When I’ve needed to provide a CMS for brochure sites, my first port of call has been Perch CMS. I’ve been using it since 2010 (when it was still v1.2!) as a great solution to adapt static sites to be updated by a client (eg. adding a news section), or building out highly customised views. Perch uses PHP and MySQL so it was familiar and easy to set up locally and host on a budget.
The Problem #
As some of the sites grew in volume of content and feature complexity, I upgraded them to Perch’s more advanced developer version, Perch Runway (released 2014). Runway has features like collections and dynamic routes making it more akin to popular MVC frameworks like Laravel, and the types of dynamic regions you get in Craft. Unlike Laravel and Craft it didn’t have the convenience of Composer to pull in useful packages and facilitate the types of deploy pipelines I had become accustomed to.
It’s expected with Perch that to upgrade to new versions you would replace the
core folder with new files downloaded from source and then manually uploaded to the client’s server. To use a deployment pipeline this meant either committing all of Perch’s core files to version control (yuk), or manually updating multiple sites and local development machines with each release, which even with a small number of projects quickly becomes onerous and error prone.
The ideal #
What I wanted to be able to do is pull in specific versions of Perch, or easily update to the latest version consistently across projects and machines. Because Perch doesn’t provide this feature I decided to roll my own. To do this I realised I could host my own private repository of Perch with versioned releases in one place. The issue was that because Perch’s files need to be accessible in a publicly accessible directory, I would need to figure out how to set up Composer to install the files outside the
Fortunately there’s a Composer tool designed just for this purpose. It’s specifically designed to allow packages to be installed outside the
/vendor directory (useful for things like Wordpress). Normally you would define within the package where the files would be installed, and although Perch is typically installed in a
/perch directory, it doesn’t have to be and for some projects I have it installed in
/cms for example. That’s okay, because the Installers Extender allows the client
composer.json file to define where the Perch core files should be installed to.
Setting up Perch as a package #
In my case I created a private repository on GitHub called
perch-core - but it could be called anything - and committed the latest version of Perch’s core files.
To set up the repository as an installer, I first needed to add a
composer.json to the project which I did by running:
composer init and following the instructions.
Next I installed the two packages I needed:
composer require composer/installers oomphinc/composer-installers-extender
After committing the changes to
composer.json, I pushed them to GitHub and was now ready to tag the repo with the current release of Perch (at the time v3.1.5). This would allow me to specify the version of Perch I required in my client projects.
Installing on a Perch project #
Now I’m able to install Perch as well as any other composer dependencies in my project such as a helper file, or a package to support the use of
.env files. It’s important to make sure that the
/vendor directory is not publicly accessible on the web server, so my Perch projects are typically set up with the following structure:
│ ├─ core/
To use my private
perch-core repository and have the contents be installed to
/public/perch/core I need to add the following to my
repositories section I’ve defined the location of my private repo on GitHub, and in
extra I define the package that should be “installed” and the directory where the package should be installed.
It’s possible to define multiple packages and locations, which is useful for applying the same technique to eg. Perch Add Ons.
One last thing #
Because I don’t want to make the Perch core files public I also needed to set up a Personal Access Token in GitHub to grant access to the private repository. This can be done with either an SSH key or by adding an
auth.json file to the root of the project with the generated token:
Needless to say, this file should not be committed to the repo as it includes sensitive information.
composer install in my client project will now replace the
/public/perch/core folder with the contents of my
perch-core repository, and other packages in the vendor directory. The version will be stored in the
composer.lock file so I can quickly replicate my project in any environment.
This small addition has made my development workflow much more robust and enables me to leverage Composer in my Perch projects. I can also track the changes to Perch core, and if necessary apply my own patches to enable support for newer version of PHP before an official version of Perch is released.