PHPsuexec and My Adventure With Hostgator

I left for vacation on June 28, and before doing so, I took a quick glance over and jotted a quick blog post about it. was fully functional and officially dormant for 10 days as of June 28.

Imagine my surprise when on Monday, my wife said, “Hey, your site isn’t working!” The index page worked, but none of the other pages.

In short, my webhost, Hostgator decided to implement PHPsuexec. Here’s the gist of this awesome program: typically, your web server runs as the “nobody” user on a server, but you login as yourself, say your username is “jdough.” You need to use certain tricks, like using .htaccess files and chmodding to get around certain limitations. PHPSuexec makes php run *as you,* removing the need for world writable directories and creating a need for custom php.ini files to replace certain php directives in your .htacess files.

Since my site doesn’t use file extensions on most files, I used a directive called DefaultType to make everything PHP. This stopped functioning when Hostgator made the changes on Monday. Instead, every one of the pages that relied upon that value for parsing stopped working and started displaying HTTP error 500.

When I returned into town on Sunday, I opened a high priorityt ticket with Hostgator. An hour later, I called the support line and was told an admin would reply presently. An hour later, I replied to my confirmation email to their email support line. Another hour later, I called again. After 35 minutes on the phone, they finally helped me get the pages running. But images across the site were broken. They were generating parsing errors! They were being interpretted by PHP. Yikes! Another 25 minutes on the phone today resulted in new .htaccess files everywhere. I should tell you that today’s phone calls were with two “gators” who were both very friendly and helped me very enthusiastically.

Hostgator did not email me about these changes, even though they have my email address. They did not call me, even though they have my phone number. They did not post anything in my control panel, even though they can. Instead, they posted it in their own support forums and expected me to check it. A major change to the very core of the server behavior and they simply didn’t tell me. And as a result, my sites were down for a week plus. So if you tried visiting in that time, I’m sorry for the interruption: the view page, the print page, the comments page, and nearly every other meaningful page failed to parse.

If I were a business and monetized my site in any way, I would immediately cancel. But to be fair, Hostgator has unparalleled uptime, unmatched availability, awesome tools (cpanel based), a competitive rate, and a friendly support staff. So I decided to give them one more chance. They have burned all the trust they gained with me, and I will not be recommending them to anyone right now, but I am not taking my business elsewhere just yet.

PHPsuexec is a great tool that provides a nice security boost, but do some serious testing before you implement it. It can dramatically alter the way your websites work.

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