MSCFOSS/DIF122/Software Development Practices/Unit IV/Patching/Forums

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An Internet forum, or message board, is an online discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages. They differ from chat rooms in that messages are at least temporarily archived. Also, depending on the access level of a user or the forum set-up, a posted message might need to be approved by a moderator before it becomes visible.

Forums have a specific set of jargon associated with them; e.g. a single conversation is called a "thread".

A discussion forum is hierarchical or tree-like in structure: a forum can contain a number of subforums, each of which may have several topics. Within a forum's topic, each new discussion started is called a thread, and can be replied to by as many people as so wish.

Depending on the forum's settings, users can be anonymous or have to register with the forum and then subsequently log in in order to post messages. On most forums, users do not have to log in to read existing messages.

Contents

Forum structure

A forum consists of a tree like directory structure. The top end is "Categories". A forum can be divided into categories for the relevant discussions. Under the categories are sub-forums and these sub-forums can further have more sub-forums. The topics (commonly called threads) come under the lowest level of sub-forums and these are the places under which members can start their discussions or posts. Logically forums are organized into a finite set of generic topics (usually with one main topic) driven and updated by a group known as members, and governed by a group known as moderators. It can also have a graph structure. All message boards will use one of three possible display formats. Each of the three basic message board display formats: Non-Threaded/Semi-Threaded/Fully Threaded, has its own advantages and disadvantages. If messages are not related to one another at all a Non-Threaded format is best. If a user has a message topic and multiple replies to that message topic a semi-threaded format is best. If a user has a message topic and replies to that message topic, and replies to replies, then a fully threaded format is best.

User groups

Internally, Western-style forums organize visitors and logged in members into user groups. Privileges and rights are given based on these groups. A user of the forum can automatically be promoted to a more privileged user group based on criteria set by the administrator. A person viewing a closed thread as a member will see a box saying he does not have the right to submit messages there, but a moderator will likely see the same box granting him access to more than just posting messages.

An unregistered user of the site is commonly known as a guest or visitor. Guests are typically granted access to all functions that do not require database alterations or breach privacy. A guest can usually view the contents of the forum or use such features as read marking, but occasionally an administrator will disallow visitors to read their forum as an incentive to become a registered member.read marking is the process through which a thread, post, or forum that has been viewed is distinguished from those that have not. The function is usually automatic with the addition of controls, like Mark All etc. A person who is a very frequent visitor of the forum, a section or even a thread is referred to as a lurker and the habit is referred to as lurking. Registered members often will refer to themselves as lurking in a particular location, which is to say they have no intention of participating in that section but enjoy reading the contributions to it.

Moderators

The moderators (short singular form: "mod") are users (or employees) of the forum who are granted access to the posts and threads of all members for the purpose of moderating discussion (similar to arbitration) and also keeping the forum clean (neutralizing spam and spambots etc.). Because they have access to all posts and threads in their area of responsibility, it is common for a friend of the site owner to be promoted to moderator for such a task. Moderators also answer users' concerns about the forum, general questions, as well as respond to specific complaints. They also can do anything to lend a helping hand to a user in need. Moderators also have different ranks e.g. "Global Moderators" and just "Moderators". Global moderators have the rights to moderate the complete forum while moderators can be assigned only to the sub-forum. Common privileges of moderators include: deleting, merging, moving, and splitting of posts and threads, locking, renaming, stickying]] of threads, banning, suspending, unsuspending, unbanning, warning the members, or adding, editing, removing the polls of threads. "Junior Modding", "Backseat Modding", or "Forum copping" can refer negatively to the behaviour of ordinary users who take a moderator-like tone in criticizing other members.

Essentially, it is the duty of the moderator to manage the day-to-day affairs of a forum or board as it applies to the stream of user contributions and interactions. The relative effectiveness of this user management directly impacts the quality of a forum in general, its appeal, and its usefulness as a community of interrelated users.

Administrator

The administrators (short form: "admin") manage the technical details required for running the site. As such, they may promote (and demote) members to/from moderators, manage the rules, create sections and sub-sections, as well as perform any database operations (database backup etc.). Administrators often also act as moderators. Administrators may also make forum-wide announcements, or change the appearance (known as the skin) of a forum.

Post

A post is a user-submitted message enclosed into a block containing the user's details and the date and time it was submitted. Members are usually allowed to edit or delete their own posts. Posts are contained in threads, where they appear as blocks one after another. The first post starts the thread; this may be called the TS (thread starter) or OP (original post). Posts that follow in the thread are meant to continue discussion about that post, or respond to other replies; it is not uncommon for discussions to be derailed.

On Western forums, the classic way to show a member's own details (such as name and avatar) has been on the left side of the post, in a narrow column of fixed width, with the post controls located on the right, at the bottom of the main body, above the signature block. In more recent forum software implementations, the Asian style of displaying the members' details above the post has been copied.

Posts have an internal limit usually measured in characters. Often one is required to have a message of minimum length of 10 characters. There is always an upper limit but it is rarely reached – most boards have it at either 10,000, 20,000, 30,000, or 50,000 characters.

Most forums keep track of a user's postcount. The postcount is a measurement of how many posts a certain user has made. Users with higher postcounts are often considered more reputable than users with lower postcounts, but not always. For instance some forums have disabled postcounts with the hopes that doing so will emphasize the quality of information over quantity.

Thread

A thread (sometimes called a topic) is a collection of posts, usually displayed from oldest to latest, although this is typically configurable: Options for newest to oldest and for a threaded view (a tree-like view applying logical reply structure before chronological order) can be available. A thread is defined by a title, an additional description that may summarize the intended discussion, and an opening or original post (common abbreviation OP, which can also mean original poster), which opens whatever dialogue or makes whatever announcement the poster wished. A thread can contain any number of posts, including multiple posts from the same members, even if they are one after the other.

A thread is contained in a forum, and may have an associated date that is taken as the date of the last post (options to order threads by other criteria are generally available). When a member posts in a thread it will jump to the top since it is the latest updated thread. Similarly, other threads will jump in front of it when they receive posts. When a member posts in a thread for no reason but to have it go to the top, it is referred to as a bump or bumping. It has been suggested that "bump" is an acronym of "bring up my post"; however, this is almost certainly a backronym and the usage is entirely consistent with the verb "bump" which means "to knock to a new position".

On some messageboards, users can choose to sage a post if they wish to make a post, but not "bump" it.

Threads that are important but rarely receive posts are stickyed (or, in some software, "pinned"). A sticky thread will always appear in front of normal threads, often in its own section. A "threaded discussion group" is simply any group of individuals who use a forum for threaded, or asynchronous, discussion purposes. The group may or may not be the only users of the forum.

A thread's popularity is measured on forums in reply (total posts minus one, the opening post, in most default forum settings) counts. Some forums also track page views. Threads meeting a set number of posts or a set number of views may receive a designation such as "hot thread" and be displayed with a different icon compared to other threads. This icon may stand out more to emphasize the thread. If the forum's users have lost interest in a particular thread, it becomes a dead thread.

Common features

By default to be an Internet forum, the web application needs an ability to submit threads and replies. Typically, threads are in newer to older view, and replies in older to newer view.

Tripcodes and capcodes

In a tripcode system, a secret password is added to the user's name following a separator character (often a number sign). This password, or tripcode, is hashed into a special key, or trip, distinguishable from the name by HTML styles. Tripcodes cannot be faked but on some types of forum software they are insecure and can be guessed. On other types, they can be brute forced with software designed to search for tripcodes such as Tripcode Explorer.

Moderators and administrators will frequently assign themselves capcodes, or tripcodes where the guessable trip is replaced with a special notice, or cap.

Private message

A private message, or PM for short, is a message sent in private from a member to one or more other members. The ability to send so-called carbon copy is sometimes available. When sending a carbon copy (cc), the users to whom the message is sent directly will not be aware of the recipients of the carbon copy or even if one was sent in the first place.Presuming someone is sending a private message and has the ability to send carbon copies: If someone fills the recipient field with "John" and "Tom", and the carbon copy field with "Gordon". John will know Tom got the message. Tom knows John got the message. But, both Tom and John have no clue that Gordon got the message as well.

Private messages are generally used for personal conversations. They can also be used with tripcodes—a message is addressed to a public trip and can be picked up by typing in the tripcode.

Attachment

An attachment can be almost any file. When someone attaches a file to a person's post they are uploading the file to the forum's server. Forums usually have very strict limit on what can be attached and what cannot (among which the size of the files in question). Attachments can be part of a thread, social group, etc.

BBCode and HTML

HyperText Markup Language (HTML) is sometimes allowed but usually its use is discouraged or when allowed, it is extensively filtered. Modern bulletin board systems often will have it disabled altogether or allow only administrators use it, as allowing it on any normal user level is considered a security risk due to a high rate of XSS vulnerabilities. When HTML is disabled Bulletin Board Code (BBCode) is the most common preferred alternative. BBCode usually consists of a tag, similar to HTML only instead of < and > the tagname is enclosed within square brackets (meaning: [ and ]). Commonly [i] is used for italic type, [b] is used for bold, [u] for underline, [color="value"] for color and [list] for lists, as well as [img] for images and [url] for links.

The following example BBCode: [b]This[/b] is [i]clever[/i] [b][i]text[/i][/b] when the post is viewed the code is rendered to HTML and will appear as: This is clever text.

Emoticon

An emoticon or smiley is a symbol or combination of symbols used to convey emotional content in written or message form. Forums implement a system through which some of the text representations of an emoticons (e.g. xD, :p) are rendered as a small image. Depending on what part of the world the forum's topic originates (since most forums are international) smilies can be replaced by other forms of similar graphics, an example would be kaoani (e.g. *(^O^)*, (^-^)b), or even text between special symbols (e.g. :blink:, :idea:).

Poll

Most forums implement an opinion poll system for threads. Most implementations allow for single-choice or multi-choice (sometimes limited to a certain number) when selecting options as well as private or public display of voters. Polls can be set to expire after a certain date or in some cases after a number of days from its creation. Members vote in a poll and a statistic is displayed graphically.

RSS and ATOM

RSS and ATOM feeds allow a minimalistic means of subscribing to the forum. Common implementations allow RSS feeds to list only the last few threads updated for the forum index and the last posts in a thread.

Other forum features

An ignore list allows members to hide posts of other members that they do not want to see or have a problem with. In most implementations, they are referred to as foe list or ignore list. Usually the posts are not hidden, but minimized with only a small bar indicating a post from the user on the ignore list is there. Almost all internet forums include a member list, which allows display of all forum members, with integrated search feature. Some forums will not list members with 0 posts, even if they have activated their accounts.

Many forums allow users to give themselves an avatar. An avatar is an image that appears beside all of a user's posts, in order to make the user more recognizable. The user may upload the image to the forum database, or may provide a link to an image on a separate website. Each forum has limits on the height, width, and data size of avatars that may be used; if the user tries to use an avatar that is too big, it may be scaled down or rejected.

Similarly, most forums allow users to define a signature (sometimes called a sig), which is a block of text, possibly with BBCode, which appears at the bottom of all of the user's posts. There is a character limit on signatures, though it may be so high that it is rarely hit. Often the forum's moderators impose manual rules on signatures to prevent them from being obnoxious (for example, being extremely long or having flashing images), and issue warnings or bans to users who break these rules. Like avatars, signatures may improve the recognizability of a poster. They may also allow the user to attach information to all of their posts, such as proclaiming support for a cause, noting facts about themselves, or quoting humorous things that have previously been said on the forum.

Common on forums, a subscription is a form of automated notification integrated into the software of most forums. It usually notifies either by email or on the site when the member returns. The option to subscribe is available for every thread while logged in. Subscriptions work with read marking, namely the property of unread, which is given to the content never served to the user by the software.

Recent development in some popular implementations of forum software has brought social network features and functionality. Such features include personal galleries, pages as well as a social network like chat systems.

Most forum software is now fully customizable with "hacks" or "modifications" readily available to customize a person's forum to theirs and their members' needs.

Often forums use cookies, or information about the user's behavior on the site sent to a user's browser and used upon re-entry into the site. This is done to facilitate automatic login and to show a user whether a thread or forum has received new posts since his or her last visit. These may be disabled or cleared at any time.

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