September 18, 2007

Easy blogging with Pivot

Author: Ryan McGrath

The GPL-licensed Pivot blogging software stands out among blogging applications because it requires no database, no extra libraries, and minimal installation effort. While it's still in an early stage of development, its flexibilty and the ease with which it can be set up make it ideal for those new to maintaining their own blogging Web sites.

To use Pivot, you need a server that's running PHP 4.1.0 or higher. Unlike WordPress or Movable Type, Pivot requires no MySQL database; it stores most of its data within XML files. Pivot also strives to use no extra libraries so as to be available and usable by as many people as possible.

The simplest way to install Pivot is by using Pivot Setup. Download the setup zip file, unzip it, and open the resulting pivot-setup.php script in a text editor. Set your password and save the file -- nothing else is needed. Upload the script to your blog directory, which must have permission (chmod) settings of 777. Open the direct link to the script in a browser. If your server is ill-equipped, or needs something changed, Pivot should alert you first thing, as it checks before anything in the script is run. If you're good to go, just follow the instructions for an easy and successful installation. Pivot should automatically pull the files it needs from SourceForge.net and set itself up for you.

If for some reason you can't get the aforementioned method to work, you can set up Pivot manually by downloading the entire package (1.40.3 Dreadwind is the latest version as of this article), uploading it to a Web server, and configuring it to your needs. The project provides a pretty well-written guide to the manual installation process.

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Pivot has many of the features you'll find in other blog systems. Users can register and log in to an account, reply to a blog post, or reply to another commenter through use of a threaded comment system. Pinging and trackback capabilities are included, as well as a simple search that indexes all blog posts. Since it's still young, Pivot lacks the number of free templates that WordPress and Movable Type have, but there is a growing archive at PivotStyles.

Pivot supplies RSS feeds without any extra work, though you can only get a feed for all posts, not just, say, one category. RSS feeds can be made available in either RSS or Atom format.

You can find a few plugins and extensions for Pivot, but as with some of the documentation, they can be hard to locate. A good list of the basic ones can be found in the Pivot Documentation.

Drawbacks

Pivot is, of course, still young and in development, and with that there are bound to be a few drawbacks. There's currently no support for any form of a static page, which restricts users to just writing the blog -- any other pages must be created by hand. Some users within the community, however, seem to have found ways around the issue. Getting technical support can be difficult at times, as there's really no designated support portion of the project. There is an active community, as well as a recently started Pivot Documentation Project that helps to alleviate some of the problems.

Another issue is that recently Pivot's servers seem to have gone through long bouts of downtime, which makes getting any support virtually impossible.

If you're looking for a lightweight blog application, Pivot may just fit your bill. It has by far the easiest installation I have encountered for a piece of blogging software, and it offers much of the functionality and usability that most other blogging applications have. If you're running a high-traffic site, you probably want to look instead at a more traditional blog that uses a database back end, as using XML files to store data in that situation may put too much of a load on your server. For a smaller site, though, Pivot's definitely worth a look at.

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