Friday, 24 September 2010

Pro Tip: Check It Yourself

Yesterday I was pushing a module of new code to the blog site of a moderately famous celebrity that is still creaking along on Movable Type (the site, not the celeb). I've not really had to work with Movable Type much before so it was a little bit interesting and I learnt a few bits and pieces.

The code module was working exactly as expected on the development site so I was a bit surprised when it failed on the production site, truncating the rendering of some posts.

Debugging code on a production server is a tricky business (especially when you can't find the error logs), but I tracked it down to this:

PHP Fatal error: Call to undefined function: file_put_contents() ...

The function file_put_contents() was introduced with PHP version 5, so this error indicated the production server was running some version of PHP4. This kind of disparity between production and development environments is certainly not the optimal configuration, but it's not entirely uncommon when working with legacy systems. The problem for me yesterday was that it took me a lot longer to identify and fix the problem because I was sure that the production site was on PHP5...

I'd asked the rest of the development team if the sites I was working on with this module were on PHP5, they were pretty sure they were, but recommended I checked with the ops team. A member of the ops team told me they were all on PHP5 too. I don't know if the error was due to a chat-window miscommunication, lack of familiarity with the site, or just a genuine mistake - it's not really a big deal. In reality, it probably would have been quicker to just check the phpversion() myself when I first thought to ask about it - I would have discovered it was on PHP4 and altered the module's code before I tried to push it to the production environment.

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