Category Archives: Tips & Tricks

The hottest tips, tricks and solutions.

Automattic brings free themes to Jetpack, WordPress Premium

Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, WooCommerce, Jetpack and others has been betting hard on services lately. To add more value to users of their existing services, they’re now bringing a big seelction of themes to them, for free.

Jetpack brings a little more .com to your blog

Automattics’ plugin WordPress tries to bring WordPress.com features to your blog. Options like social sharing, simple forms, sitemaps and others are a few clicks away if you install Jetpack and connect your website to WordPress.com. And now, Jetpack users get another “WordPress.com” perk: access to the WordPress.com themes. Users of Jetpack can now install templates that were previously made available to WordPress.com users, which comes down to 150+ free themes that can be installed within a few clicks. There’s some pretty interesting templates in there. They might not all be “commercially” interesting for business sites but a lot of them definitely have their uses.

WordPress Premium now includes… Premium Themes

WordPress Premium is a service that adds new features to your WordPress.com blog, like a custom domain name, more storage, more design options and VideoPress. As of this month, a new option has been added.

Premium users now have access to all “Premium Themes.” These are WordPress.com themes that you could unlock by purchasing them (for an average price of €80). Now, you can use these themes for free when you’re a WordPress Premium user. Which is is a great deal, considering a Premium plan costs you €99 a year. You do the math.

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Error decoding JSON data: Syntax error – One Possible Fix

All right, all right. We’re mighty late with a ‘fix’ for this problem. But that’s because we haven’t run into it either. Let’s get to it.

After upgrading Joomla to Joomla 3.6.3 you might see the following error when trying to edit an article (and possibly modules, …):

Error decoding JSON data: Syntax error

I am not going to pretend to speak developer all of a sudden, but this error means that something’s wrong with one of the ‘settings’ for your article / module. Somewhere in your database, a mistake was made.

One “popular” fix back in the days was to partially roll back to Joomla 3.6.2. That’s the wrong approach for two reasons:

  1. THAT VERSION WAS PATCHED FOR A REASON.
  2. You’re not fixing the problem. You’re just killing the messenger and burying the body.

Instead, you could look into the database itself. When I read from Michael Babker (I hope I wrote that right) that it could be as simple as a { too little in one of the ‘settings’ fields I went to research.

So, here’s what you can do to try and solve the problem.

  1. Note the ID of the article / module
  2. Open PHPMyAdmin / your MySQL workbench of your choice.
  3. Lookup the item in com_content, com_modules or com_whateveryourelooking for. Joomla is fairly good at naming databases after what they contain. (No offense, Magento. You suck.)
  4. Compare the column values to those of articles / modules that work just fine, and focus at the start / stop. Do you see any extra / missing symbols?

When I tried this on my article, I stumbled upon the following:

JoomlaMySQLJSON

Pay close attention to what’s going on in the attribs column. Something went wrong, and there’s an extra {“ that shouldn’t be there.

After removing these extra characters, the article opened again.

So, if you are confronted by a JSON error, check your data. And make a back-up first.

Fun Story Time: As it turns out, this wasn’t even the article the client needed to edit and it only said “test”. 

My WordPress Test Site Got Hacked

I am sure you’ve heard about the “scandal” in which millions of WordPress sites got “defaced” by those pesky hackers. As it turns out, according to reports from leading security companies, it wasn’t particularly hard to pull off either.

WordPress introduces a REST API which allows you (and others) to do all kinds of wizardry remotely. Apparently, that included the option to edit all your posts and pages without providing any kind of credentials. Great job, WordPress!

With millions of people being “hacked”, of course my test website couldn’t miss out. You see, I have WordPress sites in all sorts and shapes that I keep up to date. Personal blog. Work websites. Fun blogs. However, there are also my “test blogs”, which I use to test plugins for WordPress. I also have those kind of sites for Joomla, but that’s another story.

Most of those sites are hosted on Siteground, but one is hosted on a server I shall not name. One where updates don’t happen automatically, and WAF’s are non-existent.

Well, my friends, that website got “hacked”. The reason I keep writing “hacked” is because alledgedly it takes nearly zero knowledge or effort to pull it off. You just need to know about the exploit, do two minutes of work and you can go crazy.

Which they did. The nice Syrian Peshmerga message left a message stating that ISIS sucks and that they’re going to do stuff. I’m guessing it’s related to shooting them. There was also the online pharmacy that wanted to promote some sort of products.

In my case, no damage was done. This is a test site. I don’t update it, because the site is a “throwaway” site. If something is broken, I’ll just start over. There’s the fair expectation that something WILL go wrong. Seeing the REST API hack in action on that site wasn’t scary, it was more of a “Ahah, it’s that easty?” moment.

However, can the same be said about those other sites? How about your sites? Can you afford to have your website defaced? Probably not. It would be bad for business.

That’s why you need to make sure your websites are up to date. And educate yourself on what to do when you DO get hacked. To help you with that, here’s a short and sweet strategy guide.

How not to get hacked

  1. Keep Your WordPress site up to date. Or, have someone else do it for you. Our friends over at Siteground allow you to enable automatic updates. If I’m not wrong – and I often am – they offer to enable this by default. The feature is super easy – once a new version is released Siteground will roll it out for you. Alternatively, some “Installers” like Installatron also roll out automatic updates. Of course, you could do it all manually. Assuming you’ve picked up on the news that an update is released. Unlike Joomla, WordPress doesn’t send reminders that a new version is available.
  2. Make sure you’re using quality web hosting. It’ll prevent you from most server side exploits. And if your hosting company is *really* good they’ll have rules and checks in place to prevent common exploits, like (again) our friends over at Siteground have in place.
  3. Don’t install shady plugins. Or themes. That’s an open invitation to be hacked. And those “cracked” versions of ExpensivePlugin? Yeah, that’s not a good idea either.
  4. If your website is technically sound, make sure that *you* aren’t the weakness. If your password is easy to crack, change it. Websites like HaveIBeenPwned can tell you if you’ve been part of security breaches. That can lead to a big “Oh, shit” moment when you were using the same password everywhere. Also, make sure to enable two-factor authentication.

How to recover from being hacked

  1. Restore your back-ups. What’s that? You didn’t make any, and assume your host is making them for you? While that might be true in some cases, that is NOT a safe bet to make. Setup your own backup tool, like Akeeba Backup or Vaultpress, an configure it. Make backups to more than one location. AND TEST YOUR BACKUPS
  2. Audit your website. Do you know how they got in your website? Then you probably have no idea how big the damage really is. If your website is used professionally, and your income depends on it, consider hiring an expert who knows what he’s doing. Unfortunately, that excludes  most of the $5 freelancers from a certain continent that “claim to be expert in Joomla, WordPress, Drupal, Magento, Grav, Prestashop, OsCommerce, Ghost, Facebook and Microsoft Word.”

    If you are using Joomla, a tool like MyJoomla can help you audit your website. I’m sure similar websites for WordPress exist as well.

  3. Patch your security holes. Don’t just restore your website, and assume you’re not going to get hacked again. You’d be wrong, and stupid to assume that you were just unlucky.

Of course, some people would suggest that my list is missing “Migrate away from WordPress, lol.” I mean, yes. That can be an option if the security holes in WordPress concern you. Just keep in mind that no CMS is perfect, and prone to security problems. Yes, even the one you built yourself. Especially the one you built yourself.

Do you have tips or suggestions to update our list? Questions and being hacked? Use the comments below to be heard. Please keep the “WordPress sucks lol get gud noob” jokes to a minimum.

 

Why I Don’t Host My Blogs Myself

Today was one of those days. As I got to the office, I received a notification that a server was down. Fixing this web server put a claim on all of my time that day, and even bit a chunk out of my free time as I got hime.

Web servers are complicated beasts. In principle, setting up your own hosting is very simple. You lease a server or VPS, install MySQL, PHP and Apache and get started. However, the devil is in the many details. You need to set up all those different modules, and so on. It’s like you are opening a puzzle box, and not all the pieces are marked properly.

In theory, I could setup my own web server. It sounds tempting: spend 10 to 20 dollars a month on a VPS, quickly setup LAMP and host as many sites as I want. Or, in reality, as many sites as my server can handle.

Because that’s the problem, isn’t it? It’s all simple in theory. But in reality, dealing with web servers is often a frustrating venture. You can run into all sorts of problems just to set them up. And when the time comes to keep your server secure, you need to spend the time updating the different parts and hoping that you don’t somehow break something in the process.

I admire the people that can setup their own server. They are probably saving money in the long run. However, if I were to follow their lead I’d have to invest a lot of time into the ordeal. Time that I’d rather use on things I’d rather be doing: writing blog posts, looking into interesting technology or making videos.

Why I benefit from shared hosting

For me, shared hosting is simply a better match. I pay roughly the same what I’d pay for a VPS, but I don’t need to invest any time in setting up the server.  There is no need to do updates of the server. Maintenance wise, shared hosting couldn’t be easier for me.

There’s also a big set of tools that you can use that’ll make your life easier. Installers for WordPress and Joomla, setting up a new database with just a few clicks, monitoring tools built straight into Cpanel. When you want to dig deeper into your websites and start tuning and optimizing things, the options are there. But they’re strictly optional.

Of course, there is a dark side to shared hosting. You are sharing resources on a server. Depending on your hoster, this might lead to poor site performance.

Fortunately, the Joomla community pointed me into the way of Siteground. I had my doubts at first, but after using them for three years I can say that their shared hosting is top notch. Websites hosted on their server are fast, responsive and have an extremely good uptime. Combine that with the usual tools and some very cool WordPress and Joomla tools that the guys at Siteground have built themselves, and some features you don’t find in other shared hosting solutions and you’ve got a winning solution if, like me, you don’t want to host your sites yourself.

When using Siteground, even managing updates is taken out of your hand. Joomla and WordPress will be updated automatically for you, which means you’re always up to date. All you need to look after, are the plugins you’ve installed on your website.

Another upside of shared hosting, and using Siteground specifically, is the support. Now, I rarely need or use their support options. But on the rare occasion that I did, their support was fast, knowledgeable and more than willing to solve my problem.

The fact that I can just sit back and relax thanks to Siteground is a big reason why I prefer not to host my websites on myself. If you’re wondering ‘Should I host my own websites’, then the answer is ‘It depends’. Are you willing to commit the time, or are you more interested in taking care of your website yourself?

If you are looking for a hosting solution where they take the hard work out of your hands, then give Siteground a try.

Let’s help each other out

Are you looking to sign up for quality hosting? Cool! Consider giving Siteground a try. In the process, we can help each other out. If you sign up through my affiliate link, you

  • Get an optional free site transfer
  • Get a big discount on your 1st year of hosting
  • Might be eligible for a discount, if you’re coming from another hosting company.

Of course, there’s also something in it for me. If you sign up, I get up to three months of hosting for free. That’d be an awesome gift, allowing me to focus on my writing.

You can sign up for this deal right here!

Or, if you want to check out what Siteground has in store first, you can click the banner below and decide later.

Web Hosting

Checking on your disk usage in Windows 10 (and beyond)

In this day and age, running out of disk space should be hard. I mean, if you haven’t got at least an 1TB hard disk in your computer, isn’t it about time to consider an upgrade?

However, we can still be surprised by running out of place. How can you figure out where all that storage capacity went off to?

In today’s video we teach you two ways to check your disk usage. The first option uses a new option that shipped with Windows 10. It’ll allow you to get a rough idea of what’s eating up your disk space.

For a more detailed look into your hard drive, you we highly recommend using WinDirStat. It offers more details on both the folder level and the file level and helps you identify who’s claiming all that space. It’s usable in Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7 and, if you’re really be hind the times, probably works on Windows Vista and Windows XP.

You can see both of the options explained in our latest video.