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GrnEyedDvl's Desk

vBulletin Frustrations

Rating: 6 votes, 3.67 average.
I swear every time we upgrade something on the site vBulletin ends up irritating the crap out of me. I really do like vBulletin as an overall package, they lots of things right. But then you run across something that makes you wonder "Just what were they thinking?" As you know we just installed the vBulletin CMS package for the site and I have been trying to get all this setup so we can make it live on the front end. For years TWC has used a custom script that simply pulled posts from a couple of forums and presented them on the front page sort of like how article previews work in every blog platform you have ever seen. We started this back in the vBulletin 3.x days before there was a vBulletin CMS because we decided that integrating something like Joomla or WordPress was too maintenance intensive on a site this large and complex.

When we upgraded the site from vBulletin 3 to vBulletin 4, installing the CMS was an option but there were a couple of things in the way of that. First, the vBulletin license for the site did not include the CMS. When Ian bought the license it was strictly vBulletin 3 as vBulletin 4 did not even exist. Garb later bought the site from Ian but we never transferred the license from Ian to Garb because of the screwed up vBulletin license transfer policy and process. It was easier to just leave it alone since neither Ian or Garb either one ever logged in to vBulletin anyways. In the beginning that was all handled by Simetrical and later by myself and Squid. When the license did get upgraded to vBulletin 4 the upgrade did not include the CMS because at the time the CMS was new and wasn't really what we were looking for. We were pretty happy with the front end we had established with vBulletin 3.

Fast forward a couple of years. Now I own the site, but Ian still owns the license and paying a license transfer fee for them to change the email address on the account is just ridiculous. So I never bothered. I just used Ian's login information. When I first looked at upgrading to the vBulletin CMS they wanted the full price of a new vBulletin license (because now vBulletin 5 exists which is another can of worms) PLUS an additional fee for transferring the license from Ian. Obviously I wasn't too interested in handing them money for nothing.

Eventually last month I just ended up buying an entirely new license that includes vBulletin 4 and vBulletin 5 and skipping the transfer process entirely. So basically Ian still owns a vBulletin license that he will now never use, but the site now has the CMS features that I decided to go with after an exhaustive process of testing other platforms. After setting up a test install and playing with it for a couple of weeks I installed it on the live site and we are now configuring it, which is the source of my latest frustration with vBulletin.

As I mentioned earlier, I do like the package. They got lots of things right with it, which is why I chose this platform over numerous others. But they did so some really boneheaded things when they designed this. Its almost like the people who designed this part of vBulletin never communicated with the people who designed the other parts of vBulletin. For instance, there are three different sidebars throughout the vBulletin software package:

The main forum sidebar
The Blog sidebar
The CMS sidebar

The main forum sidebar and the Blog sidebar both have widths configurable in the Style Variable Manager. You go into the Template Manager and there are tons of options you can select, and the sidebar width is one of them. Like this:

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This makes it easy to customize the width, which is especially important when you need it to be an exact width so that something like a standard YouTube video or an advertisement will fit properly. Two of the standard YouTube sizes are 240 pixels wide or 360 pixels wide and the standard rectangle size for an ad is 300 pixels wide. To make things look good on the sidebar you need a few extra pixels on each side for borders and rounded corners, which is why our sidebar width is 328 pixels when the sidebar ad is 300 pixels wide.

For the CMS sidebar, you have 4 options. They are 120, 160, 240, and 300 pixels wide, which works for just about nothing at all other than the built in widgets for the CMS.
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So if we look at the standard YouTube video sizes the only two we would ever want to use in a sidebar are the 240 and 360. The bigger ones are good for a main article which is center screen and takes up most of the space but for the sidebar we need the smaller ones. We cannot use the 240 CMS sidebar width for this because the YouTube video would fill the entire thing and cover up the border outlines and we cannot use the 300 pixel CMS setting for a 360 pixel YouTube video for obvious reasons. If we use the 300 pixel CMS setting for a 240 pixel YouTube it would work but it looks like hell because it doesn't fill enough of the space, and we cannot stick a 300 pixel ad in a 300 pixel space because it also takes up the entire thing and leaves no room for the borders which also looks like hell. The only way to edit the CMS width is to figure out which of the default templates is which and edit it via additional.css as described in this post.

Now this is certainly doable, its just a headache that doesn't have to be there resulting in more work and more things we have to document as we make changes to the site instead of just getting it done. Typical of things on vBulletin. Its the lack of attention to detail like this that becomes frustrating. In my opinion its just sloppiness that results from a lack of planning and communication between different parts of the vBulletin developers team.

Another example of this would be the lack of a text_color option in the Style Variable Manager. This one actually really surprised me. It pulls from the global body_color option where every other block in vBulletin has its own option. Blogs have their own option, postbit (user area in thread) has its own option, threadbit (forum posts) has its own option, header has its own option, footer has its own option, sidebar has its own option, navbar has its own option. Everything except vbcms has an option for this.

The reason all these sections have their own option is so that you can color the background of different parts of the site however you want to, and then apply a text color that works. For instance on the TWCenter theme the global options for text are black with a brown for hyperlinks and rollover text. This is what sets the text color for stuff like forum names when you are viewing the main index. However when you get inside an actual thread where the background is also a brown if you have brown hyperlinks then you can barely see them. So on that particular theme we set them to blue using the above forumbit setting. To change it on the CMS you have to manually edit a template someplace which again is doable but is just a headache.

I have been going through the themes and tweaking the CMS a few things at a time until it matches the rest of the site. There is still a lot of work to do there. Keep pointing things out as we go.


  1. Aikanár's Avatar
    Reading this I absolutely know why I'm satisfied with being an end user instead of doing such things. Kudos for going through all of this!
  2. GrnEyedDvl's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Aikanár
    Reading this I absolutely know why I'm satisfied with being an end user instead of doing such things. Kudos for going through all of this!
    Well as I posted its not that we cant work around these issues, its just that its a headache that doesn't have to exist. For another example look at the 300x250 ad in the blog sidebar and the one on the forum sidebar. With the Advertising manager you cannot stick an ad in the forum sidebar but you can in the Blog sidebar. In the forum sidebar you have to use a custom block, which means it has to have a header with a title. The end result is the one on the forum sidebar says "ad" over the top of it, the one on the blog sidebar does not.
  3. Shankbot de Bodemloze's Avatar
    Was the new licence cost covered by TWC-revenues? Thanks for treating us and getting it all sorted. :lime:
  4. Garbarsardar's Avatar
    I wish I still owned the site so I could, like..., sell it to you?
  5. Aikanár's Avatar
    @GED: Yeah, I'm know that feeling from two different programs I've to use for business, both from different developers, both multi-modular and with both you get the feeling that the different developing-departments didn't communicate with each other, sometimes not even the port between the modules works ... and don't get me started on the "support".

    @Garb: or lease it ;)
  6. GrnEyedDvl's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Garbarsardar
    I wish I still owned the site so I could, like..., sell it to you?
    Funny guy!

    Yes, the site covered the costs.
  7. Junaidi83 de Bodemloze's Avatar
    Oh god , remind us to rep you every month , as tribute pay for you hard work, just reading all of that is already give me cold shiver how complicated this work is :furious: