Microsoft SQL Server in place of MySQL. This team has replaced all MySQL functionality and added some beneficial functionality from SQL Server. This is well worth checking out!

Article was updated 2nd March 2020 as FastCGI configuration for manual mode was not covered.

Categories
Linux

Linux it up like 2008 with Wubi, which still exists

Wubi was Marmite back in the day. With Linux being pitched as an alternative to Windows, people weren’t particularly impressed with using Microsoft technology to boot up a virtual Linux installation. Alongside the genuine concern that a power outage would obliterate your Linux setup, Wubi faced a lot of criticism.

Wubi installed a full desktop Ubuntu installation inside a virtual hard drive on your Windows machine. Yep, you could literally install Ubuntu like a regular application, and boot into a full Ubuntu OS instead of Windows. Dual booting went from being a nightmarish partition juggle of your main drive, to a literal one-click install.

Wubi fell out of favour around 2012 as the Ubuntu installer made hard drive partitioning ridiculously easy, and virtualisation stopped tanking your PC. But the advent of UEFI pushed Ubuntu back from super easy installation, into needing some technical know-how to setup. A correct setup was also devoid of the Wubi problems such as power outage corruption and NTFS performance impacts.

With a reduced interest in Wubi, development stopped… Until now… Ish.

Welcome, Wubiuefi!

🧐 What does WubiUEFI do?

WubiUEFI installs a full Ubuntu flavour into a virtual hard drive, stored on your Windows machine. It then instructs Windows to add an entry to your bootloader to boot up the installation on this virtual drive.

Literally that simple.

💩 What’s the Catch?

The hard drive you boot from is a virtual disk, which is being accessed via a Windows NTFS layer. This adds a small speed overhead that you will notice when WubiUEFI is installed to a hard drive, rather than an SSD. This also makes the system a lot more suceptible to data corruption in the event of a hard power off, like a power cut.

It can also be a pain to configure on a UEFI system with secure boot enabled, but not impossible to do.

🖥️ Will WubiUEFI break Windows?

WubiUEFI depends on Windows so you can rest assured it absolutely will not break your Windows installation! Ubuntu is installed into a file, not a partition. In other words, this won’t fiddle around with how your system fundamentally works.

WubiUEFI will add an extra item to the Windows bootloader, so when you boot up your PC it will ask if you want to reboot into your Linux install instead of continuing into Windows.

❌ Can I remove it easily?

Probably one of the best things about a WubiUEFI installation, yes! Removing WubiUEFI installations is done by simply popping open Programs in settings, and uninstalling Ubuntu! Job done.

If you want to do the reverse however, you may be out of luck. While it’s possible, it’s an incredibly long-winded and risky approach. It has be done before on older versions, but your mileage may vary. A full manual installation would be recommended if you wish to move away from Windows.

After some jiggery-pokery, my finished Wubi-installed Kubuntu.

💡 What’s WubiUEFI good for?

WubiUEFI is absolutely fantastic for giving Ubuntu an extended trial without the lack of storage from running a LiveUSB. Even better for giving various different flavours a try, as you can dispose of the installation afterwards should you not like it.

Note that on a decent/fast machine, it may be more preferable to install Ubuntu in a virtual machine, as you will not have to leave Windows for this.

If you’re a person who tends to store all their important files aside from the main OS drive, and don’t mind the potential data loss from a power loss, this is a quick and easy way for you to install Ubuntu dual boot without having to mess up your partitioning.

And – lastly – because you can!

💪 I’m convinced – How do I WubiUEFI up my PC?

Pop over to Hakuna-m’s GitHub page to find the WubiUEFI installer downloads.

A lot of work has been put into supporting a vast array of BIOS and distributions, but before continuing check out this FAQ entry to find out if you have secure boot enabled. If you do, you may want to read the wiki entry on working with secure boot as it may get technical and is not for the faint-hearted.

The links will take you to the release you desired. Download the .exe file from under Assets, and give it a run. Fill in the details of which distro you want, what size and where to store the files, the system will begin to download and prepare your Linux distribution.

If your connection is slow, you may get an error when setup begins. In which case the developer recommends pre-downloading the ISO from the flavour’s website, and keeping it in the same folder as the installer. In which case it’ll use that instead of downloading one.

If all goes well and you reboot, you may end up in the Linux system. Don’t panic! Windows hasn’t gone anywhere – first boot on EFI systems will load up Linux, and subsequent reboots will load Windows first.

Let the installation finish and you’ll now have the option of Windows or Ubuntu on your Windows/UEFI bootloader! Neat!

Bored of Linux? Pop open Uninstall programs and features, and remove Ubuntu. It’s that simple.

There’s no option for Ubuntu on reboot…

Some UEFI systems will handle the OS choice itself, which is especially true of store-bought machines, new motherboards and laptops. When you boot and the manufacturer logo appears, but before the rotating dots do, repeatedly press either Esc, Del, or F12. One combo will eventually boot you into a menu that will ask what you wish to start, with Ubuntu hopefully being an option.

I got a big ol’ Access Denied error

I’ll pass you over to their Wiki page which covers this in detail. Prepare to get technical.

Categories
Development

Use Visual Studio Code in your browser, thanks to Azure

Yes, the Electron-based Visual Studio Code – an app built in HTML and JavaScript – is not usable in a web browser. What a weird world we live in.

You may sitting there in your coffee shop, staring with contempt at your weakling tablet and thinking “boy, I wish I could run Visual Studio Code on this powerful lemon”. Well Microsoft apparently listened to you and your gaping wallet. You can now use Visual Studio Code, online!

The aptly named Visual Studio Online – designed to confuse the real Visual Studio developers up and down the land – runs the full Visual Studio Code experience within your web browser. But how, you probably didn’t ask?

Visual Studio Online hooks up to a Azure cloud instance that will run a full copy of Visual Studio Code. Basically, the web version (basically a pseudo-copy) will stream all the changes back to this real copy. Woohoo, programming – Netflix style!

💸But I’m too poor to afford Azure…

Don’t worry, my financially-challenged friend. No regular human can afford Azure.

You can install Visual Studio Online plugin on a computer of choice, and use that as your streamable programming buddy. This means you can use your home PC, a virtual machine, Raspberry Pi, just about anything that can run the latest version of Visual Studio Code.

To do this, you still need a Microsoft Azure account on a minimum subscription of pay-as-you-go. You don’t have to rent out any of their expensive packages, you just need the account to link your remote VSCode setup to.

👀 First Impressions

Microsoft are keen to point out this is insider quality, and is not yet ready for production usage. This is also made obvious by the fact it is not compatible with Firefox. Likely this stems from the regular editor being built upon Electron.

I tried this out by setting up an Ubuntu Hyper-V container, installing Visual Studio Code with Online, and hooking it up to my Azure account.

As far as what I tried, it works just as I would expect the desktop version to work. Extensions all appear to be the same, project and installation settings work (I assume client settings are per-browser, as it lost mine frequently), and the terminal works really well on the existing machine.

This works really well combined with Docker and ngrok, or with a forwarded port open via the home broadband router. All my extensions were compatible, and even Intellisense kept up well despite both a struggling VM and broadband.

This currently isn’t mobile friendly, so don’t expect to do any on-the-fly miracles with your phone. However, this works a treat on tablets for those remote working moments without a primary machine.

I’m really impressed with Visual Studio Online so far, and I can categorically say this will replace my AWS Cloud9 via SSH editor that I used to use.

Any thoughts, or want me to try anything out? Please, let me know via the comments below!

Categories
Gadgets

Cheap Tat Review – TWS i12 (blue stripe)

I was happy enough with my red label i12‘s, but when I saw you could get them in matte black (not an option for Apple ones), I decided to give it a pop.

Design

Pods & their case

AirPods case resting flat with the lid shut

Exactly the same as shape as the Apple ones, but a tiny bit smaller. Obviously a completely different colour. The exterior of the case is entirely matte black, except for the charger connector and hinge. While not metal, the hinge is coated in a reflective material to make it look metallic.

AirPods held slightly tilted with the case lid opened to expose the head of the pods

Case uses a genuine Apple lightning style connector. The case LED flashes red during the charging process, and goes solid red when fully charged.

Aside the alternative colour, there is not a huge visual difference between these and the genuine pods, aside the charging connector. The pods are also matte black in appearance.

There is no writing on the case, inside or out.

Functionality

Audio Quality

The quality is mediocre, but not unexpected for a knock-off.

Pod controls

I found these significantly easier to control than my red label editions. They came already paired to each other so I did not have to mess around with their synchronisation. They also appear to work well individually, with a preference to the right-hand side pod.

On my iPhone there was no AirPod pop-up, and was detected as regular bluetooth earphones. Single-pod mode also operates as the same bluetooth device, so you don’t need to repair to only use one.

On Android, I found I had to turn Bluetooth audio adjustment off in the developer settings. Without this, the pods would automatically default to maximum volume!

The touch controls on the pods operated perfectly fine for me. I didn’t experience any glitched presses, and would work every time they were pressed (albeit, very slowly).

Conclusion

For £15, these little pods are absolutely perfect. These are nightmarish for anyone who loves maximum quality music, but if you just want to listen to some tunes on the move they are perfect. At the end of the day, if you lose them it’s only £15, not £210.

Categories
Gadgets

Cheap Tat Review – TWS i12 (red stripe)

I find the concept of wireless apple earbuds really funny. Endless memes of how the cheapo version was to just cut the cord, and a little jump was enough to lose an expensive piece of equipment. My Anker Soundbuds were enough for me, but after seeing the buzz on Reddit over TWS clones, I had to give them a try.

For knock-offs, these tend to retail quite high at prices around £50-60. However, after browsing AliExpress for a bit I discovered a highly reputed listing for much lower (£25 when I ordered). For that price, I just couldn’t overlook it.

I ordered at the worst time (late January), when they’d shut for the lead-up to Chinese New year. They arrived Mid-March from China, so the wait was something strong. However, the wait was worth it considering the full prices on eBay.

Design

Pod Case

Reverse of the i12 pod case, showing the metal pivot clasp

The case is a close match to the original article. The give-aways for me is that the case lid does not shut flush, and there is no ‘Designed in California’ slogan written on the back. Other than those minor details, it’s a damn close match.

The case uses genuine Lightning to charge, so iPhone users will be in luck. If you’re Android like me, it comes with an average quality lightning cable to help you out.

Pods

The pods are close in design, however they are missing a black dot on the earpiece. This dot is largely obscured, but is apparently noticeable by Apple Aficionados.

Functionality

Audio Quality

This was a shocker for me personally, but the quality is pretty average. I was expecting reduced to poor audio quality since they are knock-offs, but obviously some care went into this. The quality I find is equal to that of the Anker Soundbuds, however with a sacrifice in bass. You can solve this by bumping up the bass in your equaliser.

Functionality

Currently tested with Android. Will test with iPhone soon.

Don’t rely on the included instructions, as naturally they’re entirely in Chinese. You get a vocal operator which happens to support both Chinese and English, which talks you through what mode you’re in.

Each pod responds to touch controls when touched on the earpiece. So far, these are the codes I’ve worked out:

  • One Touch for Play/Pause.
  • Two Touches for volume adjustment (left goes down, right goes up).
  • Four touches swaps between Chinese and English vocal assists.
  • Five touches turns off the individual pod.

This can be rather hit and miss, as I actually find mine to be rather sensitive. For adjusting the pod in your ear I recommend holding the stalk, as you’re in trouble if your pod registers four touches!

They also support single-pod operation, much like a hands-free device. I haven’t tried this out much myself as I found my pods got temporarily detached, but once you pop out your second pod the audio feedback will normally confirm you’re in normal mode by saying “two earpods paring is successful!”.

Conclusion

I can’t say this enough, I love them! As my first entry into cheap tech I find this to work fantastically. The audio quality leaves something to be desired, but for £25 what more can you ask for? Visually they’re extremely close, but Apple fanboys will be able to spot the differences.

I picked mine up from this AliExpress dealer. You can also find these being resold on eBay.

Categories
Hackintosh Mac

Hackintoshing a Toshiba Satellite Pro L850-1UJ

While I am a technical person, the Hackintosh community is scores ahead of what I know. The work put in by the awesome community supporting the  movement for macOS/OS X on other machines is incredible. I’ve watched the progress since I was 11, but never branched into it. Recently, it all changed.

macOS High Sierra about screenshot, showing the version details
My Toshiba pretending to be a MacBook Pro

I write this now on a Hackintosh laptop. This isn’t any old laptop however… This is a laptop that is not technically supported. I googled for hours to see the achievements of other Satellite owners and found nothing. However, with trial and error (and years of configuring crap experience), I was graced with the Apple logo appearing on my non-Apple laptop.

Notice: Since 2019 I have removed Hackintosh from my laptop, this is primarily as I have received by MacBook White back and so now use the laptop for Linux distributions instead.

Back Story

I recently traded my trusty MacBook White mid-2010 for my girlfriend’s university laptop Toshiba Satellite Pro L850. Since leaving uni she no longer needed a laptop in general, and was happy to take a lower-spec Apple machine to compliment her iPhone. Receiving a much higher spec machine in return, we swapped. I immediately (no joke – first two hours of receiving it) turned it into a Linux machine, using Ubuntu and later, elementaryOS.

I then wished to contribute to a Windows extension development, in which I needed Windows again for. eyeing up the old trusty Mac again, I realised I was in the best position to Hackintosh – pre-existing Mac and a machine that can be clean-wiped. And so it began.

How?

I would like to take this moment to say this would not be possible without the amazing community work that goes into it. I simply configured this laptop to use Hackintosh, the real developers and hard-workers can all be found at the TonyMac86 community. If you’re impressed by this, or tried it yourself, please direct all the praise to those amazing people.

What Does & Doesn’t Work

Take this with a pinch of salt, as Apple never intended for you to install this. Whatever does work is an absolute miracle, and often smaller problems can be overcome with additional hardware.

Initial issues with graphics

Does Work

  • Main Display Graphics (Intel HD 4000) with Clover config.
  • Keyboard (set to ISO, keys don’t match up 100%) and trackpad.
  • Wireless Internet (temporarily, resorted to dongle).
  • Battery status.
  • USB ports (you wouldn’t believe how problematic that can be).
  • CD/DVD drive.
  • Webcam.

Doesn’t Work

  • Laptop Detection, for power management (In Progress).
  • Brightness Controls (In Progress).
  • Standby (Kernel Panic).
  • Brightness controls (Lucky for me, seemingly defaults to mid brightness).
  • Sound (Untested, does seem to be fixable).

For most of the non-working elements, any USB peripherals claiming to be Mac-compliant should work in their place. Your experience may differ.

Quick Steps

  • Enabled UEFI, but disabled secure boot in BIOS.
  • Download the macOS High Sierra installer from the App Store, on the existing Mac.
  • Download and run Unibeast (set for UEFI).
    • Also copy Multibeast onto USB.
    • While EFI is apparently mounted, I copied over the neccessary kexts and this configuration file into the CLOVER directory (don’t replace the existing config.plist).
  • Make a cup of tea.
  • Drink said tea.
  • Plug USB Stick in Toshiba, repeatedly tap F12 on boot, and boot via USB.
  • In Clover, go to options, config, and select the configuration you copied earlier (most likely, the currently deselected one).
  • Select ‘Boot from Install macOS High Sierra’.
  • Wait (another tea moment) for macOS to start.
  • Open Disk Utility (click View > Show All Devices at the top).
  • Select TOSHIBA and click erase.
    • I erased the entire hard drive. If you wish to keep stuff or dual boot, please see a guide for dual booting as this will erase everything.
  • I chose single HFS+ partition (I named it the classic Macintosh HD), with a GUID partition map.
  • Once complete, run the installer.
  • Once finished, boot via USB stick again.
  • Same again with Clover, this time select ‘Boot from <partition name>’.
  • Congratulations – You’re running macOS!
    • You will be reliant on the USB key to boot. Check out Remove USB Reliance to stop doing this.
  • (Optional) Setup Windows dual boot.

Many, many, many steps to go through, but so long as everything is done correctly, this should be a completely rewarding experience afterwards.

Required Kexts

Kexts are basically driver packages used by macOS to understand what your various input devices are telling it. Without usable kexts, if macOS doesn’t know what a device does it will simply ignore it. There’s no Windows Update to grab them for you.

Clover and Unibeast does a Hell of a job packaging all the essentials in to your USB key, but especially for this laptop there are some missing essentials. Most notably, the keyboard and trackpad won’t work, which can make things slightly problematic.

The following are the kexts I have successfully added and used with my installation:

Instead of installing them on the system, I opted (and is not recommended) to install them into Clover. Clover will inject these on boot, so you never need to install them in Mac and risk update breakage. The big downside however is that you risk breaking the boot process, which can make things tricky to resolve. My personal approach is to try riskier kexts on the USB Clover first, and if successful I then copy them to the HD Clover. You can also tell Clover to boot without these kexts, but this may leave FakeSMC behind and refuse to boot.

If you wish to install kexts to Clover, then grab this utility to mount your EFI partition. Then you can whack your additional kext files into CLOVER > kexts > Other. Clover will then inject these into the boot process.

My Macintosh HD EFI layout

Boot via Hard Drive

If you haven’t already got frustrated about needing to boot via USB, then your patience knows no bounds. However, you can set up Clover to reside on your main hard drive EFI partition rather than just the USB drive.

Personally, if you can do so I would recommend either leaving the USB drive as it is or taking an image backup after successfully being able to boot via Hard Drive. The reason being is that you can use this memory stick as a rescue device, and boot your laptop again in case a faulty configuration or a software update kills the boot process. 

In the quick steps you would have a copy of Multibeast if followed to the letter. You can use this to modify your Hackintosh configuration, and one of the major features is the ability to install Clover on the working drive.

In Multibeast, click on Bootloader, and then Clover UEFI (Legacy if you did not enable UEFI). Then click build. Once finished, your EFI partition on your main disk will have its own bootable Clover. Don’t stop just yet though.

Plug in your bootable USB Installer drive and use the EFI Mounter utility to mount the EFI partition on your USB drive. Grab both the config.plist you select on boot and all the kexts from ‘Other’. Now eject the USB Drive, and run the utility again to mount the EFI partition of your hard drive. Simply copy these files to the same places they were at on your USB drive.

So far, on each boot up I currently go into Config and change the config selection. There are ways to modify the main config to boot straight into macOS, however all my config file modifications ended in disaster, so I’ve kept it operating this way.

Personal Verdict

Hackintosh deserves a new name. While originally it was a small list of supported machines, today the amount of eligible machines is insane. As long as the system remains stable to use, then I would absolutely continue to use macOS as my primary. 

If you have a spare laptop and technical expertise, I would totally recommend trying it out. The experience is rewarding, and slightly baffling at the same time. Nothing is weirder than seeing the macOS login appear without the use of virtualization technology.

Last Changed: 17th January 2019, 12:00pm (project discontinued).

Categories
Development

Chromeboard, an Experiment Killed by Security

You wouldn’t be wrong if you’ve come to the assumption that I’ve stopped supporting Chromeboard. You can see from the commit log that I haven’t made a significant change since March of last year. This was largely unintentional, but there was a main reason as to why I chose to unofficially abandon the extension – I call it ‘Issue 9 of Death‘.

This is the reason why a rough 5% of the internet websites actually work with this extension. I’ve stopped working on the plugin because simply, in the current approach it will soon become completely unsustainable.

In this general interest post, I’ll explain what SAMEORIGIN is, how it relates to browser security, why it killed my plugin and what the future for Chromeboard is.

What is SAMEORIGIN?

Let’s quickly cast back to the internet 1995-2005. Put your mental image of a phone away, because WAP was a horrific mess that nobody used. I particularly remember around ’02-04 being a hot spot for friends and family being frequently affected by online scams and such. Back then though, we weren’t aware of these as much as we are now.

A popular attack at the time was the ol’ classic, ‘YOU’VE WON A PRIZE!’ hoax. You’ve clicked it, realised it’s a hoax and left. However, the browser has used this to make a request to your banks’ website that you have an authentication cookie for, and make a payment. As far as your banks’ website cares, you made that request. This is just one example of many Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) attacks.

One approach is this SAMEORIGIN header. This lets the source server (the website you visited) specify how the content it provides is controlled. If the policy is specified to the current website, it means that attacker sites cannot use an IFrame to attack unsuspecting customers.

And that last sentence is the exact reason why the Chrome extension does not work on a majority of websites.

You’re Harvesting Our Data?!

Not at all. In fact, Chromeboard doesn’t really care what you’ve specified. However, in order to be able to switch tabs without taking full control of the web browser, it loads up all your specified cyclical tabs into one page. And the only way this can be feasibly achieved is through the use of IFrames.

If a website has a defined SAMEORIGIN policy, it will disallow Chromeboard to render it. The most common reason will be because the IFrame location is not the same URL as where the page is coming from. Ergo, the website deems the extension is trying to spoof attack you and thus blocks it.

So Chromeboard is effectively made redundant, but for a completely legitimate reason.

Chromeboard Future

For now I can confirm that the Chromeboard extension is abandoned, but the project is still ongoing. The progress has disappeared because an API is being developed to manage the websites.

My plans for Chromeboard going forward are:

  1. Chromeboard settings are definable via a stateless REST API.
  2. Chromeboard primarily becomes an Electron app (ARM focus).
  3. Chromeboard browser plugin pivots the approach.
  4. ???
  5. (Not-for) profit!

Electron being a full application instead of being just a browser allows me some flexibility in approach. I can keep the app as a Kiosk terminal, however it is able to run web instances which allows Chromeboard to be seen as a web browser instead of a spoofing client. Since wallboards mostly reside on the IoT, I will be ensuring that this works on the Raspberry Pi.

I will keep posted as things develop, but hopefully this will clear up as to why progress for the Chromeboard plugin has completely stopped.

Nutab? Oh my, that’s a completely different story.

Note: Since this article was published, Chromeboard was issued a takedown due to copyright infringement (Chrome in the name, and in the logo). It has since been rebranded as Wallboard Lite.

Categories
Development

Using PHP 7 on Ubuntu 14.04 with Codeanywhere

I am a big fan of online IDEs. For me this enables me to do web development pretty much anywhere, on any device. My particular favourites are Codeanywhere and Codenvy. While both have their pros and cons, I pretty much use Codeanywhere free for my day-to-day development. It gives you a temporary VPS for your code, easily accessible, great no-nonsense IDE and easy to use SSH access. Perfect, I simply fire up the container and get to work.

I do have a problem with it however, and it isn’t something you can fault them for – Ubuntu 14.04. I love every release of Ubuntu, but nobody should be running PHP 5.4, which has been EOL for a long while now. PHP has made some massive strides since then with PHP 7, with 7.2 being the currently latest iteration. So the first thing I do is get the container as up to date as I possibly can get it.

They do have a PHP 7 container available if you go down the CentOS route, but I personally encountered dependency issues running their version. However your milage may vary, so if you are a fan of CentOS, you don’t need to continue.

Container Creation and Update

Once you’ve logged in to Codeanywhere, it will ask you what container you want to setup (otherwise, File > New Connection > Container).  In this instance, we will select the Ubuntu 14.04 version of the PHP containers.

Screenshot of Codeanywhere container screen showing PHP options

Once finished, you’ll have your own personal VPS for your project(s). Before we do anything, we need to make sure your Ubuntu box is up-to-date. For this we need to run the commands that every Ubuntu sysadmin is familiar with:

sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade -y

‘update’ will tell your VPS what new updates are available, and upgrade will upgrade said packages (-y stops it asking if you want to proceed, if you do want to check it before installation then remove this).

In my scenario, it asks if you want to replace some pre-existing system configuration files. You can simply press Enter and skip through these.

Once finished, you’ll have an up-to-date container. We can now move up to PHP 7.

Updating PHP 5.4 to PHP 7

The current repositories for 14.04 do not use PHP 7, supporting 5.4 as the maximum. So we need to add a new repository to do this. Now, for some reason certain system functionality from base Linux have been removed, so we need to re-add these features. Use the following command:

sudo apt install -y software-properties-common

We now need to add a repository that supports PHP 7 in 14.04. In comes Ondrej, a PPA repository that does just that!

sudo apt install -y language-pack-en-base
sudo LC_ALL=en_US.UTF-8 add-apt-repository ppa:ondrej/php
sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade -y

Normally the LC_ALL line is not needed. However, in this repository some characters are used in the description which breaks with non-UTF8 languages. The extra command parts will make sure it uses UTF8 to process it, and go through fine.

Once all commands are run, your system will be running the latest available PHP version. However, Apache will still be using PHP 5.4. Command line PHP works great for tools such as Composer and PHPUnit, but our application will not use it until Apache knows it exists.

We need to install some additional PHP modules for Apache to recognise it, which can be done by this command:

sudo apt install php7.2 php7.2-mbstring

Add php7.2-mysql if you use MySQL, or add others for the extensions you need. Use sudo apt search php7.2 to find out what’s available)

Now we need to command Apache to ditch PHP 5 and use PHP 7.2, so run the following commands.

sudo a2dismod php5 && sudo a2enmod php7.2

Now restart Apache to make sure the changes are fully committed.

sudo service apache2 restart

Now you should be ready to develop using the latest version of PHP. With this repository, you should also receive the latest updates to PHP whenever you run the update command, so you should be good going forward!

Checking PHP Version

If you want to check which version of PHP you’re running, then you need to do it twice. PHP can often be used in command line as well as on a back-end server techonology like Apache or NGINX. It is possible for your Linux installation to use one version of PHP, and your web server application to use another.

To check your command line PHP version, simply run the following command:

php -v

To check the Apache version of PHP, create a new PHP file in the root of your workspace (say, info.php). Paste the following into the file.

<?php phpinfo();

Now browse to it in your browser (right click the container, and click run. Then, add /info.php at the end of the URL). It should give you a full dump of the server technology, with the version right at the top.

Bonus – Quick WordPress Installation

This will install WordPress to /wordpress directory of your cabox. Run this command first which will set up the brilliant WP-CLI on your container.

sudo wget https://raw.githubusercontent.com/wp-cli/builds/gh-pages/phar/wp-cli.phar -O /usr/local/bin/wp && sudo chmod +x /usr/local/bin/wp

And this can be used to create our WordPress installation. Run in the workspace folder (Run cd ~/workspace if you’re unsure). Change theurlhere.com to the domain of your container, plus the /wordpress.

mysql -u root -e "CREATE DATABASE wordpress01;" && mkdir wordpress && cd wordpress && wp core download && wp config create --dbname=wordpress01 --dbuser=root && wp core install --url=theurlhere.com/wordpress --title="WordPress Development" --admin_user=admin --admin_password=password [email protected] && sudo chown www-data:www-data *

This cuts down the famous 5 minute installation to about 15 seconds. Since this is development, I’ve kept things basic with the admin password simply being password.