Photo of printing plates.

Gutenberg & You

For the past year, the WordPress core development team has been working on a complete revision of how editing content in WordPress works. Now the results of this work—codenamed Gutenberg—are very close to release in the core version of WordPress.

What is Gutenberg?

Gutenberg is a new editor in WordPress. Instead of one big “content editor” box in your WordPress administration, the editing paradigm is shifting to one of many, much smaller blocks. Content authors will create their sites using these blocks which will give them finer control over the formatting and presentation of content in their WordPress pages and posts.

When Will Gutenberg Show Up on My WordPress Site?

Gutenberg has been available for some time now as a plugin—an extra you can add to your WordPress site. But beginning in the recently-released WordPress 4.9.8, you’ll start to see notes encouraging its download and use.

You’ll still have to install a plugin to use it, and if you’re hosting your site on Pantheon, that means going through Pantheon’s workflow (just let us know if you need some help with that).

Come WordPress 5.0, slated for release later this year, Gutenberg will be integrated into WordPress core and will be the default interface for editing content.

What If I Don’t Want Gutenberg?

Fortunately, the WordPress core team has offered an opt-out solution if you decide that Gutenberg isn’t right for you. Taupecat Studios has already installed the Classic Editor plugin to every site we manage. It’s sitting in your plugins administration screen, deactivated but waiting. Once Gutenberg goes live, you can always switch back to the classic editing window you’re comfortable with by activating that plugin.

How Does Gutenberg Affect Beaver Builder and/or WPBakery Page Builder and/or Advanced Custom Fields?

Some have called Gutenberg a response to the plethora of WordPress page builders available as third-party content editor alternatives. While this isn’t exactly true, it isn’t exactly false, either.

Responsible page builder plugin developers have known about Gutenberg for awhile, and have planned accordingly. Beaver Builder has pledged their commitment to supporting Gutenberg upon its release. Advanced Custom Fields (not exactly a page builder, but often used like one) has also been testing their development against Gutenberg, and promises to be 100% compatible with WordPress 5.0. WPBakery Page Builder also promises a smooth transition to Gutenberg.

Anything Else I Should Know?

Only that change is hard. But don’t worry. We wouldn’t leave you to face a change of this magnitude on your own. As always, let us know if you have any questions or concerns.

And as always, Happy Pressing!

Why Individual Accounts Are Almost Always a Better Idea than Shared Logins

Often when working with clients I need access to legacy websites or services such as DNS providers and web hosting dashboards. Usually when this happens, I’m given the same credentials that circulate amongst the clients’ own staffs, using the same shared logins as they do. Now, I’m a trustworthy individual, but there are many reasons that have nothing to do with my trustworthiness that make this a bad idea.

The Problems with Shared Logins

Insecure password sharing practices and other security risks can plague your infrastructure when account credentials are shared amongst team members.

Default Usernames

While it’s no longer the case, WordPress historically would automatically create the initial account with the username “admin”. Even though WordPress now explicitly asks for the desired username, many organizations that intend to share logins will still use some variation of “admin” or “administrator” for the master account. This makes the site a prime target for brute force attacks, which often use “admin”, “administrator”, or a variant of the site’s own name in their attempts to break into the site because of the frequency of this pattern.

Insecure Passwords

When multiple people are using a common account, by necessity the common password needs to be shared too. This can lead to insecure practices such as sharing via Post-It Note, plain text email, distributed spreadsheets, or other easily compromised methods. Additionally, the passwords themselves are likely to be short and easily-memorizable, which goes against modern password best-practices.

Lack of Two-Factor Authentication

Two-Factor authentication—the practice of using a secondary, one-time password from a cell phone, for example—is possible when sharing common account credentials, but it’s extremely cumbersome, and unlikely that an organization using shared logins would be taking that extra security step.

Bad Actors

Every time your account credentials are shared among a team, you’re increasing the possibility that one of the trusted members might do something harmful—intentionally or through an honest mistake. And if you need to change credentials quickly because of a bad team member (or a team member that inadvertently compromised the security of those credentials), you’ll need to quickly change the credentials to the account and then distribute the new information, often by similar insecure means. Not to mention damage to the account in question that might need repairing.

Possible Solutions

There are a number of steps your organization can take in order to lessen the risks that come from shared logins.

Delegation of Roles

In systems that allow for multiple accounts to control the same information—content management systems, for example, and some of your more sophisticated managed web hosting providers—you can create individual accounts for every member of your team, complete with their own unique password, and delegate the required authority to them. This makes everyone in your organization responsible for their own online security and no one else’s, and also allows you to quickly shut out a compromised account without affecting the other members of your team.

Rule of Least Required Privilege

Not everyone on your WordPress site needs to be an administrator. Set the proper roles to go along with each team member’s role in your organization. Similarly, on your service provider’s site, only the account owner probably needs to be able to see all the billing information; the rest of the team can be assigned various levels of functional access without being able to see (and change!) things they shouldn’t.

Use a Password Manager

Insist that your team members use a password manager, or better yet, invest in an enterprise-level password manager for your organization. Not only do these systems store passwords in a more secure format than written paper or your computer’s sticky notes, they also let your team member generate long, nonsensical, and difficult-to-crack passwords that are unique for every service they have access to. Also, if you really must share account credentials among team members, doing so through a password manager is the most secure method to do so.

Sometimes, you just can’t avoid the shared login scenario. Not every service is up to speed on the need for individual accounts and role delegation. If you really must use shared logins, keep those account credentials as secure as possible and limit their distribution to as few people as possible. And petition your vendors to upgrade their own security practices.

Why Do I Need a Maintenance Partner if I Use a Managed WordPress Host?

Managed hosting providers are a breed of website hosting that has emerged over the last few years as a popular option for hosting WordPress sites. Some—such as Pantheon and WP Engine—only provided managed hosting services and nothing else. Others—DreamHost, GoDaddy, and SiteGround, for example—offer managed WordPress hosting in addition to their other shared hosting plans.

As a whole, managed hosting plans cost a bit more than shared hosting, but is usually a good investment if your WordPress site is out there to make money for you. On the technical level, the servers are usually fine-tuned to max out WordPress’ performance with caching options and configurations that have WordPress in mind. They usually offer other goodies as well, such as a dashboard that gives you a birds-eye view of everything going on with all the sites you have on that host, backup options, maybe access to third-party performance tools, etc.

So if you’re paying out the extra bucks to run your WordPress site on managed hosting, you may be thinking you don’t need a separate maintenance partner. After all, what’s the value add?

While managed hosting is great, they don’t do everything your site needs to keep it running healthy and top-form. A good maintenance partner will fill in the blanks, and complement your managed hosting provider with services they don’t—or often can’t—provide.

Redundancy of Backups

Almost universally, managed hosts will perform regular, incremental, and staggered backups of your site, which is great. And if you’ve done something catastrophic to your site and need to roll back, it’s usually no more than a few mouse clicks and a couple of minutes’ wait and you’re back in business.

But what about if there is a massive failure of the hosting provider? It happens. As much as your better hosting providers build in redundancy into their systems, total outages can and do occur.

Having another backup in a system other than your hosting provider can provide peace of mind that if something really, really bad happens to that provider, your site and data can be restored somewhere else as quickly as possible. Remember Schofield’s Second Law of Computing: Data doesn’t really exist unless you have at least two copies of it.

Massive failures of hosting companies to the extent where an extra backup is needed are extremely rare, but they do happen. Maybe they cut off access to your account in some sort of legal dispute (think DMCA take down notice or a perceived violation of the hosting company’s terms of service). Maybe the host just goes belly-up and shuts down its servers in the middle of the night. Crazier things have happened; it’s best to be prepared.

Updates of Plugins and Themes

Managed hosts are usually very good about applying updates to WordPress core soon after they are available. Important, because some managed hosts block the mechanism by which WordPress can self-apply security patches.

However, they won’t usually update plugins and themes. There are good reasons for this: Plugins and themes—coming from a variety of developers—can contain bugs or breaking changes that could bring down a site. It’s much more important in this instance to have a human somewhere in the process independently verify that plugin and theme changes are safe by applying them to a testing or staging environment before they go live.

Uptime Monitoring

Many, but not all, managed WordPress hosts will notify you if there is some problem on their side that affects the availability (uptime) of your site. But there are many reasons a site will go down (or just become very, very slow) that their automated notification policies won’t pick up.

For example, if your domain name expires (many managed hosting companies do not provide domain name management services), the site will still be “up”, technically, but it will be unreachable because the global network of phone books that keeps track of what domain name goes to which site on the Internet will be directed to some landing page set up by your domain name management service, not your website.

Another possible problem is if your site is under a DDoS attack; some managed hosts will pick up that as a security issue, but others might not. Either way, the performance of your site may slow to a crawl, but because it’s not “down” in the technical sense, you might not see a notice from your hosting company. A third-party uptime monitoring service accesses your website in the same manner than human visitors do, making it more likely to catch slowness. If it doesn’t get a valid response in a timely fashion, it will warn the site owner of the problem within a few minutes.

At Taupecat Studios, we love managed hosting, and recommend one in particular (Pantheon) to all of our clients. We also realize that good managed hosting isn’t enough to take care of all the needs of your website hosting. Therefore, we offer a maintenance plan to perform all those tasks the managed hosting providers don’t.

Are you running on managed hosting, but need a little extra help for those tasks? Drop us a line and let us know how we can help!

Telephone switchboard operators from the 1950's.

Demystifying DNS

DNS—or Domain Name System—is one of those geeky terms that usually flies above the heads of people who aren’t entrenched in the world of websites and the Internet. Mostly because, for the most part, it’s invisible. It’s one of those crucial pieces of Internet infrastructure that usually just works without you noticing it, let alone thinking about it. But when it doesn’t work, bad things happen, or rather, good things don’t happen, like people finding your website. And if you’re about ready to launch your brand-new website, chances are you’ll have to make some DNS changes in order to get things working.


To explain how DNS works, I’m going to use an increasingly antiquated metaphor: that of a phone book. Just like you have a name, if people want to reach you (by telephone, that is), they need to know your telephone number. Just dialing your name into the phone doesn’t work. When I was a kid, we found out this information by using a telephone book: I would look up the name of my friend, and the book provided the number I could use to call her.

This won’t work.

DNS works in much the same way. Every website you want to visit has a name, but behind that name is one or more numbers that are the true location of where that name leads to. These numbers are called IP (Internet protocol) addresses, and consist of four groups of numbers that range from 0 to 255 and are separated by dots. (That’s IPv4, the most common standard. There’s also IPv6, but let’s ignore that today.)

So let’s go back to our phone book analogy. Looking up my friend’s phone number was easy since we lived in the same town. But what if I needed to look up somebody who lived in another state? Chances are, I didn’t have that phone book just lying around. I’d either have to call information, or go to the library and hope they had a copy of the appropriate book. And how did the library have it? By sending away to various cities to get them.

And that’s a bit how DNS works, too. There is one place per URL, called the “name server,” on all the Internet that holds the key numbers for any particular name on the Internet. Who the name server for a particular URL is is so important that it’s provided along with other basic information such as the URL’s owner and registration service (or registrar). But then that information propagates to Internet providers (your Verizons, your Comcasts, your Time Warners, etc.) all around the world. Any time there’s a change, the change has to work its way throughout the Internet in a process that could take a little as one hour or as long as five days.

Time to Live

Why the difference in time? Along with the information regarding what URL has what number, the name server also tells other servers around the world how often to check back for new information. This is called the “Time to Live” (or TTL), and the shorter the TTL, the more frequently Internet providers and other servers check back to see if any information has changed.

So when you’re getting ready to launch a website and know you’re going to need to change the DNS, you need to do some planning ahead of time. You can usually change the TTL to something shorter than the default, and so it’s best to do so at least a week ahead of time. Then, when you’re ready to launch, make the change, and once the change has made its way throughout the Internet, you can change it back to the longer TTL value.

Changing the DNS Information

How do you change the DNS? Good question, but there’s no one answer. Often, you manage DNS settings on the same site where you registered your URL. But sometimes, it’s with your web host. Which could be the same provider, or could be different. Sometimes the interface to update your DNS is very simple, but the provider will try and upsell you on a bunch of stuff you don’t need. Other services have complex interfaces that you practically need a computer science degree to edit. In short, if DNS changes are required to launch your site, it’s best to have a professional handle it.

Hopefully I’ve been able to shed a little light on DNS. Have more questions on this or how other parts of the Internet work together, let me know in the comments or send me feedback!