Let’s Not Forget About Bad Joomla Programmers

Most people using Joomla are very quick to blame it (Joomla) for any hiccups/problems they see on their websites. In most cases, these people are wrong. In fact, the majority of the problems happening on Joomla websites are not technically caused by Joomla’s core, but they are caused by one of the following:

  • A change in the server environment
  • A missing library on the server or inadequate server settings
  • Ignoring security-critical Joomla updates
  • Bad Joomla programmers

In this post, we would like to focus on bad Joomla programmers, and how they negatively affect the performance of a Joomla website and the perception of Joomla by the general public. Let us start by giving you an example…

Early last week, a client of ours told us that he was seeing the Allowed memory size error on many of his website’s pages, and he emailed us an example of a link so that we can see the problem. We clicked on the link and we saw the following error:

Fatal error: Allowed memory size of 268435456 bytes exhausted (tried to allocate 130968 bytes) in /home/[user]/public_html/libraries/joomla/database/driver/mysqli.php on line 515

Typically, fixing the Allowed memory size problem consists of just increasing the PHP memory limit in the main index.php file, or in the .htaccess file, or in the php.ini (o .user.ini file). But, no matter how much we increased the memory limit for that particular case, we still experienced the same fatal error.

We then looked closer at the error, and we noticed that it was complaining that it was running out of memory in the mysqli.php file, which meant that the error had to do with MySQL. So we looked at the MySQL slow query log, and we noticed nothing unusual, but we were still sure that there was something weird happening on MySQL, and so we enabled full logging (e.g. all the queries hiting the MySQL database server would be logged) the following way:

  • We ssh’d to the server as root.
  • We added the following code to the my.cnf file (which is located under the /etc folder):

    log = "/var/lib/mysql/all-queries.log"

  • We opened the .htaccess file located under the main directory of the website, and then we denied access to all traffic with the exception of our IP (it is not practical to allow full logging from all IPs).

  • We restarted MySQL by issuing the following shell command:

    service httpd restart

After enabling the logging of all queries, we visited the problematic link, and, in literally 5 seconds, we had 18982921 bytes in the all-queries.log file, and it was full of the following query:

SELECT parent_id,title FROM #__categories WHERE id =0

In fact, the above query was repeated 270,000 times (yes, you read that right, two hundred seventy thousand times, a bit more than a quarter of a million), and that was just after loading one page! Wow!

A quick search for the above query revealed that it was in a very poorly written custom extension (e.g. the extension was specifically written for that Joomla website), and more specifically, the query was in a recursive function which job was to find the title of the ultimate parent of a category. The problem with that function is that it lacked the most basic characteristic of a recursive function: it had no stop condition!

As programmers, we know how to write recursive functions with ease (a recursive function is a function that calls itself until a stop condition becomes true – if you are interested in programming and you want to learn more about recursive functions, then the best way to learn it is by reading the chapter on recursion in David S Touretzky‘s COMMON LISP: A Gentle Introduction to Symbolic Computation), but we know that recursive functions are not for everyone. In fact, what distinguishes a real programmer from a quack one is the ability to grasp the concept of recursive functions. Obviously, whoever wrote that function was a quack developer, because his function missed the most basic concept of recursivity.

Fixing the problem simply consisted of just adding the correct stop condition to the recursive function. Ironically, after fixing the problem and informing the client of the root cause, the programmer who developed the custom extension emailed us and thanked us for fixing his code (by the way, the client told us in his first email concerning this issue that this same programmer searched for weeks for the cause of the problem but he couldn’t find it), promising the client (who was cc’d on the email) that he will pay more attention in the future. This meant that the client wanted to continue the business relationship with that programmer, despite the obvious fact that he wasn’t a real programmer. The only logical explanation to this is that this programmer was cheap, and that is the very heart of the problem affecting so many Joomla websites (especially the large ones) out there: cheap, unreliable, and unprofessional Joomla programmers.

So how can Joomla get rid of this problem?

The short answer is that it can’t: there is no way Joomla can prevent people from dealing with cheap programmers. In fact, this problem is not specific to Joomla, it is a problem that applies to any work under the IT umbrella, except that there is a general perception and skepticism in the Joomla community and userbase blaming Joomla for everything (well, not really everything, the hole in the ozone layer is blamed on hair spray and air conditioners).

The long answer is that Joomla can minimize the problem by certifying Joomla developers (this is substantially different from certifying Joomla administrators). We’re not talking about writing a simple plugin here; we’re talking about having an actual computer science university degree and a vast LAMP experience. Of course, the technicalities are sketchy at best at first glance, but, with enough resources (and maybe with forging some alliances with PHP and MySQL), Joomla can get this certification program up and running. Now, of course, this will not solve the problem, because many Joomla administrators out there want cheap labor but still expect expert work (it’s like driving a Mazda but expecting a Mercedes experience), but it is a start!

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for expert Joomla developers to fix/implement anything on your Joomla website, then look no further. We’re here to help! Just contact us and let us demonstrate to you that we’re fast, that we’re reliable, and that although we’re not cheap, we’re quite affordable!

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