Matt Marshall

22 Posts with Tag php (All tags)


Brimstone is the code I use to run this website. You can find the code on Gitlab and, for the time being, on Github. I want to keep this post as a living post, and keep adding to it. That way I hope this post acts like a philosophy.txt.

The code isn't anything special. I write it for several reasons:

  • I like to blog, and wasn't happy with a third-party service like tumblr or Blogspot because
  • I like to own my data, and I met someone at a conference who sold me on the idea of the Indieweb and POSSE.
  • I like to write code. I have a CS degree, and am currently doing HCI research where I don't write a lot of code anymore.
  • I like to make my own tools. For the above reasons, this makes writing blog software useful for the time being. I can develop a tool around my own practices, that helps me achieve my goals.
  • Diversity is pretty neat, and although I doubt anyone will actually use this software -- I like the idea that by writing this code I'm contributing in a small way to that diversity.


The goal of this software is to provide a simple, lightweight, option for publishing text content online that allows a user (me) to:

  • own the data and
  • share copies of the data via social media, with citations back to the original copy
  • not deal with any particularly cumbersome Javascript on the front-end while writing posts.
  • Fire up an instance with a minimal setup e.g. a box with PHP, MySQL and a webserver of choice.

And allows others to view my content in a way that suits them. So far this includes:

  • scraping my site for content marked up in microformats
  • subscribing to my long-form text via rss
  • Seeing versions of my content appear on social media feeds.
  • Viewing the front-end of my site without any Javascript executing.

Why not use Wordpress, Ghost, etc.?

I have no explicit issue with them - but they're not really my thing. I've used wordpress for a variety of things in the past and it suits those things, but I wanted something light. I've never really used Ghost, but already you're dealing with a fully-fledged CMS with complex management options and theming potential. I wanted something that does not put any Javascript on the public-facing portion of the site, and only uses minimal Javascript for the UI in the admin-panel. I also wanted something that didn't require a lot of configuration.

Equally as important, I wanted to play and develop a few skills.

Ok, so what's it built on?

The current version of Brimstone is built on the Symfony PHP Framework. To run the current version you will need PHP 7.1, and Composer to install the vendor packages.

It's released under the GPL 3. This means that if you fork Brimstone or use any of my code in projects, you're also obliged to release under the GPL. Symfony code is released under the MIT License which, thankfully, allows me to use MIT components inside of a GPL'd project.

Ok so what does it actually do?

It does pretty much what any home-brew blog software can do, but specifically:

  • Basic blogging and microblogging with Posts.
  • Write Posts in Markdown (a la Daring Fireball syntax) -- no heavy interface required.
  • Posts are type-inferred. You can write short notes (like tweets) and longer articles (like blog posts) from the same interface, and they display differently based on your choices -- no explicit configuration necessary other than deciding if you want your post to have a title.
  • Long-form articles are available via an RSS feed for people to subscribe to
  • POSSE Posts to Mastodon with citation back to post on the site
  • POSSE posts to Twitter with citation back to post on the site
  • Posts on the site are marked up with microformats for Indieweb feed compatibility
  • Speaking of the Indieweb; you can send webmentions just like this one to mention others in your posts.
  • There are no comments for your posts stored on the site, but you can receive webmentions on them which get delivered into an inbox as notifications in your admin panel so you can see what people have said.
  • You can export all your posts in an XML file, and import posts into the system from an XML file given it has the proper format.
  • You can also download posts individually as Markdown files
  • Basic controls for hiding/showing posts, in case you want to appropriate posting for keeping private notes.
  • You have a short profile which you can fill out, and this gets marked up as an h-card for indiweb compatibility.
  • You have an optional 'About' page to fill out just like a post; if you don't want it keep it blank and the About link disappears from the site.

development brimstone indieweb php

Quick thoughts on Minimalist Design Patterns for Brimstone

Minimalism is one of the inspirations I draw from when hacking at Brimstone. So far this has manifested by removing things like excessive UI elements, cumbersome Javascript and CSS frameworks (thankfully PureCSS exists), and streamlining things such as how Posts work and are displayed.

I had a thought recently when considering the About page, and how a more minimal approach might look. At the moment, the approach is still relatively minimal; the UserProfile object has a field which can store text used to render the About page using markdown. If it's null or empty, the templates don't render a link to the About page and the controller redirects any attempts to directly go to /about to the index page.

How then, do I think it may be improved? Obviously these are rough ideas -- I also don't think there's anything explicitly wrong with the way things are done currently. What might seem simple to me might not be simple to others, and in fact I think there's an argument that these design patterns could add complexity in some regards.

Under both of the following proposals, the UserProfile object has the about attribute removed, and controller logic is changed to accommodate the new pattern.

Idea 1 - Using a Post for an About Page

Under the current design, the About page is simply a text field containing markdown that is rendered when the visitor calls /about. This works basically exactly the same as a Post but is a bit less versatile e.g. Posts store a lastModified attribute which can inform the reader if/when the Post was last edited and give some idea of freshness.

Under this design pattern, Post receives a new boolean attribute which marks it as the About page. A form or button is implemented, along with a controller to handle elevating a Post to this position with the following logic:

post = post // from controller
previousAbout = searchPosts(where: about == true)

if ( previousAbout is not null ):


return new Response(200)

The About page template can actually remain, with the controller simply changing the variable it passes into it to achieve the goal. Another consideration, however, is the header templates logic when choosing to render an /about link. Currently it utilises a UserProfile object already passed in to the template which is used for H-Card generation and Site titles as well as visible elements such as the name and profile image. Since the UserProfile object also contains the About page, it simply checks to see if it's null or not to decide whether to render the /about link. If I made the About page a Post, the controller would need to inform the template separately, unless the UserProfile maintained a 1-to-1 relationship with a single post, which is nullable. This changes the previous controller logic above to:

post = post // from controller
userProfile = user.getProfile()


return new Response(200)

Which I actually prefer. The UserProfile still has an about attribute, but it's a reference to pre-existing content and can be switched without a search of the database and it prevents duplication; where since Post already contains the necessary attributes for a good About page it makes sense to leverage it.

Idea 2 - Using a tag for an About Page

This one also utilises Posts, but with a slight twist. Instead of elevating a single Post to become an About page, what if we simply used a Tag? That way, the user could add content to their about page on-the-fly simply by tagging a Post with an about tag?

I don't think this is without issues -- for example how do you order things? What about reordering things on the page? How about editing posts, you have to hunt them down (admittedly just a search for the tag about…)? There's also the issue of the header rendering the /about link from earlier -- this means every controller needs to do a search for Posts tagged with about and check the length of that result, to decide.

I'm sure there's a way around this, and I really like the idea of a cumulative About page which can be made up of otherwise disparate content, for now I'm going to try out Idea 1 and see how that goes.

development brimstone minimalism php minimalist design design patterns web design

Just made a cheeky update to Brimstone based on the fact that the default server timezone is now in the Pacific and it was skewing my post times.

brimstone php

Just written an error message which displays "some bugger has a malformed rssfeed". That's still graceful right? #php


I think my favourite time of day, is that 30mins before lunch when things have started to work, and haven't broken again yet. #php