I Programmer Moves On In Order To Stay Put
Written by Mike James   
Wednesday, 27 June 2018

You might have noticed that I Programmer has changed to HTTPS access only. Less noticeable is our shift to Amazon AWS. It has been an interesting time.



The first rule of I Programmer is that you don't talk about I Programmer.

That's because there is so much else to talk about rather than any need for secrecy. As with all good rules it deserves to be broken now and again and in this case what happened is interesting and you might like to know some of the things that worked and didn't work.

When I Programmer started the group of programmer/writers, founders if you like, made an oath not to get side-tracked into website development. Given that we all program and know frontend, middle end and backend development the temptation was to spend all our valuable time tinkering with the website and not getting on with writing things. The idea was that, in the fullness of time, we would hire a web dev person who could take over looking after the site.

This never happened.

The reason was, and is, the falling revenue from advertising (presumed due to the use of ad blockers) and the high cost of hosting on a dedicated server. The priority was, and will continue to be in the future, spending income on original articles and not infrastructure. Instead the team itself fixes problems on an ad-hoc basis.

This is all very well but with Google making it clear that we would get an even bigger cut in traffic for not serving HTTPS we had no choice but to do something.

So we put together a plan that would take us away from writing for as short a time as possible. However, we also decided that it was worth doing more than the minimum necessary - once the ball is rolling it's easier to keep it moving. As well as going to HTTPS we decided to move to a cloud-based architecture and update the CMS we are using. So far we have completed the first two parts of the project, with the move to an updated CMS still in progress.

The first phase of the move was to shift our name servers to Amazon's Route 53. Why Route 53? Partly we had already decided to use AWS and partly a hope for more security and flexibility in the future. Route 53 works well and made it easy to set up email records - spf, DMARC and DKIM. Yes, setting up an email server is also part of the move and one that often gets overlooked as email is usually provided by a hosting service without much involvement from the client and we all know that email is tough.

We also registered additional domain names for testing purposes. You might ask why we haven't got i-programmer.com? Personally I like i-programmer.info because info is what the site is all about, but Google likes .com and so we did look into it, but quickly gave up when we discovered that i-programmer.com is held by a broker who wants thousands of dollars for it. So the broker can carry on sitting on it. A domain name may be worth thousands of dollars to a commercial concern needing to secure a brand, but to an information-providing website it is largely irrelevant.

After switching name servers, which went smoothly even if it did take 24 hours (we couldn't easily change the TTL on the original name servers), the next step was to change the IP address to an AWS instance running a copy of the website. Obviously, I Programmer is what used to be called a database-backed website and all we had to do to make the transfer was to export and import the database.

At this point we had a copy of I Programmer running on AWS, but still using HTTP. The next step was to use Lets Encrypt to install a certificate. Having done this many times already there were no problems - it just worked. Next came a testing phase running HTTP and HTTPS in tandem.

And yes there are problems we didn't think of.

The most important is that older news items have embedded videos with HTTP urls and these refuse to download when served on an HTTPS page. Some of these are fixable just by changing the URLs to //www.domain, i.e. by deleting the protocol part of the URL and letting the browser sort it out. However, some of the more obscure videos didn't have HTTPS versions and these remain a problem that we are working on - please report any missing videos.

Other assets also causes problems due to being loaded using HTTP-specific URLs. These were easy enough to find and convert, but at the moment we can't be 100% sure we have found them all - please let us know of any that still don't work.

The final step was to change to 100% HTTPS by redirecting HTTP requests. This is all easy enough, but we also had to update our Google Analytics settings to make HTTPS the default site and change the Google Webmaster settings to reflect the change. Google warns that our traffic may take a hit as it recrawls the site - well it is summer in the northern hemisphere and our traffic is taking a hit anyway, which is why we timed the move to late June.

So job done and we can get back to writing about programming - well not so fast we still have our CMS upgrade in hand. This should take about another three weeks, so look out for testing at the weekends and give us any feedback you think relevant.

Another interesting thing is that when we set out to create I Programmer, about ten years ago, the group's attitude was the design wasn't important - content was king and we were investing our effort in creating content that was as good as we could manage. We also wanted to have long form journalism, rather than lots and lots of small pages. If you are following us down this road, it's worth saying that this is a terrible idea. If we reduced our page size, Google would like us better and we would get more page impressions per month.

There are indeed pressures that are driving the web towards what we all expect - lots of low content pages.

We will try to resist.

Please feel free to comment - button at the end of this article. We welcome questions about the process, I've left out a lot of detail for the sake of a shorter report.

Please Tweet, post on Facebook and generally try to tell people about us - if you already have been then thank you.

I promise we will stop introspecting immediately.


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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 27 June 2018 )