HashOver ~ Free and Open Source PHP Comment System

A HashOver Thread HashOver is a PHP comment system intended as a replacement for services like Disqus, IntenseDebate, Livefyre, Facebook Comments and Google+ Comments. HashOver adds a "comment section" to any website, by placing a few simple lines of JavaScript or PHP to the source code of any webpage. HashOver is a self-hosted system and allows completely anonymous comments to be posted, the only required information is the comment itself. HashOver is free and open source software under the GNU Affero General Public License.

There is a decent number of comment systems available on the Internet, few are free and open source, fewer are standalone systems, most being integrated with a content management system (Drupal, WordPress), even fewer are self-hosted, and even fewer allow anonymity.

Notable Features:
  • Restricted use of HTML tags
  • Display externally hosted images
  • Five comment sorting methods
  • Multiple languages
  • Spam filtering
  • IP address blocking
  • Notification emails
  • Threaded replies
  • Avatar icons
  • Comment editing and deletion
  • Comment RSS feeds
  • Likes
  • Popular comments
  • Comment layout templates
  • Administration
  • Automatic URL links
  • Customizable HTML
  • Customizable CSS
  • Referrer checking
  • Permalinks

What's wrong with existing comment systems? HashOver solves the following fundamental problems with many third-party comment systems: non-free JavaScript, non-free server-side software (software as a service), requiring an account to comment, requiring an e-mail address to comment, storing comments on a third-party server, tracking IP addresses and user activity, promoting ads to your visitors, making heavy use of AJAX (JavaScript), claiming broad copyright on comments, long load times, and useless or nonexistent APIs.

Many third-party comment systems like Disqus, IntenseDebate, Livefyre, Facebook Comments and Google+ Comments, suffer from these problems and impose them and many restrictions onto their users, meaning you and your website's visitors. HashOver doesn't do this. HashOver is free and open source, and completely customizable, meaning you can make it do whatever you want it to, and it only does what you need it to.

How it works (the basics): HashOver is self-hosted, as users post comments, individual XML files are created in a subdirectory named after the page URL under a specified directory in the hashover/scripts/settings.php file.

The first comment is named "1.xml", the second comment is named "2.xml", and so on. When a user replies to a comment, another file is created named with the parent comment's number dash the child comment number, so a reply to the second comment ("2.xml") creates a file named "2-1.xml", etc. When a comment is deleted a visitor will simply be deleting the corresponding file.

Prerequisite: There are two methods of using HashOver, both methods require doing the following first:
  1. Download this file: http://tildehash.com/hashover.zip
  2. Extract the archive files at or upload them to your website's highest level, typically "/"
  3. Give (chmod) all the files permissions "0644" (readable by all and writable by owner)
  4. Give directories and PHP files permissions "0755" (readable by all, writable by owner, executable by all)
  5. Give "hashover/pages" directory permission "0777" (readable, writable and executable by all)

It is not recommended that permissions "0777" ever be used. For security reasons, the "hashover/pages" directory should be "given" (chown) to the user that the server is configured to execute PHP scripts as, for example "www-data". And then simply give the "hashover/pages" directory permissions "0755".

Alternatively, to avoid setting file permissions manually:
  1. Download this file: http://tildehash.com/hashover.tar
  2. Extract its contents as root with the following command: tar -pxf ./hashover.tar

Required Setup: The following actions are required before using HashOver.

Edit the file hashover/scripts/secrets.php and make the following changes.
Set a UNIQUE 8 to 32 character value for the $encryption_key variable.
Set the $notification_email variable to any valid e-mail address.
Set a UNIQUE value for the $admin_nickname variable.
Set a UNIQUE value for the $admin_password variable.

Using HashOver: Once the files have successfully been downloaded, extracted, proper permissions set, and setup, all you need to do is copy the code to one of the two following implementation methods and paste it into your webpage(s):

Optional Settings: In the file hashover/scripts/settings.php settings for things such as language, default name, HTML design template, avatar icons, "Popular Comments", spam checking, default timezone, and more may be adjusted.

Styling the Comments: To change how the comments look, use a Cascading Style Sheet (CSS.) HashOver comes with a default style sheet named "comments.css" under the "hashover" directory.

Using the JavaScript method this style sheet is automatically placed in the page when the comments are displayed. This is not true for the PHP method. However, in both methods it is recommended that the following <link> element be placed in the <head> element of your website's webpage(s):

<link href="/hashover/comments.css" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css">

Alternatively, the following may be placed at the top of an existing style sheet:

@import url('/hashover/comments.css');

Need more control over how the comments look? Editing the file hashover/html-templates/default.html allows you to move around the HTML elements of each comment, meaning you may change where each commenter's avatar icon and name appears, as well as where the date/permalinks, "Reply", "Edit", "Like" and "Top of Thread" links appear.

However, rather than editing the hashover/html-templates/default.html file, it is recommended you edit a copy of that file, and then merely change the $template variable in the hashover/scripts/settings.php file. This way your changes won't be lost when you upgrade HashOver, and you will have a working fallback just in case.

Use a canonical URL: A canonical URL uses the canonical link element in the <head> section of a webpage to prevent the creation of multiple separate comment directories for multiple page URLs that present the same content. For example, http://example.com/page.html and http://example.com/page.html?parameter=1 will have separate comment threads because the URLs are different, even if both URLs return the same content.

The following JavaScript will automatically use the URL in the canonical link element:

<script>var canon_url = (document.querySelector('link[rel="canonical"]') != null) ? '?canon_url=' + encodeURIComponent(document.querySelector('link[rel="canonical"]').getAttribute('href')) : ''; document.write('<script src="/hashover.php' + canon_url + '"><\/script>');</script>

In PHP adding a $canon_url variable before the include function will trigger the canonical URL behavior:

        $mode = 'php';
        $canon_url = 'http://example.com/page.html';

Need more control than a canonical URL offers? If you need more fine tuned control over URL parsing, particularly what URL queries should be ignored, add unwanted URL queries, one per line, to a file named "ignore_queries.txt" under the "hashover" directory.

Adding a query name without a value will remove the query from comment directory names no matter what its value is. Adding a query name with a value (name=value) will only remove that specific query with that specific value from comment directory names. For example, add "lang" to the "ignore_queries.txt" file and the URLs http://example.com/page.html?lang=en and http://example.com/page.html?lang=jp will be treated as being the same page and thus display the same comment thread.

Need to block an IP address? If the $ip_addrs variable in the hashover/scripts/settings.php file is set to "yes", user IP addresses will be stored in their respective comment file(s). Those IP addresses can be used to block spamming, abusive, and/or obstructive users from posting and interacting with the comments all together. Simply add them, one per line, to a file named "blocklist.txt" in the "hashover" directory.

In addition to that, if the variable $spam_IP_check is set to 'php', 'javascript', or 'both' HashOver will check whether or not a visitor's IP address is in the database of spam server IP addresses maintained at stopforumspam.com. If a visitor's IP address is in the database the visitor is most likely a spam server, and the script will exit with a message saying "HashOver: You are blocked!" while disallowing the visitor any interaction with the comments, and thus successfully preventing spam.

The value of $spam_IP_check determines in which mode(s) visitor IP address spam checking will be enabled. Generally, JavaScript mode is somewhat naturally protected against some forms of spam attacks, such as basic automated form filing, while PHP mode is not. If one is using PHP mode, they should also set $spam_IP_check to "php". Likewise, when using JavaScript mode $spam_IP_check should be set to "javascript", however, this isn't necessary if spam isn't an issue in JavaScript mode. Setting $spam_IP_check to "both" will enable spam checking in both modes, for those who make use of both modes.

Tutorials: Implementing the HashOver open source commenting system within Pelican
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