Posts tagged ‘forums’

It has been quiet for a while, but with good reason. Over the last 2 months I have been travelling a lot. And with a lot I mean Schotland, India, England, USA and England again, all for business. And the way it goes is that by the time you get back to the hotel from your appointments you have loads of email from the office waiting for you. With all that travel I had a grand total of one day off in India and 2 in the USA, which I spend away from the computer.

But now that I am back I have started to tie up some of the loose ends for the ForumClient for the Adobe forums. First and foremost, I have made it portable so it can now also access the Jive forums. The main reason for that is that it offers me another server to run tests against so that I can more easily determine whether issues are between the keyboard and the chair or if they are real server issues. Unfortunately with the number of bugs in the server software and the lack of documentation this is a real necessity. Most interesting for users is probably that forums, thread and messages now have right-click menu’s to mark as (un)read and that I squashed most of the bugs in the counts of unread messages. And I have started some work on getting messages to display better by adding some CSS to the message display.

Last but not least, at MAX I sat down with some people from Adobe and we had a good discussion on some possible future directions. One of those is a Flex version for mobile users (try the current forums on a mobile to see how badly that is needed) which Adobe would need to support by publishing a cross domain policy file. Second we had some discussion on the consequences of making this Open Source. I have decided that I will be publishing the sourcecode for this client at some time in the future. No definite timeline, but it won’t be beforea new version of ClearSpace has been deployed for the Adobe forums.

Download version 0.1.0 and give it a try.

I have uploaded version 0.0.5 of ForumClient. I really didn’t want to do a release just yet (it is halfway a SOAP to REST rewrite), but the previous version had expired and people couldn’t use it anymore. More soon.


It doesn’t look like much yet, but the alpha 2 is available for download. Server communication stuff should mostly work, except for the gazillion bugs and missing functions in the Jive webservices. UI is modelled after the Thunderbird NNTP client, so you download a list of forums, then you subscribe to certain forums and then messages for those forums will be downloaded into a local SQLite database so you can even read them offline.

As promised my hacks to get past the the quirks in the webservice API for the Adobe forums. I am deliberately not publishing the full application, the lack of local caching in it makes it more of a DOS tool then a forum client.


The PermissionsService authenticate method doesn’t work since the Adobe forums do not use the standard Jive login methods, but a custom Adobe SSO login method. To get a login on the forums from AIR replay what a browser does when logging in to the forums. First visit the index page of the forums to GET a few cookies, then POST the credentials to the Adobe authentication server, then GET the index page of the forums again to allow the forums to do a call back to the Adobe authentication server to collect the user profile. So all in all it takes 3 HTTP requests to log on.
I have included the code snippet that my AIR app uses to log in to the forums below for those who wish to experiment with it. Be warned that the full sequence takes on average 15 seconds.

// General variables
private const _AdobeAuthURL:String = "";
private const _ForumRootURL:String = "";
private function startLoginSequence():void {
	writeLog("Starting login ");
private function getForumRoot(resultFn:Function):void {
	// just GET the forum root to collect cookies
	var forumRootService:HTTPService = new HTTPService();
	forumRootService.method = "GET";
	forumRootService.url = _ForumRootURL;
	forumRootService.useProxy = false;
	forumRootService.resultFormat = "text";
	forumRootService.addEventListener(FaultEvent.FAULT, faultHandler);
	forumRootService.addEventListener(ResultEvent.RESULT, resultFn);
private function preAuthResult(event:Event):void {
	// We have now collected the forum cookies, log in to the Adobe ID
private function login():void {
	// login does a login request to the main Adobe site
	// credentials Object with all name value pairs
	var credentials:Object = new Object();
	credentials['returnURL'] = '';
	credentials['up_login'] = 'yes';
	credentials['ignore_email_validation'] = 'yes';
	credentials['up_username'] = "";
	credentials['has_pwd'] = "true";
	credentials['up_password'] = "sihtyrt";
	// login Service
	var loginService:HTTPService = new HTTPService();
	loginService.method = "POST";
	loginService.url = _AdobeAuthURL;
	loginService.useProxy = false;
	loginService.resultFormat = "text";
	loginService.addEventListener(FaultEvent.FAULT, faultHandler);
	loginService.addEventListener(ResultEvent.RESULT, loginResult);
private function loginResult(event:ResultEvent):void {
	// check if we are really logged in
	var loggedInTestString:String = '<a href="">Sign out</a>';
	if (event.result.indexOf(loggedInTestString) != -1) {
		// Login success
		// Do a new HTTP request to the forums to propagate the login from Adobe to Jive
	} else {
		// Login failure
		throw("Username password combination incorrect.");
private function postAuthResult(event:ResultEvent):void {
	// Fully logged in, ready to use the API
	writeLog("Login complete");
	// extractUserDetails(event.result);

Once we are logged in we can use all of the APIs to get the actual useful information from the forums. The FlexBuilder WSDL import tool works quite well with the APIs, all cases where it failed turned out to be mistakes in my programming. To get stared call getRecursiveCommunities of the CommunityService to get a list of all the communities (forums) available. Depending on how busy the forums are, internet bandwidth, traffic and the position of the moon this can take between 25 seconds and 5 minutes. From the list of forums you get you can drill down into the list of threads (ForumService getThreadsByCommunityID: up to 50 seconds to get the thread list of the DreamWeaver forum, the busiest forum with about 50K threads) and then into the list of messages per thread (ForumService getMessagesByThreadID: usually less then a second). When you get the messages you will also get the users and all things you need to display a tree of who responded to who.

Getting your own userID

Apart from the login methods in the API there appears to be another problem in the webservice API (or maybe just something I haven’t figured out). Searching for a user, either by his username or by his emailaddress, has never returned any results for me. (I do in fact get a 500 Internal server error when I try to use the UserService getUserByUsername.) But the user details are needed for all API methods to post messages. The workaround I implemented at last for that is to just do a string lookup in the HTML of the forum start page (the commented out call to extractUserDetails in the previous code snippet):

public function extractUserDetails(pageObj:Object):void {
	var page:String = pageObj as String;
	var userIDPreString:String = 'quickuserprofile.getUserProfileTooltip(';
	var userIDPreStringIndex:int = page.indexOf(userIDPreString) + 39;
	var userIDPostString:String = ')';
	var userIDPostStringIndex:int = page.indexOf(userIDPostString, userIDPreStringIndex);
	_userID = page.substring(userIDPreStringIndex, userIDPostStringIndex) as int;

Obviously depending on visiting some sites in a certain order to pick up cookies along the way and scraping generated HTML is rather fragile. The smallest change in the HTML or the authentication will break any application that uses this. Ideally Adobe would implement some authentication webservices on its own site to facilitate logging in from an application.

With this the basic services to list forums, retrieve threads, read messages and post your own messages can be accessed without further surprises. I intend to continue working on my ForumClient, but it will be a while. I will need a proper design for the application, I am thinking about modules to support different forum software API’s, storing configuration data in XML, message caching in a SQLite database per configured site etc. Then I need to develop the whole thing. And in the mean time real life is catching up and I am going on a training tour of Europe, so I will have little time for the next three weeks. Drop me a line if you are interested in helping out, or don’t wait for me and just get started on your own client :)

I managed to get a proof of concept AIR client for the Adobe forums running. It can log in, browse communities, threads, and messages and can even reply. But since it doesn’t do much with local storage yet it doesn’t remember which messages are already read. I’ll post some more on the hacks to log in to the forums soon, but for now I have screenshots.

ForumClient Screenshot

ForumClient Screenshot

ForumClient screenshot

ForumClient screenshot

Just a quick update on the two avenues I am pursuing to get the new Adobe forums to open up and share their content.

Adobe is going to followup on the email headers with Jive to see what they can implement. Hopefully this will result in getting the References and / or In-Reply-To headers added to the outgoing email notifications soon so email clients can thread them properly. It should be almost trivial to implement that, because judging by the definition of the ForumMessage object each forum message knows its own ID to put in the Message-ID header and also knows its ParentMessageID to put in the References header.

The other avenue is getting access through the webservice APIs. I have been looking at the login sequence of the Adobe site and it looks like the master cookie to determine whether you are logged in is the AUID cookie for the domain. Subsites may add more cookies and eventually maintain state through their own cookies, but if you have the AUID cookie you can get in. So I have reduced the dozens of requests involved in a browser logging in to the forums (many of them image requests) to two requests a client must make. I have included the minimal wget testscript to simulate the login here.

REM parameters
SET LOGINURL=";e=ca&amp;returnurl=http%3A%2F%2Fforums%2Eadobe%2Ecom%2Flogin%2Ejspa"
REM remove old cookie and index
del adobe.txt
del forumindex.html
REM login
wget -S --no-check-certificate --save-cookies=adobe.txt --post-data "returnURL=%RETURNURL%&amp;up_login=yes&amp;ignore_email_validation=yes&amp;up_username=%USERNAME%&amp;has_pwd=true&amp;up_password=%PASSWORD%" %LOGINURL%
REM get forum index
wget -S --load-cookies=adobe.txt -O forumindex.html "%FORUMURL%"

I need to tweak this a bit to do proper login validation, but it looks like just ignoring all the authentication mechanisms in the API and running these requests instead and then maintaining the collected cookies with all webservice calls will do the trick. Even though the entire login sequence will end up taking close to 15 seconds due to the response times of the Adobe sites, that is progress!

Two weeks ago Adobe informed us we could preview and test the new version of the online community forums. At first glance these forums offer an exciting new look with many new features. A single login system where we can use our Adobe ID to log on to the forums, RSS support, an improved search and room for attachments are great new features.

But when I started digging at what features the forums offered the excitement pretty soon turned into a feeling of unease. The old forums were an open system, accessible through NNTP, which provided two way interaction that allowed people to run their own interface and program against the forums through the NNTP ‘API’. Yet the new forums appeared to be a closed system following the old ‘ thou shalt watch me the way I want’ ways. So the questions that pretty soon bubbled up were not of excitement. Is this all? How am I going to work around this layout? How am I going to work with this workflow? And then the feeling of unease turned into a feeling of disappointment.
The new forums are state of the art. The web interface is so much better then the previous one. And yet they are a disappointment. Because they may be state of the art, but they do nothing new. Nothing we haven’t seen before. Nothing to inspire us. Adobe is merely catching up, not leading the way. And in the process Adobe is throwing away the one open interface I had to program against the forums.

You see, I am an avid NNTP user. When I start my client, it automatically goes out on the web to collect all new messages I follow. That is currently 27 newsgroups (on the Adobe, Macromedia, prerelease and other servers) with on average 40 message per day each. And when these messages are collected, they are sorted, filtered, grouped and prioritized for me. Messages get filtered out if I don’t like the sender or subject, people that post a direct response to me get priority, threads I have hidden before won’t resurface, etc. All of that takes maybe 20 seconds, and then a thousand messages have been reduced to two dozen priority messages from people who are waiting for me and have responded to me, a bunch of messages I may find interesting, and the rest that I don’t find interesting is gone. Now how is that going to work with these new forums? What is the closed system of these new forums offering that allow me to automate my workflow to the same level as NNTP offers? And I know that many other NNTP users struggle with the same questions.

Now I have done some research into possible solutions. And surprisingly enough the answer is really, really simple. It took me two hours to build a system that converted the email feed from the new forums to NNTP. All it takes is a subscription on all forums and a small script to convert email headers to NNTP headers. That means you have to replace the header “To: Joh Doe <JohnDoe@example.invalid>” with the header “Newsgroups: general.english_discussions”. And then I write that converted email to the spool folder of the Apache James NNTP server and I have an operational email to NNTP conversion. Sure, it doesn’t have avatars, author profiles, ‘mark as answer’ functionality, but as a NNTP user I really couldn’t care less about that. And the beauty of it is that this is two-way access because all I need to do is click “Reply to user” instead of “Reply to newsgroup” and the email will go to the Reply by email functionality for the forums.

Now to get the last bit of functionality implemented, I just need Adobe to fix their last bug. Email has all these hidden header fields that tell email clients how different messages relate to each other. And Adobe is filling them out incorrectly, so I can not sort messages correctly. So if Adobe could please fix the References and / or In-Reply-To headers in the outgoing email that would make me really happy. And if I am really happy, I might just open up my NNTP server for others.

And it gets better. Because the new forums could easily become inspiring. Because as it turns out, the new Adobe forums have a webservice API. And that API is enabled. And we can program against that API using Flex or more likely AIR (because of the local storage and to bypass any cross domain problems) and build their own interfaces for the forums and customize them. Write plugins for them, for instance to easily link to documentation or copy examples. Or people could write their own automation rules again, so they can sort, filter and prioritize messages the same way they can now through the NNTP ‘API’. I have a bunch of ideas for things I could do (which I probably won’t if Adobe fixes the email bugs), and I am sure there are many more people with even better ideas.
But for that to happen Adobe first needs to do something. The forums may have a webservice API right now, but it doesn’t have any documentation. Sure, there is some documentation from the vendor of the forum, but the implementation of the Adobe ID based login system of the new forums is different. And without a login no API access.

I really think Adobe has an opportunity to make these forums great. The number or forums that truly integrates web, email and NNTP is very limited. Adobe could be the first one to not only do that, but also allow unlimited AIR extensions through its webservices and empower the community to build its own tools. Or is Adobe, the company that is preaching the gospel of the Rich Internet Applications, really forcing all users to go back to a web interface?