[wp-hackers] WP Plugins --> was::RE: [wp-forums] questionable...

Christopher J. Hradil chradil at comcast.net
Sat Aug 5 13:32:13 GMT 2006

As I stated, based on all of the negative buzz in the past few weeks over
security issues I probably 'read' more into the question than might have
been there. As far as the issue itself, the OP stated: 

I've been using phpBB for ages and I've been using other (shock, horror)
blog software and what I deeply like about both is there repository of
Plugins that have been validated by the core team thus I have someone to
trust on a Plugins validity.

Personally, I've been involved with the phpBB project since 2001 with
varying degrees of activity based on what else I've had going on, that
project has had more than it's share of controversy, the *community* can be
abrasive at times and is definitely not very open-minded or forward thinking
in terms of planning and decision making. Jim Finn (one of the founders of
the project) is surely a bright and talented young individual with lots on
his plate, and does a pretty good job of keeping things running smoothly
(ironically his personal site is proudly powered of course by wordpress...),
but many of the key developers on the project seem to like the
"dictatorship" model of operation, and often resist ideas and contributions
from the community which don't match up with their personal opinions. One of
the things I've worked hard on there with a small group of other individuals
is the idea of pushing phpBB in the direction of standards compliance and a
bit more 'modular' of a plugin architecture. Unfortunately neither of these
concepts are very well received by many of the decision makers (although
we've never really pushed the issues hard with Jim personally which I know
would probably lead to an eventual change in the phpBB paradigm). These two
particular issues are a constant FAQ and often controversial topic as new
users adopt the platform, with questions like why can't I.... a)
permalinks/friendly Uri's b)xhtml/css compliance c)the last upgrade ruined
my site and DB because all of my modules had made so many edits to the core
files... etc. 

It's a given, that phpBB is a completely different animal than WP, but
architecture wise, there is much to be learned from how others have done
things and the mistakes they've made. With regards to the plugin topic
specifically, the current WP architecture as a theory is what I would
consider a 'best of breed' solution, even though at the moment there may be
some specific issues with regards to it's implementation. As I stated in my
forum post, products like phpBB which allow (or often require) that a module
or plugin 'edit' (albeit transparently to most users) core system files (and
the DB architecture) in order to 'just work', are in my opinion a way less
than desirable situation. Unfortunately many users don't fully understand a)
that this happens at all, b) what's really happening when they install a mod
or plugin, or c) it's potential effect later on. 

The disadvantages (which are clearly demonstratable via things like the
phpBB support forums) are as follows:
1)Upgrades to the core are risky and difficult after a plugin/mod has been
installed, the upgrade scripts simply can't account for all of the changes
made by the mods/plugins, this often leads to completely 'broken' sites
which need to be re-installed from the ground up. 
2) A failed mod/plugin install has no rollback mechanism requirement, so
users are left with partially edited/broken core system files and often no
clue as to how/where to attempt to fix things.
3) Even though it may appear that something like phpBB plugins are *blessed*
via the phpbb.com site's mod repository, there are no [enforced]
requirements for a plugin to adhere to any particular set of standards, most
emphasize how critical an issue this is, sure, go to your phpBB admin
interface and 'uninstall' a mod, then go look at all of the code changes to
core system files and the database that the plugin made when it was
installed which were not 'removed' after you've uninstalled it. 

there are a couple of others, but those are the big points. 

by contrast, wordpress is really clean in terms of the plugin architecture.
this leads me to the point of this dissertation. the existing methodology
and design of the plugin portion of WP is extremely elegant and powerful -
both from a technical AND a marketing perspective. Continuing along the
current path and improving on it is without doubt a worthy cause. It's a
tremendous selling point for the WP platform moving forward to emphasize the
flexibility, power and secure nature of the basic plugin architecture. When
a new user makes a forum post stating something like "I installed x plugin
and now my site doesn't work..." the ability to point them to the codex or
simply state - "just delete the plugin file or directory", then like magic
everything works again is really impressive. The fact WP plugins don't need
to interfere with the core system is a HUGE advantage over other platforms.
Upgrades are normally a breeze, personally I've upgraded 20+ installs so far
(most from 2.0.2 directly to 2.0.4) and had not a single issue or problem
with one of them (fingers crossed, since I left the 3 biggest sites for
last). From my view, improvements to the current system are as follows:

(grouped in two categories - WP Core Dev changes, and Plugin Author

1)Develop a core function to 'check' a plugin prior to install/activation to
ensure that the plugin cleans up after itself (mostly in the area of any DB
changes they might make, since we don't have to worry about plugins editing
core files). If it doesn't have a "compliant" 'remove_me' function disallow
activation. This places the responsibility for these types of issues with
the plugin authors rather than WP system devs. Ditto for autoupdate, version
check, and a wp-security check (to be sure things like current_user_can are
2)I know that computerguru has done some work in the past week or so on the
'autoupdate' system, so that's handled. 
3) slight re-vamp to requirements for a 'public' release of a plugin via
either the codex repo or wp-plugins.net, require plugins to have it's own
directory called plugin_name, and includes all plugin files, plus an
install.txt and readme.txt with at least a minimalist amount of
documentation on use and installation. 
4)a 'deactivate_all_plugins' function for use during WP core
uptates/upgrades.  this could either be a plugin itself or part of core - (I
wrote a perl script to do this for me directly against the DB for my own
purposes since I had to upgrade a bunch of sites)
5) a *warning* notification so that if someone is about to install or
activate a plugin that will function but doesn't comply with the 'standard'
at least they're aware that they're about to use something that's
6) an updated set of requirements and guidelines for plugin authors which
explains how to structure and 'release' a 'supported' plugin (whether it be
via the actual wp repository or their own site). 

Christopher J. Hradil
chradil at comcast.net


> -----Original Message-----
> From: wp-forums-bounces at lists.automattic.com 
> [mailto:wp-forums-bounces at lists.automattic.com] On Behalf Of Michael B
> Sent: Friday, August 04, 2006 12:09 PM
> To: wp-forums at lists.automattic.com
> Subject: Re: [wp-forums] questionable...
> Truth is, IMO, that's a valid question from a new user.  I 
> believe I recently saw a post on the hackers list about this, 
> as well as have there been several threads about shout boxes 
> and spam, which in some ways overlaps the question.
> I'm going to post that indeed most plugins are caveat emptor, 
> however if they search the forums for top 10 lists, they can 
> assume that if enough users recommend certain plugins, that 
> they can assume the plugin has been vetted.
> ~miklb
> I'm also going to remove the resolved as I'd prefer the user 
> mark it resolved in this case.
> Thanks Christopher for all your time in the forums, and on 
> these lists.
> On 8/3/06, Christopher J. Hradil <chradil at comcast.net> wrote:
> >
> > http://wordpress.org/support/topic/82005
> >
> > when I spotted that one he was an 8 minute old member, it may be 
> > benign (in which case I'm just paranoid based on last weeks 
> > plugins/security debates), so I've posted an appropriate 
> reply, tagged 
> > it modlook and resolved. It just seemed to me like someone 
> trying to 
> > 'stir the pot'..
> >
> > /**************************************
> > Christopher J. Hradil
> > chradil at comcast.net
> > http://www.hradil.us
> > **************************************/
> >
> >
> > _______________________________________________
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