Typo Review

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In part of our new re-think in developing Skribe we have decided to evaluate a bunch of blogging applications and services on the web. For anyone who might be interested here is my (positive) review of Typo – which i’ve been happily using here for a few months now. Its not a complete review by any means, and i’ve really only highlighted points that are relevant to our development and planning work. But read on if you like;

What is Typo ?

‘Typo is a lean engine that makes blogging easy’. Its an open source web application for a personal blog site, that can be installed (i.e. just unzipped and configured) on your web server. Its free and can be downloaded from here – the source files are also available in a public subversion repository. The latest version (as of Jan 06) is 2.6.0 (released Nov 05)

The first revision of Typo was written to power too biased, Tobias Luetke’s web blog. While he was waiting for a client at Starbucks he wrote down the wrong time for the appointment so naming it Typo seemed quite fitting. It was also one of the first open source Rails Blogging applications on the web – and perhaps still is.

What technology/software does it use ?

Typo is proudly powered by Ruby On Rails, and can be configured to link to either a MySQL or Postgres database. The server must support Rails, Ruby, and CGI. FastCGI is recommended for better performance. The blog can run on any HTTP server supporting Rails, including, WebBrick (Ruby web server), Apache (& Apache2) or Lighttpd

How is the database structured ?

After unpacking the release, you use a .sql file included in the release to generate a blank set of tables in the database. Installing Typo (although simple enough) is NOT for non-techies. Your expected to have a little knowledge of mySQL and FTP’ing files.

The db includes the following key tables; (there are 15 tables in all, but I’m only summarizing these important ones)

  • articles – created by the blog author(s), this holds the main content, title, author and id of each article. Body of the article is stored in 2 fields, one with the html encoded text, the other with the plain text with the markdown syntax. This means that the html parsing engine (e.g. markdown) is only used when articles are added/edited and not on the fly when rendering pages. The table also includes a permalink field – for direct url linking to the article page. And allow comments/trackbacks for individual articles.
  • comments – linked to an article_id, stores the actual comment (and the comment html in a separate field) – includes IP address, date/time, author, email, and url. Only author and comment are required. Note that IP logging is only done on comments, since you obviously need to be logged in to post articles.
  • categories – Categorisation on articles is achieved using this table and the following fields, id, name, position, permalink. A separate articles_categories mapping table simply maps articles to these categories. Any article can belong in none or more categories.
  • page_caches – contains a unique id and url to all pages (XML and html) cached by typo – I assume ruby caches pages frequently, you are given no control of this process in the admin, except clearing the cache. I haven’t looked into how typo caches pages – but in general use I have found it to be a little biased in caching, and sometimes I find myself clearing the cache in the admin to see immediate changes in my published site.
  • sessions – instead of using a temp session file, sessions (for the admin) are stored in this db table. Using a db table for session data is proven to be more secure than a file – especially on a shared hosting environment.
  • settings – general blog settings are stored here in a name/value arrangement – this is good for 2 reasons; it means settings aren’t stored in a hard to reach file – AND using name value pairs, more settings can easily be added to the table – should newer versions of typo require them.
  • trackbacksTrackbacks to your blog articles are stored here. Trackback is a mechanism used in a blog to show, around an entry, a list of other blogs that refer to it. I haven’t used it much, but it seems straightforward enough. Warning most of the trackbacks on my blog are from spam sites. So I’ve disabled them for now. I don’t think typo has very good (or any) spam protection on trackbacks.
  • sidebars – used by typo to keep track of what sidebar components are installed on the blog, their order and when they were last updated. Typo allows you to easily drag and add sidebar components like, Flickr images feed, delicious link feed, your blog article archive, plain html box, standard RSS feeds etc. Its a powerful feature that’s easy to use and is one thing typo does very well.

What templating system does it use ? – if any

Typo uses the Rails, MVC approach, with templates clearly separated in the view from the rest of the application. Typo allows ‘themes’ to be easily applied using the admin. Download and unzip the theme (which contains graphics, rhtml, javascript files etc.) – then use the admin to simply activate it.

Typo takes care of the rest – copying the necessary files from the theme to the public/ and views folders. I’m in the process of re-skinning typo right now, so I’ll know more about this whole process soon.

How does it perform ?

Lots of blogs including my own use Typo with no problems. The main issues with performance arise with the hosting environment and how they have configured their web server running Rails and FastCGI. I found that on Dreamhost, I had to write a cronscript to kill wandering FastCGI processes when Typo was used by more than a couple of users. It turns out this is not Typo’s fault, but Dreamhost’s. Generally page loading speed is very good and the application runs smoothly.

What does it do well ?

To summarise – Typo is very good at the following;

  • Importing RSS feed data from other web apps
  • Spam protection on comments
  • Applying Themes
  • Using html parsing engines (like markdown and textile)
  • Caching html and XML
  • Easy to use admin – very simple
  • Keeping things simple – db structure is straight forward
  • Easy to extend features and develop for the blog
  • Compatible with desktop blog clients like "MarsEdit"http://ranchero.com/marsedit/ etc.

What can be improved ?

  • Spam protection on trackbacks
  • No image/file uploading features
  • Admin is completely separate from the published website, tighter integration could help when making quick changes
  • Hard to install/configure for non tech users
  • More control over caching or better choice of caching periods
  • HTML parsing engines (markdown/textile) may be complicated for non web savvy users to learn
  • No formal migration process – to pull entries/comments from another blog, like MoveableType etc.
  • No backup or content extraction process – i.e. theres no way to download a copy of your Typo content.

What, if anything, may be of use in Skribe ?

Its hard to compare Typo directly to Skribe, given that Typo is a standalone blogging application that must be installed – opposed to Skribe, a web application offering a blogging service to a large number of interconnected users. To summarise then – the following points and features should be considered in planning Skribe development.

  • Uploading Images, Files, Resources for use in Blog entries
  • Importing and displaying of external feed data – e.g. standard RSS and additional extra support for Flickr and other services
  • Good Page caching for speed, more control over your own page cache options
  • Spam protection via a bad IP list and online spam listing (and spam protection on trackbacks)
  • Commenting and Trackbacks on/off on individual entries
  • Easier UI for content editing
  • Use of Textile/Markdown for advanced editing
  • Storing both parsed xHTML and non-parsed body text (again for speed)
  • Tighter integration of admin features with published content, e.g. in-place editing
  • Themes – not sure we want to go with this in Skribe, as an alternative, I suggest we create a simple API that will allow developers to hook into Skribe and get Skribe content out.
  • Skribe must be compatible with desktop blogging clients in one form or another
January 18, 2006 09:50 by

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