PayPal: Done; Discourse: Done; What’s Next?

I hope this post finds you well. It’s so lovely and sunny here in the UK, it’s (almost) a shame to be inside coding. I guess that’s what laptops are for, right? So you can still code whilst sat in the garden.

The last five weeks have been incredibly busy for me. Aside from starting a new role, I’ve managed to finally finish off a couple of big tasks that have been on my TODO list for waaaay too long. These are:

  • adding PayPal to the site
  • migrating away from Disqus commenting

I want to quickly cover both.

Adding PayPal

If you’ve been getting my mailings / reading the blog for any length of time, you’ll likely be sick of hearing about PayPal. When switching from the old Symfony-only implementation of CodeReviewVideos (version 1), I knew I’d want to offer more than just Stripe as a payment option. Therefore, I dutifully planned ahead and made the process of accepting payments as modular as possible, and made Stripe payment processing just one possible implementation.

This all worked absolutely fine. I was plenty comfortable with Stripe already, and had my original implementation to use as a reference.

What I did wrong, in hindsight, was base my implementation too heavily on Stripe.

To be clear, Stripe get a lot of things right. If you have to accept payments, working with Stripe’s API is a joy. It’s hard not of be influenced by how their system works.

As such, some of the ways I implemented things like the card details endpoint, the invoicing, and even little things like what data was being captured if using a debug level of logging were too heavily tied to Stripe.

The new subscribe form with PayPal option chosen

These things combined to make adding Braintree integration (aka PayPal’s API) take a lot longer than planned (~6 months, to my estimate of about 2-4 weeks). There were some other complications, such as getting my account approved was perhaps something I should have done upfront, but instead, I left this until I was about 8 weeks into development. In hindsight, if they had declined my application, I’d have wasted a lot of time. Not to mention, when I finally thought I might get rejected (it took a while, I got fearful) I stopped development entirely – for about 2 weeks.

The biggest mistake I made though was in the DB schema. Even though I knew upfront that I’d ultimately want to allow people to subscribe with PayPal, or Stripe, I made the relationship between a User account, and a Payment Information a one-to-one.

This was deployed to prod.

All worked fine when all I had was Stripe.

The problem dawned on me that if a User was paying with Stripe, then canceled their subscription, then rejoined with PayPal, then canceled again, and rejoined with Stripe, there was no way to get their previous payment info back. It sounds like an edge case, but if I’ve learned anything from CodeReviewVideos, it’s that all manner of unexpected circumstances can, and do arise. And more frequently than I’d ever have thought.

There was another issue. If a User was paying with Stripe, and then switched to PayPal, with a one-to-one setup they would lose their Stripe invoices. Again, major headaches.

So even when I’d finished the development, I still had a major migration ahead of me. And that consumed about 4 weeks in terms of planning, writing migration scripts, testing, setting up a whole new environment to test the thing end to end… phew, the work just kept on, and on.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, it’s done. The migration went well, and PayPal is now in prod. I think I celebrated by immediately cracking on with the Disqus migration. Ha.

Migrating To Discourse

One aspect of the CodeReviewVideos web site that I’ve never been happy with has been the use of Disqus.

There was a nasty user experience whereby you’d have to sign up once to use the site, and again – and entirely separately – to leave a comment. It sucked. But as far as pragmatic solutions go, it was good enough to get going.

I also read that Disqus would be enabling adverts on my comments section – though to the very best of my knowledge, that never happened. There was talk of a monthly fee. I don’t know. I don’t begrudge them charging for their service, but that wasn’t for me.

Adding Disqus wasn’t super easy, but at the same time, it wasn’t quite as hardcore as the PayPal change.

Surgical

The complications came by way of Single Sign On, hosting Discourse (via Docker), and replacing the existing comments.

Single Sign On wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. I thought that would be the hardest part. I found a Laravel package which I butchered crafted with surgical precision into something that worked nicely with Symfony.

Hosting Discourse wasn’t too bad. I use Rancher for my Docker container management, but Discourse’s Docker implementation just wasn’t playing ball. In the end I got a new VPS from Hetzner and hosted it there instead. There were some tweaks needed, but overall it wasn’t so bad.

Replacing the existing comments was the real tricky part. Disqus provide a one-way export – something I think is a bit weird. By which I mean you can export your data from Disqus, but they won’t let you revert to a previous ‘backup’. Anyway, I didn’t need that, I just needed the export, so that was fine and dandy.

Once I had the export I needed to get that data in to Docker, and then tweak the provided Disqus import script to run against my export. That all generally worked, but it only seems to have missed some of the comments off. I’m not sure why, but also I felt the end result was “good enough”.

The import worked by looking for any existing user, and then mapping a Disqus email address to the user’s Discourse email address. If the Disqus commentor never had a site membership, then now their comment will be assigned to some anonymous username like Disqus_312jklsdf2kl  or whatever. Not perfect, but again, good enough.

Now what happens is when I create a new video, the comments section automagically creates a new forum post under the username chris. As such, if you look at the forum today (and you should, because it’s ace), you’ll see I’ve been posting new topics like a mad man. This will slow down over the next few days.

As I write this I still have email functionality globally disabled on the forum. This will change, possibly over the weekend, once I’m suitably confident everything has settled down. You may recall receiving an email from the staging forum a few weeks back – yep, I made a boob there. Sorry about that. Once bitten, twice shy.

What’s Upcoming

I mentioned at the start that aside from the PayPal and Discourse changes, I have also recently started a new role.

Sometimes I get emails asking why I don’t have any new videos in a while, or why I haven’t updated X, Y, or Z to the latest and greatest. Believe me, I’d love to spend all day making new videos. Unfortunately CodeReviewVideos is not my full time job.

As some of you may know – I’m fairly open about it – I am a contractor by day.

One of the really nice things about being a contractor is getting to experience lots of different projects, in various scales of complexity, and reliability 🙂

I get a lot of interesting ideas for videos from my day-to-day work experiences. And this means that the content on CodeReviewVideos is very much about actionable, real world stuff you can use right now, today in your projects. It’s also battle tested / used in real world production websites.

There’s a bunch of videos I wrote up but haven’t had time to record as of yet. The reason I mention the whole day job thing is that it means I have only a fixed amount of time per week to devote to the site, and I have to prioritise tasks accordingly. Above all else, I prefer making videos. This is why I stared, and continue to run CodeReviewVideos. I love sharing, and from the feedback I get from so many of you (thank you!) you find it useful, too.

But of course, over the last few weeks I’ve had these other big site changes (dare I say, improvements) to make. And that has meant I haven’t been recording. Thankfully all that can change, and I can get back to making recording new stuff.

Ok cool – so what should be being recorded, all being well, is the continuation of the Beginners Guide to Back End (JSON API) + Front End Development [2018] series. Next up is the API Platform section, which I both really enjoyed building, and writing up, and am equally looking forwards to recording and sharing. It’s a good one.

Let’s hope this sunshine continues through the weekend, and for those of you in the UK, enjoy your bank holiday / extended weekend.

One final thing before I go: please do come and say hi on the forum.

Until next time, happy coding!

Chris