March 28, 2008

Want a blog? Get a LifeType

Author: Tina Gasperson

LifeType is a full-featured GPL blogging platform designed for use with a MySQL database and PHP. You'll need access to a server in order to properly install and use LifeType, but the installation is easy with LifeType's wizard, which can even create your MySQL database and all the tables you need, automatically. In addition to support for all the "standard" blog features, such as pinging, trackbacks, commenting, mobile blogging, and RSS feeds, LifeType is perfect for site owners who want to administer multiple blogs and users through one back end. Even if you have only one blog and one user, you'll appreciate the features and flexibility of LifeType.

The most time-consuming step in LifeType's installation process is uploading all of its files to the server. Once that's done, set the proper directory and file permissions and point your browser to The wizard can work with an existing MySQL database or create one for you. My host didn't like the naming protocol associated with LifeType's automatically created databases, so I set up the database myself, using the name my host selected, and just pointed the wizard to it. After that, LifeType installed itself in seconds. I chose the blog name, initial user, and theme, then deleted the wizard file, and I was ready to blog.

Administration features

If you're familiar with other blogging platforms, you'll find it easy to get around in LifeType. The default theme includes a link to the administration panel, which made it easy to find the back end. LifeType's admin panel has a clean and simple look, and displays tabs labeled Manage, Resource Center, Control Center, Administration, and Logout.

Manage is the default tab, with options for creating and managing posts, categories, links, and fields. You can create custom fields that are inserted in the new blog post form in addition to the standard fields for the title and body. For example, if your blog were entitled Highway and Byways, and it was all about the American road system, you could add a field called "Highway Name" and another entitled "Date Driven." Many LifeType plugins make use of the custom field generator, so don't delete your plugin-specific fields.

When managing posts, you can also see how many times each post has been viewed, and check other statistics on the fly. LifeType comes with the Bad Behavior plugin already installed. A built-in Bayesian spam filter is also part of the package; as you manage comments, you can quickly mark and delete spam to teach the filter.

The post editing screen looks similar to the one in WordPress, but adds a few interesting touches, like the Insert Video button, which automatically inserts a resizeable video widget after you enter the URL of the video, and the Insert Audio button, which works the same way. You can also insert date and time stamps anywhere in the post with the click of a button, automatically clean up "messy" code like improper paragraph tags, random characters, or invalid syntax, remove all formatting, or, and this is my favorite, enter full-screen editing mode, which gives you a big palette on which to write, and lets you see a large chunk, if not all, of your post as you work on it.

In LifeType, resources are images and other files that you can upload and store in "albums." Resources get attached to or inserted into posts. Under this tab you can upload and manage resources and create and manage albums.

The Control Center is where you can choose blog settings like the name, default category, number of posts showing on the front page, whether comments are allowed globally, and other miscellaneous options. LifeType offers a great deal of flexibility in blog configuration options. Here you can also set your own user options, change your password, and add a profile picture, and as the administrator you can also add and manage other users. Finally, you can install templates. To use a template you just installed, you must go back to the blog settings page and select the one you want from a drop-down menu. It would make more sense to keep all template-related options together.

The Administration tab provides some functions that overlap with other sections. You can create new users here, as well as under the Control Center, which had me going back and forth to see what the difference was. There wasn't any, except that the Administration section offers options for global users as well as users of specific blogs. You'll also see overlap for blog and category management, as well as a list of options for global settings, including the Bayesian filter, default file upload directories, URL formats, and options for LifeType's built-in search capabilities. And oddly enough, this is where you can configure and activate any plugins you've uploaded to the server. Odd, because there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the location of plugin administration as it relates to the location of template administration back in the Control Center section.

Other niceties

LifeType's on-the-fly subdomain creation is a useful feature for site owners who want to offer built-in blogging for users. This won't work unless you manage your own server or your host allows wildcard support for subdomains. If your server allows for wildcard subdomains, you can configure LifeType to allow automatic subdomain creation based on blog names or user names. That way, when a user creates a blog, the blog is immediately accessible via or

As with most blogging platforms, a LifeType blog's appearance is highly dependent on the template, and while there are only about a dozen or so "official" templates, LifeType's template editor plugin makes it easy for blog authors to customize any template to their liking, without any coding knowledge.

Some of LifeType's command interfaces seemed less than intuitive, though would be easy enough to get used to. However, one "feature" was about to drive me nuts just during the short period of time I used LifeType, and that was the multiple blogs interface. Accessing the administrative back end through the main page of the blog is simple, but LifeType doesn't automatically give you the back end for the blog through which you access it. Instead, it goes to the back end for the most recently added blog by default, with all the other blogs available through a drop-down menu on the upper right of the screen. If you manage to notice that you're in the wrong back end before you make changes to a blog you don't want to alter, and you're in the Manage Posts section, you can select the right blog from the menu, and it switches automatically, but maddeningly it delivers you to the "New Post" page instead of keeping you in the same section you were in on the other blog. That may sound like a small thing, but it annoyed me enough to keep me from switching to LifeType, given the number of open source blogging platforms available to me.

LifeType is a powerful, full-featured blogging platform that would do in a pinch, but since I'm not in a pinch, I'm going to stick with WordPress. If you'd like to give LifeType a test drive without having to install it, there's a live demo available at


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