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A phpBB revamp in .Net

This is a .Net version of the popular phpBB forums platform, targeting MySql and Sql Server. It is fully compatible with the database and can be just "plugged in" to an existing DB (after running an automated DB update process).

Prerequisites

This installation requires either a MySQL type of server (and it is fully compatible with MariaDB and AuroraDB as well), or a Sql Server.

This application requires stored procedures, so you must have the proper setup for creating them (for example, MariaDB requires root access for this).

This application uses Google reCAPTCHA v3 for spam protection. Visit their website and set reCAPTCHA up before deploying the application. The setup is as simple as entering the site keys in the configuration.

This application uses AES symmetric encryption for encrypting the password reset codes. The encryption key is generated by concatenating two guids, which must be specified in the configuration. Use this online guid generator to get your guids.

Installation

Set up the configuration

This application requires a custom configuration object. You may use your own app settings provider (appsettings.json file, user secrets, Azure app settings store and so on) to set it up, but be aware that by default it only supports appsettings.json (so it will require some coding to add your own provider). Either way, ensure that its structure and contents follow the sample below. All fields are detailed below.

{
   "Database": {
    "DatabaseType": "...",
    "ConnectionString": "..."
  },
  "Recaptcha": {
    "SiteKey": "...",
    "SecretKey": "...",
    "BaseAddress": "https://www.google.com",
    "RelativeUri": "recaptcha/api/siteverify",
    "ClientName": "g-recaptcha",
    "MinScore": 0.6
  },
  "Smtp": {
    "Host": "...",
    "Username": "...",
    "Password": "...",
    "EnableSsl": ...,
    "Port": ...
  },
  "Encryption": {
    "Key1": "...",
    "Key2": "..."
  },
  "AvatarSalt": "...",
  "BaseUrl": "...",
  "ForumName": "...",
  "LoginSessionSlidingExpiration": "30.00:00:00", 
  "UploadLimitsMB": {
    "Images": 2,
    "OtherFiles": 20
  },
  "UploadLimitsCount": {
    "Images": 10,
    "OtherFiles": 10
  },
  "UserActivityTrackingInterval": "00.01:00:00", 
  "AdminEmail": "...",
  "Storage": { 
    "StorageType": "...", 
    "ConnectionString": "...",
    "ContainerName": "...",
    "Files": "forumfiles",
    "Avatars": "forumfiles/avatars",
    "Emojis": "images/smilies"
  },
  "AvatarMaxSize": {
    "Width": 200,
    "Height": 200
  },
  "EmojiMaxSize": {
    "Width": 100,
    "Height": 100
  },
  "DisplayExternalLinksMenu": false,
  "UseHeaderImage": false,
  "RecycleBinRetentionTime": "7.00:00:00",
  "OperationLogsRetentionTime": "365.00:00:00",
  "InternetSearchUrlFormat": "https://www.google.com/search?q={0}",
  "IpWhoIsUrlFormat": "https://whatismyipaddress.com/ip/{0}",
  "RecurringTasksTimeToRun": "02:00",
  "ForumIsReadOnly": false,
  "MinimumAge": 16,
  "BotConfig": {
    "UnlimitedAccessStartTime": "00:00:00",
    "UnlimitedAccessEndTime": "02:00:00",
    "InstanceCountLimit": 50
  }
}

Field details

Field name Data type Value Notes
Database.DatabaseType PhpbbInDotnet.Domain.DatabaseType MySql database type (string representation of the enum)
Database.ConnectionString string ... your DB connection string (root access required for MySql, an implicit database should be selected)
Recaptcha.SiteKey string ... site key
Recaptcha.SecretKey string ... secret key
Recaptcha.BaseAddress string https://www.google.com Base URL for captcha verification
Recaptcha.RelativeUri string recaptcha/api/siteverify Relative URL for captcha verification
Recaptcha.ClientName string g-recaptcha HttpClientName used in dependency injection
Recaptcha.MinScore decimal 0.6 this value can be changed as per reCAPTCHA documentation; 0.6 is the value working best for our setup
Smtp.Host string ... your SSL-enabled SMTP host
Smtp.Username string ... SMTP username
Smtp.Password string ... SMTP password
Smtp.EnableSsl boolean ... Whether SSL is enabled for this host
Smtp.Port int ... SMTP port
Encryption.Key1 Guid ... first guid for AES symmetric key generation
Encryption.Key2 Guid ... second guid for AES symmetric key generation
AvatarSalt string ... it is a unique way of naming avatar files; the recommended default value is a lowercase guid without dashes. If this is a new installation, then use the guid generator mentioned above to generate a lowercase guid without dashes. However, if this is an update from phpBB, then get your avatar salt by running this in your forum's DB: SELECT config_value FROM phpbb_config WHERE config_name = 'avatar_salt'
BaseUrl string ... forum base url
ForumName string ... forum name
LoginSessionSlidingExpiration TimeSpan 30.00:00:00 inactivity time before user is logged out. Is read as TimeSpan (format dd.HH:mm:ss), default value is 30 days
UploadLimitsMB.Images int 2 applies for both internally and externally hosted images
UploadLimitsMB.OtherFiles int 20 applies only for internally hosted attachments
UploadLimitsCount.Images int 10 applies for both internally and externally hosted images
UploadLimitsCount.OtherFiles int 10 applies only for internally hosted attachments
UserActivityTrackingInterval TimeSpan 00.01:00:00 time interval for tracking same user's activity. Is read as TimeSpan (format dd.HH:mm:ss), default value is one hour
AdminEmail string ... sender email address for forum generated emails
Storage.Type PhpbbInDotnet.Domain.StorageType HardDisk storage type (string representation of the enum)
Storage.Container string ... container name
Storage.ConnectionString string ... connection string matching the storage type
Storage.Files string forumfiles path relative to wwwroot if storage type is HardDisk, or to the container root otherwise
Storage.Avatars string forumfiles/avatars path relative to wwwroot if storage type is HardDisk, or to the container root otherwise
Storage.Emojis string images/smilies path relative to wwwroot if storage type is HardDisk, or to the container root otherwise
AvatarMaxSize.Width int 200 pixels
AvatarMaxSize.Height int 200 pixels
EmojiMaxSize.Width int 100 pixels
EmojiMaxSize.Height int 100 pixels
DisplayExternalLinksMenu bool false whether a menu with external links is displayed below the header, next to the forum Menu.
UseHeaderImage bool false whether a custom image is displayed in the header, instead of the forum name
RecycleBinRetentionTime TimeSpan 7.00:00:00 for how long are deleted items kept in the recycle bin. Is read as TimeSpan (format dd.HH:mm:ss), default value is 7 days. A value less than one day will trigger an error and will not delete anything at all.
OperationLogsRetentionTime TimeSpan 365.00:00:00 Anything that alters post, topic, forum or user state is saved as an operation log and can be viewed in the forum's admin panel. This value controls for how long are the operation log items kept in the database. Is read as TimeSpan (format dd.HH:mm:ss), default value is 365 days. An explicit zero value (0.00:00:00) can be used for retaining logs indefinitely. A value less than one day will trigger an error and will not delete anything at all.
InternetSearchUrlFormat string https://www.google.com/search?q={0} Internet search link; query parameter should be URL-escaped
IpWhoIsUrlFormat string https://whatismyipaddress.com/ip/{0} IP WHOIS link
RecurringTasksTimeToRun string 02:00 Required recurring tasks (DB table sync etc) will run daily at this specified hour (UTC). Must be in the HH:mm format.
ForumIsReadOnly bool false Whether the entire forum is in read-only mode. This means that the forum can be read, but no posts or private messages can be submitted.
MinimumAge int 16 Minimum age for users to register
BotConfig.UnlimitedAccessStartTime string null Time range lower bound for non-restricted bot traffic; can be null or just the time component of a DateTime object ("02:00:00"); if null no restriction applies.
BotConfig__UnlimitedAccessEndTime int null Time range upper bound for non-restricted bot traffic; can be null or just the time component of a DateTime object ("02:00:00"); if null no restriction applies.
BotConfig__InstanceCountLimit int 0 Maximum allowed instance count for one bot, if not within the non-restricted time range

Branding

Forum header

The application will display the ForumName app setting value in the upper left corner of the screen (as a header that links to the forum's first page).

The application supports custom header images and will require three versions (depending on the client's width, it will display the appropriate one):

  1. wwwroot/images/forumlogo-full.png with the exact size 682 x 100 px
  2. wwwroot/images/forumlogo-medium.png with the exact size 325 x 77 px
  3. wwwroot/images/forumlogo-small.png with the exact size 128 x 69 px

In order to start using custom headers, set the UseHeaderImage app setting to true, then provide the three required images.

Custom external links

The application can display a custom set of external links next to the menu. If you need to display this, then set the DisplayExternalLinksMenu app setting to true, then edit the ExternalLinks.<lang>.html translation file to add your links.

Install the application

  1. Back up your installation and database (even though the installation performs only additive operatrions in the database, without altering or deleting existing structures or data, please do it anyway)
  2. Build the solution and deploy it to your host.
  3. Execute the PhpbbInDotnet.Database.SetupApp application (make sure its appsettings.json file contains a valid connection string targeting your MySQL / MariaDB / AuroraDB server with root access)
  4. Done!

Feature and functionality differences

As of now, the platform does not support the following phpBB features:

  • Bookmarks
  • Forum icons
  • Post approval
  • Private message folders
  • Forum and topic watch
  • User warnings

The platform also supports some new features:

  • Personalized pagination (per user and topic)
  • Attachment upload quota (per group)
  • Personalized edit time of own posts (per group or user, with the latter taking precedence if both defined)
  • Post soft delete and "recycle bin" functionality for moderators and admins (deleted posts are kept for a configurable period of time and can be restored during this period)
  • Recurring tasks that run daily and perform
    • Automatic synchronization between tables (ensures the post, topic and forum links are intact)
    • Automatic cleanup of
      • orphan files
      • forum logs (forum actions, not to be confused with the application log files)
      • recycle bin
    • Automatic sitemap generation

Further reading

Technical considerations

This application targets .Net 6.0 and is platform agnostic.

However, it has not yet been researched if the database support can be extended further than the MySQL-compatible languages and Sql Server.

phpBB backwards compatibility

  • Authentication is backwards compatible with the hashed passwords from an existing database. The CryptSharp.Core library is used to achieve this.
  • Text formatting and rendering is backwards-compatible with the original phpBB rendering engine: the new platform can render 100% of bb code written on a phpBB platform, while a phpBB platform can render around 90% of bb code written on this platform. If you intend to use a phpBB platform in parallel (on the same DB), beware of the bbcode_uid field! Our platform does not set it by default, which might cause problems for rendering in phpbb. However, our BB code rendering library DOES support this field and provides some methods for backwards compatibility (see its documentation, you will have to get your hands dirty for this). The CodeKicker.BBCode.Core library is used for rendering bb code.

Maintenance and future work

This platform is currently live at https://forum.metrouusor.com/ (which has served as basis for feature implementation, as well as a beta-testing site by running the old phpBB installation and the new platform in parallel for several months). As long as this forum is up, PhpbbInDotnet is expected to be maintained regularily. Established in 2009 and with a member base of over 1800 people as of march 2022, this forum is one of the largest communities for urban mobility, infrastructure and public transportation fans in Romania, so it is expected to be up and running for a long time (:

This forum is currently hosted in Azure (as a Linux App Service) and targets SqlServer.

Although unplanned as of now, future work will include more themes and more languages, as well as other features brought up by active users.

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