Kew Business Services Ltd

Four Way Integration in Joomla

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Introduction

This page describes the re-development of The Conker Exchange - An international support site by women for women, which had been running for a couple of years, centred on Joomla CMS, and using a mixed collection of unrelated php applications available to members only. Users needed to create a user account for each section and log in multiple times as they moved from one to another, which wasn't really satisfactory, so KewBSL were called upon to make it more usable.

There are various "bridges" available to link Joomla to other packages seamlessly but they tend to focus on integration with one other system at a time. The challenge here was to integrate four applications - Joomla (content management system), Coppermine, (photo gallery), phpBB (online posting board) and Wordpress (web log) - without any "clash" between the various hacks implemented by each bridge.

It was done first as a "proof of concept" on a fresh domain, just to see if it could be done. Next, a staging area was set up on another domain, with an exact replica of the target site, restored from a backup onto a clean database server, the idea being to do a dry run of the upgrade process and get an idea of what snags would arise, and how much downtime was likely to be involved. Finally, when the big day arrived, the site was taken down while all the changes were made and then brought back up again with all its user accounts and posts intact.

Laying Firm Foundations

Before beginning a project like this, it's essential to make a full backup of everything just in case of disaster. All the databases were exported using phpmyadmin and saved in text format as .sql files.

Application Version
Joomla 1.012
Coppermine 1.4.10
Wordpress 2.0
phpBB 2.0.22

The next stage was to update each individual package to its latest version. This was partly out of security considerations but mainly because the bridges tend to be maintained to run with the latest up-to-date versions of each, so it helped reduce the number of variables.

Full details of how to upgrade each package can be found on its home page, but the general gist is as follows:

Users

Since the site had been running for some time with users signed up to different applications according to interest, a decision had to be made regarding user logins. Clearly merging all the users from all the applications would have created confusion since some users would have ended up with duplicate accounts, and in many cases they may have used different passwords for different applications. For the sake of consistency, the decision was to base the logins on the most populous application - phpBB - with some others (notably the Joomla admin login) being retained in addition.

Bear in mind that the different applications have different rules for what constitutes a valid username. In this migration, several phpBB usernames had to be adapted because they contained hyphens or spaces or they were too short to be accepted by Joomla. Joomla is a little inconsistent about the name formats it will accept though, so it isn't as clear-cut as that; hyphens certainly seem not to be accepted but spaces were sometime kicked out and sometimes waved through. The username in phpBB needs to be changed to match the Joomla-friendly version too, in order to retain the user's original profile.

On top of that, user options need to be considered. Different user roles may have unexpected privileges across the different applications which may not be desirable, so it's worth doing some testing to make sure new subscribers don't end up with the keys to the front door. Some of the user configuration that seemed like a good idea when the applications were running separately may need to be disabled after bridging. One obvious candidate would be phpBB's ability to let users choose their own "skin" for the application. Obviously, maintaining all the style sheets all integrated within the main Joomla container is likely to prove a headache, so it's probably a good idea to turn it off at the outset.

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