Q4 2019 & Q1 2020 openEQUELLA Open Source Support Briefing

Published on: May 14, 2020
Chris Beach, Software Developer

openEQUELLA logoThe openEQUELLA Open Source Support (OSS) Periodic Briefing is an opportunity to share the contributions performed by Unicon on behalf of the OSS program, highlight Unicon's perspective on contributions, share happenings in the community, and describe opportunities to engage further with Unicon.

Discussions for the openEQUELLA Q4 2019 & Q1 2020 Support Briefing focused on community news, the latest releases of openEQUELLA, sustaining engineering, looking ahead to the releases of openEQUELLA 2020.2 and 2020.3, and upcoming events..

On Thursday, April 9, 2020, the Unicon Open Source Support team held the openEQUELLA OSS Briefing summarizing OSS activities for Q4 of 2019 and Q1 of 2020.

Community News

There are three primary groups in the openEQUELLA community - the Community Developers Meeting (CDM), the Advisory Board, and the Security Group.

The CDM is the most active and continues to have excellent discussion and collaboration among the openEQUELLA community. You can access the group’s past minutes and upcoming agenda via the wiki at https://github.com/openequella/openEQUELLA/wiki . One of the active CDM efforts is drafting guidelines for community developers to be able to merge pull requests and have more responsibility and guidance opportunities in the openEQUELLA project. Stay tuned for the release of those guidelines once the CDM completes its draft and the Advisory Board approves them (as of this post, the CDM has now completed its draft).

Anyone with a desire to improve openEQUELLA is welcome to the CDM, especially prospective developers! CDMs are generally held on the first Friday of the month in the morning AU time--this is Thursday evening US time. Due to security best practices around Zoom meetings, please send an email to the Apereo Dev Google Group (link at the end of the blog) to request an invite.

The Advisory Board had a change in members - Annemarie Haar joined the group at the end of December 2019. The Advisory Board is looking forward to engaging with Annemarie and leveraging her experience and knowledge as the Board continues to guide the community.

The Security Group meets as needed, and continues to review best practices and audit reports. The community can reach out to the Security Group with security questions, concerns, or reports by sending an email to security@apereo.org, which the openEQUELLA Security Group monitors.

In other news, the Apereo openEQUELLA Slack channel has been retired. The Slack subscription being used did not fully persist the conversation history and the community has not been active on that channel. The community is now being guided to use the equella-dev and equella-users Apereo Google groups, the openequella GitHub issue tickets, and the monthly CDMs to collaborate. Please refer to the end of this blog for contact / URL details.

openEQUELLA Releases
Since the last briefing, two major versions of openEQUELLA have been released - 2019.2 and 2020.1.

Highlights of openEQUELLA 2019.2:

  • Duplicate attachment checking (files and URLs)
  • Display of deleted user names
  • Taxonomy term sorting (child level and entire taxonomy)
  • New Taxonomy REST APIs
  • Legacy user interface bridge in the new user interface
  • Attachment Health

Full 2019.2 issue list here.

Highlights of openEQUELLA 2020.1:

  • Dependency updates for enhanced security. Major areas:
    • PostgreSQL, Jackson, Swagger UI, Ghostscript, XStream, TinyMCE, Tomcat
    • Admin Console Launcher - Jackson, Java
  • Cloud Provider fixes
  • UX - various minor fixes to the legacy and new user interfaces
  • Alignment with WCAG 2.0 AA in the new user interface
  • Secured API documentation - Need VIEW_APIDOCS to view /apidocs.do
  • Generic LTI endpoint

Full 2020.1 issue list here.

These releases already have had patch releases made, so please check https://github.com/openequella/openEQUELLA/releases for the latest.

Sustaining Engineering
As a reminder, as part of the Open Source Support program, Unicon engages in community development, which we call Sustaining Engineering. This community development is focused on resolving issues or implementing features that are important to our subscribers and part of the overall openEQUELLA roadmap.

Sustaining Engineering over the last two quarters focused on two primary efforts - the Blackboard (Bb) integration, and Attachment Health.

Blackboard integration

We continued our efforts to replace the building block / web service integration with the LTI / REST integration. These efforts included the following:

  • We set up CI builds and releases in the openEQUELLA Blackboard building block repository. This allows for a more consistent and reliable build process.
  • We took the Blackboard LTI MVP and made it production worthy. As part of that effort, we generalized the Blackboard LTI endpoint in openEQUELLA and parameterized some of the logic to facilitate a wider range of LTI integrations. More information can be found at https://openequella.github.io/guides/BlackboardLearnIntegrationGuide.html .
  • We built the Migration building block ( https://github.com/openequella/openEQUELLA-blackboard-integration/releases/ ),which aims to migrate openEQUELLA building block LTI links to Blackboard LTI links. This building block is currently in a round of bug fixes.
  • We continued to work on the REST integration. This primarily consisted of efforts around 3-legged OAuth. This will allow openEQUELLA to access the Blackboard REST APIs on behalf of the logged-in user instead of a single, shared account.

Of particular interest to openEQUELLA adopters that integrate with Blackboard:

  • Blackboard v3900 will be released in Blackboard SaaS in Summer 2020. At this point, web services will stop working. It’s recommended that openEQUELLA / Blackboard adopters upgrade to an openEQUELLA that has the generalized LTI available and migrate their building block LTI links before this time.
  • It’s been made known that certain Blackboard offerings will be turning off EQUELLA / openEQUELLA plugins due to GDPR concerns. In discussions with the Blackboard Privacy Office, they were using an older version of EQUELLA to determine compliance with GDPR. They are reviewing the changes in the latest version of openEQUELLA, and we are in discussions with them to see if they will reverse that decision to remove the openEQUELLA plugins.

Attachment health

We added deeper logging into the file handling code to provide a log-based audit for files. This can be turned on in the log4j server configuration.

In addition, we set up a toggle for the background task that removes stale staging areas. Some adopters have noted a strong correlation between missing attachments and when the remove staging areas task is run. While the toggle is available, it’s recommended that you run openEQUELLA with the task enabled unless you see an issue occur.

It’s important to note that the openEQUELLA-toolbox CheckFiles function is a monitoring solution that can assist adopters in discovering missing attachments. These missing attachments have been known to come from both end-user scripting bugs and from the core code. Unicon open-sourced the original monitoring code from EQUELLA’s commercial days and enhanced it to where it is today. More enhancements have been identified including reducing the cache to avoid false negatives, handling more attachments types, and better handling of special characters. We welcome community engagement as we look for ways to build out the monitoring solution.

Miscellaneous

Documentation - Unicon helped to create the Known Working Supporting Software page to crowdsource amongst adopters what external dependencies work with which versions of openEQUELLA. An honorable mention (since it technically was released a few days into Q2 of 2020) is our work to enhance the Server Configurations page. This is meant to be a single stop for how to configure openEQUELLA. New development efforts will be encouraged to add their configurations to the page, and we encourage the community to help bring the existing configurations into this single reference.

Releases - We released 2019.1.3 to make some recent enhancements available to the wider community. Details on the release here.

Licensing - We began looking at the openEQUELLA Bulk Importer tool and its compliance with Apereo licensing requirements. We’ve since identified that there are some discrepancies and will be working to resolve them as the year progresses.

New UI file upload bug - New UI file upload bug - We noticed that in certain hosting environments, the modern user interface file upload flow breaks. We consequently exposed the ability to configure the embedded Tomcat’s internalProxies setting, thereby allowing the file upload flow to work again.

Security - Shortly before openEQUELLA 2020.1.0 was to be released, the GhostCat Tomcat AJP bug was flagged as a priority dependency upgrade to resolve. We upgraded Tomcat to resolve the issue and consequently broke AJP connections. With the backing of the dev community, we chose to release 2020.1.0 with the known functional issue but included the resolved security issue. Since then, we have provided code to resolve the issue and allow AJP connections to work again. Adopters wanting openEQUELLA 2020.1 and using AJP should upgrade to the latest patch release, which is currently 2020.1.1. Note that the GhostCat issue is only a concern for adopters that enabled their AJP connector in the mandatory-config.properties server configuration file.

Roadmap

For 2020.2, Unicon will be focused on completing the MVP for the Blackboard REST integration. This will allow a subset of ‘push to LMS’ functionality, including ‘Add to External System’. We will then use the prioritized backlog to drive further enhancements. This prioritization is driven by our OSS openEQUELLA subscribers, so please open a Zendesk ticket and make your voice heard! If there is time after working through the high priority items, we will assist with the conversion of the legacy user interface to the new user interface.

Other community members will be focused on completing the conversion of the legacy user interface to the new user interface. 2020.2 is expected to see the new search and selection session pages, and 2020.3 is slated for the balance of the conversion efforts. Note that the conversion is a very large effort. Community testing and engagement is encouraged.

The new user interface will be a complete overhaul. The custom technology of ‘Sections’ and tight coupling of the server and client code is being removed. It will be replaced with a decoupled frontend that is built with Google Material Design and React. The frontend will only use REST APIs to make backend requests.

Upcoming Events

After the review of the roadmap for 2020, we discussed the following events that will have a component of openEQUELLA in it.

  • Open Apereo 2020 - University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA - June 15 - 19, 2020
  • Unicon OSS oEQ Briefing Q2/Q3 2020 - Web call - early October, 2020
  • EDUCAUSE 2020 - Boston, MA, USA - Oct 26 - 29, 2020
  • Edalexpo - AU - Late 2020

Note that due to COVID-19, events are subject to change. Please reach out for updated information.

For more details, please view the recording!

Conclusion
openEQUELLA can be a strong, flexible offering and critical component of your content strategy. We encourage you to reach out to the community, get excited about openEQUELLA, join the community at upcoming events, ask questions, and help shape the future of this open source content management system.


Community Engagement

Click here for the video recording.
Click here for the briefing slides.

Chris Beach photo

Chris Beach

Software Developer

Chris Beach is a Software Developer at Unicon, Inc. and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science. Chris is currently involved in the support and development of open source software, focused on EQUELLA and uPortal. Chris was previously a Senior Support Analyst for EQUELLA at Pearson, where he was involved with hosting support and escalated client support for EQUELLA.