OpenID Authentication Plugin for vBulletin 4

Recently I volunteered to help fix an existing project or develop an OpenID authentication plugin for the vBulletin platform. The group in need was UbuntuForums.org and I would have never known if it hadn’t been for Jorge Castro’s public request for help.

The Story

The existing plugin had been developed specifically for vBulletin 3.x, however, they are (as of writing this) in the process of upgrading their forums to vBulletin 4 especially wanted OpenID to be available when they make the upgrade. That’s where I came in.

Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, provided me with necessary software licenses for vBulletin 4 and from there it was a lot of late nights attempting to simply get a successful OpenID process to occur.

Working a full time job doesn’t make projects like this as easy as I remember them once being… Nonetheless I was able to successful port the plugin to vB4 where there were several significant differences that took me some time to address and to be honest, the previous code was a bit more complicated to follow than it should have been.

One major change from vB3 to vB4 was the way templates work. I’d never worked with vBulletin before, but I’ve had an extensive amount of experience with phpBB and bbPress in the past. After getting over the frustration of how vBulletin prefers to store ALL template information (in the database rather than pull from template files) I was ready to begin the repair process.

One major annoyance was that vBulletin 4 kept a “deprecated” method intact for vb3 templates that haven’t yet been ported and the deprecated method would printout a warning on the live page letting you know that you should update your templates. That’s not a problem, but vBulletin likes to only release helpful information to License holding, account proving customers. I had a license yes, but was not the owner and unfortunately I was unable to get much of a response from the Ubuntu mailing list about getting access to vBulletin’s online support section.

For anyone having similar issues, I’ve posted the error message that I first came across below. If you got here, then you probably found the vBulletin post regarding this, but if you don’t have access like I didn’t then you’re still in luck…

Warning: fetch_template() calls should be replaced by the vB_Template class in [path]/includes/functions.php on line

While it was pretty clear that fetch_template() was deprecated, I was unable to get a clear usage example of how to use the new vB_Template class. I finally came across a post on StackOverflow that was exactly what I needed. Other issues that I had with fixing the plugin were some issues with SQL queries and were much more critical.

I wrote an article recently on how to debug PHP in real time as you’re using/executing a page or function… all through the very well known Eclipse IDE. If you’re interested in PHP development then you should certainly take a look at that post as it walks you through the setup and will make your life much easier. After tracing through the code over and over, each time finding new little issues and having to walk through the entire log in process again each time… I’d finally managed to get a successful authentication. So, I took a screenshot of my development environment…

vBulletin OpenID Plugin First Success

It wasn’t long after the first success that I was able to pin point other problematic spots faster and then from there everything just fell into place. In fact I had “full functionality” only about an hour after the first success. That didn’t mean that I was finished.

There were still a lot of minor issues that I’d found with the code. Array index out of bounds, corrupt query results in some situations causing a critical database error page to appear, unhandled invalid urls would take the plugin for a ride and ultimately crash, etc.

I’ve now worked out all of the issues that I came across from my own testing. Hopefully Ubuntu and Canonical won’t find any either and the upgrade can occur soon!

Download for Free

If you’re here for this plugin then I’m sure you’ve seen that there aren’t many (dare I say any) that are working, free or at least reasonably priced. Fortunately this plugin is based on an open source PHP OpenID library and Canonical apparently plans to maintain it from here on out in their source control service.

Before you download: I’ve posted a direct download the vanilla release that I first pushed to Canonical, however, its in your best interest to check for a newer version on their source control page for this plugin. That being said, feel free to continue on to download!

Download from me (last updated 2012-09-29)

Download from Canonical

Installation

This plugin contains a README and INSTALL file that should go into plenty of detail to help you install and get going in no time at all. The only thing that is left for you is to optionally improve on the simplistic log in form as seen below.

vBulletin Simplistic OpenID Login Form

While I do indeed love web design and development, I left the OpenID log-in form simplistic for one reason: Every web designer designs differently and its a waste of my time to put much effort into this when people who use it will likely want to use it in a way I never considered. The good news is that, it doesn’t appear in the header by default, so you can actually place this little form ANYWHERE you want. However, due to obvious reasons, you’ll likely find the header as I’ve done to be easiest as it automatically disappears one the user is logged in.

Conclusion

It’s been a fun month or month and a half that I’ve spent dabbling on this plugin. I’m always happy to contribute where I can to communities that I’m interested in or proud of and I consider this volunteer effort to be no different.

I’m also a little excited to see how the vBulletin community accepts this plugin. Will it be a boom or a bust? Only time will tell, but until then hopefully UbuntuForums.org will be enjoying OpenID functionality!

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