We just signed up with a $10 per month business plan with pSek to host our WordPress MU sites and so far, we’ve been impressed with their technical support.
Over the past two weeks, we’ve placed a few support tickets to help us get our WordPress site up and running. (We set the priorities in the support tickets below.) pSek responded quite quickly to even the low priority call tickets, and they’ve been able to help us get our sites up and running.
We spent a fair bit of time crawling the internet to find answers to our WordPress MU problems. Some things might be specific to installing WP and WPMU on pSek, so we’re posting some of these items to help other pSek users. (I suppose if pSek posted some more information in their knowledgebase, it might reduce the number of call tickets that get placed. Surely, we can’t be the first people to ask these questions.)
- Support Ticket #1 (Feb 1) Medium Priority: pSek Account Installation Information
- Support Ticket #2 (Feb 2) Medium Priority: WordPress MU Database error
- Support Ticket #3 (Feb 2) Low Priority: Absolute path for mysqldump and mysql
- Support Ticket #4 (Feb 7) Low Priority: PHP Version on pSek (how to get PHP 5 on pSek)
- Support Ticket #5 (Feb 8) Urgent Priority: Site Down
- Support Ticket #6 (Feb 14) Low Priority: Folder ownership problems / Writing Permission Denied errors with WP / WPMU
- Setting up Domain Mapping on pSek (This could have been done with a Support Ticket and a free domain mapping plugin, but in the end we paid for the premium Domain Mapping plugin from WPMU Dev)
When we signed up for a pSek account, we received the welcome email right away, but it didn’t contain the login information to access our cpanel to start moving in. So we placed a support ticket. It took 24 hours for the billing department to send our FTP info and cpanel address.
We had a database error on our WordPress MU installation. We were getting a phpMyAdmin – Error #2002 – The server is not responding (or the local MySQL server’s socket is not correctly configured)
We placed a support ticket and in 2 minutes, we got a response. It was a mysql service restart and things were up and running already.
We installed Lester Chan’s WP-DBManager plugin to backup our WordPress databases. It seems to work fine to back up WordPress MU databases as well. Pretty simple stuff once it’s set up – one click backups of all of your information and settings.
When we installed it on our WordPress MU installation on pSek, we were getting errors from the plugin stating that the absolute paths for mysqldump and mysql were incorrect.
pSek technical support responded in 6 minutes. (They’re the usual paths: /usr/bin/mysql and /usr/bin/mysqldump. It turns the reason why this plugin wasn’t working was because we had PHP4 running, instead of PHP 5. See below)
Our pSek account came with PHP 4 installed. It was a little wierd: PHPinfo told us that we had PHP Version 4.4.9 but the cpanel general server information told us that the PHP version was 5.2.9.
Who cares? Well, some WordPress plugins require PHP 5 to work correctly.
We wanted to install Greg’s Bulk Create Blogs WPMU plugin, but apparently the plugin requires PHP 5. (We did find a workaround to get Greg’s plugin to work under PHP 4. Apparently, some parse errors happen in PHP 4 but not 5. It seems that in PHP 4, there are no private or protected class members, and everything is public. These can be fixed by deleting “private” / “public” or by replacing it with “var”. So we went through Greg’s plugin, deleted all the “private” and “public” references and replaced some with “var.” The plugin didn’t crash our WPMU site anymore and we were able to bulk upload student accounts to various blogs. (We never made it to the confirmation screen in our WordPress Dashboard admin screen saying that the users had been successfully assigned to the blogs… that part of the plugin still crashed, but when we checked the blogs, the users were assigned correctly. Not an elegant solution, but a temporary workaround to get our students assigned to the correct blogs. )
We’re experimenting with WordPress MU because we like the idea of managing multiple student blogs and class websites using a common set of user account information. Up to now, we had three or four class websites with separate WordPress installations with redundant user information. (Actually, we cheated a little by using the WP-Hive plugin to have a single installation and database work as separate wordpress installations. But you still needed to create a class set of users on each blog because these wordpress hive-websites acted as completely independent class blogs. Having said that, it seems that future versions of WP-Hive will have paid subscription modules that allow users to stay logged in when visiting other sites in the hive. This would be a great feature because WordPress MU isn’t for everybody.)
Apparently WordPress MU isn’t designed to easily allow teachers to assign multiple student user accounts to different class and student blogs. For example, we created 400 student accounts by copying in a list of account information using CSV delimited text and Dagon Design’s Import Users Plugin for WordPress (which also worked fine for WordPress MU). We then wanted to assign 90 of these students to our class blog, our reading response blog, and our writing portfolio blog. (All 3 blogs used to be run as separate WordPress installations, but we wanted to manage everything under the WordPress MU umbrella.)
Unfortunately there is no setup screen in WordPress MU that shows a user and checkboxes for blogs to be associated to. At least, not out of the box. We had a hard time trying to find a WordPress MU plugin that would allow us to add several existing users to different blogs at once. Here’s what we found…
- Admin accounts can add users to sub-blogs by using the setting in Site Admin > Blogs > Edit Blog > Add New Users, however you can only add one user at a time.
- Jersey Connect Development has a multi-site manager WordPress MU plugin which allows you to run blogs on multiple domains with a single install, but it’s not about assigning users to blogs.
- WPMU Dev has a premium plugin called Add New Users which seems to have a feature to add existing users to existing blogs, but at the time, we didn’t want to spend the money to get a WPMU membership to download the plugin. (Eventually, we did end up getting a WPMU membership, but we haven’t had a chance to play with this plugin to see if it gives us a way to easily assign multiple users to different blogs.)
- There are a few WordPress MU plugins that allow users to sign up for different blogs, or to be automatically assigned to the primary blog, but these plugins seem to work their magic when the user registers for an account or requires the user to log in and visit the blog themselves. As teachers, we wanted to bulk create student accounts and pre-assign them to the required class blogs to make life easier.
- Chris Taylor has a Simple User Admin WordPress MU plugin which is a step-up from the out-of-the-box WordPress MU interface to assign users to blogs. You can search for users and blogs, add users to blogs, add blogs to users, and easily change roles for one or more users on various blogs. Unfortunately, you can’t select multiple users to batch assign them to a blog.
So, at the end of the day, it seems like Greg’s Bulk Create Blogs WPMU plugin is the only easy way to assign multiple users to a blog at once. (There is an initial limit to the number of users you can assign in one batch (26 users), but Greg gives you instructions on how you can modify the limit by editing the plugin. The limit is set so you don’t hit php’s max execution time.)
Where were we. Oh, right. pSek responded to the support ticket in 6 minutes with instructions on how to switch to PHP 5 in pSek: You just need to add the following line to your .htaccess file: AddHandler application/x-httpd-php5 .php
We were posting information for our students to use in the lab later in the day when our site went down. pSek responded to the support ticket in 5 minutes to let us know that there was a temporary overload problem on the server and they had to reboot it. “Now your sites are up and running.”
Our site was up and running for about an hour, before it went down again. When we continued the call ticket to find out what was happening and if there was a way to monitor the server status from our cpanel (because that’s what we had with Bluehost), the response from pSek came 19 minutes later: “the problem has been fixed… there’s no such option [for clients to monitor the server status.]”
In the end, when we took our students to the lab, the class websites were up and running. Thankfully.
Support Ticket #6 (Feb 14) Low Priority: Folder ownership problems / Writing Permission Denied errors with WP / WPMU
We were getting a lot of writing permission denied errors with our WordPress and WordPress MU installations which we didn’t get on our WordPress blogs on Bluehost. We thought it had to do with folder ownership and a permissions issues.
Here are some of the problems we had with WordPress on pSek:
- We couldn’t upload photos using the media uploader when writing a post in our stand-alone WordPress installation
- When we tried to install plugins, WordPress asked us to log into our FTP account. (We’ve never seen that before with Bluehost. We had no idea that could be an issue!)
- We had problems installing themes on our WordPress MU account using the built-in theme installer: Unable to create directory /home/website/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2010/02. Is its parent directory writable by the server?
- The WP-DBmanager plugin wouldn’t work. It couldn’t write the backup in the proper folder.
- WP-Supercache couldn’t modify the .htaccess file by itself. We had to do it manually ourselves.
We though maybe we installed WPMU incorrectly. but we used pSek’s Fantastico installer to set up two other WordPress installations and we were still having problems with them. Although some permission problems can be solved by changing the folder permissions, for security reasons, we’d prefer not to CHMOD things to 777.
Searching the net, it seemed that one solution was to ask the webhost to assign (CHOWN) the entire directory to the web server. Another solution was to change public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir and all subdirs and files to web server user and group.
pSek technical support replied in 33 minutes. They noticed we were using php4 and enabled php5 for us: “Php5 is working in suexec mode that helps to prevent a lot of troubles related to file permissions. It is the most convenient to work with wp / wpmu using suexec. Also using php5 in suexec mode is much more secure that is better for your content security.”
Problems solved. We can now upload photos using the media uploader when writing a post. We can install plugins without any hassle. We can install themes without any hassles. The WP-DBmanager plugin works fine. WP-Supercache can modify the .htaccess file by itself.
Setting up Domain Mapping on pSek (This could have been done with a Support Ticket and a free domain mapping plugin, but in the end we paid for the premium Domain Mapping plugin from WPMU Dev)
Donncha has a free domain mapping wordpress plugin that allows your WordPress MU blogs to have different domain names.
This is huge. This is the reason we’re looking so closely at WordPress MU. Instead of running 20+ different professional blogs, classroom websites, school sites and student blogs, each with a different WordPress installation, we can run them all under a single WordPress MU installation. But they’ll still look like different websites with different website addresses because you can map domain names onto each blog.
So we started to install Donncha’s WordPress MU Domain Mapping plugin and then gave up.
pSek doesn’t give direct access to the Web Host Manager (WHM), so some of the installation steps require you to send in a support ticket. Something about a wildcard subdomain / virtual host record.
Even though pSek provides great support, we got seduced by the WPMU Dev marketing. If you spend a lot of time researching WordPress MU plugins and troubleshooting WPMU, eventually you land on WPMU Dev.
If you’re willing to pay for membership, you can download their “powerful” plugins and “premium” themes. They’re the people behind edublogs and the plugins that they use on edublogs are available to be downloaded including:
- A supporter plugin that allows your users to “subscribe” to premium features: more space, domain mapping, turn advertising off, etc.
- An affiliate plugin that allows your users to become affiliates
- Domain mapping (which has cookie domain syncing – which means that users stay logged in regardless of whether they’re logged in on your standard wordpress mu domain or the new mapped one. Donncha’s free domain mapping plugin doesn’t do this yet: Remote login does not work. It’s possible to be logged in on the main site, logged in on the domain mapped blog as a different user or not logged in at all there!)
- A variety of Ad plugins that allow you to put simple ads around content, set up rules for when the ads display, split adsense revenues with different users, and provide a way for users to turn off the ads by becoming a supporter.
- Plus, they have pretty BuddyPress themes. (There are like two free buddypress themes. WPMU Dev offers several more.)
So we coughed up the dough, signed on for a month and just installed the WPMU Dev premium domain mapping plugin. (We also read about domain mapping on a pSek host in their forums.)
In the end, we didn’t need to place a support ticket. The free domain mapping plugin might have done just as well, but we’re a sucker for the marketing:
We decided that you guys could do with a fully functional domain mapping plugin, that covers every element of mapping that you’d like it to, and ticks all the boxes that we can think of!
This plugin essentially allows you to allow all of your users to map one (or multiple!) domains to their own blogs, so myblog.edublogs.org can now become myblog.com – and, if you wish it, myotherblog.com, myotherotherblog.com can also work on the same blog, at the same time!
The plugin works just fine.
- We installed WPMU Dev’s Domain Mapping Plugin
- We pointed our other domains to pSek’s name servers.
- We had to (manually) park the domains in our cpanel. (We didn’t have to send in a support ticket.)
- We went into our WordPress MU site > Tools > Domain Mapping and typed in the domain name to be mapped onto that sub-blog.
- Voila. It works. Our sub-blog is connected to our new domain name.
Don’t kid yourself, teachers. The Domain Mapping plugin is really important because it means you can set up a million different websites on a single WordPress MU installation.
pSek’s cheapest shared webhosting plan (Personal: $7/month) only gives you one domain name. If you want additional add-on domain names to work on your pSek account, you’ll have to pay $2 per month for 2 more domain names that you want to associate with your account.
However, all of pSek’s hosting plans offer unlimited sub domains and unlimited domain parking. So domain mapping is a way around the limited number of add-on domains that you’re allowed. It makes us think that you can have unlimited wordpress mu blogs all appearing to run under different website addresses, just with a tiny plugin.
(Yes, we know. Nothing is unlimited. Eventually, you’ll hit your disk space limit or your bandwidth limit, but you get the idea. But you should also check out the pSek WPMU hosting plans. The personal WPMU plan is $15 per month, but you get unlimited disk space, so you’ll only have to worry about the bandwidth limit.)
So, we didn’t need to put in a support ticket to get domain mapping on our WordPress MU blog after all.