How to fix blank screen in Preferences > Themes on the Prestashop Back Office

The Symptoms

You’ve linked your shop to your Prestashop Addons account, where you’ve previously or recently bought a theme. You try opening the Preferences > Themes menu, just to find that after trying to load the page for a while, you either get a blank page (even with dev mode on) or a cryptic 500 error.

The cause

When the Admin Themes Controller initializes, it checks if you’re logged into Prestashop Addons, and if so, whether there’s a theme in your account that hasn’t been installed in your store. If there is, it tries to download it automatically, and here’s where the problem lies: your server is timing out during this connection. If you go to your server error log, you’ll probably find an error such as mod_fcgid: read data timeout in xx seconds if your PHP installation is running on FastCGI.

The Solution

Unfortunately, if you are running on a shared host you almost certainly won’t have the required access necessary to change the server’s timeout parameters. In that case the only course of action is to disable the theme auto-download functionality in AdminThemesController.php, and this can be cleanly done in an override. This is all the code you need in your override:

class AdminThemesController extends AdminThemesControllerCore
    public function init()
        $this->logged_on_addons = false;

If you don’t know how to create overrides don’t worry, you can download the following zip with the override already in place. All you need to do is extract the folder within, upload it into your store’s root Prestashop folder, and delete the file cache/class_index.php on your store so the override is detected.

PHPUnit Essentials by Zdenek Machek – a book review

(Disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from Packt Publishing for review purposes.)

The more complex a software development project becomes, the harder it becomes to ensure that every single component keeps working as it should throughout the whole development process. As each passing year the average complexity of software goes up, automated testing is slowly becoming the most cost effective way to reign in some of that complexity. By providing reassurance that the latest changes to the code did not break existing functionality, it allows for quicker iterations, higher code quality, and less time wasted in debugging. As the de-facto standard in unit and functional testing for PHP, PHPUnit is increasingly becoming an indispensable part of the web developer’s toolkit, and PHPUnit Essentials by Zdenek Machek is a pretty solid introduction to it for intermediate-level PHP developers.

The book is effectively about 300 comfortably spaced pages, divided into 14 chapters. It has a rather broad scope, covering not only basic PHPUnit installation and usage, but also related interoperable technologies such as advanced test doubles extensions, Selenium (for web browser testing), XDebug (for code coverage analysis), Continuous Integration services, and even IDE support for some popular PHP IDEs. For me this wide scope is one of the two great strengths of this book; since web developers never work in a vacuum, chances are that if you’re learning to use PHPUnit, sooner or later you will also need to learn how to use some of the complementary technologies described in this book. While it might not go into the greatest detail with most of them, it will at least teach you to set them up, integrate them with PHPUnit, and their basic usage.

The other great strength of this book is that it explains, in an easy to understand manner, some more advanced concepts such as different types of test doubles, database testing, and how to test legacy (a.k.a. “untestable”) code. The chapter on legacy code stands out as it provides some very useful approaches to introduce automated testing to the type of code that needs it the most.

As for weaknesses, my main complaint would be that the book sometimes fails to go into enough depth in some topics. The biggest omission would be an overview of all, or at least most, of the PHPUnit annotations and assertion methods. I know the official PHPUnit documentation already includes that as an appendix, but it would be nice to have it here at least in a table with short descriptions as a reference. Also, running PHPUnit on a remote server, as opposed to localhost, is not really explored outside of Continuous Integration services (which basically do that for you), and BDD is only explored through other testing frameworks or extensions. Finally, as far as complaints go, mentioning how “Codeception is really awesome… but we’re not going to write about it”, at the summary of the very last chapter, made me feel a little bit cheated.

Overall, the writing style is easily understandable, though at times it can feel a little bit redundant. The good thing is that it doesn’t make you backtrack to look at previous code like some other very frustrating books out there (I swear, it’s as if their authors have never used a tablet or eReader to read an ebook in their entire lives). It may fail to go into enough detail in a couple of places, but the simple explanations of advanced testing concepts, along with the discussion of useful related technologies, make PHPUnit Essentials a quite solid introduction to not only PHPUnit, but the world of TDD as a whole.

Access Private and Protected Properties of Objects in PHP

The theory goes that forcibly overriding Class behaviour from outside its scope is bad practice. However, in the real world we developers often times find ourselves having to adapt to, or work on top of, existing code outside of our control. That’s where hacks like these come in handy, though you should really use them with caution, and always because there’s no other choice available.

The Array Cast Override

This is the conceptually simplest method I’ve found, and the only one I know that works on PHP versions previous to 5.3. It involves casting an Object as an Array, and looking through the Array elements for the property you need. When doing this, the index of the Array element corresponding to each property is named according to special rules, depending on its visibility inside the Object. The next pseudo-code snippet shows these rules:

switch ($visibility) { case 'public': $array_index = $property_name; break; case 'protected': $array_index = "\0*\0" . $property_name; break; case 'private': $array_index = "\0" . $class_name . "\0" . $property_name; break; }

This means that the way you access the property depends on its visibility. As you can see PHP sandwiches either an asterisk or the Class name (depending on if the visibility is protected or private, respectively) between two NULL bytes, and prepends this to the property name to form the Array index. You can thus access the hidden properties of an object as follows:

class MyExampleClass //example of a class with hidden properties { public $myPublicVar = "I'm public!"; protected $myProtectedVar = "I'm protected!"; private $myPrivateVar = "I'm private!"; } $obj = new MyExampleClass(); $obj_array = (Array)$obj; //cast the object as an Array echo $obj_array['myPublicVar']; //echoes: I'm public! echo $obj_array["\0*\0" . 'myProtectedVar']; //echoes: I'm protected! echo $obj_array["\0" . 'MyExampleClass' . "\0" . 'myPrivateVar']; //echoes: I'm private!

The type of the property doesn’t matter, I’ve even accessed resource handlers this way.

The Reflection Override (PHP >= 5.3)

When talking about overriding a property’s visibility, this is the method most seasoned developers know. Using the Reflection Class, you reflect an existing object and change the accessibility of each property you need by using the ReflectionProperty::setAccessible method. Here is an example:

class MyExampleClass //example of a class with hidden properties { public $myPublicVar = "I'm public!"; protected $myProtectedVar = "I'm protected!"; private $myPrivateVar = "I'm private!"; } $obj = new MyExampleClass(); $refObj = new ReflectionObject($obj); $refProp1 = $refObj->getProperty('myProtectedVar'); $refProp1->setAccessible(TRUE); $refProp2 = $refObj->getProperty('myPrivateVar'); $refProp2->setAccessible(TRUE); echo $refProp1->getValue($obj); //echoes: I'm protected! echo $refProp2->getValue($obj); //echoes: I'm private!

Using Reflection is supposedly really slow, but the upside is that you can not only read the value of the property, but also change it using the ReflectionProperty::setValue method.

The Closure Bind Override (PHP >= 5.4)

This is the newest method I’ve come across, and it’s also the quickest and most painless one. It uses the bind static method of the Closure class to bind a Closure to our Object, which we’ll use to return the properties we want. The usage is really straightforward:

class MyExampleClass //example of a class with hidden properties { public $myPublicVar = "I'm public!"; protected $myProtectedVar = "I'm protected!"; private $myPrivateVar = "I'm private!"; } $obj = new MyExampleClass(); $propGetter = Closure::bind( function($prop){return $this->$prop;}, $obj, $obj ); echo $propGetter('myProtectedVar'); //echoes: I'm protected! echo $propGetter('myPrivateVar'); //echoes: I'm private!

It works almost like magic, the disadvantage being that most shared hosting providers are lazy and haven’t bothered to update their PHP versions since the Late Pleistocene. If you can use it, this is the method I would recommend the most.

Do you know any other methods to access hidden properties of objects? If so, I would love to read you comments below.

Acknowledgements and References

fmmarzoa at librexpresion dot org
Tobias Schlitt

Batch Uninstall Windows Updates

This post shows how to programmatically automatize the batch uninstall of multiple Windows Update hotfixes on Windows version 8 and below. The code samples are in AutoHotKey syntax, and you can get the full source code, as well as compiled executables ready to run, on the Windows Updates Uninstaller Utility online repository.

Listing the Updates

The simplest way to get a list of the installed Windows Updates is through WMIC, which is an internal Windows command-line interface for accessing management functions. Using the QFE module, we can generate a list by running the following command, for example from the Command Console: wmic qfe get "HotFixID" /format:table This will list the installed updates directly in the console, like this: updates list on console It’s easier to parse them from a text file, and luckily our friend QFE can do that for us too with the following command: wmic qfe list brief /format:texttablewsys >"%Path_of_the_text_file%" where %Path_of_the_text_file% is what it says, the path of the text file to be created, such as C:\hotfix.txt for example, or wherever. When listing in a file, it won’t list individual columns but the whole table, so you’ll need to use character offsets when parsing columns.

Uninstalling the Updates

To uninstall each update, the easiest way is to use WUSA, which is a built in Windows utility for managing Windows Updates. Since you already have a list of the installed updates, you just need to extract the hotfix ID number from each row, and run the following command for each update: wusa.exe /kb:%HotfixId% /uninstall /quiet /norestart where %HotfixId% is the hotfix ID number. For example, to uninstall update KB279503 you need to run the following: wusa.exe /kb:279503 /uninstall /quiet /norestart and so on. Since uninstalling each update takes time, you should wait for one uninstall to end before beginning the next one. If you’re using AutoHotKey, you can simply use the RunWait command and it will wait for each execution to finish before starting the next one.

Putting it all together

The essence is simple: get the list of updates, parse it to retrieve the hotfix IDs, and uninstall them one by one. If you’re into AutoHotKey, it’s pretty easy to do, as you can see at the Windows Updates Uninstaller Utility online repository. There you’ll find an AutoHotKey implementation with a basic GUI, in both source-code and compiled executable form, so you can toy with the code or use as-is.

Install PHPUnit with VisualPHPUnit on a Shared Hosting Server

Update: The 4.x branch of PHPUnit has some changes, such as no longer using Autoload.php, that make this tutorial outdated. I’ll try to see if the new versions can be run on shared hosting as well, but in the meantime, the following instructions only apply for PHPUnit 3.x.

Here’s how to install and run PHPUnit with the VisualPHPUnit graphical interface, on any shared hosting server, without need for PEAR, composer, phar, or SSH command line; in fact all you need is your web browser, FTP access, and a code editor such as Notepad++.

PHPUnit: Dependency Madness

PHPUnit is the best case against the DRY philosophy I’ve ever came across, since it’s chock-full of random dependencies you won’t even be using for anything else. As such, be prepared to download and extract a helluva lot of packages.

First of all create a folder on your computer for housing all necessary files and directories, I’ve named mine Utilities for reference. Now go to and check the requirements of every numbered version until you find the newest one that will run on the php version you’ve got on your server. If you don’t know which version of php you’re using, run phpinfo() to find out. Download the zip for your version, and extract just the PHPUnit folder inside into Utilities.

Go to, download the zip and extract just the File folder into Utilities.

Go to, download the zip and extract just the Text folder into Utilities.

For the next 3 packages, download the zip files and extract just the PHP folder in each zip into Utilities (merge the folders):

Now create a folder inside Utilities called SebastianBergmann . Now create 3 folders inside SebastianBergmann, called: Diff , Exporter , and Version . For the next 3 packages, download the zip files and extract just the contents of the src folder (not the folder itself, only its contents) in each one into the corresponding folder inside SebastianBergmann:

Finally, go to, download the zip and extract just the PHPUnit folder into Utilities (merge it with the existing folder).

Great, now that you’ve got PHPUnit and all its dependencies, upload the “Utilities” folder to your server, preferably into a non web-accesible location. For reference, your folder tree should look like this:

folder tree

VisualPHPUnit: Let there be GUI

Now that PHPUnit is on your server, let’s make it usable with a web browser based GUI. Download the zip from, extract it, and rename the main folder if you want (I creatively renamed mine to VisualPHPUnit for reference).

Go into app/config/bootstrap.php and make the following changes:

  • Comment or delete the following line: 'pear_path' => '/usr/share/pear',
  • The default directory for tests is VisualPHPUnit/app/test , if you wish to change it or add other directories, modify the ‘test_directories’ array. By the way, $root points to the VisualPHPUnit folder.
  • Comment or delete the following lines: set_include_path( get_include_path() . PATH_SEPARATOR . $root . PATH_SEPARATOR . $config['pear_path'] );
  • Below the lines you just commented, add the following two, changing the relative paths so that they point to your Utilities folder from the web-accessible folder where you’ll upload the VisualPHPUnit package: set_include_path(get_include_path() . PATH_SEPARATOR . dirname(__FILE__) . '/../Utilities'); set_include_path(get_include_path() . PATH_SEPARATOR . dirname(__FILE__) . '/../Utilities' . '/PHPUnit');

Now upload your VisualPHPUnit folder to a web-accessible location on your server. Fire up your browser, open your VisualPHPUnit location, and see if you feel lucky.

Well do you, punk?

If your stars have aligned now you should have a working install of PHPUnit with VisualPHPUnit. If not, it’s troubleshooting time!

“Fatal error: require_once() [function.require]: Failed opening required ‘PHPUnit/Autoload.php'”

Your include paths in VisualPHPUnit/app/config/bootstrap.php are wrong, sort them out

“Fatal error: require_once() [function.require]: Failed opening required {any other file related to phpunit}

You missed a PHPUnit dependency, you can find all the packages you need (and then some more) at

“404: Not Found” error / You just get the Index of your /VisualPHPUnit folder

You’ve got the curse of the .htaccess, brought on by lazy open-source web development practices. There are 2 .htaccess files in VisualPHPUnit that are used to redirect requests, and we need to fix them.

First open the .htaccess file in the “VisualPHPUnit” folder.

  • Find the following line:
    RewriteRule ^$ app/public/ [L] add an [R] flag so that you can see the redirected address in your browser, so the line becomes:
    RewriteRule ^$ app/public/ [L,R]
  • Go to your web browser, reload your VisualPHPUnit tab, and check the address to which you’re being redirected. It should be {your VisualPHPUnit location}/app/public/ . Since it’s not, find the following line in your .htaccess file:
    RewriteEngine on and insert the following line after it: RewriteBase /
  • Reload again your browser tab, and check where you’re being redirected now. Part of the path will probably be missing in the middle, so you’ll need to edit the line you just added so that your browser ends up redirecting you correctly to {your VisualPHPUnit location}/app/public/ . In my case I had to change it to this:
    RewriteBase /VisualPHPUnit/
  • Once you get redirected to the correct address, you need to remove the [R] flag you set at the beginning, so that the line you modified to
    RewriteRule ^$ app/public/ [L,R] becomes once again
    RewriteRule ^$ app/public/ [L]
Your browser should load VisualPHPUnit now, but tests will not work since we need to fix the remaining redirection. Go into VisualPHPUnit/app/public and open the .htaccess file there.
  • Find the following line:
    RewriteRule ^(.*)$ index.php [QSA,L] and insert the [R] redirection flag as before, so the line becomes:
    RewriteRule ^(.*)$ index.php [QSA,L,R]
  • Go to your browser and open the link on the top of your VisualPHPUnit tab that says “Archives”. Check the address bar to see where you are being redirected. You should be redirected to {your VisualPHPUnit location}/app/public/index.php . Since you’re not, you know the drill, find the following line in your .htaccess file:
    RewriteEngine on and insert the following line after it: RewriteBase /
  • Reload your browser tab, check where you’re being redirected and what’s missing in the path, and modify the line you just added until the redirection takes you to the correct address. In my case, I had to change it to this:
    RewriteBase /VisualPHPUnit/app/public/
  • Once you get redirected to the correct address, you need to remove the [R] flag you set, so that the line you modified to
    RewriteRule ^(.*)$ index.php [QSA,L,R] becomes once again
    RewriteRule ^(.*)$ index.php [QSA,L]
Now you should be able to see the files in your test directory and run tests.

Tests don’t run and return empty results

You’re using a PHPUnit version that requires a newer PHP version to run. Get an older version of PHPUnit.

“Fatal error: Uncaught exception ‘PHPUnit_Framework_Error_Notice’ with message ‘Non-static method PHP_Timer::start() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context'” when you try running tests

You’ve got the curse of the shitty non-backwards-compatible dependency refactoring, go into your Utilities folder and open PHPUnit/Framework/TestResult.php and make the following changes:

  • Find the following line:
    PHP_Timer::start(); comment it out or delete it, and insert the following 2 lines after it: $timer = new PHP_Timer; $timer->start();
  • Find the following line:
    $time = PHP_Timer::stop(); comment it out or delete it, and insert the following line after it: $time = $timer->stop();
Your tests should run fine now.

Sorting objects hierarchically in recursive multidimensional arrays in PHP

When retrieving a group of objects from a database, sometimes we need to recreate some hierarchy inside a multidimensional array or object for further processing. However, since the language wasn’t developed with such usage scenarios in mind, the way to achieve this is anything but intuitive. Many developers just adjust their DB structure in order to make such sorting easier, but it’s always good to have a choice. I recently came across this problem myself, and think the solution I came up with is not only interesting, but could be useful to other developers out there. If you find this useful, or would like to propose a different solution, I’d love to read your comments below.

The Problem

Let’s say, as an example, that you have a DB table with columns id and parent, where id is an auto-generated primary key, and parent refers to id by a foreign key. The idea is every entry has either a parent in the same table, or a NULL parent and hence is at the top level of the hierarchy. We do not know how deep the hierarchy goes, and must be able to recursively populate a multidimensional array or object in order to recreate it.

The (Generic) Solution

First of all, we assume we are retrieving all entries into a plain array. We ORDER BY parent ASC, with NULLS first so we process the top level entries first. We will need to create 2 arrays, one for storing the entries hierarchically, and the other to keep track of the path of each entry inside the hierarchy. We will be dealing with arrays exclusively in this example, but using objects instead is pretty straightforward.

$entries = yourGetEntriesFromDbFunction();  //The array with our retrieved DB entries
$entryRecords = array();                    //Our hierarchy will be created in this array
//We will track the path of each entry here, with an array
//for each entry containing the ids of all its ancestors:
$entryPaths = array();
foreach ($entries as $entry) {
    //Create a new key inside each entry to store its children:
    $entry['children'] = array();
    $entryPaths[$entry['id']] = array();    //Make a space for the path of the entry
    if ($entry['parent'] === NULL) {        //If top level, just insert into the hierarchy array
        $entryRecords[$entry['id']] = $entry;
    } else {
    	$pathRef =& $entryRecords;          //Save a reference to the top level of our hierarchy
        //Traverse our current hierarchy based on the path of the entry's parent by reassigning a
        //single variable by reference to the children container of each level in the hierarchy:
        foreach ($entryPaths[$entry['parent']] as $path) {
    		$pathRef =& $pathRef[$path]['children'];
        //Once we reach the entry's parent's children container, just add the entry to it:
        $pathRef[] = $entry;
        //Register the entry's path by first copying parent's path
        $entryPaths[$entry['id']] = $entryPaths[$entry['parent']];
    $entryPaths[$entry['id']][] = $entry['id']; //Finally add the id of the entry to its path

As you can see, the main idea is to save the path of each entry we insert in order to know how to get to it, and then traverse the path of the parent by reassigning references to the children container of each post in the path. This way we can always reach the parent of a post inside our hierarchy, no matter how complicated, provided that all parents are inserted before their children into it.

Speak Yii to me

Actually, I came up with this algorithm while working with Active Records on Yii Framework, so might as well share the code that inspired this post. I have a Section Model, with id, parent, and order columns. id and parent are as in the above example, but the order column provides the order in which the children in a post should be sorted. I added a public property named “children” to the Model in order to be able to store a record’s children in it, but that’s all. Since it’s the same principle as above, it’s mostly uncommented:

$sections = Section::model()->findAll(
    array('order'=>'parent ASC NULLS FIRST,"order"'));  //PostgreSQL FTW
$entryRecords = array();
$entryPaths = array();
foreach ($sections as $section) {
	$section->children = array();
    $entryPaths[$section->id] = array();
    if ($section->parent === NULL) {
        $entryRecords[$section->order] = $section;
    } else {
    	$pathRef =& $entryRecords;
        foreach ($entryPaths[$section->parent] as $path) {
    		$pathRef =& $pathRef[$path]->children;
        $pathRef[] = $section;
        $entryPaths[$section->id] = $entryPaths[$section->parent]; 
    $entryPaths[$section->id][] = $section->order;

Hope you find some of this as useful as I did, and if you find this solution pretty obvious or even intuitive, congratulations: you’re a better web developer than I am.