The move to typo 4.0

Typo is my blogging software. Written in Ruby on Rails, it seemed like an ideal choice for me since I’m a big fan of the RoR movement. But like so many other open source applications, Typo has got some major problems. I’m not going to say another open source blog would have been better (though I suspect this is true from other pages I’ve found on the net), but Typo has been a major pain in the ass to upgrade.

For anybody who has to deal with this issue, I figure I’ll give a nice account here.

First, the upgrade tool is broken. If you have an old version of typo that has migrations numbered 1 through 9 instead of 001 through 009, you get conflicts during the attempt at migrating to the newest DB format. You must first delete the old migrations, then run the installer:

rm /home/user/blog_directory/db/migrations/*
typo install /home/user/blog_directory

Now you will (hopefully) get to the tests. These will probably fail if, like me, your config/database.yml file is old and doesn’t use sqlite. Or hell, if it does use sqlite but your host doesn’t support that. Anyway, so far as I’m concerned the tests should be unnecessary by the time the Typo team releases a version of Typo to the public.

Next, if you have a version of typo that uses the components directory (back before plugins were available in Rails, I’m guessing), the upgrade tool does not remove it. This is a big deal, because some of the components that are auto-loaded conflict with the plugins, causing all sorts of stupid errors. That directory has to be nuked:

rm -rf /home/username/blog_directory/components

This solves a lot of issues. I mean, a lot. If you’re getting errors about the “controller” method not being found for the CategorySidebar object, this is likely due to the components directory.

Another little quirk is that when Typo installs, it replaces the old vendor/rails directory with the newest Rails code. But it does not remove the old code! This is potentially problematic, as I ended up with a few dozen files in my vendor/rails tree that weren’t necessary, and may have caused some of my conflicts (I never was able to fully test this and now that I have things working, I’m just not interested). Very lame indeed. To fix this, kill your rails dir and re-checkout version 1.2.3:

rm -rf /home/username/blog_directory/vendor/rails
rake rails:freeze:edge TAG=rel_1-2-3

My final gripe was the lack of even a mention that older themes may not work. I had built a custom typo theme which used some custom views. But of course I didn’t know it was the theme until I spent a little time digging through the logs to figure out why things were still broken. Turned out my theme, based on the old Azure theme and some of the old view logic for displaying articles, was trying to hit code that no longer existed. Yes, my theme was using an old view and the old layout, both of which were hitting no-longer-existing code. But better API coding for backward compatibility would have made sense, since they did give you the option to use a theme to override views and layouts. Or at the very least, a warning would have been real nice. “Danger, danger, you aren’t using a built-in theme! Take the following precautions, blah blah blah, Jesus loves you.”

How do you fix the theme issue, though, if you can’t even log in to the blog to change it? Well, like all good programmers who are obsessively in love with databases, the typo team decided to store the config data in the database. And like all bad open-source programmers, they stored that data in an amazingly stupid way. I like yaml, don’t get me wrong – it’s amazingly superior to that XML crap everybody wants to believe is useful. But in a database, storing data in yaml format seems just silly.


PEOPLE, LISTEN UP, if you’re going to store config that’s totally and utterly NOT relational, do not use a relational database. It’s simple. Store the config file as a yaml file. If you are worried about the blog being able to write to this file, fine, store your data in the DB, but at least store it in a relational sort of way. Use a field for each config directive if they’re not likely to change a lot, or use a table that acts like a hash (one field for blogid, one for settingname, one for setting_value). But do something that is easy to deal with via SQL. Show me the SQL to set my theme from ‘nerdbucket’ to ‘azure’ please. When you can’t use your database in a simple, straightforward way, you’ve fracking messed up. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule, but this blog software is not one of them. It would not have been hard to store the data in a neutral format that would make editing specific settings easy.

Sorry. Anyway, how to fix this – the database has a table called “blogs” that has a single record for my blog. This record stores the base url and a bunch of yaml for the site config. You edit the field “settings” in the blogs table, and change just the part that says “theme: blah” to “theme: azure”. If you don’t have access to a simple tool like phpmyadmin, then you’ll likely have to retrieve the value from your mysql prompt, edit it in the text editor of your choice, and then reset the whole thing, making sure to use newlines properly so as not to screw up the yaml format…. Then you are up and running and can worry about fixing the theme at your leisure.

Now, to be fair, I think I could have logged in to the admin area without fixing my theme, and then fixed it there. But with all the problems I was having, I thought it best to set the theme in the DB to see if that helped get the whole app up and running. Obviously it wasn’t the theme that was killing my admin abilities (and I can’t even remember anymore what it was). But once I hit that horrible config storage, my stupidity felt ever so much smarter compared to the person who designed typo’s DB.

Typo is pretty sweet when you don’t have to delve under the hood. But “little” things like that can make or break software, and I hope to <deity of your choice> that the next upgrade is a whole lot smoother.


One more awesome annoyance. It seems all my old blog articles are tagged as being formatted with “Markdown”. When I created them, I formatted them with “Textile”. If you’re not up on these two awesome formatting tools, take a look at a simple example (the first is how Textile appears when run through the Markdown formatter):

  • This “website”: is really sweet, dude!
  • This website is really sweet, dude!

I’ve been using Markdown lately as I kind of prefer it now. But my old articles are in Textile format. I don’t know why upgrading my fracking blog loses the chosen format, but boy is it fun going through old articles and fixing them!!

Digg this!

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