A passable but imperfect solution for full-bleed background images on Android and iOS

I’m working on a site right now that has a fixed, full-bleed (i.e. background-size: cover) background image on the <body>. The content flows over it, mostly obscuring it completely, but the background is occasionally revealed in the spaces between content blocks. Some blocks have a semi-transparent background so you can see the fixed background as if through frosted glass.

Here’s the CSS:

body {
  background: rgb(255,255,255) url('../images/ui/body_bg.jpg') center center no-repeat fixed;
  background-size: cover;
}

It’s a cool effect, but it really, really does not want to play nicely on mobile. Various odd things happen on both Android and iOS, and they are completely different.

Quick side note: Yes, the background image is a JPEG. Normally I only use PNG or SVG images in UI elements, but I had good reason to use JPEG here: even though it’s only two colors (with some in-between colors due to antialiasing), the pattern in the background is incredibly complex, and a JPEG version of the file is about 1/5 the size of the PNG. And since it’s an illustration, I tried making an SVG version first, but the pattern is so large that the SVG was about 2 MB! So JPEG it is… which may be a factor in the issue I’m having on Android, but I haven’t tested a PNG version of the image to verify that.

iOS Problems

I’m an iPhone user, so I mainly test responsive sites on iOS. I do own an Android phone (a Motorola Moto E, which I highly recommend as a cheap-but-decent Android phone for testing), but I generally only break it out during the final round of browser testing prior to launching a site.

The issues with background images on iOS are well-known to most web developers. iOS has a number of rather arbitrary seeming limitations imposed upon the Mobile Safari browsing experience, generally for one of three reasons: 1) performance, 2) touch interface usability, 3) the whims of the ghost of Steve Jobs. In the case of background images, background-attachment is not supported. I’m not really sure how this would impact either (1) or (2) — although I think with the early underpowered iPhone generations, it did impact performance — so I think we’re dealing mostly with (3) here. At any rate, because you can’t have an attached background on iOS, I added this in my media queries:

@media screen and (max-width: 782px) {

  body {
    /* For background handling on iOS */
    background-attachment: scroll; background-repeat: repeat;
  }

}

Another quick side note: Why is my phone break point at 782 pixels, you ask? Because that’s where WordPress has its break point for the admin interface. I’m not exactly sure why the WP team chose that number, but why fight it?

Besides the background attachment, there’s also the issue that background-size: cover on a phone is going to make the background image huuuuuuuuuge because it’s scaling it to fit the height of the page content, not the screen size. I initially solved that with background-size: 100%;, since we’re now allowing the background to repeat. As you’ll see, however, that led to problems on Android, so I ended up scrapping it.

Android Problems

Yes, Android has problems. Don’t even get me started! But I wasn’t prepared for this.

I opened the page in Android, and, although the background image was displaying as I expected in terms of size and attachment, it looked… awful. The original source image I am working with is a generous 2400 x 1857 pixels, enough to look reasonably sharp on most displays, even at high resolution. And it looks great on my Mac, great on my iPhone. But on the Android phone it was splotchy and low-res looking… like it had been reduced to 200 pixels and then upscaled (which is maybe what Android is doing, somehow… and here is where I’m wondering if the image being a JPEG is a factor, but that’s just a stab in the dark).

I tried a number of possible solutions, the most obvious being to set exact pixel dimensions for the image. I tried 1200 x 929, basically a “x2” size for high-res devices. Still looked like crap. I even tried setting it to 2400 x 1857, the actual dimensions of the image, and it looked like crap… and I don’t mean pixel-doubled, which is what it actually should be; I mean the same splotchy weirdness I had been seeing at other sizes.

And then I discovered David Chua’s solution:

html {
  /* For background image scaling on Android */
  height:100%; min-height:100%;
}

Yet another quick side note: Here I am not placing this inside a media query. We don’t want to only fix this issue on phone screens. Granted, the iOS solution above needs to work on iPads, too… something I haven’t really solved here. I’m workin’ on it!

This change for Android worked perfectly! By this point I had, temporarily at least, removed the iOS workarounds I mentioned above, so on Android the background image was not only perfectly scaled to the browser window, looking sharp and clean, but it was even fixed-position, just like on desktop!

But… the image was back to being huuuuuuuuuge on iOS. Apparently this html trick for Android does absolutely nothing on iOS, so you’re left trying to find another solution that won’t simultaneously break Android.

An uneasy compromise

It’s not perfect, but I found that if I put both of these tricks together, everything works… the only thing we lose is the fixed-position treatment that Android allows but iOS does not. But the background looks great on both platforms and most importantly, behaves consistently on both.

Here’s the complete code I’m rolling with, for now:

html {
  /* For background image scaling on Android */
  height:100%; min-height:100%;
}

@media screen and (max-width: 782px) {

  body {
    /* For background handling on iOS */
    background-attachment: scroll; background-repeat: repeat;
  }

}

As noted above, this doesn’t really address iPads. A simple solution would be to change the media query to @media screen and (max-width: 1024px), but a) that doesn’t account for the larger iPad Pro and b) it also means a desktop display will lose the proper background effect if the window is smaller than that size. I don’t really have a solution; an adaptive treatment using either server-side or JavaScript-based browser detection would be a consideration, but I don’t really like resorting to that sort of thing for something as basic as this.

It doesn’t help that I recently gave my iPad to my daughter so I don’t currently have a tablet of any kind for testing. That’s about to change as I have a newly ordered Kindle Fire arriving today, but of course that’s not going to give me the answer for an iPad. I can try Responsive Design Mode in desktop Safari, but that’s not always a perfect representation of the quirks of an actual mobile device.

Still… this combined solution for phones is an improvement over the default behavior in both cases.

Another obscure WordPress problem: setting document.domain for cross-site scripting iframes breaks Gravity Forms AJAX submissions

Whew… that title was almost as long as the variable name I’m about to throw out in a code example.

I spent well over an hour beating my head against the wall on this problem today before narrowing it down to a Gravity Forms issue. The scenario: I have a site that is loading iframes from a different subdomain. As is common in this situation, I wanted to be able to adjust the height of the iframe with JavaScript, to match the height of the page within the iframe and prevent internal scrollbars.

The solution to that problem is readily available on teh interwebz, with the addition of a bit of extra JavaScript to allow cross-site scripting: both the containing page and the contained page need to specify the same document.domain so browsers will let them talk to each other.

Not long after we put this in place, my client informed me that none of their AJAX-based Gravity Forms were working. The spinner would just spin indefinitely, even if (usually) the form actually did submit properly. It didn’t take me long to narrow the problem down to a JavaScript error pertaining to cross-site scripting. I found that AJAX and document.domain don’t mix. Or at least that seemed to be the issue.

But that’s where I hit a wall. No one else seemed to be describing the exact problem I was having. Most solutions involved adding a Access-Control-Allow-Origin header, but that didn’t do anything for me.

Eventually I realized that was because the problem wasn’t with the AJAX, per se. It was the fact that Gravity Forms adds its own hidden iframe where it works some secret mojo on AJAX submissions. And that iframe needed to have document.domain added to it, just like my site and the other subdomain I was loading in iframes did.

So the question then was, is there a Gravity Forms hook to modify its iframe output? Fortunately, the answer is yes.

The gform_ajax_iframe_content filter pretty much does what it says on the tin. Add a filter to insert the necessary JavaScript, and you’re good. The only thing I don’t get about this is the name given to its lone input parameter. I mean, really? (Actually… I do think I understand it, but I don’t understand it.)

Anyway… here’s what you need to make this work. Just replace example.com with the correct domain name. And if you’re running on a version of PHP before 5.3, you won’t be able to use an anonymous function. But you’re not running an old version of PHP, are you?

add_filter('gform_ajax_iframe_content', function($doctype_html_html_head_meta_charset_utf_8_head_body_class_gf_ajax_postback_form_string_body_html) {
  echo "<script>document.domain = 'example.com';</script>\n";
  return $doctype_html_html_head_meta_charset_utf_8_head_body_class_gf_ajax_postback_form_string_body_html;
});

WordPress challenge of the day: customizing The Events Calendar’s RSS feed and how it displays in a MailChimp RSS campaign

This one’s a doozy. I have a client who is using The Events Calendar, and they want to automate a weekly email blast listing that week’s events, using MailChimp.

The Events Calendar automatically generates an RSS feed of future events, inserting the event’s date and time in the RSS <pubDate> field. And MailChimp offers an RSS Campaign feature that can be scheduled to automatically send out emails with content pulled in from an RSS feed.

So far so good. But there were a few things the client wanted that were missing:

  1. Show exactly a week’s worth of events. The RSS feed just pulls in n events… whatever you have set in Settings > Reading > Syndication feeds show the most recent.
  2. Display the event’s featured image. Featured images aren’t included in WordPress RSS feeds, neither the default posts feed nor The Events Calendar’s modified feed.
  3. Show the event’s location. This is also not pulled into the RSS feed at all.

To make this happen, I had to first get the RSS feed to actually contain the right data. Then I had to modify the MailChimp campaign to display the information.

The problem in both cases surrounded documentation. RSS, though it’s still widely used, is definitely languishing if not dead. The spec is well-defined, but there’s not a lot of good information about how you can customize the WordPress RSS feed, and even less about how to customize The Event Calendar’s version. What info I could find was generally outdated or flat-out wrong — like the example in the official WordPress documentation (the old documentation, to be fair) that has at least three major errors in it. (I’m not even going to bother to explain them. Just trust that it’s wrong and you shouldn’t use it.)

Now that I’ve put in the hours of trial and error and futile Googling, I’ll save you the trouble and summarize my successful end result.

Problem 1: Show a week’s worth of events in the RSS feed

It took a surprising amount of effort to figure out how this is done, although in the end it’s a very small amount of code. Part of the problem was that I was not aware of the posts_per_rss query parameter, and therefore I wasted a lot of time trying to figure out why posts_per_page wasn’t working. Maybe that’s just my dumb mistake. I hope so.

I also spent a bunch of time trying to get a meta_query working before I realized that The Events Calendar adds an end_date query parameter which makes it super-easy to define a date-based endpoint for the query.

You need both of these. Depending on how full your calendar is, the default posts_per_rss value of 10 is possibly not enough to cover a full week. I decided to change it to 100. If this client ever has a week with more than 100 events in it, we’ll be in trouble… probably in more ways than one.

Here’s the modification you need. Put this in your functions.php file or wherever you feel is appropriate:

// Modify feed query
function my_rss_pre_get_posts($query) {
  if ($query->is_feed() && $query->tribe_is_event_query) {
    // Change number of posts retrieved on events feed
    $query->set('posts_per_rss', 100);
    // Add restriction to only show events within one week
    $query->set('end_date', date('Y-m-d H:i:s', mktime(23, 59, 59, date('n'), date('j') + 7, date('Y'))));
  }
  return $query;
}
add_action('pre_get_posts','my_rss_pre_get_posts',99);

What’s happening here? The if conditional is critical, since pre_get_posts runs on… oh… every database query. This makes sure it’s only running on a query to retrieve the RSS feed and, specifically, The Events Calendar’s events query.

We’re changing posts_per_rss to an arbitrarily large value — the maximum number of events we can possibly anticipate having within the date range we’re about to set.

The change to end_date (it’s actually empty by default) sets a maximum event end date to retrieve. My mktime function call is setting the date to 11:59:59 pm on the date one week from the current date. You can just change the 7 to another number to set the query to that many days in the future. There are a lot of other fun manipulations you can make to mktime. Check out the official PHP documentation if you’re unfamiliar with it.

Every add_action() call can include priority as the third input parameter. Sometimes it doesn’t matter and you can leave it blank, but in this case it does matter. I’m not sure what the minimum value is that would work, but I found 99 does, so I stuck with that.

Problems 2 and 3: Add the featured image and event location to the RSS feed

RSS is XML, so it has a syntax similar to HTML, but with its own specific tags. (And with XML’s much stricter validation requirements.) WordPress uses RSS 2.0. This can get you into trouble later with the MailChimp integration, because MailChimp’s RSS Merge Tags documentation gives an example of the RSS 1.5 <media:content> tag for inserting images, but you’ll actually need to use the <enclosure> tag… which MailChimp also mentions, but not in conjunction with images. Still with me?

All right, so the first thing we’re going to need to modify in the RSS output is the images. And don’t believe that official WordPress documentation I mentioned earlier. It. Is. Wrong. My way works.

The next thing we want to do, and we’ll roll it into the same function (because I want to contain the madness), is to add in the event’s location. There’s no RSS tag to account for something like this. You could add it to the <description> tag, although I found that since the WordPress rss2_item hook seems to be directly outputting RSS XML as it goes, I didn’t track down a way to modify any of the output, just add to it.

There’s another standard RSS tag that WordPress doesn’t use — or at least doesn’t seem to use — the <source> tag. This is supposed to be used to provide a link and title of an external reference for the item, but I’m going to take the liberty of misusing it to pass along the location name instead. In my particular case I’m not using it as a link; I just need the text of the location name. But the url attribute is required, so I just stuck the event’s URL in there. (I also added a conditional so this is only inserted on events, not on other post types. But for images I figured it would be a nice bonus to add the featured image across all post types on the site. You may want to add your own conditionals to limit this.)

Here we go:

function my_rss_modify_item() {
  global $post;
  // Add featured image
  $uploads = wp_upload_dir();
  if (has_post_thumbnail($post->ID)) {
    $thumbnail = wp_get_attachment_image_src(get_post_thumbnail_id($post->ID), 'thumbnail');
    $image = $thumbnail[0];
    $ext = pathinfo($image, PATHINFO_EXTENSION);
    $mime = ($ext == 'jpg') ? 'image/jpeg' : 'image/' . $ext;
    $path = $uploads['basedir'] . substr($image, (strpos($image, '/uploads') + strlen('/uploads')));
    $size = filesize($path);
    echo '<enclosure url="' . esc_url($image) . '" length="' . intval($size) . '" type="' . esc_attr($mime) . '" />' . "\n";
  }
  // Add event location (fudged into the <source> tag)
  if ($post->post_type == 'tribe_events') {
    if ($location = strip_tags(tribe_get_venue($post->ID))) {
      echo '<source url="' . get_permalink($post->ID) . '">' . $location . '</source>';
    }
  }
}
add_action('rss2_item','my_rss_modify_item');

You might be able to find a more efficient way of obtaining the $path value… to be honest I was getting a bit fatigued by this point in the process! But it works. You really only need that value anyway in order to fill in the length attribute, and apparently that value doesn’t even need to be correct, it just needs to be there for the XML to validate. So maybe you can try leaving it out entirely.

Put it in MailChimp!

OK… I’m not going to tell you how to set up an RSS Campaign in MailChimp. I already linked to their docs. But I will tell you how to customize the template to include these nice new features you’ve added to your RSS feed.

Edit the campaign, and once you’re in the Campaign Builder, place an RSS Items block, then click on it to open the editor on the right side. Set the dropdown to Custom, which will reveal a WYSIWYG editor full of a bunch of special tags that dynamically insert RSS content into the layout. For the most part you can edit everything here… except for the image. You’re going to have to insert one of these tags into the src attribute of the HTML <img> tag. That requires going into the raw code view, which you can access by clicking the <> button in the WYSIWYG editor’s toolbar.

A few key tags:

*|RSSITEM:ENCLOSURE_URL|*
This is your code for the URL of the image. Yes, it has to be put into the src attribute of the <img> tag directly. There’s not a way that I could find to get MailChimp to recognize an <enclosure> as being an image and display it inline.

*|RSSITEM:SOURCE_TITLE|*
This will display the location name, if you added it to the <source> tag.

*|RSSITEM:DATE:F j - g:i a|*
I just though I’d point this out: you can customize the way MailChimp shows an event date by inserting a colon and a standard PHP date format into the *|RSSITEM:DATE|* tag. Nice!

If you’re interested in a nice layout with the featured image left aligned and the event info next to it, here’s something you can work with. Paste this in its entirety into the WYSIWYG editor’s raw code view in place of whatever you have in there now. Yes, inline CSS… welcome to HTML email!

*|RSSITEMS:|*
<div style="clear: both; padding-bottom: 1em;">
<img src="*|RSSITEM:ENCLOSURE_URL|*" style="display: block; float: left; padding-right: 1em; width: 100px; height: 100px;" />
<h2 class="mc-toc-title" style="text-align: left;"><a href="*|RSSITEM:URL|*" target="_blank">*|RSSITEM:TITLE|*</a></h2>

<div style="text-align: left;"><strong>*|RSSITEM:DATE:F j – g:i a|*</strong><br />
*|RSSITEM:SOURCE_TITLE|*</div>

<div style="clear: both; content: ''; display: table;">&nbsp;</div>
</div>
*|END:RSSITEMS|*

Update! I have encapsulated this functionality, along with some configuration options, into a plugin. You can download it from the WordPress Plugin Directory.

Find the mode of an array in PHP

For those of you who don’t remember studying statistics in math (and I barely do), the mode refers to the value that occurs most frequently in a set of data. That contrasts with the mean — what most of us call the “average” — and the median, which is the “middle” value if you sort all of the values in order.

My daughter was recently studying all of this and it brought it back to my mind. These are really not things I use often. But, as it happens, right now in my work I have a need for a PHP function that determines the mode in a set of data.

In this case, it’s not actually numbers; it’s dates. In short, I have an array of dates, and I need to know which date occurs the most often in the array. You’d think there would be a built-in PHP function for this, likely called array_mode() or else something long and completely illogical, or short and incomprehensible. But alas, there is no array_mode() function.

Fortunately, it’s pretty damn easy to write one. I found some examples on other sites, but they weren’t pithy enough for my tastes, so I rolled my own. Now you don’t have to:

function array_mode($arr) {
  $count = array();
  foreach ((array)$arr as $val) {
    if (!isset($count[$val])) { $count[$val] = 0; }
    $count[$val]++;
  }
  arsort($count);
  return key($count);
}

Perhaps it’s excessive even to bother casting $arr as an array, but it’s a habit I picked up a long time ago and can’t seem to shake. Anyway, there you have it. (Of course, this probably breaks if $val isn’t scalar, but I’ll leave that to you to fix.)

Shut off and lock down comments on your WordPress site with 5 lines of SQL

Comments are kind of passé. Well, OK, they’re still everywhere, but they’re almost universally garbage. Meaningful discussion happens on social media these days, even if it’s prompted by a blog post. And if you’re using WordPress as a general-purpose CMS rather than just as a blogging tool, then you probably have no use for comments whatsoever.

Yet, they’re built in, and they’re a spam magnet. Even if your templates aren’t actually showing comments anywhere, the default WordPress settings allow comments to come in, cluttering up your database and nagging you with a disconcertingly large number in a bright red circle in the WordPress admin bar.

Yuck.

Fortunately, if you have direct database access and the fortitude to run a few simple lines of SQL, you can quickly accomplish the following:

  1. Purge all queued spam and pending comments (while safely retaining any old, approved comments for archival purposes
  2. Prevent any new comments from appearing on any of your existing posts/pages
  3. Prevent comments from ever being accepted on future posts/pages

The last of those is a simple setting. In WP admin, you can go to Settings > Discussion and uncheck the second and third boxes under Default article settings at the top of the page. Actually, uncheck all three of those. If you’re going to turn off incoming pings, you should turn off pingbacks. But my SQL code below doesn’t.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-12-22-19-pm

If you’re just starting a brand new WordPress site and you don’t ever intend to allow comments, just go and uncheck those boxes and you’re done. But if you’re trying to rescue a long-suffering WordPress site from drowning in spam, read on.


Here then in all of its glory is the magic SQL you’ve been looking for:

DELETE FROM `wp_comments` WHERE `comment_approved` != 1;
DELETE FROM `wp_commentmeta` WHERE `comment_id` NOT IN (SELECT `comment_ID` FROM `wp_comments`);
UPDATE `wp_posts` SET `comment_status` = 'closed', `ping_status` = 'closed';
UPDATE `wp_options` SET `option_value` = 'closed' WHERE option_name = 'default_comment_status';
UPDATE `wp_options` SET `option_value` = 'closed' WHERE option_name = 'default_ping_status';

Want to dissect what each of these lines is doing? Sure…

Line 1

DELETE FROM `wp_comments` WHERE `comment_approved` != 1;

This is going to delete all “pending” and “spam” comments. It leaves approved comments untouched. Note: you may have spam comments that are approved; one site I was just working on had thousands that were “approved” because the settings were a little too generous. I can’t give a catch-all SQL statement to address that problem, unfortunately. It requires analyzing the content of the comments to some extent.

You’d think maybe `comment_approved` = 0 would be better, but I found as I poked around that the possible values aren’t just 0 or 1. It may also be spam. It may be something else. (I haven’t researched all of the possibilities.)

Line 2

DELETE FROM `wp_commentmeta` WHERE `comment_id` NOT IN (SELECT `comment_ID` FROM `wp_comments`);

There’s a separate table that stores miscellaneous meta data about comments. There’s a good chance there’s nothing in here, but you may as well delete any meta data corresponding to the comments you just deleted, so here you go.

Line 3

UPDATE `wp_posts` SET `comment_status` = 'closed', `ping_status` = 'closed';

This is going through all of the existing posts — which don’t include just “posts”… “pages” are posts, “attachments” are posts… anything in WordPress is a post, really — and setting them to no longer accept comments or pingbacks. This doesn’t delete any comments on the posts that were already approved; it just prevents any new ones.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-12-21-58-pm

It’s the equivalent of going into every single post and unchecking the two boxes in the screenshot above. But it only takes a couple of seconds. FEEL THE AWESOME POWER OF SQL!!!

Line 4

UPDATE `wp_options` SET `option_value` = 'closed' WHERE option_name = 'default_comment_status';

Remember that screenshot near the beginning of this post, showing the three checkboxes under Settings > Discussion? Well this is the equivalent of unchecking the third one.

Line 5

UPDATE `wp_options` SET `option_value` = 'closed' WHERE option_name = 'default_ping_status';

And this is the equivalent of unchecking the second one.

So there you have it. No more comments, no more spam, no need for an Akismet account.