Flickr-style PHP Framework
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Flamework is the semi-fictional framework that powers It's less of an actual framework and more of a design philosophy. None of the code in this project is actually taken from Flickr, but is rather a reconstruction of the way we built things there and the way we continue to build things now.

This library is a work in progress. While it basically works, it's lacking lots of the bits it really needs. As we pull these parts from other projects (and I've built most parts 10 times over by now), it'll start to take better shape. If you have stuff you want to add, fork, commit and file a pull-request.

Installation - As a base for a new project

  • Copy everything in www to a web server running Apache with mod_php and php5-mcrypt.
  • Enable AllowOverrides all for the root.
  • Copy include/config.php.example to include/config.php and edit it.
  • Ensure that the templates_c directory can be written to by your webserver.
  • Load the schema into mysql: mysql -uwww -Dflamework -p < schema/db_main.schema

That might be it.

If you'd like to use Flamework as an external library, read this.

Installation - The longer, slightly hand holding, version

Get the code from GitHub.

Decide on whether you'll host this on a sub-domain (something alone the lines of or on a subdirectory (maybe something like

The rest of this section will assume the following:

  • That you'll be hosting on a sub-domain called flame on a domain called, or, to put it another way, Just mentally substitute your domain and sub-domain when reading, and physically substitute your domain and sub-domain during the installation process. Unless you actually own the
  • That you want the URL for Flamework to be and not
  • That <root> is the path on your webserver where your web server has been configured to find the sub-domain.
  • That you have shell access (probably via SSH) to your web server.

Now ... upload the code, plus all sub-directories to your web-server; don't forget the (hidden) .htaccess file in the root of the code's distribution.

Copy <root>/www/include/config.php.example to <root>/www/include/config.php and edit this new file.

Change the site name to reflect your sub-domain name and whether you're running in a production or development environment

$GLOBALS['cfg']['site_name'] = 'flame';
$GLOBALS['cfg']['environment'] = 'prod';

Set up your database name, database user and database password. Copy and paste these into ...

	$GLOBALS['cfg']['db_main'] = array(
		'host' => 'localhost',
		'name' => 'my-database-name',
		'user' => 'my-database-user',
		'pass' => 'my-database-users-password',
		'auto_connect' => 0,

Setup your encryption secrets secrets. SSH to your host and run php <root>/bin/generate_secret.php, 3 times. Copy and paste each secret into

	$GLOBALS['cfg']['crypto_cookie_secret'] = 'first-secret-here';
	$GLOBALS['cfg']['crypto_password_secret'] = 'third-secret-here';
	$GLOBALS['cfg']['crypto_crumb_secret'] = 'second-secret-here';

(If you don't have shell access to your web-server, you can run this command from the shell on a local machine)

Create the database tables. Load <root>/schema/db_main.schema and <root>/schema/db_users.schema into the database. You can do this either via phpMyAdmin and the import option or via mysql on the shell's command line

Browse to

If you get errors in your Apache error log such as ...

www/.htaccess: Invalid command 'php_value', perhaps misspelled or defined by a module not included in the server configuration

... then your host is probably running PHP as a CGI and not as a module so you'll want to comment out any line in <root>/www/.htaccess that starts with php_value or php_flag and put these values into a new file, <root>/www/php.ini, without the leading php_value or php_flag.

Click on Sign In and setup your user account.

That's it. Or should be. If I've forgotten something please let me know or submit a pull request.

Statement(s) of Bias

"Working on the crumbly edge of future-proofing." -- Heather Champ

If you've never watched Cal Henderson's "Why I Hate Django" presentation now is probably as good a time as any. It will help you understand a lot about why things were done they were at Flickr and why those of us who've left prefer to keep doing them that way:

Flamework is not really a framework, at least not by most people's standards. All software development is basically pain management and Flamework assumes that the most important thing is the speed with which the code running an application can be re-arranged, in order to adapt to circumstances, even if it's at the cost of "doing things twice" or "repeating ourselves".

(Also, in fairness to the Django kids a lot has changed and gotten better since Cal's talk way back when.)

Flamework is basically two things:

  1. A set of common libraries and functions.
  2. A series of social conventions for how code is arranged.

Flamework also takes the following for granted:

  • It uses Smarty for templating.
  • It uses global variables. Not many of them but it also doesn't make a fuss about the idea of using them.
  • It does not use objects or "protected" variables.
  • It breaks it own rules occasionally and uses objects but only rarely and generally when they are defined by third-party libraries (like Smarty).
  • That "normalized data is for sissies".

For all intents and purposes, Flamework is a model-view-controller (MVC) system:

  • There are shared libraries (the model)
  • There are PHP files (the controller)
  • There are templates (the view)

Here is a simple bare-bones example of how it all fits together:

# lib_example.php

	function example_foo(&$user){
		$max = ($user['id']) ? $user['id'] : 1000;
		return range(0, rand(0, $max));

# example.php
# note how we're importing lib_example.php (above)
# and squirting everything out to page_example.txt (below)


	$foo = example_foo($GLOBALS['cfg']['user']);

	$GLOBALS['smarty']->assign_by_ref("foo", $foo);

# page_example.txt

{assign var="page_title" value="example page title"}
{include file="inc_head.txt"}
<p>{if $}Hello, {$cfg.user.username|escape}!{else}Hello, stranger!{/if}</p>
<p>foo is: {$foo|@join(",")|escape}</p>
{include file="inc_foot.txt"}

The only "rules" here are:

  1. Making sure you load include/init.php
  2. The part where init.php handles authentication checking and assigns logged in users to the global $cfg variable (it also creates and assigns a global $smarty object)
  3. The naming conventions for shared libraries, specifically: lib_SOMETHING.php which is imported as loadlib("SOMETHING").
  4. Functions defined in libraries are essentially "namespaced".

Page template names and all that other stuff is, ultimately, your business.

Global Variables

Flamework uses and assigns global PHP variables on the grounds that it's really just not that big a deal. A non-exhaustive list of global variables that Flameworks assigns is:

  • $GLOBALS['cfg'] -- this is a great big hash that contains all the various site configs

  • $GLOBALS['smarty'] -- a Smarty templating object

  • $GLOBALS['timings'] -- a hash used to store site performance metrics

  • $GLOBALS['loaded_libs'] -- a hash used to store information about libraries that have been loaded

  • $GLOBALS['local_cache'] -- a hash used to store locally cached data

  • $GLOBALS['error'] -- a (helper) hash used to assign site errors to; this is also automagically assigned to a corresponding Smarty variable

The database model

Flamework assumes a federated model with all the various user data spread across a series of databases, or "clusters". For each cluster there are a series of corresponding helper functions defined in lib_db.php.

By default Flamework does not require that it be run under a fully-federated database system. It takes advantage of the ability to run in "poor man's federated" mode which causes the database libraries to act as though there are multiple database clusters when there's only really one. Specifically, all the various databases are treated as though they live in the db_main cluster. The goal is to enable (and ensure) that when a given installation of a Flamework project outgrows a simple one or two machine setup that it can easily be migrated to a more robust system with a minimum of fuss.

As of this writing Flamework defines/expects the following clusters:

  • db_main

This is the database cluster where user accounts and other lookup-style database tables live.

  • db_users

These are the federated tables, sometimes called "shards". This is where the bulk of the data in Dotspotting is stored because it can be spread out, in smaller chunks, across a whole bunch of databases rather than a single monolithic monster database that becomes a single point of failure and it just generally a nuisance to maintain.

  • db_tickets

One of the things about storing federated user data is that from time to time you may need to "re-balance" your shards, for example moving all of a user's data from shard #5 to shard #23. That means you can no longer rely on an individual database to generate auto-incrementing unique IDs because each database shard creates those IDs in isolation and if you try to move a dot, for example, with ID 123 to a shard with another dot that already has the same ID everything will break and there will be tears.

The way around this is to use "ticketing" servers whose only job is to sit around and assign unique IDs. A discussion of ticketing servers is outside the scope of this document but Kellan wrote a good blog post about the subject if you're interested in learning more. Which is a long way of saying: Flamework uses tickets and they come from the db_tickets cluster.

Other documentation

Libraries & Tools

There are several drop-in external libraries for common tasks:

Aaron has created several starter configurations for using delegated auth:

And some random odds and ends: