Category Archives: wordpress

WordCamp Chicago 2016 slides

I just finished giving a talk at WordCamp Chicago titled “Backward Compatibility as a Design Principle”, in which I discussed WordPress’s approach to backward compatibility, how it’s evolved over the years, and its costs and benefits when compared to the alternatives. I’m not sure that the slides are very helpful in isolation, but someone asked me to post them, and I am not one to disappoint my Adoring Fans. Embedded below.

download as pdf

BuddyPress Docs 1.9.0 and Folder support

BuddyPress Docs is one of my more popular WordPress plugins. For years, one of the most popular feature requests has been the ability to sort Docs into folders. Docs 1.9.0, released earlier this week, finally introduced folder functionality.

The feature is pretty cool. When editing a Doc within the context of a group, you can select an existing folder, or create a new one, in which the Doc should appear. Folders can be nested arbitrarily. Breadcrumbs at the top of each Doc and each directory help to orient the reader. And a powerful, AJAX-powered directory interface makes it easy to drill down through the folder hierarchy. (Folders are currently limited to groups, which simplifies the question of where a given folder “lives”. An experimental plugin allows individual users to use folders to organize their personal Docs.)


I’ve got a couple reasons for drawing attention to this release. First, the Folders feature was developed as part of contract work I did for University of Florida Health. They use WordPress and BuddyPress for some of their internal workspaces, and the improvements to BuddyPress Docs have helped them to build a platform customized to their users’ specific needs. My partnership with UF Health is a great instance of a client commissioning a feature that then gets rolled into a publicly available tool – the type of patronage that demonstrates the best parts of free software development as well as IT in the public sector.

A bonus side note: UF Health Web Services is currently hiring a full-time web developer. If you know PHP, and want a chance to work with cool people on cool projects – including WordPress and BuddyPress – check out the job listing.

The other fun thing about this release is that it’s the first major release of Docs where I’ve worked closely with David Cavins, master luthier and BuddyPress maven. He’s a longtime contributor to Docs, and has done huge amounts of excellent work to bring 1.9.0 to fruition. Many thanks to David for his work on the release!

WordCamp NYC talk on the history of the WordPress taxonomy component

At WordCamp NYC 2015, I was pleased to present on the history of the WordPress taxonomy component. Of all the WordCamp talks I’ve given, this one was the most fun to prepare. I spent days reading through old Trac tickets, the wp-hackers archives, and interview transcripts. The jokes are mostly mediocre and the Photoshopping is (mostly intentionally) lousy, but I think the talk turned out OK. Check it out below, or on

How to cherry-pick comments using Subversion (for WordPress at least)

I generally use git-svn for my work on WordPress and related projects. On occasion, I’m forced to touch svn directly. This occurs most often when merging commits from trunk to a stable branch: it’s best to do this in a way that preserves svn:mergeinfo, and git-svn doesn’t do it properly. Nearly every time I have to do these merges, I have to relearn the process. Here’s a reminder for Future Me.

  1. Commit as you normally do to trunk. Make note of the revision number. (Say, 36040.)
  2. Create a new svn checkout of the branch, or svn up your existing one. Eg: $ svn co /path/to/wp44/
  3. From within the branch checkout: $ svn merge -c 36040 ^/trunk  In other words: merge the specific commit (or comma-separated commits) from trunk of the same repo.
  4. This will leave you with a dirty index (or whatever svn calls it). Use svn status to verify. Run unit tests, etc.
  5. $ svn ci. Copy the trunk commit message to EDITOR, and add a line along the lines of “Merges [36040] to the 4.4 branch”
  6. Drink 11 beers.

Very French Trip podcast

As part of my ongoing project to engage with the global WordPress community while simultaneously humbling myself, I’ve agreed to appear on the Very French Trip podcast on September 10, where I’ll be talking about how WordPress and BuddyPress get built. If you’re a French speaker, or if you like to hear me stumble, tune in for a rollicking listen.

Et si vous êtes francophone, je vous invite de poser des questions à l’avance du podcast. Vous pouvez les laisser aux commentaires de l’annonce VFT, ou sur Twitter en utilisant le hashtag #VFTPodcast. On se verra bientôt 😉

Custom version-based cache busting for WordPress CSS/JS assets

WordPress appends a query var like ?ver=4.2.1 to CSS/JS URIs when building <link> and <script> tags. When WP’s version changes (eg, from 4.2.1 to 4.2.2), the query var changes too, causing browsers to bypass their cached assets and forcing a fresh version to be requested from the server. This works well for core assets, because they generally don’t change between WP releases. But for assets loaded by plugins and themes – which don’t always provide their own ver string when enqueuing their scripts and styles – it’s not a perfect system, since browser caches will only be busted when WordPress core is updated.

I built a small filter for the CUNY Academic Commons that works around the problem by appending our custom CAC_VERSION string to all ver query vars. This ensures that users will get fresh assets after each CAC release, whether or not that release includes a WP update.

Note that this code is pretty aggressive: it busts all CSS/JS caches on every release. You could use the $handle argument to do something more fine-grained. Note also that this technique doesn’t work equally well for all caching setups; see this post for an alternative strategy, based only on filename. Proceed at your own risk.

One of the suckers

At the beginning of the 4.2 dev cycle, I was made a permanent committer for WordPress. (Cool!) Here’s how Andrew Nacin summed up the promotion:



Any maintainer of a large free software project will recognize the aptness of the “suckers” comment. I’ve spent more than five years as a leader on the BuddyPress project, and during that time I’ve developed a devotion to that project that sometimes feels like more like servitude than volunteerism. I feel a personal responsibility to the users of BuddyPress, which manifests itself as a pang of guilt about every bug, every missing feature, every unsatisfied customer. This guilt is part (not all, but not an insignificant portion) of what keeps me committed to the project. The same guilt sometimes makes me feel like a sucker.

With BuddyPress, the “sucker” aspects have been consistently counterbalanced by (a) the belief that my work is having a broad positive impact, and (b) the positive effect that contribution has on my reputation and my marketability. Point (b) is one that I’ve blathered on about on multiple occasions. My ability to make money as a consultant is directly tied to the reputation that I’ve earned doing free software work.

Since I started investing lots of energy into WordPress itself about nine months ago, I’ve been forced to reassess the “reputation cycle” somewhat. WordPress powers tens of millions of sites, as compared to BuddyPress’s tens of thousands. By this metric, the free software work I’ve done since September has had a far wider impact than any work before then.

You’d think that this increased impact would translate directly into a corresponding increase in reputation. Yet it hasn’t, at least not if you measure reputation by job offers. This time last year, I was turning away probably three or four freelance gigs per week, and probably one or two full-time jobs per month. I don’t get a fifth of that amount today.

This is not to complain – I am doing just fine, thankyouverymuch. But it’s worth thinking about the possible reasons why increased impact and productivity don’t always translate to more work. I think there are two big ones.

First: The further down you get in the technology stack, the more it feels like plumbing. I’ve built a number of major user-facing features for BuddyPress over the years, the kind of things someone might point to and say, “Boone built that”. My work on WordPress has been a lot less visible, and thus a lot harder to brag about. This is the truth in Nacin’s “suckers” comment. No one praises the plumber when the toilet flushes properly, but boy do people complain when it does not.

Second: I joined the WP core team around the time I stopped using Twitter. The time I used to waste looking at Twitter is time I now sink into doing meaningful work on projects like WordPress, which is to say that I’m more productive now than I used to be. But I’m talking less, and talking less about myself. If the Boone brand is in decline, it’s a publicity problem, not a quality problem. This is another side of the “sucker” coin: the greater the percentage of your time you devote to being productive, the less time you have to talk about how productive you are.

The number one reason to start using git: interactive staging

Git is an excellent tool for collaborative software development in a number of ways. In my opinion, Git’s most valuable feature – which also happens to be one of its most underappreciated – is interactive staging: git add -i and git add -p. If you are a software development who does not use Git, or if you use Git but do not use this feature, you should not write another line of code until you learn it.

When working on a large project, there is no principle more important than that changesets are atomic. Combining more than one distinct change into a commit is highly detrimental to a project’s history. Muddled changesets are hell for future developers on the project, including Future You. The usefulness of log, blame, bisect, and (not to get hyperbolic or anything) version control itself, depends on commits being logically small units.

But, of course, software is not built linearly. You’re writing cool new feature X, but you notice that in order to complete X, you need to fix bug Y. The problem is that you’re already halfway finished with X. You could: generate a diff file, stash/reset your changes, fix Y, commit the fix to Y, reapply the X diff, and continue work on X. This is a pain. Or you could: commit a large changeset that contains X and Y. But this is lousy for the reasons described above. Ideally, you would be able to fix Y, continue with X, and then sort out the changesets just before commit.

This is what Git’s interactive staging lets you do. Start with a clean index. Begin hacking on X. Stumble on Y. Fix Y. Complete X. Then use Git’s stage to commit Y and X separately.

Here’s a real example. (What follows is a pretty basic situation. git add -p is a subset of git add -i, which is full of whiz-bang goodies.) Say I’m working on fixing some poor localization in BuddyPress. While doing so, I notice that some PHPDoc is missing. So I fix both issues, and git diff shows the following:


Now, I know that Changesets Should Be Atomic, so I want to commit the documentation changes separately from the bug fix. So, instead of git commit -a or git add . – which blindly stage all changes – I jump into patch mode with git add -p:


Git has determined what it considers to be the first “hunk” of changes. (Hunks: it takes one to know one.) I’m then asked whether I want to “Stage this hunk”. Normally I’ll just type y or n, but in this case I see that Git hasn’t made the hunks small enough, so I choose s, for “split”:


The hunk is now split into two. The first sub-hunk is the documentation fix. Let’s stage it with y. The second sub-hunk is the code fix, which we’ll skip for now with n. Rinse and repeat with the second big hunk. git status now shows the following:


The “changes ready to be committed” are the documentation fixes. These can be viewed with git diff --cached. The “changes not staged for commit” are the code changes. These can be viewed with git diff. I’m now ready to commit the first set of changes:


(I typed that commit message in my $EDITORvim – which you can’t see in this screenshot.) Then I’ll repeat the routine for the next set of changes, this time staging them all:


Git’s interactive staging is relatively simple, but will completely change the way you work, in ways that will result in meaningful improvements to your projects over time. This is, IMHO, the #1 reason to use Git, and if you’re not using it – because you’re an SVN user, because you didn’t know about it, because your GUI client doesn’t support it – it’s important enough that you ought to think about changing your toolkit.

phpunit-speedtrap and WordPress/BuddyPress automated tests

One of my personal missions over the last six months has been to shave seconds off of the WordPress and BuddyPress automated test suites. (WP’s tests run in under half the time today than in WP 4.0 – and with the addition of nearly 1000 tests. Score!) One of the tools I use to track down problematic tests is John Kary’s excellent phpunit-speedtrap, which adds a listener to each test run, and produces a report of tests whose running time exceeds a configurable threshhold. phpunit-speedtrap is designed to be used as a Composer dependency, but this is not currently convenient or necessary for the purposes of working with WP/BP (for one thing, I’m the only person doing it). Here’s how I’ve rigged it up to run locally:

  1. Grab a copy of the listener class from Github I chose to remove the PHP namespacing, but you can do as you wish. Save it somewhere – I put it at ~/.speed-trap-listener.php so that I can use it with all projects.
  2. WP and BP ship with a phpunit.xml.dist config file. The .dist extension means that you can run your own phpunit.xml alongside of phpunit.xml.dist – PHPUnit will prefer the non-dist version if available, while WP and BP’s version control config will ignore it. Copy phpunit.xml.dist to phpunit.xml and add the following block:
    		<listener class="SpeedTrapListener" file="/home/bgorges/.speed-trap-listener.php">
    					<element key="slowThreshold">

    Change the slowThreshold and filepath to whatever you’d like.

  3. Run phpunit. You’ll see something like this:

Keep on shavin’!