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[leafnode-list] leafnode-2 local news to web forum (or FUDforum)
Many good things and times seem to come to an end sooner or later.
Leafnode-2 support for local/private nntp newsgroups came in very handy
as an electronic "whiteboard" for an engineering department I have
worked in since sometime shortly after the turn of the century. My
peers and I actively used leafnode-2 by various for about 5 years after
I set it up. Usage fell off after I set up a wiki, but I continued to
use the nntp server after that for system administration notes though
most product notes migrated to the wiki where other engineers could
find them more easily.
Ultimately, the edit ability and traceability of the wiki, and, no doubt,
the web user-interface seemed more accessible/user-friendly, but I had
supposed that I might persist use of leafnode-2 indefinitely so as to
keep access to notes of by-gone years - even though few people seemed
to know how to invoke Outlook Express' NNTP reader on later generation
Windows systems (in a very software restrictive corporate environment).
Fewer still even remembered the data on the leafnode-2 server after
years of turn-over.
This month, various events transpired to challenge the plan to continue
1) Engineering was asked to provide information relating to a product
developed about a decade ago.
2) Microsoft Windows XP is finally end-of-life.
As I went to show the requestor where pertinent information was posted
on a leafnode-2 server, we soon realized that Windows 7 no longer has
a built-in NNTP news reader. Though there were any number of ways to
address this, in our environment with very strict IT rules, it seemed
better to find a web-based interface to the leafnode-2 local
newsgroups than to go down the road of getting approvals for software
not normally installed on company workstations or trying to get people
to use a console reader in a shell session.
After using web search tools, before long, I found a number of
references to a http://fudforum.org/ PHP web application that was
touted to offer a web interface for newsgroups.
A brief review of FUDforum told me that it could front-end a newsgroup,
so I decided to give it a try since it appeared to be an active project
(unlike some other projects that also showed up in the search).
FUDforum is a PHP web forum package that can use various back-ends for
the message store. Since we use PostgreSQL as a backend for other web
applications, a big draw for me was that FUDforum supports its use.
The install in our already set up apache web server (on Linux) was
trivial. The FUDforum install was fairly painless, though I did have
a bit of difficulty figuring out some PostgreSQL configuration issues
(related to a secured public schema in our Postgres installation). In
short order, though, I set the software up, set up a forum and
associated it with a leafnode-2 local newsgroup, and found that it
attempted to import the entire newsgroup into the database.
I say "attempted", because it imported only a few messages from my
test group and refused to pull in any more. I poked about a bit, and
used the command-line to trigger import, to see that the problem was
an error caused by a hole in the message sequence. At this point, my
solution was not exactly genius or recommended, though the results
seem acceptable: I posted an empty message with a dummy subject to a
test newsgroup, found the message ID, created hard links in the local
news store, and then filled in the missing sequence numbers in the
leafnode-2 .overview file. This eliminated FUDforum import errors,
and, nicely enough, did not register dummy messages anywhere but in
the test group where I originally posted. Leafnode-2 doesn't even
seem to show the dummy messages (but I didn't go very far out of my
way to see what would happen from a fresh newsreader client setup).
BTW, the holes in the message sequence were not leafnode-2's fault.
They were created by manipulating the message store for one reason
or another (manually or with a tool called leafwa). Most people
probably will not encounter this problem with leafnode-2 local
Upon succeeding with this, I wiped out my FUDforum install, and step
by step set it back up - documenting what I did. Within hours I had
the requested leafnode-2 local newsgroup published on our internal
web server. Today, I finished importing all our local newsgroups.
FUDforum, by the way, supposedly can synchronize with leafnode-2 by
posting to the newsgroup as users post to the web forum, but I have
not tried this out, and do not plan to.
I hate to leave leafnode-2 behind for sake of nostalgia, etc., but
the time has come where it seems moving on will better serve the
organization. For me, at least, it will be much less work to move
a Postgres dump from one system to another during upgrades, and the
PHP requirements of FUDforum are a subset of requirements of other
PHP-based web applications we run, so if I migrate to FUDforum, I
no longer have to go out of my way to install packages for
I post this simply because I've seen queries over the years by
people who apparently wanted to do something like I did. I've
looked for this too off and on, but never found anything that
convinced me to try it. If you want a web-based gateway to
leafnode-2 local newsgroups, my encounter with FUDforum seems to
suggest it is a particularly viable way to do so - whether or not
you want to retain your leafnode-2 server.
A few caveats come to mind:
1) It is trivial to properly back up leafnode-2's message store
since it is file-based. Backing up a PostgreSQL database safely is
not necessarily trivial, but as I already have set up scripts to
dump the SQL databases, it was not that hard to configure an extra
dump for the FUDforum database.
2) I had some trouble getting FUDforum to render nested forums sanely
when newsgroup names contained more than three levels
(site.group.subgroup.group). To be fair, since this export to
FUDforum only took place in about a 24-hour period of time, I did
not go far down any particular path to resolving this. For me, it
was adequate to flatten the web forum representation of the groups
structure to [site][group.subgroup][group]. While not ideal -
especially with a deeper tree structure - since the project seems
active, I suppose one could get these things resolved without a lot
3) Where groups exist like: site.group and site.group.subgroup exist
where both have messages, I had some trouble getting FUDforum to
render the forums sanely. Again, I did not push really hard to
resolve this, as using a "general" forum for site.group.subgroup
seemed adequate for our usage.
As FUDforum's nesting features did accept both 2 and 3, I would not
expect these caveats to survive ongoing development if people were
to make noise about them. Of course, it might even be that our
web browser was to blame as we are generally required to use the
one that comes with our operating system ;-).
All in all, FUDforum looks commendable, and I probably will
transition to using it on a home server as well. In short, with
appreciation for leafnode-2, I find myself bidding farewell to
something I've been using since about '01 and can't help but wish
it well even though it seems to have entered its sunset years.
Kevin R. Bulgrien
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