Welcome to The Bibliofile 2.0

Happy Lunar New Year! New Year, New Site! Well … sort of.

If you’ve been here before, you might notice that the site seems basically exactly the same — and you’d be right, but it’s not!

The short version of this is to say that due to various technical issues it made sense to migrate and rebuild in some way parts of the site, so what you’re looking at is an updated, improved and more robust version of the site … but yes, basically the same though you can expect better performance on a technical level.

The good news is that if you liked the site before, I’m happy to reassure you it’s still here and you can expect more reviews and whatnot to come.

The Longer Version

The much longer and more technical version of this for the handful of people who might be interested is that this has been a long journey to get the site updated.

When I first started the site it was hosted by a smaller host and I soon moved it over to a big unmanaged host, Google Cloud Platform, when the site started to grow. The point was to have greater control, uptime and flexibility. While I’ve been building websites since I was in elementary school, this is definitely my first attempt at a site with a sizeable readership. My knowledge of web development is entirely home grown, and I didn’t understand then some of the work that needed to be done to maintain the backend when using an unmanaged host.

I realized it a few years after the site had already grown significantly and gotten increasingly complex. At one point, there was briefly a shop, which was removed eventually, and so on and so forth. I knew that updating the backend was going to be an undertaking and admittedly put it off for a while since I also realized that I didn’t really have the technical knowledge to manage the process.

After things had mostly returned to normal in 2022 following the height of the pandemic, I went on hiatus for some time, wanting to focus on other things. I picked up some new hobbies, made new friends, dealt with some personal stuff, worked on some new projects, tried to build various better habits, did a little traveling and mostly wanted to enjoy a lot of the things the pandemic had made me appreciate about life and what I wanted out of life.

It was a nice break, but I’ve always loved this site and working on The Bibliofile, so I never had any intention of permanently stepping away from the site.

The Problem

I found myself really eager to return to the site the summer of last year after returning from a trip to Europe, but when I came back, it became clear that putting off dealing with this technical stuff had now officially become a problem.

At this point, certain plug-ins I needed had stopped working and my dashboard seemed to be a mess of warning messages about my version of php and whatnot. Basically all the backend software was very out of date, some stuff had gotten messed up in my failed attempts to manage things, everything seemed to be dependent on other stuff that wasn’t able to be updated since all the versions of stuff had various compatibility issues, repositories I relied on before had apparently been abandoned, other stuff wasn’t being updated or supported anymore — it was a mess.

I spent a while trying to fix these issues mostly resulting in a series of very stressful website crashes, white screens and server errors. Awful. I was also increasingly worried that trying to deal with this was going to result in me messing stuff up badly enough that I’d manage to lose my data or something. It was stressful enough that I spent a while just not wanting to think about it.

I do of course keep backups of the site since I’m not a total idiot, but the backups merely restore the site to its original flawed state and it wouldn’t be a simple process to get it back up either. I reached out to various people and offered to pay a friend to help me update the site but the conclusion we reached was that I probably needed to just migrate over to a clean install of the site.

Sounds simple enough, but I knew it would be a major undertaking since The Bibliofile has grown a lot in size and is fairly complex at this point, especially for a little site about books.

The Great Update

Anyway, this past winter I was determined to buckle down and make it happen — and tried a bunch of ways to migrate over the site which repeatedly failed. Again. And again. Fuck my life, was basically the theme of my holiday season.

At this point, a low grade panic was starting to set in. There is way too much data for me to manually move things over so if I couldn’t find some type of automated way to restore the site, I honestly don’t know what I would do.

(By the way, I have no idea if anyone at all is still following this story which is probably mostly interesting just to me but whatever. )

I eventually finally found one plug-in that seemed to be able to successfully download and restore most of the site data, but even with most of the data copied over there was still a lot of issues in getting the dupe up and running.

The basic framework of it was all there, but the site itself was barely functional. There were conflicts with the original data, conflicts with the code and the new version of php I was running, and just compatibility issues in general with things having been shifted around in the new installation. There’s also some custom scripts and stuff that I’d added to the site in the past that I didn’t take into consideration needing to be moved to essentially a staging version of the site.

This period of The Great Update was basically a movie montage of me managing to mess up file permissions and everything else badly enough that I needed to repeatedly delete everything and start over. Anyone know how to fix the “failed scrape check” error message that apparently can pop up in WordPress? No? Apparently, no one else on the internet does either. Fantastic, she said sarcastically.

Version 2 of the site became Version 3 and eventually up to Version 6, at which point I just started back at Version 2 — which also got messed up. This one is actually Version 3 on paper (which I guess is really Version 8 in reality), but I’m referring to it as Version 2 since no one else ever saw the interim versions which were trashed.

Finally, finally things seemed to be looking up! I spent some time cleaning up the site in some ways to ensure that a future migration would go smoother, also doing a lot of documentation about the process which is apparently a thing people do. I also did some updates and did some coding to try to reduce my reliance on plug-ins which can introduce a lot of unpredictablility and often have a lot more bulk than I need.

The Final Stretch

Anyway, this past week I finally undertook the somewhat less stressful but definitely sort of annoying part which was figuring out how to actually shift the site over.

Google Cloud Platform is needlessly complicated. Trying to sign up for a paid tech support account was a day-long process of being repeatedly told I didn’t have the right permissions to sign up for it and I couldn’t submit a ticket about it since I needed to already have an account to do those things. You’ve got to be kidding me, guys.

(The solution, which is not documented anywhere so you have to just somehow figure it out — involved signing up for a new account associated with a non-gmail address, creating an organization, then using the original account to assign the new user ownership permissions to this project, then going to the new account to sign up for the Tech Support account on the organizational level — and then you STILL can’t submit a ticket and it’s not clear why. Instead you have to magically figure out that you now have the ability to assign a new type of role to the new account which will grant permissions to submit and administrate tech support tickets and so once you do that THEN you can finally ask for help.)

I did eventually reach a tech support person who was very nice about explaining to me how their load balancer settings work and the port mapping and making sure my SSL certificates wouldn’t be messed up and getting all the right IP addresses assigned to stuff and whatnot.

In the end, it wasn’t super difficult to make the final switch thank goodness since apparently Past Jenn did a pretty okay job of following directions and setting things up the first time around, yay! Even better, this version of the site not only has updated software that should run faster, but also is running on a more robust virtual machine with more memory and processing power so that’s a nice plus. There’s also been some updates in terms of how the site handles caching various types of data so that should help loading times as well.

I’ve streamlined the site in some smaller ways too, cutting out some unnecessary code and making other replacements, so hopefully those changes should add up. PageSpeed Insights seems pleased at any rate, so that’s generally a good sign.

All’s Well that Ends Well

I’m very happy to say the site is running smoothly and healthily now. My next project administratively is coming up with a backup plan that also ensures similar situations won’t arise again.

Meanwhile, I’m currently reading Kristin Hannah’s The Women, so you can expect to see that review soon! Honestly, it’s been a long and frustrating journey but it feels good to have learned some new tricks in the process and it’s nice to finally have this crossed off my list of to-dos since it’s honestly been pretty stressful trying to get it sorted.

Thanks to the handful of people who have reached out expressing their interest in seeing more from The Bibliofile and props to anyone who has managed to get to this point in the story!

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Bookshelf -- A literary set collection game