Software updates… update

We’ve released some software updates that bring new options for both PHP and CGI. PHP 5.5 is upgraded from beta to stable, a PHP 5.6 developer preview is available, and new stable-track and beta realms offer updated language versions and software tools for ssh and CGI usage.

PHP 5.5 is out of beta

We have upgraded PHP 5.5 from beta to production status. We’re going to kick it around for a couple more months before it becomes the default for new sites, mainly because we want to be very sure that WordPress has finally ironed out all the plugin-related kinks people are likely to encounter on a new install.

While PHP 5.5 was in beta, it was offered only in stochastic flavor with the resource charge waived. This state of affairs will continue until August 1st, then charges will revert to normal. Within the next couple of weeks, we will create a non-stochastic PHP 5.5 server type for those people who prefer that option.

Once PHP 5.5 becomes the default for new sites, we will phase out the ability to create new PHP 5.3 sites or downgrade existing sites to it. Sites currently on PHP 5.3 will not be forced to upgrade for as long as we can reasonably continue to support it. (And if PHP 5.2 was any example, that might be a pretty long time.) What we may do, however, is attempt to determine how much it costs us to maintain PHP 5.3 (which is no longer supported by its developers) and apportion that cost to sites still using it so that as the number falls, the cost for the people who don’t want to switch will rise, which should eventually create a feedback loop that helps get everybody up to date. But we’re a ways off of that yet and if we do pursue that, it will announced in advance and trivial to avoid by upgrading to a currently-supported version.

PHP 5.6 developer preview

We have also introduced an experimental PHP 5.6 server type. Like the 5.5 beta, it is available as a stochastic type with waived resource charges. Unlike the 5.5 beta, PHP 5.6 is not even released yet by its developers; it is still being finalized and tested. The version currently on offer at the time of this writing is 5.6-RC1. So inasmuch as beta services aren’t supported for production usage, even though they usually work fine, this is a way past that. Don’t use PHP 5.6 for anything remotely important yet. At present, it’s best suited for developers who want to experiment with the new language features or test their software for compatibility.

New site realms and updates

Site realms are the collection of software used over ssh and by CGI applications. For the third quarter, they’ve seen several updates:

  • We’ve released two new realms, one stable-track (“blue”) and one beta (“white”).
  • The experimental (“black”) realm has seen upgrades to perl 5.20 and Ruby 2.1.
  • The “green” stable realm has become the default for new sites. (We’re excited about that, as it is the first 64-bit clean stable realm, which allows the return of Go and Racket as languages supported out of the box.)
  • The “orange” stable realm moves to deprecated status and will no longer receive regular updates.

Although we don’t like involuntary upgrades due to the possibility of causing disruption, they are a necessity from a standpoint of keeping our systems secure and up-to-date without creating a steadily escalating workload that would drive prices up and responsiveness down.

As we accrue stable realms, we’ve been continually revisiting the question of how long to allow people to continue using deprecated realms. Our current target is to let you go up to a year without an involuntary upgrade. The “red” realm will be the first one to see this happen; around the first of the year we will start bumping red sites to the then-default stable realm.

However, there are still a few stragglers in pre-rainbow realms. We plan to start bumping sites off of those realms starting in October of this year. When the newly-released blue realm becomes the default for new sites, we will start involuntary migrations for anyone using the following obsolete-years-ago realms: freebsd6, freebsd72, 2011Q4. Because those are so far out of date, compatibility issues are likely (if the sites using such old stuff even still active), so we strongly encourage people to upgrade on their own timeline rather than running out the clock.

We are also going to phase out the “yellow” beta realm very quickly. The “white” realm is basically the same thing, only it is 64-bit clean with all the goodness that brings. So beginning in August of this year we will start moving everyone from “yellow” to “white” and then the “yellow” name will be retired for awhile.

For any site staring down the barrel of an involuntary realm upgrade, we will update our member interface to make this as visible as possible.

Other housekeeping notes

The following unrelated projects are still underway, and will receive separate updates when we have more to announce:

  • Migrating to new file server technology: Progress is slow but steady. We ran into some hardware issues which we believe are now resolved and currently we are focused on training on the new setup and on doing everything possible to minimize any inconvenience associated with the migration.
  • Expanding NFGI to support more languages: This has proved a little trickier than expected, but work is progressing. We are trying to see if we can develop a compatibility layer that would let us target a bunch of technologies at once.
  • There has also been a lot of physical reorganization going on to increase redundancy and shift some things around to make room for all the new stuff being added on both the front end and back end to improve performance, reliability, and scalability. We’re doing everything we can to prevent this from being service-affecting or requiring any scheduled downtime.

That’s all for now!


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  1. Sending out some emails might be a good idea if you want to get people to upgrade to newer realms. After you told me in the forum that one of my sites was on an old realm, I switched it to the latest one. The only reason it was still on the old one was that I had no idea I should ever bother to change it. I was barely aware that I even had choices. I chose one when switching the site to stochastic billing and never thought about it again.

    Something in the member interface would be good too, but I can imagine a lot of your members may not log in all that often, and so without an email they may not get adequate notice of the forced upgrade.

    Even in the worst case, relatively few people will be affected. We’re hesitant to send out messages about things that might happen that for most people, won’t. Over the years our members have expressed a pretty firm preference for us to email them less, rather than more. If we find particular trouble spots and a way to detect them so that we could selectively email just the affected people, we would definitely consider that. -jdw

    Comment by Pj — July 3, 2014 #

  2. Thanks, I really appreciate your commitment to stability and transparency!

    I just bit the bullet and migrated all my sites to green realm and latest server types. The only thing I had to do was remove a php_flag disabling magic quotes in an .htaccess (because apparently newer PHP doesn’t even have that misfeature!)

    For anyone who still needs php_value/php_flag, I found a migration path in the forum.

    Comment by Tim McCormack — July 3, 2014 #

  3. Does the PHP 5.5 configuration enable zlib.output_compression by default now? I just had to disable that in my conf/php.ini after switching to the 5.5 server type due to a conflict with the software I’m using.

    Comment by Patrick Burroughs (Celti) — July 3, 2014 #

  4. Enabling zlib.output_compression by default is new with 5.5 but not new to 5.5. In other words, it’s been that way for awhile now. Be sure to file a bug with the makers of the software you’re using if it didn’t automatically detect that. -jdw

    Comment by jdw — July 3, 2014 #

  5. I had one of those pre-rainbow sites. The thing is, it’s a bunch of static files that are rarely updated via rsync. As such, the realm it runs under is (from my perspective, anyway) vanishingly unlikely to be relevant. Would it make your life easier if we could mark sites like this “I don’t care what realm this uses”?

    Comment by Zack — July 3, 2014 #

  6. I suspect a lot of the pre-rainbow sites are in that category. And yes, we’re considering an option that would let you choose how aggressively you want us to upgrade a particular site. -jdw

    Comment by jdw — July 3, 2014 #

  7. Just an idea mostly unrelated to the actual content of the post. You mention “retiring yellow for a while” which I assume is to prevent “mindshare” clashes between people using an old yellow and a new yellow (if that makes sense). Perhaps “namespace” the colors with a year (so you could have yellow2014, yellow2015, etc) so as to ever avoid confusion between which yellow someone might be using (though you’re likely doing that by not recycling colors until no one is using the old color anymore).

    In any case, you’ve probably thought this through far more than I have, just an idea that came to mind.

    Comment by CasaDeRobison — July 15, 2014 #

  8. I’d like to be notified by email before any involuntary change. Perhaps you can add a checkbox in the member area for this? And yes, I still have an active site on freebsd6. As long as the site is working I have no reason to voluntarily change realms or look in the member area or blog.

    Comment by Adam — August 12, 2014 #

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