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Tech

Opalstack Review – Experiences of the PHP guy

If you have followed this page earlier you know that I’m pretty satisfied user of Opalstack services. In this post I’ll provide more insight of Opalstack features. My point here is to get people to know about Opalstack and their way of hosting and therefore get all hosting providers to provide better plans.

Differences between providers

When speaking about Opalstack and web hosting we first need to look at others a bit. As I have history with Webfaction, I have browsed tsohost’s pricing multiple times.

This is how tso sees it. Affordable price, a free domain name (for the first year, a free SSL certificate for the first year and some strange migrations)

Tsohosting is just one player. There are multiple big players in the industry. Bluehost, Hostgator … There’re so many but they seem to share similar things related to pricing. At the front page they’re quite cheap. But then when you dig deeper and would actually want to use hosting for something, the bill starts to grow. It won’t be enourmous, of course, but relatively high compared to starting price.

So there you are. Webfaction was the first hosting provider (that I knew) who offered just piece of machine to you and you can do whatever (practically) you want with it. Always the same cost. Except when you need services that cause costs to provider, e.g. dedicated IPs etc. Additional cost in those cases are understandable.

Opalstack is Webfaction 2.0 in this sense. Basically the same idea. You can host a fleet for your small+mid sized websites and everything with the same cost. You can host large websites as well but there I wouldn’t probably go with shared hosting even though it would be possible. And hopefully you’re not running a fleet of large sites 🙂

512MB RAM 50GB SSD 500GB Bandwidth is Opalstack Valuestack oneliner. No need to put long pricing pages there. That’s what you have. And by the way: if you’re using shared apache (for example traditional PHP sites are hosted this way), memory is not calculated against you.

Need more space? You can buy it. Only memory, space and bandwidth are things that you need to pay for. Other than that just happens.

It’s more than just pricing

We all have contacted customer service in some hosting company before. We had to ask dedicated IP or SSL certificate or something else. Often those experiences are quite bad. Customer service is not enabling you but disabling. Everything is hard with them.

Opalstack goes in the exact opposite direction. They try to help you even when you have made the mistake yourself. They share tips on their forum and are very active there. It’s not that kind of forum where angry customers are yelling but company reps are not there. Nowadays I always check the forums first. What kind of service you can expect to have if you are their customer. Here’s example from Opalstack Community.

Capabilities are great

Do you need to run WordPress? They got you covered. You can choose over different PHP versions so if your plugins need certain version, it’s of course setting in the dashboard.

If you’re finding a place to host WordPress, please look at this post I made earlier. And maybe this as well.

Want to do something with Python? You can do it of course. They have quite well put instructions to things.

Do you have Java solution, modern or legacy? Yes, you can serve it from Opalstack without help from customer service. Just tell the Opalstack system that you need a free port where you’ll be hosting your service and that’s it. Here is example of a need to run Java program.

Want to run software done with dotnet core? And of course you can do it. Go? Node? Rust? Yes. They all are supported. See all features here.

That’s the idea here. There’s no limitations but only enablement.

Is Opalstack for me?

If you wonder if Opalstack would be a right choice for you, I have good news. They have 14 days fully functioning trial. Test it. Enjoy full shell access that so many times are missing from other competitors. Host your and your friends stuff on there. Because why not, it won’t cost you extra.

I haven’t found anything better available to this day. That’s why I’m acting as a Opalstack evangelist here. Because I want them to set the bar high so that others must follow. And this kind of pricing models and user enablement would be the standard practice in the future.

Until then, I keep using Opalstack.

Categories
Tech

How to Change WordPress Domain

When you want to e.g. publish your WordPress driven development site you probably need to change domain settings in WordPress. It’s not hard at all when you prepare a bit and know what you’re doing.

Too many posts in the internet just says that “go to admin panel and change site url”. Then it should work. Sometimes I wonder how much of testing have those people with this kind of instructions done before writing it down 🙂

So what you need to do?

  1. Get your WordPress to new server (if needed). You can follow these instructions I have written down earlier.
  2. It’s important that new domain is directed to this server (DNS).
  3. If your new server has WP-CLI available, use it.
$ wp search-replace 'http://example.old' 'http://example.new' --skip-columns=guid

4. It works. It’s actually a lot easier than many other possibilities. And it takes care all the serialized data in the same time.

If you don’t have WP-CLI available, check Moving WordPress from codex for other options. Just keep in mind that just changing SITE_* constants are not enough but you need to search and replace database.

I’m yet to understand why WordPress stores so eagerly absolute paths to database but it really does so often. It would make a lot more sense to use just relative URLs to everything but maybe there’s something related to multiuser wordpresses that makes sense. However, I don’t understand it.

I run my WordPress and Woocommerce sites proudly in Opalstack shared hosting provider. A lot of ex-Webfaction clients have moved to Opalstack and they’ve experience quite a growth. You may want to check it out.

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Tech

Free Mail Sending Service

Have you ever suffered from poor email deliverability? You’re using a shared server and somebody sends too much email and whole server gets backlisted. All the mail you send will go to spam folders of your customers and all notifications are missed.

I believe that has happened to most of us. And it’s not only because of a shared hosting. It can also happen to a full VPS solution as your server is new and have no reputation. Want to send 1000 emails to your customers from there? Spam folders guaranteed.

As others, I have been there also. Probably back in the crazy days I may have caused some of those shared hosting blacklistings.. Sorry. But seriously, you don’t need to send that much emails to get blacklisted when there’s no reputation.

Free SMTP

I have encountered email sending problem multiple times. When I developed my personal stuff (basically testing it out) with Outsystems I needed to send email. Outsystems does not provide you a server to do that. But it’s more than capable to use a SMTP service if you point one to it.

Many more or less homegrown ways to circumvent the problem has been introduced. Maybe the worst was to use Gmail SMTP with my own personal credentials. Thank god the API limits were minimal. I guess I only could send something like 50 emails in a day with it.

I have googled free smtp service. Nothing really interesting pops out. They are either developer tools or then something pretty shady. Usually these free ones also actually cost something. Not something I’d like to use to contact my customers.

Mail delivery in Webfaction days

When my sites were in Webfaction’s servers sending email was not the greatest experience. Setting it up did actually require something and not all emails were delivered. Once again I was looking for something to use to deliver my emails.

At this point, it might be worth to mention that I haven’t spammed ever. It certainly starts to sound that way when reading this text. But no. I just have had clients and own customers (hundreds or thousands usually) and somewhat relevant material have been sent to them.

Anyways, when Webfaction gave me enough headache I finally found the solution. Actually many of them.

Free tiers

There’s plenty of those email campaign tools which you can use to send transactional emails as well. They usually provide either an API or a direct SMTP access to their service.

My favorite service is Mailjet. Developer friendly. Their main business is to deliver emails to their recepients. You cannot use it for spam (that’s a good thing). You can use either API or SMTP for transactional mails. The free tier is quite big, 6 000 emails per month. Completely free. And if you happen to need some more occasionally, you can buy more very low cost.

2 cheapest tiers in Mailjet

There’s others. I’ve also used Mailchimp. It’s more focused to campaigns and stuff but you can get your things done.

Both services allow you use templates. So, you can use their template design tools to design a template and then just use API calls to fill and send the template. And it’s always delivered to the inbox.

Of course, it takes a bit work to get these services working. Usually DNS magic is enough, so you can get security features like SPF and DKIM to work.

But My Shared Hosting Delivers Emails Just Fine!

If you’ve read this blog before you know that I’m an Opalstack fanboy. Want to know more? I’ve a post about it here. Go read it.

Anyways, there was some discussion in the forums about email deliverability and sending limits. And Opalstack is doing great work with that. No problems with deliverability at the moment. So why bother to use some other service?

A few pointers:

  • Hosting providers are focusing on… hosting. Emailing services are focusing on… delivering email. Do you need more arguments?
  • In case somebody’s script go crazy and spam hell out of the server, you’re fine if you’re using external email delivery service

I recommend you getting familiar with these services. They’re free for small usage and quite cheap in larger volumes as well.

Categories
Tech

The Thin Client Future

One day I had interesting chat with a colleague. At work, we have windows and mac computers supported by our IT department. You can also run linux but in that case you’re mostly on your own. Meaning if you have problems you need to figure it out yourself.

Categories
Tech

Migrate WordPress from Webfaction to New Hosting

Many of us are migrating away from Webfaction. In earlier post, I wrote about my new favorite alternative hosting service Opalstack. In this post I’ll give you an overview how to migrate WordPress from Webfaction to Opalstack.

What’s Opalstack?

Opalstack is Webfaction -like shared hosting provider (also VPS provider). If you’re familiar with Webfaction you will feel at home in the first second at Opalstack. It’s actually run by people who have left Webfaction.

Migrate WordPress from Webfaction

Basically all WordPress installations that do not contain any magic or crazy stuff will go with the same flow. If you’re moving your own site, this is basically what you need to do. If you’ve bigger site that is probably developed by some software vendor, let them do the work.

First: Create tarballs and dump the database.

It’s time to ssh to webfaction. First, dump your relevant database.

mysqldump -u [db_user] -p [databasename] > ~/db.sql

It will ask your password after that. In case you need fancier dump, you can always look for more sophisticated options. After running that command you’ll find db.sql containing dump of the whole database in your home directory.

Then, let’s create tarball of the wordpress site’s files. It will contain all code and all media files. Note that if you have such directory setup that is not following the default approach you may need to alter this phase a bit.

tar cvf ~/site.tar ~/webapps/[your-wordpress-site]

It will create a file to your home directory (called site.tar). It shouldn’t take too long.

Second: Create Apps and Databases at Opalstack

Login to Opalstack control panel at my.opalstack.com. Create a new app. Don’t create a WordPress app but just PHP-FPM Apache app. That’s important as we don’t want to get new wordpress site up but move your old one to Opalstack.

As always, I recommend creating a new user for each WordPress related app in Opalstack. It’s easy and it will limit damages if your WordPress gets hacked.

Next step: Create a MariaDB database and database user (user is created automagically if you want to). Note that all the default passwords etc. can be found from Notices at the left sidebar.

Add domains (probably a test one? Or if you’re feeling lucky, just your production ones). Add routes. I’m not explaining this more deeply as you’re from Webfaction and the concept is exactly the same (except naming).

Either change existing DNS entries to point to Opalstack or add a new A record for a subdomain (like test.yourdomain.com) which points to Opalstack.

At this point we should be able to go to your new application sitting in the domain you already set up. There should be only white screen or error page. But it should resolve alright!

Third: Install WordPress from Webfaction to Opalstack

Then it’s time to load data from Webfaction to Opalstack. Open ssh terminal to Opalstack, go to your home directory and fetch data.

> scp [email protected]:db.sql .

> scp [email protected]:site.tar .

Now you got your data from Webfaction to Opalstack. Then let’s load it up. First database:

mysql -u [db_username] -p [databasename] < db.sql

Don’t worry it saying mysql even though its MariaDB that Opalstack is using. They’re 100% compatible in our case.

Then, lets go with the tarball. Extracting it:

cd ~/apps/yournewapp
tar xvf ~/site.tar 

If you happen to have too much directory structure after that (so that your site files are found in ~/apps/yournewapp/oldapp/), just go to oldapp directory and say

mv * ..

You probably need to check that it also moves all dot-files, so after that check

ls -la

And if any dotfiles are there (usually .htaccess), move it also

mv .htaccess ..

Now we have data in place. Go back to your apps root folder. Edit wp-config with your favorite editor (I prefer vim) to update database connection credentials.

Also, if you’re testing your site with a new domain, check your options from wordpress documentation.

That’s pretty much it! Try to login, test that everything works.

Oh noes, my site behaves weirdly or just shows source code

Fear not. They’ve used a bit different methodology in Webfaction than they use in Opalstack and if you’re running old site you’ve probably added SetHandler directives into your .htaccess to choose right php version to use.

In Opalstack you choose php version from the control panel. Just delete segments regarding that SetHandler and it should fix the problem.

If not, you can always post question to community forum which is very helpful or send directly email to support. They answer very.. very fast!

Summary

It was quite much of text but action itself is quite straight forward. Try this methodology over those wanky migration plugins that will cause you more headache than give you benefits.

Categories
Tech

Opalstack – The Great Alternative for Webfaction Refugees

Looking for good hosting alternatives? Below I’ll be introducing you the Opalstack.

Webfaction was awesome

I believe that many of you share my feelings when you first heard that GoDaddy bought Webfaction. Webfaction has been my favorite hosting platform in business and private. Back then I was so convienced of the quality of Webfaction platform and customer service that we decided to put tens of clients to Webfaction hosting. To be honest, maybe over hundred.

It was so easy to ramp up usage as your costs don’t go up every time you want to test something. In case that you’ve tens of simple wordpress (or similar) sites even the smallest hosting plan goes just fine without any additional costs. Because low usage sites doesn’t generate memory or disk usage that much. And thats about all that generates costs in Webfaction.

Webfaction not so awesome

Well. A week ago Webfaction sent an email to its users. Hello all, we are about to migrate your accounts to tsoHost (UK) . It makes sense. Godaddy doesn’t want to have competing hosting companies under its umbrella. They want to get synergy out of its companies.

Pricing from tsoHost 2020-10-18

Unfortunately, tsoHosting is not very appealing for me. I don’t know what would be the migration plan as it was not described in the migration email. But from pricing perspective Ultimate would be the similar level than my Webfaction account.

And they have those numbers in their pricing. 10 hosted websites. Free standard SSL (for first year). 3 Migrations. Etc. Those numbers I don’t like as I’m coming from Webfaction where you could host 1000 websites in your account if you wanted to. Even though my needs are quite simple nowadays I still want feel the freedom.

Earlier I’ve been able to provide hosting to my hobby clubs etc because why not. I want to be that great guy in the future too.

The best managed shared hosting

So I started googling. Good Webfaction Alternative. Well, the results are poisoned with big players in the market. A lot of marketing sites of big players and too much noise. There’s so many hosting companies that you literally get millions of theoritically relevant results.

So, I didn’t do anything. Too much choices and all them seem to be bad.

A bit later I tried again. Twitter this time. Where would I go if I wanted to change hosting company but wanted to keep similar service than with Webfaction?

Soon I got responses (surprising actually). There happens to be a one-and-half year old company founded by people left Webfaction. The business idea is very same. Simple pricing. Lot’s of tools for developers and admins. Easy setup. Very predictable pricing. All that Webfaction had but design is better and tech behind the solution is better and more up to date.

It’s called Opalstack. They have servers in United States, Germany, Amsterdam, and Singapore. They probably will have more in the future. And they’ve really good customer support. Automatic Let’s Encrypt certificates (no limits) and if you need something they don’t have, you can install it to your user. Rather than trying to limit you they actually support you in all these tasks – even weird ones.

I personally believe that for people like me who don’t want to spend time upgrading OSes in VPSes this kind of managed shared hosting is very good way to fulfill all the needs. And for people that cannot really use cloud native components. As they’re not very cheap if you want to run your own WordPress or similar.

I don’t anymore have clients to put there (I’ve changed jobs). I definately would give them a chance even for that case. My experience of customer support is pretty awesome. They answer very fast and in multiple channels. Even though I’ve had also problems with my sites I’ve got always support in minutes.

Give it a try. Probably the best alternative for Webfaction refugees. And everybody else.