Monthly Archives: July 2014

Dear Plone, welcome to year 2014

TL;DR: Production-level Plone on free-tier Heroku: https://github.com/niteoweb/heroku-buildpack-plone

First, a bit of history: it was year 2006 and I was realizing that I was not made to be an academic. I made my first strides into entrepreneurship and being in IT, the first logical step was to create a few websites and try to get paid for my work. I did have some programming experience but haven’t done any web development yet. I heard PHP was not the ideal solution so I started looking elsewhere. In my student association I heard about this Plone thingy and gave it a go: I purchased a 20€ per month shared Plone hosting account at Nidelven IT and started hacking. It was the Plone 2.x era and boy was I productive! I threw in content, installed a ready-made theme and did some TTW tweaks. Done! First customer happy! Rinse & repeat, upgrade to a beefier server, rinse & repeat. NiteoWeb Ltd. was born.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago: we used GeckoBoard to drive a wall-mounted dashboard display. GeckoBoard works fine, but they want almost $60 per month if you want to drive more than one display. Sounds quite expensive for a bit of HTML and JavaScript, doesn’t it? So I looked around for alternatives and one of them was the Dashing dashboard from Spotify. I was reluctant to even give it a try as it was a self-hosted Ruby app. And I didn’t know *any* Ruby. But there, in their documentation, I found a short guide on how to deploy your very own version of a sample dashbord to your personal Heroku account. And when I say short, I mean short! I copy/pasted 6 simple commands into my console and that was it! My very own dashboard! After it was running I was motivated enough to read through Dashing’s docs and did a few minor tweaks. One “git push heroku master” later, my changes were again deployed to Heroku and showing up on my dashboard display. Wow, is this developer-friendly or what!

My mind drifted and I thought: Boy wouldn’t it be nice if a non-Plone person could come to a Plone add-on page and create their very own Plone instance with the add-on installed, and they could immediately start using it. Uhm … why not? Why don’t we, as a community, provide “private” demos that people can use? Is there something that prevents us from using Heroku for demos, the same was as Dashing, and many other Ruby products, use it?

Turns out, there isn’t. During the Plone dinner at EuroPython 2014 conference last week, I ordered a few beers and got hacking. Goal: get Plone to run on a free-tier Heroku account.

There have been attempts to run Plone on Heroku before, but they failed because they took the wrong approach. Look, Heroku, by default, supports Python apps that are installed with “pip“. Previous attempts were all focused on fixing Plone so it could be installed with pip. And they failed, Plone’s ecosystem is just too complex.

I decided to take a different approach: buildpacks. Heroku allows you to build *anything* on it. So I created a buildpack that supports zc.buildout. Once I got that done, it was not far from getting Plone installed on Heroku.

The next roadblock came in the form of Heroku’s ephemeral filesystem. Everytime your Heroku “dyno” is restarted, the filesystem is recreated. And you lose your Data.fs. Humpff. Wait, but what about the PostgreSQL that Heroku offers? A production-quality PostgreSQL, for free, with a 10k row limit. That could work! So, add in support for RelStorage and you have a production-ready Plone site running on Heroku. For free. And you are not limited to one, you can have as many as you wish, on the same account. Heroku really is awesome!

So, Plone is suddenly again a viable option for college dropouts starting their businesses! No need for system administration knowledge, how to setup Nginx in front of Plone, how to do proper backups, just a few command-line commands and your site is online!

And, our add-ons can now have demos. If you use Data.fs instead of PostgreSQL, the demo instance’s data will be recreated at least once per day, giving visitors an up-to-date demo instance, displaying what your Plone add-on does and how it looks.

Does this really works? Hell yeah it does! This blog has been running on Heroku since last week! And here’s a Plone 4.3 demo, a Plone 5 demo and a collective.cover demo. Wanna see plone.app.mosaic in action?

Why doesn’t your add-on have a demo yet? Follow instructions on https://github.com/niteoweb/heroku-buildpack-plone and showcase your add-on to the world!