WordPress plugins, PHPUnit, WP_Mock and a few important principles

Hello Dolly

I’ve had this post in my head for quite some time now, but I’ve never really found the time to write it. But then a few days ago, Tom McFarlin wrote about how we should avoid calling add_action and add_filter in a class constructor, something I obviously agree with. From some of the comments on Toms post, I realized that some concepts of OOP and writing testable code deserves some additional explanation. I tried to write a comment reply to cover some of the basics, but quickly realized that it’s better to actually get this post out the door.

Not that Tom didn’t do an excellent job with his part, just that I think that we could zoom out a little further so that we more pieces of the puzzle. To get that complete perspective, let’s introduce the star of this show…..

 

Introducing testable Hello Dolly

With the risk of choosing a too simple example, I’ve created an object oriented version of the classic Hello Dolly plugin, originally written by Matt Mullenweg.

My version is simply called Hello Testable and demonstrates a few of the things I tend to emphasize while writing high quality code for WordPress. The main objective is to show how WordPress plugin code can be made testable and more maintainable by following a few simple principles. Hopefully, I also successfully explain why “testable code” is not just something you fix towards the end of a project, it’s something you should have in the back of your head all along the way.

All the code for this post is available at GitHub. Most interesting parts of the code will be repeated in this post, but for reference and completion you might still want to have a look.

Excuses in advance

Before working with WordPress, I’ve spent a lot of time working with other PHP projects. As a result, I tend to write PRS2 style code rather than follow the WordPress code style guidelines. I’m terribly sorry about any confusion this may cause. Some day I will get in line with the rest of you.

Plugin flow

Before going into details and trying to make the case for my approach, let’s look at what happens when the Hello Testable plugin runs.

Hello Testable flow pt1

 

In the first part, the plugin bootstrap file gets included (1) by WordPress core as you’d normally expect. But instead of directly creating our main plugin class (this is an OOP version, right?) an instance of a Dependency Injection container is created (2). Once we have a container, the bootstrap file asks the container to give it an instance of the helloTestable class (3).

But there is a little caveat. The main plugin class constructor expects that an instance of a Lyrics object is passed in as a parameter. The container object knows this, so it goes about and creates a Lyrics object first and then uses it to create the main plugin class instance (4). This knowledge about how to create other objects is represented in the RuntimeProvider class.

Once the bootstrap function get’s the main plugin class instance back (5), it tells WordPress core that the init function of the class should be hooked up with the WordPress ‘init’ action (6). A little later, when all other plugins had their chance to load, WordPress core will come back and actually call the init function on the main plugin class (7). The init method will in turn hook up two other functions, echoLyric and echoCss to be called by WordPress in response to the ‘admin_notices’ and ‘admin_css’ events, this is not shown in the image above.

And even later when WordPress is ready to render the page, core is going to come back and actually fire the ‘admin_notices’ and ‘admin_css’ events. This is what that parts looks like:

Hello Testable flow pt2

As you can see, at this phase the bootstrap file and the container class has nothing to do with the flow. This is just the normal WordPress flow as you’d expect. A piece of css is echo’ed out and a little bit later, a piece of html follows.

Plugin design

The original Hello Dolly plugin uses the simplest imaginable plugin design. A single PHP file that does everything. My plugin follows a rather different approach:

Hello Testable overall design

The point of introducing the dependency injection container is that we get a distinction between creating an object and using an object. For anyone asking why, the easy explanation is that this is what you get if you want your classes to have zero dependencies, for a more in depth answer: read the rest of this post.

In this design, all dependencies are concentrated to the bootstrap module (a simple php file) and the Runtime provider class. The Main plugin class and the Lyrics class doesn’t have any dependencies on any other named class. And by concentrating the amount of dependencies to a single place (ok, two places) we end up with a class design that lends itself well to unit testing. More on that later.

Some formal background

So I’m suggesting an overly complex approach to solving a problem that Matt Mullenweg solved in roughly 80 lines of code years ago. Why? Well, obviously I’m doing this to show you something important and to begin explaining what that is, I first need to mention three (and a half) quite important topics in software design, namely:

Reducing tight coupling and dependencies

When we write code in a module or class that has strong dependencies on other classes and modules, we end up with tightly coupled code, or code with a lot of internal or external dependencies. The way we have written software in the WordPress community has over the years led to a lot of very tightly coupled code.

The problem with tightly coupled code is that we make a simple change in one place, we often get ripple effects that ends up affecting code in lots of different places. It also makes code reuse a lot more difficult. When the code in one class makes explicit assumptions about the mere existence of another class, our first class has a dependency of that other class. As you can imagine, this is quite common in WordPress, we have lots of dependencies everywhere!

As a rule of thumb, anytime you use the new keyword or call a static member of another class, your current class has a dependency on that other class and it’s worth examining if it’s avoidable. The same thing is also true if you ever call a non internal php function in the global namespace, that’s also a kind of dependency. Avoiding global functions is obviously going to be tricky in a WordPress environment and as we shall see later, globals do make our job a bit harder once we get to writing tests. In the WordPress world, we’re going to have to live with global functions for a long time, but there’s no need for us to add more global functions into our own plugins and themes.

Dependency inversion principle and dependency injection

Dependency inversion principle offers a solution to the problem of tight coupling. At the practical level, it simply means that instead of letting code in a class explicitly refer to other classes and create new objects that it needs, we should get those objects passed in to it before they are needed. A class could accept the needed objects via its constructor or via getters and setters, the how is not as important as the why.

As most people figure out, if we pass in all objects to our class via some mechanism, we still need to instantiate those objects somewhere. In a simple application, we could create all needed objects as part of a simple bootstrap function. When the class structure gets a little bit more complex, we could use a dependency injection container as a practical way to manage the object creation in one single place. By adding a dependency injection container to our solution we get an excellent tool for avoiding tightly coupled code.

Separation of concerns

The third principle is about separation of concerns. We should strive for code that keeps each module and class to be as lean as possible. This has many advantages. First, we avoid ending up with a ‘god class’ or ‘god object’, a large do-it-all piece of code that keeps track of everyone and everything. A god class (or worse, function) is a known anti pattern and deals with application control flow, it reads and write files, it encapsulates configuration and usually a 100 or so other things. God classes are often a mess to maintain and debug or even understand just a days after implementation. It’s better to divide the code into smaller, single purpose classes where each class has a distinct responsibility.

The second advantage with separation of concerns is that it promotes reusable code. Chances are that once we’ve put everything that has to do with i.e. reading and writing settings into a separate class, it’s a whole lot easier to reuse that code in other classes.

Avoid side effects

The last topic is picked up from the PHP Framework Interop Group standard PSR1. Section 2.3. It states that loading a module should either declare things (classes, constants, functions etc.) or it should execute logic. It should never do both. I’m sure there’s a non-PHP specific computer science name for this principle, but I’m going to be honest and tell you that my main reason for thinking this is important is because it makes my life as a PHP coder easier.

Hello Testable implementation

Having these concepts in mind, let’s look at the implementation of Hello Testable and how hopefully some of the design decisions I’ve made starts to make sense. First, let’s look at the bootstrap function in hello-testable.php:

The role of the bootstrap function here is to kick of the process of setting up our plugin. It’s called as a side effect when WordPress includes our plugin file.

First we’re trying to exit early from ajax requests since we’re not dealing with ajax.

Next, we’re checking that we are on a new enough version of PHP, this deserves a comment. To make everything work as we need, we’re going to use auto loading and namespaces through the magic of Composer and 5.3.9 is the earliest version Composer will run on. While it’s theoretically possible to get our job done without it and make the code PHP 5.2 compliant, I happen to think that it’s reasonable to skip 5.2 support. Someone else has already built a well supported and fully functioning package manager (Composer) with auto loading and namespace support that the rest of the PHP community adopted years ago. It makes sense to use it even if it’s at the expense of those poor souls who are still maintaining WordPress on PHP 5.2.

I’m sure all 5.2 users are happy that WordPress still runs on their 11 year old web servers that hasn’t been supported for the past 6 years, but I think it would be unreasonable for them to expect that all new code written for WordPress will.

Line 21 is where the fun stuff starts, we’re creating an instance of a Container and on the next row we initialize the container using our own RuntimeProvider class.

Some of you might notice that I’m creating an instance of Pimple (a well known 3rd party dependency injection container) but it appears that Pimple is part of our own, plugin specific, namespace. Isn’t that weird since we’re using Composer and all? Well, yes and yes. I have made a copy of Pimple and made it part of our own code base. And yes, in an ideal world this is exactly the kind of thing that Composer could help us avoid. The problem here is WordPress.

As described in this post, it’s not really safe to include 3rd party libraries via Composer into a plugin or theme for several reasons. In order to safely take full advantage of Composers package management, WordPress would need to have a centralized vendor folder where all 3rd party libraries reside. As things stands right now, another plugin in my WordPress installation could already be using an incompatible version of Pimple and if that’s the case, my plugin would break. So for now, we should be very careful with including 3rd party libraries via Composer into WordPress themes and plugins, especially if we intend to distribute them. Making a local copy of Pimple and renaming it’s namespace is a pragmatic solution to this problem and Pimple has a fairly small implementation so it’s not that expensive anyway.

Next, our bootstrap function asks the dependency injection container for an instance of the main plugin class and then lastly hook the init function up to the WordPress init event. Note that we’re explicit here, we first create the instance of the main plugin class, then we’re explicitly calling add_action. There’s a reason and we’ll get back to it when we look at unit tests for this class.

Also note that this module actually violates the side effects principle, it obviously defines a constant as well as two functions and it certainly executes some logic. My honest opinion is that it’s OK to violate that principle (and a few others) in the bootstrap module, but that’s about the only place it’s OK. I’m sure a lot of pragmatic people will agree, if you don’t agree, please let me know in the comments below.

RuntimeProvider.php – initialize the container

The role of the RuntimeProvider class is simply to initialize the Pimple container:

This is standard Pimple setup where we tell the container how to provide objects of the different classes we’re going to use. When the bootstrap class initializes the Pimple container, the code in the RuntimeProvider::Register is executed. Pimple promotes lazy loading, so it’s not until anyone actually wants a Lyrics object that the closure function will be executed and a Lyrics object is created. In our little sample, we have little use of lazy loading since all objects will be created at plugin load time. But it’s worth mentioning that this approach doesn’t always mean that all objects are always created at plugin load time since it’s a common misconception. It will simply depend a little bit on your code at large.

The Lyrics class constructor takes a file name as parameter and the main plugin class, helloTestable, wants a Lyrics object as parameter to the class constructor. Pimple will resolve the dependency between helloTestable and Lyrics so that when we ask for helloTestable, a Lyrics object is created on the fly.

Lyrics.php – Fetching lyrics

Consistent with the principle of separate concerns, the main plugin class doesn’t concern itself with reading lyrics, we’ve put all the lyrics related code into a separate class. Also note that the Lyrics class doesn’t even know anything about the song Hello Dolly, it just happily accepts the path to an external file to parse.

(note, this has some security implications since anyone with write access to the server could replace the content of the file with something dangerous, it can be mitigated but that’s outside the scope of this post)

If you have seen the source of the original Hello Dolly song, this should look somewhat familiar.

helloTestable.php – The main plugin class

The last class we’re going to look at is the main plugin class. We’ll do this function by function, first, the constructor:

Real life dependency injection!

This is a typical constructor in a class that uses dependency injection, the only real thing that happens is that we store the injected dependency into a private member variable. Apart from that, nothing and that’s exactly the intention. We don’t want the class constructor to fiddle with anything except it’s own internal state, creating an object should have no side effects on state anywhere else in our application.

Next, we know from looking at the bootstrap code earlier that after creation, the bootstrap function will hook up the WordPress init event to the init method of this class, this is where the class gets to do things that affects the state of anything external:

This should be very familiar WordPress code. Note that we hook up the events to instance functions rather than static functions that you also often see in WordPress code.

The two last functions should be fairly straight forward:

Both these functions are almost but not quite completely uninteresting. You want to note that the echoLyric function is where we use the Lyrics object that was passed in via the constructor earlier. It’s actually the only place in the main plugin class where we make any assumptions at all regarding the Lyrics object, the assumption that there is a function named ‘getLyric’.

This is a fine example of separation of concerns, the main class needs to know absolutely nothing about how lyric strings are created. In a later version of this plugin, we might want to change the implementation of Lyrics so that it reads 10 files with 10 songs and displays half of them backwards. Those changes would only affect the Lyrics class, the main plugin class would remain untouched. The other benefit from following the principle of separate concerns is that the Lyrics class is easy reusable. At some point we might want to get a lyrics string as part of an ajax call to WordPress, and if so, the Lyrics class is easy to reuse.

It’s also a fine example of minimizing dependencies. Back in the RuntimeProvider class, we could create any kind of PHP object we like and pass it as a dependency to the main plugin class, as long as that class has an function called getLyric(), our code will work just fine. We could implement a new class called HttpLyrics that fetches the actual strings from a http server somewhere, or a class called DBLyrics that uses a database table to get it’s lyric strings. The main plugin class will never know the difference.

Code complete – let’s test

With that, we’ve finished talking about the implementation and had a look at all the interesting pieces of code from an implementation perspective. We’ve already seen that while real life usage of some of these principles gives some additional overhead, they start to pay off quite quickly in that our code is nicely modularized and easy to extend.

When we now turn to writing unit tests, we’re going to see even more advantages pan out in real life. I fully understand that even if some of the design decisions I’ve made starts to make sense, I think you’ll see that some of them are more or less mandatory as we strive for fully testable PHP code.

First, a word about unit testing.

Unit testing means that we should test our code in the smallest possible executable units. In PHP the smallest executable unit is typically a function so what we want is to test each function individually. The challenge is that most function often calls other functions, sometimes in other classes and sometimes functions in the global scope. It can quickly become quite messy to isolate each function so that test only concerns that specific function.

This is where the idea of avoiding dependencies in classes, having code modules that loads without side effects and writing code according to the principle of separate concerns should start to sound a little bit more appealing.

We know from experience that WordPress uses a lot of functions in the global scope so it doesn’t really matter how good our own OOP design is, if we’re dealing with WordPress we’re going to have to deal with global functions. Also, some of those functions will interact with the database or make assumptions that other parts of WordPress is initialized. It becomes messy real quick.

In unit testing, the solution to this kind of mess is to work with mock objects and functions. If our code calls a global function like add_action, we can mock that function instead of trying to load the relevant parts of WordPress. Mock function and objects can if used correctly, enable us to fully test our WordPress plugin without ever having to load WordPress. Besides that good feeling you get when following some computer science dogmatic principle that also means that your unit tests can be executed super fast. And lets face it, if the unit test suite takes 2 seconds to complete, youre going to run them a whole lot more often than if it takes 10 minutes.

There are lots of mocking libraries for PHP and PHPUnit but the gold standard of mocking WordPress code is a framework from 10up called (surprise!!) WP_Mock. WP_Mock can be a little bit tricky to get started with so I hope that this post also serves to give a few pointers on how that can be done. But this is not a WP_Mock tutorial so let me know in the comments if you think that’s something you’d like to see as a separate post later.

Writing tests

Let’s dive in and look at testing.

First test class – LyricsTest.php

This test class is for testing the Lyrics object. It really only have one interesting method, the constructor will get test coverage as a side effect from running this test:

We’re creating an instance of our Lyrics class. But instead of giving it the standard lyrics for Hello Dolly, we’re passing in a file from the fixtures sub folder. This file just contains 3 rows, all beginning with the word line and a space. This makes it easier for us to write predicable assertions for this function.

Here we also need to use WP_Mock to emulate the WordPress function wptexturize. Remember that our unit tests should run isolated, so including the WordPress implementation of this function is not an option (if we did, we’d be writing an integration test). Our mock implementation of wptexturize just returns the same string but with a space and the word wptexturize added. This makes it easier to verify that our code ran as we expected, a neat little testing trick.

This is what a unit test for WordPress plugin code will often look like.

  1. We create our object as normal, we only need to pass in our known dependencies.
  2. We mock a couple of WordPress functions from the global namespace and then run our function.
  3. Then to round up, we verify that we got the expected result by running a couple of assertions.

Next up – helloTestableTest.php

When testing the main plugin class, we have to use a few slightly different approaches. First of all, the main plugin class init function deals with WordPress internals, it doesn’t really return any data that we can test with assertions. But we can test that the expected add_action functions are called. Here, we talk about setting up expectations for our code and then WP_Mock will verify that our expectations are met:

For this particular test, we don’t even need to bother with passing in a functional Lyrics object since we know that the init function won’t use it and the constructor will only store it, so we can pass in a dummy. Next, we tell WP_Mock that we expect to get two calls to add_action with different parameters. When we run the init method from our test case, WP_Mock will thrown an error if the expectations weren’t met. Since we don’t have any return data from add_action, that’s about the only quality assurance we can do on this code.

Now stop for a minute and ponder the original statement made in Tom McFarlins post about calling add_action in the class constructor. If our main plugin class had violated that principle, we couldn’t have written this test.

In order to set up the expectations for WP_Mock, we’d first need to have an instance of the class. But creating an instance of the class would have already have called the add_action function and we’d miss our opportunity to check for it. So if you’ve read this whole post just to find an additional argument for Tom’s statement, this is it!

Next step is to test the echoLyric function. When doing this, we’re again getting an advantage of the fact that our code so far has very few dependencies. All that function cares about is that it can call a function called getLyric() on a private member variable. We could pass in our already quite easily testable Lyric class and just feed it a predictable text file, but that wouldn’t be testing in isolation so we want to avoid it. Another option would be to use WP_Mock och PHPUnits support for mock objects, they both have good support. But I’m going to show you another testing trick that I use a lot, creating your own mock classes:

First the mock class (located in tests/MockObjects.php):

Then the actual test case code:

Two things to notice. With our mock test class, it’s easy enough for it to just return whatever we initialize it with, it just needs to implement the expected getLyric() function. Creating simple mock objects like this is often very helpful.

Second, the echoLyric function in our main plugin class echoes out directly to standard out so we don’t have any return value to test against. Instead we’re using PHPUnits expectOutputRegex function to ensure that the outputted text contains the string that we initialized the mock object with.

Let’s stop again and think about what this would look like if we had implemented the Lyrics object with static functions and we wanted to test echoLyric(). In that case, the class name ‘Lyrics’ would already be hard coded into the code of helloTestable.php and we’d have a hard dependency to work with. It wouldn’t have been possible to mock the Lyrics object in any sensible way and we would have to accept a test that wasn’t as isolated. We’d be stuck with our test case indirectly using the standard implementation of the Lyrics class and we’d also be stuck with any dependencies that in turn would have. For this simple plugin it wouldn’t be a big deal, but imagine if the Lyrics class fetched lyrics data over http from a very slow or unreliable host. Our test would then depend on that unreliable host.

The last function in the main class is the echoCss function. This function uses the WordPress global function is_rtl() that we need to mock. For good measure, we test both possible return values from this function. This is easy to do in WP_Mock by defining a ‘return_in_order’ element that will give different return values for the first and second time it’s called:

Last but not least – RuntimeProviderTest.php

The runtime provider only have one function and we’re just going to write one test case for it and it’s really straight forward:

Asserting that we get the right kind of object when asking the container is really the only thing that makes sense to test.

With the above tests in place, we should be able to run phpunit from the command line and end up with a coverage report like this:

Hello Testable coverage report

Conclusion

Some 4500 words after I decided to add a few comments and insights to a post by Tom McFarlin, here we are. The point originally made was that we should avoid calling add_action and add_filter in class constructors which is still very true. If you made it this far into the post, you hopefully also agree that it a good idea.

Hopefully you also agree that it’s a good idea to consider what happens when follow a handful rather simple and obvious rules of how to write code. Rules by the way that have been known in computer science community for decades by now. Follow them and you’ll end up with testable and maintainable code. And as always, once you know the rules and how they help you write better code, you may break them as much as you want because you understand the consequences.

While writing this I think I’ve left out more examples than I left in, there are tons of other points to be made, samples to be shown and arguments to be had. Please let me know what you got out of this. Questions or opinions alike, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.

Tutorial: Managing a WordPress installation in Git using WP Bootstrap

Multiple copies

In the previous tutorial, we covered how to set up a simple WordPress site using WP Bootstrap, essentially preparing the site for git and git based deployments. In this tutorial we’re taking the next step. We’re going to add all the needed files to a Git repository and after that we’re going to deploy the code into a production environment.

Update 2016-01-11: After this post was first published, I’ve published wp-deployhelper, a tool intended to speed up deployments to shared hosts. If you’re interested in fast shared host deployments I strongly suggest you have a look at wp-deployhelper.

We’ll look at how we can deploy changes to the production environment regardless if you have ssh access with composer and wp-cli available, or if you’re working with a standard shared host using ftp access. Full ssh access to production is going to be better 999 out of 1000 times. But many WordPress developers have little or no influence over where their customers sites are hosted and we want to document a solid work flow even for this (very common) scenario.

The deployment technique outlined here is based on the very most basic git usage with a manual pull in the target environment. There are other more sophisticated ways like Capistrano or Rocketeer to get the job done and those will be covered at another time, in this tutorial focus is on the basics.

Overview

The steps covered in this tutorial are:

  • Initiating a local git repository and adding files to a Github repository
  • Checking out the project files on the production environment and set up the site for the first time
  • Making changes in the development environment and deploying them to production

 

Step 1: Initiating a local git repository and adding files

This step assumes that you have already created a repository on Github. We’re using a repository named “tutorial-simplesite1” for this part. Note that some of the commands below contains both the Github username and repository names, make sure you modify these if you copy/paste directly from this tutorial. You also need to have git installed and setup properly, it’s included by default inside the Vagrant environment we’re using. But apart from installing it, you will also need to set up name and email address and perhaps add an ssh key. Please refer to the help pages on Github on how to get started with Git and how to set up keys.

Make sure you the Vagrant machine is running (vagrant up) and that you are in a shell inside the machine (vagrant ssh) in the path where the development environment is ($ cd /vagrrant).

First, we’ll create a local git repository directly in the development environment;

$ git init

Create a .gitignore with the following

localsettings.json
.vagrant/
staging/
www/
vendor/
wp-cli.yml
composer.lock

Add the config files

$ git add appsettings.json composer.json .gitignore

Add vagrant files

$ git add Vagrantfile vagrant/

Add content and local files

$ git add bootstrap/ wp-content/

Then commit the files

$ git commit -m "initial import"

Set up the connection with Github and push, note that this assumes you are using Github with the same repository name as in this tutorial. Replace hostname, username and repository name to suit your conditions.

$ git remote add origin git@github.com:yourusername/tutorial-simplesite1.git
$ git push -u origin master

 

 

Step 3: Checking out the files on the production server

Note: In your production environment, I strongly discourage keeping the project files directly in the web root folder. In most hosting scenarios, you can keep the project files in a folder that’s not directly accessible via the web. If you have no choice, you must remove all sensitive information from localsettings.json once WordPress has installed for the first time.

Scenario 1. A server you can access via ssh with wp-cli and composer are installed.

In this scenario, we’re assuming that you are are working in your users home directory and that the web server is configured to use /var/www/tutorial-simplesite1. We’re also assuming that you have created a database and have the user name and password available.

Log in to the server and navigate to the folder where you want to keep your local copy of the code. Note that during checkout, a sub folder will be created, so run this command from one level above. Here we’ll create a sub folder projects under the users home directory:

$ cd /home/user/
$ mkdir projects
$ cd projects
$ git clone git@github.com:yourusername/tutorial-simplesite1.git

Then install WP Bootstrap via composer

$ composer update

…and initialize WP Bootstrap for access via Composer scripts:

$ vendor/bin/wpbootstrap wp-init-composer

Next, generate a localsettings file:

$ composer wp-init

Edit the contents of localsettings.json to suit your server:

{
    "environment": "production",
    "url": "www.example.com",
    "dbhost": "localhost",
    "dbname": "wordpress",
    "dbuser": "wordpress",
    "dbpass": "database_password",
    "wpuser": "admin",
    "wppass": "strong_and_long_pass_1234!",
    "wppath": "/var/www/tutorial-simplesite1"
}

Install WordPress, set up plugins and themes and import the content

$ composer wp-install
$ composer wp-setup
$ composer wp-import

That’s all for this phase.

 

Scenario 2. Standard shared hosting with only ftp access

In this scenario, we’re assuming that the production server is perfectly normal shared host. The steps in this section are tested against a simple $3.95/month account on Bluehost but the steps should be easy to reproduce on most shared hosts. To follow these steps you need to have ftp username/password as well as the database credentials, host, database name, username and password.

The next perquisite for this scenario to work is that your shared host allow remote access to the MySQL server. Some hosts have no restrictions for this at all, while Bluehost and many other hosts allow you to open access to the MySQL server for a specific IP address. Bluehost outlines the steps needed here: Remote Database Connection Setup. If you’re on a different host you can probably find help via their support pages.

Using Git to deploy your site to a shared host is based on the following idea:

  • We will use a local vagrant machine to check out the code, just as the first steps above
  • When creating the localsettings.json file, we will use the credentials for the production database on the shared host
  • Then we run the WP Bootstrap scripts to install, setup and import
  • At last, we will transfer the file tree to the shared host using ftp

If you are using the Vagrant skeleton that was suggested in the previous tutorial, you should already have a staging environment in your local vagrant machine that we will use.

First make sure your vagrant machine is up and running (vagrant up) and that you have ssh’ed into it (vagrant ssh). Then at the command line in the vagrant box,

$ cd /srv/staging

The nginx default setting in the Vagrant box is that the staging WordPress installation should be at /srv/staging/wordpress, so create that folder:

$ mkdir /srv/staging/wordpress

Then clone the code

$ git clone git@github.com:yourusername/tutorial-simplesite1.git

Then install WP Bootstrap via composer

$ composer update

…and initialize WP Bootstrap for access via Composer scripts:

$ vendor/bin/wpbootstrap wp-init-composer

Next, generate a localsettings file:

$ composer wp-init

Edit the contents of localsettings to suit the your domain name database credentials for your shared host. Note that we’re still pointing at a local folder for the installation. That’s because we’re setting everything up there first.

{
    "environment": "production",
    "url": "www.yourdomainname.com",
    "dbhost": "box000.bluehost.com",
    "dbname": "your_database_name",
    "dbuser": "your_database_user",
    "dbpass": "secret_password",
    "wpuser": "admin",
    "wppass": "password",
    "wppath": "/srv/staging/wordpress"
}

Install WordPress, set up plugins and themes and import the content

$ composer wp-install
$ composer wp-setup
$ composer wp-import

After this, you should be able to see your site via the local URL to the staging server, but it will be slow and look terrible. The reasons for that is that (1) it’s using the database on your shared host which will be a lot slower that a local and (2) all internal links, including those for css and image files are now pointing to the production URL. We will not adress those issues right now, instead we’re going to do the very last step, to transfer the files to the shared host.

The bulk of the work will be done using a tool named sitecopy. It’s been around for a long time and it’s sole purpose is to ensure that a remote version of a site is identical to a local version via FTP. It’s a good fit four our needs. First we need to install sitecopy.

$ sudo apt-get install sitecopy

Next, we’ll create a folder where it keeps its state and the file that controls the behaviour of sitecopy:

$ mkdir ~/.sitecopy
$ chmod 0700 ~/.sitecopy
$ touc ~/.sitecopyrc
$ chmod 0600 ~/.sitecopyrc
$ nano ~/.sitecopyrc

And add the following

site remote
    server ftp.yourdomain.com
    remote /public_html
    local /srv/staging/wordpress
    username yourusername
    password "secret_pass"
    symlinks follow

Exit save the file using Ctrl+o and then exit using Ctrl+x.
Then we initiate sitecopy and run the first update

$ sitecopy remote --init
$ sitecopy remote --update

Sadly, since we’re dealing with ftp this step is going to take some time, expect 15-30 minutes even for a small WordPress site. But the advantage of using sitecopy is that it’s fairly quick on subsequent updates, at least compared to other ftp tools. If you run the update again, the process should finish in just a few seconds.

Additional notes
On some hosts, Bluehost is one, the database host name in wp-config.php must be ‘localhost’ in order for the site to function properly. But in our WordPress staging installation we have set the host name to ‘box000.bluehost.com’. The best workaround for this is to go in via a standard ftp client and edit the file directly on the server. Then, in order to avoid that this file gets overwritten at future deploys, we exclude it from the scope using a directive called “exclude” in the .sitecopyrc file:

site remote
    server ftp.yourdomain.com
    remote /public_html
    local /srv/staging/wordpress
    username yourusername
    password "secret_pass"
    symlinks follow
    exclude wp-config.php

Scenario 2 summary

As we’ve seen, there is a straight forward way to maintain a WordPress site using proper git version control even if we have to deploy the site to a very simple shared host.

But this approach has a few downsides. Performance is one, even a simple WordPress site can take very long for the first deploy to finish. But even subsequent deploys can be challenging since the database might be updated minutes before all new files have been copied to the server.

Another downside is that this is far from as robust as a normal deploy with git and composer directly on the server. For instance, changes to files in core or in plugins that happen on the server are not automatically detected. So sitecopy might think that everything is in sync between staging and production even if there are major differences. Updating plugins and core on the production server is simply not recommended when using this approach. If that happens and the file trees come out of sync, you need to either manually edit the state that sitecopy maintains in ~/.sitecopy/remote (an xml file) or run the command sitecopy remote –fetch to get the current state from the server.

Alternate approaches

There are a few alternative approaches to keep two file trees in sync via ftp. One is anohter command line tool called lftp that has a pretty powerful feature to mirror two trees, if for some reason sitecopy does not work out for you, lftp might be an alternative.

However, the biggest downside with using ftp for keeping two file trees in sync is that ftp is very slow when it has to deal with large amounts of files and folders. Not because of the connection speed, but because there will be a huge amount of individual ftp requests and each request has a little bit of overhead time.

Some hosts, including Bluehost, offer a limited ssh access to the server, enough to run another file synchronization tool called rsync. Bluehost has an option where you can verify your account with their verification department and after that you can get limited ssh access to your hosting server. I will describe how to set up a rsync based deployment in a later post or tutorial, for now you should at least examine the options on your host. Here’s an article that explains how to get ssh access on Bluehost.

Step 4: Creating changes

Before heading on to the final step in this tutorial, we’re going to make a few changes in development so that we have something to deploy. We’ll make the following changes in the development environment:

  • Modify code in the child themes functions.php
  • Modify the title on the welcome page to say “Welcome (git deploy)”

By making these two simple changes, we’ll cover deployment of changed code, normally pretty easy to transfer. But we’re also covering a change that took place in the database, which often is a little bit harder.

First, make sure your vagrant box is still running and use your browser to surf to the development version of your site http://www.casestudy1.local/wp-admin. Log in to the admin area and make the modification to the welcome page. Change the title and feel free to do some changes in the content we created with Page builder. Save the page when your’re done.

Next we’ll make a little change in the child theme. Edit the file [project_folder]/wp-content/themes/vantage-child/functions.php and add the following code under the existing code:

add_filter( 'the_title', 'vantage_child_the_title',10, 2);

function vantage_child_the_title($title, $id = null)
{
    return $title . " [I'm added via code]";
}

Save the file and go have a look at http://www.casestudy1.local/, you should see that the title has changed, both the changed you did in the page editor as well as the text [I’m added via code]”. Once you have confirmed this, let’s bring up the terminal. Make sure to ssh into the Vagrant machine (vagrant ssh) and go to the correct folder:

$ cd /vagrant

Then we’re going to create a new export so that our database changes are stored in files in the bootstrap folder:

$ composer wp-export

Next, we’ll use git to find out what’s changed (output shortened):

$ git status
Changes not staged for commit:
	modified:   bootstrap/config/wpbootstrap.json
	modified:   bootstrap/manifest.json
	modified:   bootstrap/media/camera-1080/meta
	modified:   bootstrap/posts/attachment/camera-1080
	modified:   bootstrap/posts/ml-slider/new-slider
	modified:   bootstrap/posts/page/welcome
	modified:   bootstrap/taxonomies/ml-slider_manifest.json
	modified:   wp-content/themes/vantage-child/functions.php

WP Bootstrap regenerates all files in the bootstrap folder at wp-export, and if the internal ID’s changed during the last import process, chances are that there are small modifications in many files. We see our modified functions.php as well as the welcome page in the list of modified files, so it seems reasonable. We’ll commit these files and push them to the remote repository.

$ git add bootstrap/ wp-content/
$ git commit -m "A few changes"
$ git push

And that’s all for this part, all our changes are now stored safely in Git.

 

Step 5: Deploying the changes to production

So, in the last step in this tutorial we’re going to deploy these changes into production.

Scenario 1. A server you can access via ssh with wp-cli and composer are installed.

Log in to the server with ssh and navigate to the folder where you want to keep your local copy of the code (the folder where localsettings.json is located). Then do a git pull go get all the changes:

$ git pull

Then, apply any changes in themes or plugins (none in our case) and finally import the modified content

$ composer wp-setup
$ composer wp-import

And that’s actually it. You might want to create a small bash script to run both commands at once, or you might prefer to run them separately as we did above. In this case, we could have just run the wp-import command since we didn’t add any new plugins, but I’ve taken it as a habit to always run them both.

 

Scenario 2. Standard shared hosting with only ftp access

In this scenario, we’ll do pretty much the same things as above, but we’re going to run it from within our staging environment. Make sure you’re inside your vagrant box and navigate to staging:

$ cd /srv/staging/tutorial-simplesite1

Get the latest version of the code:

$ git pull

And then run the commands to apply changes;

$ composer wp-setup
$ composer wp-import

Now, all the database changes are in place on the production server, we need to push over the modified files as well. First, let’s look at what sitecopy want to transfer:

$ sitecopy remote --flatlist
sitestart|remote
sectstart|changed
item|wp-content/config/wpbootstrap.json
item|wp-content/uploads/2015/12/camera-1080-1080x380.jpg
item|wp-content/uploads/2015/12/camera-1080-720x380.jpg
item|wp-content/uploads/2015/12/camera-1080-768x512.jpg
item|wp-content/uploads/2015/12/camera-1080-150x150.jpg
item|wp-content/uploads/2015/12/camera-1080-960x480.jpg
item|wp-content/uploads/2015/12/camera-1080-1024x683.jpg
item|wp-content/uploads/2015/12/camera-1080.jpg
item|wp-content/uploads/2015/12/camera-1080-272x182.jpg
item|wp-content/uploads/2015/12/camera-1080-436x272.jpg
item|wp-content/uploads/2015/12/camera-1080-300x200.jpg
item|wp-content/themes/vantage-child/functions.php
sectend|changed
siteend|changed

Besides the functions.php file we know we changed, we’ll also see a bunch of other files that sitecopy think have changed. This is because how the import process works where several files get touched even if they didn’t in fact change. It’s a fairly small extra overhead, so we’ll get going with the final step:

$ sitecopy remote --update

 

Some more comments on the ftp/sitecopy approach

When writing this tutorial, the update of the above files took a total of 10 seconds. Most of that time was spent on transferering files that hadn’t actually changed. This means that the time between the database has been updated and all the files are in place was 10 seconds. During this time, there’s a fair chance that your site is in an “undefined” state, so we want to do what we can to fix this. Sitecopy offers a way to use checksums rather than the file modification date as detection method. That creates a little bit of overhead before the transfers can start, but it’s often worth it. If you have a lot of media files that is managed using WP Bootstrap, i suggest you add “state checksum” to the .sitecopyrc file:

site remote
    server ftp.yourdomain.com
    remote /public_html
    local /srv/staging/wordpress
    username yourusername
    password "secret_pass"
    symlinks follow
    exclude wp-config.php
    state checksum

Final thoughts

Combining Git with a “content aware” tool like WP Bootstrap is a fairly powerful combination. By defining precisely what parts of WordPress we need to manage, we can leave all the other stuff untouched. Updating the menu structure never conflicts with existing posts, comments or other content on the production site. So developers can take care of code and certain parts of the site, while writers and editors can manage the content that is just pure content.

Ideas? Questions? Feeling angry or happy? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Tutorial: Preparing a WordPress site for Git using WP Bootstrap

There are a lot of tutorials around about how to use Git to manage WordPress installations. While they are almost all very good, many of these tutorials encourage a work flow that works great for code but less than great, or not at all, for WordPress content. While most content in a WordPress site is just posts, comments and images some of the content is actually more important. Besides code, your WordPress site is also made up of menus, pages, widgets and options to work and look as you designed it, and in WordPress, most of that is also content. So we need an improved way of managing “application content” as opposed to “content content” to be able to maintain a good development work flow with Git.

In this tutorial, we’re going to go through all steps needed to setup a simple WordPress one-page site using WP Bootstrap as the main tool for migrating content. Since the site is created using WP Bootstrap, it’s also extremely easy to manage under Git source code control and to migrate it to a production environment. This text assumes that you have a basic understanding about Vagrant and some experience from a Linux command line will not hurt either. This text also assumes that you’re working on a Mac on Linux computer rather than Windows. Most commands will work the same on Windows, but please note that the author hasn’t tested.

Overview

We’re going to cover a few different areas.

  • First we’re going to create a Vagrant machine that we use as the development environment.
  • In the Vagrant machine, we’ll work with wp-cli, composer and WP Bootstrap which are our main tools to build up the site.
  • We will walk through how to modify appsettings.json, the main WP Bootstrap configuration file, to include just the parts of the content we want to manage using WP Bootstrap and show how export that content.
  • At last, we’ll re-import this content to an empty WordPress installation to verify that the process works as intended.

As the end result, we’re going to have a Git manageable WordPress site that takes content into account.

Step 1: Creating the Vagrant machine

Note: This guide does not aim to specifically teach anything about setting up and using Vagrant. If you want to read up on the basics of developing WordPress sites on top of Vagrant, please read this post. By the way, the rest of this text assumes that you have the vagrant plugin vagrant-hostupdater installed, as described in the linked post.

The first thing we’re going to do is to download a suitable Vagrant skeleton configuration. We’re going to use a derivative of Varying Vagrant Vagrants (vvv) with a little simplified setup that I’ve made available on Github. Open a terminal window and navigate to the folder where you keep your source code, the actual project folder will be created as part of this step, so don’t create that manually.

Get the zip, unzip it and rename the

$ wget https://github.com/eriktorsner/vagrant-wpskeleton/archive/master.zip
$ unzip master.zip
$ mv vagrant-wpskeleton-master/ casestudy1
$ rm -rf master.zip
$ cd casestudy1/

Navigate into the newly created folder casestudy1 and open the file Vagrantfile in your favorite text editor, you need to modify the four parameters in that file to suit this project (note that you might need to use a different IP depending on your Vagrant network settings):

 
# -*- mode: ruby -*-
# vi: set ft=ruby :

HOSTNAME = 'case1'
IPNUMBER = '192.168.50.38'
DEVDNS   = 'www.casestudy1.local'
TESTDNS  = 'test.casestudy1.local'

dir = Dir.pwd
require dir + '/vagrant/Vagrant'

Save the file and go back to the command line to type

$ vagrant up

This command might take a little while, up to 10 minutes is normal. First it will download the correct Ubuntu 14.04 LTS image and then it installs wp-cli, composer and some other tools. Once it’s finished, you can enter your newly created Vagrant machine:

$ vagrant ssh

 

Step 2: Install and configure WP Bootstrap

Note: From now on, unless stated otherwise, all bash commands shown should be executed from the /vagrant sub folder inside the virtual machine.

Once your inside the virtual machine, navigate to the /vagrant sub folder, install and initiate WP Bootstrap:

$ cd /vagrant
$ composer require eriktorsner/wp-bootstrap
$ vendor/bin/wpbootstrap wp-init-composer
$ composer wp-init

Note: The /vagrant sub folder inside the virtual machine is shared with the project folder on your normal hard drive, so you can edit files using your favorite text editor or IDE. This is one of the main advantages of using a Vagrant machine as development environment, you’ll use your standard set of tools to work with the code, but then the code runs inside a separate environment where you can install project specific things such as WP Bootstrap.

The last command above, wp-init, is a convenient command that creates template files for localsettings.json and appsettings.json. Those two files controls most of WP Bootstraps behavior so it’s nice get templates added. The file localsettings.json is used to keep settings that is specific to this machine, you’ll create a unique localsettings file for each different environment and you typically don’t want to maintain it in git. We need to edit localsettings.json to suit this machine and since we are using a standard Vagrant image we just use the mysql database created by default during the Vagrant provisioning. Edit localsettings.json:

{
	"environment": "development",
	"url": "www.casestudy1.local",
	"dbhost": "localhost",
	"dbname": "wordpress",
	"dbuser": "wordpress",
	"dbpass": "wordpress",
	"wpuser": "admin",
	"wppass": "admin",
	"wppath": "/vagrant/www/wordpress-default"
}

and appsettings.json to this:

{
	"title": "Case study 1"
}

Then we can get a very basic WordPress install up and running with a few commands:

$ composer wp-install
$ composer wp-setup

 

After a few minutes, you should be able to log in to your WordPress site using the url: http://www.casestudy1.local/wp-admin and login with username: admin and password: admin (don’t worry, your live site will not use these credentials, they are only used in development).

As a last preparation before moving on, we’re going to create a snapshot of what the WordPress options looks like right now for future reference using wp-cli. So before running the command, we’ll create a wp-cli settings file to reduce typing:

$ echo "path: /vagrant/www/wordpress-default" > wp-cli.yml
$ wp option list > opt.initial.snapshot

 

Step 3: Add plugins and a theme

This test site is going to use a free theme from the WordPress repository as well as a few free plugins. We’ll add them by editing appsettings.json and run the wp-setup command again. Open appsettings.json and change it to:

{
    "title": "Casestudy1",
    "themes": {
        "standard": ["vantage"],
        "local": ["vantage-child"],
        "active": "vantage-child"
    },
    "plugins": {
        "standard": [
            "ml-slider", "siteorigin-panels", "so-widgets-bundle",
            "wp-cfm"
        ]
    }
}

What does these things mean? Well, this json file contains different sections describing various aspects of the WordPress installation we’re creating:

  • title: This was added earlier and is simply the title for the WordPress site. This is the only mandatory property of appsettings.json since WordPress needs have a title to install and initialize. The other properties that are strictly needed, such as website url and admin username are defined in localsettings.json.
  • themes: this property is a json object with a few subproperties
    • standard: this is a list (array) of plugin slugs that will be installed from the WordPress standard theme repository. If you need, you can also specify a specific version using a colon, like this “vantate:1.0.2”
    • local: this is a list of themes that exist locally under “wp-content/themes” in your project folder. This is suitable if you’re using a premium theme that can’t be downloaded from the WordPress repo or as we’re going to do, use a local child-theme. The folder name needs to match the string supplied here, so for the above configuration, WP Bootstrap expects to find a folder named /path/to/your/project/wp-content/themes/vantage-child. Note that the folder will be sym-linked to the wp-content/themes folder in the actual WordPress installation (specified in localsettings.json).
    • active: a string that specifies the theme that should be activated, in this case, the child theme
  • plugins: This structure is very similar to the themes structure, but there isn’t any “active” property, all plugins are activated after install
    • standard: this is a list (array) of plugin slugs that will be installed from the WordPress standard plugin repository. If you need, you can also specify a version using a colon, like this “wp-cfm:1.0.2”. A URL to a zip file is also acceptable, this can be useful if you want to install a plugin directly from a git repo for instance
    • local: this is a list of plugins that exist locally under “wp-content/plugins” in your project folder. This is suitable if you’re using a premium plugin or plugins that you develop specifically for this particular site and that will be kept in git.

Before we can apply these settings to our WordPress installation, we need to create the child theme folder and place a minimal child theme in there.

$ mkdir -p wp-content/themes/vantage-child
$ touch wp-content/themes/vantage-child/style.css
$ touch wp-content/themes/vantage-child/functions.php

 

Open wp-content/themes/vantage-child/style.css in your favorite text editor and add the following content:

/*
 Theme Name:   Vantage-child
 Template:     vantage
*/

 

…and open wp-content/themes/vantage-child/functions.php and add the following:

<?php

add_action('wp_enqueue_scripts', 'theme_enqueue_styles');

function theme_enqueue_styles()
{
    wp_enqueue_style('parent-style', get_template_directory_uri().'/style.css');
    wp_enqueue_style('child-style', get_stylesheet_directory_uri().'/style.css', array('parent-style'));
}

 

Once both files are saved, we can go ahead and apply the changes using the command:

$ composer wp-setup

The first time this command runs, there’s not much output at all but it might take a minute or two depending on your Internet download speed. Once done, you can surf to http://www.casestudy1.local/ and you’ll see the Vantage theme default screen:

 

Vantage default look

Log in to the WordPress admin area and go to the plugins section, you should see that the plugins we specified in appsettings.json are all installed and activated:

List of plugins

 

At this point, we have created a WordPress site with the theme and plugins of our liking simply by creating a couple of configuration files,

  • composer.json used for installation of WP Bootstrap
  • localsettings.json that configures some server specific things like passwords and paths
  • appsettings.json than configures themes and plugins we want to use, both from the repo and local to our hard drive

So what we have done so far is to create a text file based configuration for installing WordPress and a couple of plugins, just in a format well suited for managing in Git.

Step 4: Creating content

For this step, we’re going to work mostly inside the WordPress admin area. We’re going to create a front page slider with the Meta Slider plugin and then set up a welcome page that uses that slider and some additional content.

Create the slider

Go to the Meta Slider settings and create a new slider and add a single image slide to it. The on screen instructions should be easy to follow, set the name “welcome” to the slider and set a caption for the image.

Meta slider

Create the Welcome page

Next, to go Pages->Add new to create a page. Give it the title “Welcome”.

Set a title

Select the Full Width Page template in the meta box on the right hand side. The theme we’ve selected has an option to select a Meta Slider as a page option and in that drop down, you should see the welcome-slider that we’ve just created. Then hit publish to save the page for the first time.

Selection_358

The next step is to add some content using Page builder. Add a row with 3 columns and add a text widget to each of them. Place some dummy text in them and Update the page. The Page Builder view on the edit page should look something like this:

Page builder

Next, we’ll head to Settings -> Reading in the WordPress admin area to make our new page the front page of the site:

Settings -> Reading

Click Save changes and then head to Appearance -> Theme Settings. Note that this is a menu option that is specific for this theme, so don’t expect to see this if you’re testing this with a different theme. We want to remove the default “Header text” and menus:

Vantage Theme Settings

Vantage Theme settings pt2

Scroll down to the settings page and click Save Settings. We can now have a look at the test website, it should look something like this:

Case study test site

 

Step 5: Exporting content

We’ve now got a reasonably standard WordPress site with some added content and modified settings. Our next task is to make some additions to appsettings.json so that it can export all the content we’re interested in. Options that we’ve changed in the WordPress admin area will be stored to disk by setting up the WP-CFM plugin and we’re also going to add two new sections to appsettings.json:

  • content: The content section lists post types and individual posts that we want to include in the export. We’ll also be listing some taxonomies.
  • references: The references section is when the content is imported back into a WordPress site. In various places in the content, there are data items that refer to posts or taxonomy terms by the internal ID. If we can successfully tell WP Bootstrap which settings to treat as references, the import process will be able to restore those references during import.

But lets start with WP-CFM. Go to Settings -> WP-CFM in the WordPress admin area and click Add Bundle.  Name the bundle wpbootstrap and click the Save button. You should now see a lot of unchecked boxes, each box representing an option that is stored in the wp_options table:

WP-CFM settings

Identifying exactly which options to include is a separate, and quite big, topic, for now, we’re just going to add the options that matters (the most) in this specific installation. Most options in the wp_options table just get a default value and in most cases, it’s perfectly OK to let the target WordPress installation (where we’lll eventually import these settings) to set it’s own default values. For this tutorial, we’re going to be as lean as possible and only include values that we really need, namely these three:

  • vantage_theme_settings All theme options that we edited in step 4 above are stored in this single option.
  • show_on_front This is the WordPress option that determines if the first page is a static page or a list of recent blog posts, we’ve changed this option so we need to include it.
  • page_on_front WordPress keeps track of the post ID of the page that is set as our front page, we’ve set the “Welcome” page as our front page, so this setting needs to be exported

 

Find and mark each of these options in the WP-CFM settings page and click save.

The next thing we’ll do is add what posts to include in the export. For this, we’ll edit appsettings.json directly. To figure out what pages (and post types) to include, we’re going to use wp-cli to display what our installation has. First of all, we want to include the welcome page. We could just be lazy and include all pages, or we can be explicit and only include the page we know we want. First, list all pages using wp-cli at the Vagrant command line:

$ wp post list --post_type=page
+----+-------------+-------------+---------------------+-------------+
| ID | post_title  | post_name   | post_date           | post_status |
+----+-------------+-------------+---------------------+-------------+
| 6  | Welcome     | welcome     | 2015-12-29 17:24:30 | publish     |
| 2  | Sample Page | sample-page | 2015-12-27 22:25:16 | publish     |
+----+-------------+-------------+---------------------+-------------+

We’re going to be explicit and only include the page we’ve worked with, so the resulting appsettings.json becomes:

{
    "title": "Casestudy 1",
    "themes": {
        "standard": ["vantage"],
        "local": ["vantage-child"],
        "active": "vantage-child"
    },
    "plugins": {
        "standard": [
            "ml-slider", "siteorigin-panels", "so-widgets-bundle",
            "wp-cfm"
        ]
    },
    "content": {
        "posts": {
            "page": ["welcome"]
        }
    }
}

For reference, if we had wanted to include all pages, we could have used:

// lazy: include all posts with post-type = page
"posts": {
    "page": "*"
}

 

The plugin Meta Slider stores it’s sliders as posts with custom post type ml-slider. To figure this out, we can see what post types this installation has:

$ wp post-type list
+---------------+-----------------------+-------------+--------------+--------+-----------------+
| name          | label                 | description | hierarchical | public | capability_type |
+---------------+-----------------------+-------------+--------------+--------+-----------------+
| post          | Posts                 |             |              | 1      | post            |
| page          | Pages                 |             | 1            | 1      | page            |
| attachment    | Media                 |             |              | 1      | post            |
| revision      | Revisions             |             |              |        | post            |
| nav_menu_item | Navigation Menu Items |             |              |        | post            |
| ml-slider     | Meta Slider           |             |              | 1      | post            |
+---------------+-----------------------+-------------+--------------+--------+-----------------+

 

If you know your way around WordPress, you should quickly see that the type ml-slider is non standard. Let’s see what posts we have with that type:

$ wp post list --post_type=ml-slider
+----+------------+------------+---------------------+-------------+
| ID | post_title | post_name  | post_date           | post_status |
+----+------------+------------+---------------------+-------------+
| 4  | welcome    | new-slider | 2015-12-29 17:14:12 | publish     |
+----+------------+------------+---------------------+-------------+

The only post with type ml-slider has title welcome and post_name=new_slider and this matches with how we named the slider we created in step 4. When we define what posts to include in an export, we want to use the post_name as the identifier, to adding the slider to the exported content:

{
    "title": "Casestudy 1",
    "themes": {
        "standard": ["vantage"],
        "local": ["vantage-child"],
        "active": "vantage-child"
    },
    "plugins": {
        "standard": [
            "ml-slider", "siteorigin-panels", "so-widgets-bundle",
            "wp-cfm"
        ]
    },
    "content": {
        "posts": {
            "page": ["welcome"]
            "ml-slider": ["new-slider"]
        }
    }
}

 

When we just add an image to a page or post, WP Bootstrap is usually able to identify what media files to include in the export because it can be figured out by analyzing the post itself. But in this case, the image we added to the slider is not really attached to the page, it rather “belongs” to the slider. Since any image could potentially be included to more than one slider, the authors of Meta Slider is using a taxonomy (special kind of category) to tie the image to a slider. Because of this WP Bootstrap can’t figure out that the image needs to be included and we need to include the image separately. Internally, media files are just posts with the post type attachment:

$ wp post list --post_type=attachment
+----+-------------+-------------+---------------------+-------------+
| ID | post_title  | post_name   | post_date           | post_status |
+----+-------------+-------------+---------------------+-------------+
| 5  | camera-1080 | camera-1080 | 2015-12-29 17:14:48 | inherit     |
+----+-------------+-------------+---------------------+-------------+

So we’re going to and add this single attachment to appsettings.json:

{
    "title": "Casestudy 1",
    "themes": {
        "standard": ["vantage"],
        "local": ["vantage-child"],
        "active": "vantage-child"
    },
    "plugins": {
        "standard": [
            "ml-slider", "siteorigin-panels", "so-widgets-bundle",
            "wp-cfm"
        ]
    },
    "content": {
        "posts": {
            "page": ["welcome"]
            "ml-slider": ["new-slider"],
            "attachment": ["camera-1080"]
        }
    }
}

As mentioned above, Meta Slider uses a taxonomy to tie the image to the slider, let’s look at what taxonomies we have:

$ wp taxonomy list
+---------------+------------------+-------------+---------------+---------------+--------------+--------+
| name          | label            | description | object_type   | show_tagcloud | hierarchical | public |
+---------------+------------------+-------------+---------------+---------------+--------------+--------+
| category      | Categories       |             | post          | 1             | 1            | 1      |
| post_tag      | Tags             |             | post          | 1             |              | 1      |
| nav_menu      | Navigation Menus |             | nav_menu_item |               |              |        |
| link_category | Link Categories  |             | link          | 1             |              |        |
| post_format   | Format           |             | post          |               |              | 1      |
| ml-slider     | Categories       |             | attachment    |               | 1            |        |
+---------------+------------------+-------------+---------------+---------------+--------------+--------+

Again, if you know your way around WordPress, you’ll notice that the ml-slider taxonomy is a non standard taxonomy and it also say that it’s linking to object_type=attachment, so we know that’s the one we need to export. Normally when we add taxonomies to the WP Bootstrap appsettings.json, we can just specify it’s name like this if we want to export all terms in a taxonomy:

{
    "title": "Casestudy 1",
    "themes": {
        "standard": ["vantage"],
        "local": ["vantage-child"],
        "active": "vantage-child"
    },

    "plugins": {
        "standard": [
            "ml-slider", "siteorigin-panels", "so-widgets-bundle",
            "wp-cfm"
        ]
    },
    "content": {
        "posts": {
            "page": ["welcome"],
            "ml-slider": ["new-slider"],
            "attachment": ["glasses_coffee"]
        },
        "taxonomies": {
            "ml-slider": "*"
        }
    }
}

The above would cause WP Bootstrap to include any term in the taxonomy “ml-slider” in the export. During import, the taxonomy would be imported with it’s slug as the unique identifier. If a taxonomy term already exists with the same slug, WP Bootstrap would update that term, but if it didn’t exist, WP Bootstrap would create it. However, Meta Slider taxonomies are a little different. When a slider is created, a new taxonomy term is created with the slide post id as the name and slug. We saw above that our slider had post id = 4, so Meta Slider would have created a term with the name/slug = 4. This presents a little problem during import because there’s no guarantee that the slider will get id=4 on the target site so a taxonomy term with the name/slug 4 would be useless. We need to instruct WP Bootstrap to treat this taxonomy a little different. Instead of specifying an asterisk (string) or an array similar to the posts, we’re specifying it as an object with some properties, like this:

    "taxonomies": {
        "ml-slider": {
            "type": "postid",
            "termDescriptor": "*"
        }
    }

The resulting appsettings.json now becomes:

{
    "title": "Casestudy 1",
    "themes": {
        "standard": ["vantage"],
        "local": ["vantage-child"],
        "active": "vantage-child"
    },

    "plugins": {
        "standard": [
            "ml-slider", "siteorigin-panels", "so-widgets-bundle",
            "wp-cfm"
        ]
    },
    "content": {
        "posts": {
            "page": ["welcome"],
            "ml-slider": ["new-slider"],
            "attachment": ["glasses_coffee"]
        },
        "taxonomies": {
            "ml-slider": {
                "type": "postid",
                "terms": "*"
            }
        }
    }
}

 

Now, we have one last thing to do before we’re finished with appsettings.json and that is to define references. There are two post references in this site that matters, but we only need to take one of them into account. The first one is the page_on_front setting that we mentioned earlier. Since this is a standard WordPress setting, WP Bootstrap is already aware of it and we don’t need to specify it. The second one is slightly trickier, the welcome page has a reference to the ml-slider post. Since Vantage theme lets us specify what slider to use on a page as a separate setting, there’s bound to be a reference to it somewhere and it’s by definition a reference to a post (we already know that a slider is just a post with post type “ml-slider”). To figure out the name of this setting, go to the WordPress admin area to edit the Welcome page. At the top of the screen, you can enable to see custom fields by clicking the Screen options and marking the correct checkbox:

Showing custom fields

Scroll down the page to the custom fields section, now we’re able to see all custom fields on this post.

custom fields

As you can see, there’s a field named “vantage_metaslider_slider” that has the value “meta:4”. This is a row in the WordPress table wp_postmeta with a reference to the ml-slider post with id=4. To add this to our appsettings.json, we need to add a references section:

{
    "title": "Casestudy 1",
    "themes": {
        "standard": ["vantage"],
        "local": ["vantage-child"],
        "active": "vantage-child"
    },
    "plugins": {
        "standard": [
            "ml-slider", "siteorigin-panels", "so-widgets-bundle",
            "wp-cfm"
        ]
    },
    "content": {
        "posts": {
            "page": ["welcome"],
            "ml-slider": ["new-slider"],
            "attachment": ["glasses_coffee"]
        },
        "taxonomies": {
            "ml-slider": {
                "type": "postid",
                "termDescriptor": "*"
            }
        }
    },
    "references": {
        "posts": {
            "postmeta": ["vantage_metaslider_slider"]
        }
    }
}

There are a few ways to add information about references to WP Bootstrap, in this case we’re telling WP Bootstrap that there is a postmeta field named “vantage_metaslider_slider” and that it points to a post. We’re basically telling WP Bootstrap that whenever it comes across a postmeta field with this name, it contains an integer that’s a reference to a post id. During import, WP Bootstrap should look up what id that post has in the new site and change the value so that it points to the correct post id. We also saw that the content of this field was not an integer but a string (meta:4). WP Bootstrap can handle this fine just as long as the string doesn’t get too complicated.

With that last piece in place, we’re all done with appsettings.json and can perform the actual export:

$ composer wp-export

You now have a file based representation of your WordPress site in the sub folder bootstrap/ with the following structure:

bootstrap/
├── config/
├── manifest.json
├── media/
|   ├── camera-1080/
├── posts/
│   ├── attachment/
│   ├── ml-slider/
│   └── page/
└── taxonomies/
    └── ml-slider

Together with the appsettings.json file and the projects wp-content folder,  the bootstrap folder is all you need to check in to keep this site managed under Git. Using a workflow combining git commands and WP Bootstrap the relevant parts of the WordPress site can be migrated to a staging or production environment with ease. References between WordPress objects will be preserved on import. When importing this content to another WordPress installation, WP Bootstrap will not touch anything that’s not defined or described in the data we’re bringing, any other posts, pages, comments that exist on the target installation will remain untouched which is the whole point with WP Bootstrap.

Step 6: Putting it to the test

Since we now have a file based representation of our site we’re able to put WP Bootstrap to the test. Let’s destroy the actual site and try the wp-import command. If we’ve gotten everything correct, we should get our site back just as it looked before we destroyed it.

To begin with, WP Bootstrap has a command to completely wipe a WordPress installation, since it’s a bit dangerous it’s not automatically mapped as a composer script. Instead, we need to call the wpbootstrap binary directly:

$ vendor/bin/wpbootstrap wp-reset

This will command will drop all the WordPress tables from the database and forefully delete every single file in the WordPress folder defined in localsettings.json. Powerful but dangerous. Surf to http://www.casestudy1.local/ just to verify that your WordPress installation is indeed gone, you should see a 403 Forbidden message from Nginx.

Next, run the commands to install WordPress, set it up with the right theme and plugins and lastly import content and settings again.

$ composer wp-install
$ composer wp-setup
$ composer wp-import

After these three commands, go back and check http://www.casestudy1.local/ again, your WordPress installation should be back as it were before it was deleted. If you want to play around with WP Bootstrap a bit, an interesting exercise is to reset the installation, run wp-install and wp-setup  to get it back. But before the wp-import command, go ahead and add some pages and posts to make sure the database id’s on the imported posts are different than they were in the initial install.

Conclusions and next steps

Creating a site using WP Bootstrap requires some additional steps compared to the WordPress famous 5 minute install even if it should still be quite possible to do it in under 5 minutes. But the major benefit of using this method is not so that time can be saved at first install but at the long term advantages you’ll get. Now we have a WordPress site that can be installed and configured using a few commands at the terminal, even if that’s been possible to do using wp-cli alone for quite some time, we’re also managing the (important) content. And the content itself is in a format that is suitable for Git and contains just enough meta data for it to be portable between WordPress installations. It’s the foundation for a solid workflow.

The next natural step to go to from here is to add your website to a Git repository.  First, we need to create a .gitignore file with (at least) the following:

.vagrant/
vendor/
www/
localsettings.json

 

Then the following files and folders should be added to Git:

bootstrap/
wp-content/
.gitingore
appsettings.json
composer.json

 

After checkout in the staging or production environment, you can create the initial site using:

$ composer update
$ composer wp-install
$ composer wp-setup
$ composer wp-import

 

When making changes to the original Vagrant installation (your development environment), you check in all changes to git, then back in the staging or production environment, you’d just perform a few commands to get all the changes:

$ git pull
$ composer wp-setup
$ composer wp-import

 

A final note

WP Bootstrap is currently at version 0.3.1, a lot of features are already implemented, but bugs exist and a lot of features simply aren’t implemented yet. If you decide to use WP Bootstrap in a production environment, it’s because you are an early adopter and are prepared to spend lots of time fix potentially large and complicated issues manually. If you don’t feel like an early adopter or if you can’t risk to mess up a deployment, please refrain from using WP Bootstrap in production environment until the package is a bit more mature.

Questions? Concerns? Angry? Happy? Let me know in the comments section below.