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Site performance optimizations: a look back at Election 2012

4 years ago, in 2008, we first met what is now one of our longest ongoing clients, Rasmussen Reports. There was some stress and urgency to their problem, as their site was crashing leading up to the most important time of the year for them -- the US presidential elections. We managed to stabilize their site and imagined a time in the distant future: a less stressful 2012 election period! The month leading up to November 6, 2012 turned out to be a record-breaking traffic month for a couple of our clients, including Rasmussen Reports. This time around, we had no website hiccups during an election season that saw more than twice as many visits in the peak month and an almost 3-fold spike in pageviews from the previous major election's 1-day peak.

Here are some of the site performance best practices we implemented in advance of the 2012 elections.

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Trading automatic failover for really good manual failover

A couple of months ago we made the decision to stop using mysql-mmm on one of our client sites. We had been burned by a couple of incidents where automatic failover had caused more problems than we had imagined it would solve. Data ended up being written to the wrong server a few times, causing a bit of a nightmare to merge the forked database after the fact. Although we had other concerns about mysql-mmm, a major factor in our decision was our assessment that in our specific case of assigning MySQL master-slave IP addresses, human-triggered manual failover was essentially as good as automatic failover, and carried much less unexpected risks.

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eZ Publish vs Drupal, and the eZ community in the US and Canada

On Thursday, October 25 at 9am PT / 12pm ET, the eZ Publish Americas community will be hosting two presentations: an introduction to eZ Publish 5 and Symfony; and a comparison between eZ Publish and Drupal. This is the second episode of a regular presentation series, and one of several initiatives of the community.

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Re-indexing specific pages and subtrees in eZ Publish

There a few cases when you want to trigger a re-index parts of your site; for example, you might make an existing attribute searchable or you might change some index boosting settings. However, default eZ Publish indexing tools only allow you to re-index the entire site. This is not particularly efficient if you have a very large site and/or if you're just trying to test a small change in your development environment. Here are a couple of tools that you can use to re-index specific parts of a site.

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Adding cross-reference data to object relations

The object relations datatype is one of the most powerful datatypes in eZ Publish. In some cases, it is useful to associate data not to either of the objects involved in the relation, but to the relation itself. For example, you might want to mark a person as an author on one book, a contributor on another book, and an editor on another book, all while maintaining only one record for that author. Mugo has created an extension to add cross-reference data to object relations.

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Weather widgets and API with Weather Underground

Many weather sites offer embeddable widgets to display weather forecasts on your website. However, if you want to customize the look of the widget, your options are usually quite limited. Weather Underground far surpasses the rest of the options by providing a JSON-based API so that you can use their data to build and style your own widgets.

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Getting started with eZ Publish 5 and Symfony

Recently, eZ Systems announced that the next major version of eZ Publish will use the Symfony framework. Having heard good things about Symfony as a modern, robust web framework, I am pretty excited at the announcement, and have already dived in to the new eZ Publish 5 code.

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How to create image aliases in eZ Publish using PHP

Image aliases are used in eZ Publish to define image sizes and other image variations. As an example, this allows for the editor to upload an image once and have it automatically formatted for a thumbnail display, a full size display, and more. By default, image alias files are automatically created whenever they are displayed in a template. However, you might have other use cases whereby you need to generate image alias files outside of the default scenario (for example, for an external site or feed).

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Using Varnish to speed up eZ Publish websites

Varnish Cache is a powerful website caching system that dramatically increases your site's performance. It does so by sitting in front of your Apache, PHP, content management system, and database stack in order to cache your web pages and serve repeat requests. This saves the back-end stack from consuming unnecessary resources to generate the same pages over and over again. Mugo Web has implemented Varnish in front of eZ Publish for several client websites. Although every client has different needs, we've come up with an outline of tips and considerations that are common across most implementations.

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Applying borders to eZ Publish images using ImageMagick

One of our clients recently needed to apply a custom frame / border to all images in a certain section of an eZ Publish site. One way to do this is to edit each image in Photoshop or GIMP, but this can be a time-intensive, manual process. Another is to use CSS, but this again takes time and is also more limited. A flexible and automated way to do this is to configure ImageMagick filters in an eZ Publish image alias. The required style would then be applied to all relevant images.

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Twitter tip: Prompting users to follow you after they Tweet

There are many variations to social media strategies to suit particular client sites and goals. Some implementation details, on the other hand, are universally applicable. One such detail is a Twitter feature whereby a user is prompted to follow your Twitter account whenever they share your content.

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