Heal Your Church WebSite


Teaching, rebuking, correcting & training in righteous web design.

An Introdution to InfoCentral

This past Saturday, I received the following email from a Linux loving pastor who needs a software application that will … well; let me let him describe it:

Greetings brother!

Simple question: I have used membership plus through their version 6. But I’ve not really liked it. My main system is linux: right now fedora core 1, but redhat through version 9 before that. At present, what I do for the fedora system is export all the data to a mysql database, then access it through openoffice/odbc. It’s sure not very elegant, and updates are a real drag. I also do a little data manipulation through phpmyadmin, and directly through mysql. (I thought this was going to be a simple question! :-( ) Anyway, do you have any recommendations for a church database? Do you know of any already designed with the engine being mysql?

I look forward to reading more of your site concerning web design for churches. It looks like it will help, and I’m sure our site needs help!

Have a great day and great weekend in the Lord!
john

- –
John F. Godfrey, Pastor
Grandville Assembly of God, Grandville, Michigan USA
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me’” (John 14:6).

How can I deny such a warm request for a solution from a minister with enough computer chutzpah to manage exporting records from his Linux-based MySQL data into the Windows based Broderbund’s Membership Plus 6 via OpenOffice/ODBC?

Moreover, what good is my faith if I just say be warm and filled, I’ll pray for a smooth install?

So brother John, here is the short answer: InfoCentral, a free software to help churches and non-profit organizations track information about their membership that can run on any platform equipped with PHP & MySQL.

Longer Answer

And because faith without works is dead, I figured I should test out the software to make sure it works before recommending it. It does, but it did take a little jumping on the hood to get the engine to start.

First thing I did was through the control panel that comes with my web hosting package,

  1. create a database for this project;
  2. using Putty, open a secure shell session (SSH);
  3. while in the root directory of my account (that is the directory below public_html or www) retrieved a copy of the latest distribution from SourceForge
  4. using tar, extract the files
  5. using chmod, change the file permissions, especially of the Readme.txt file so I could view it from my browser;
  6. using mysql from the command prompt, push data into the database;
  7. using pico, modify the Config.php;
  8. addressed the ‘php_flag register_globals off’ issue;
  9. and then proceeded to do all the cool browser-based stuff mentioned in the Readme.txt file.

Here are the commands I issued in order to give you an idea of how I went about the install:

wget http://aleron … /InfoCentral-1.2.6.tar.gz
cd $HOME/www
tar -zxvf $HOME/InfoCentral-1.2.6.tar.gz

chmod 755 -R infocentral
cd infocentral
chmod 644 index.html

cd Documentation
chmod 644 *.txt

cd ../SQL
mysql -u[SERNAME] -p[ASSWORD] [DBNAME]
The permissions thing bugged me, as I see it as a potential security issue. Perhaps in the future the great guys working ont his project will tar and gzip a file distribution that includes the correct file permissions so I didn’t have to hack about to get it to work.

Other than that, works as advertised. It’s fast. Seems very solid. I would probably suggest modifying the .htaccess file in the /infocentral directory so that access to the infocentral directory is additionally protected with basic authentication … yet one more level of security that can’t hurt.

John, hope that answers the question in a satisfactory manner. If you manage to get this installed, let us know … I’ve seen your website … and I think anyone who can manage the install of Fedora, PHP, Apache, MySQL and the above software could probably handle beating something like pMachine or WordPress into a content manglement system for their church.

Oh, and if anyone else out there has a similar solution, leave a comment.

9 Comments

  1. ‘Lo from another West Michigander…;)

    That is quite a variety of FP templates on your site…;)

  2. Why are you using MySQL. While MySQL is good for things like content and session management, it is lacking many features that make RDBMSs reliable and useful, like transactions, triggers, stored procedures, custon functions, etc.. The features could make development of membership software much easier.
    These freatures are available in PostgreSQL, Interbase, and commercial databases like Oracle and DB2.
    PHP and Perl have libraries that support all of the above databases, which also have ODBC drivers for both Unix and Win32 so they should be assessable from any platform.

  3. Y’know CG T .. while I appreciate the input, I’m not to keen on jumping on this guy for using one RDBMS over another.

    Yes, PostgreSQL has many features lacking in MySQL, but from the sounds of what John is doing, MySQL sounds like enough RDBMS for his needs.

    Similarly, not all hosting companies give you PostgreSQL, though more and more are … MySQL is everywhere, free and for the stated need, gets the job done.

    Remember, it’s not always about the most technically advanced tool … but the one that best suits the needs of the individual user.

  4. What I noticed on the road map for InfoCentral is that it looks like he’s planning on moving to the Java/J2EE platform. While I don’t have anything against J2EE, I think it’s a sad move since I believe it will seriously limit the number of churches (esp. small ones) that will be able to use the software. I like the LAMP platform, since it is free and able to run on a larger variety of hardware.

  5. I was so stoked to see that it was PHP/MySQL, totally my bag of worms. I would heavily suggest against using any J2EE at all! It’s so expensive to set up a server (if you want to do it right, and it takes way more time), it’s a pain to code in (redundancy abounds), and it’s slow. At least this has been my experience at work, on my personal projects I always use PHP/MySQL…such an awesome combo (although I’m considering adding support for MySQL Lite due to the new license restrictions). Anyways, just my two cents…

  6. Brothers and sisters,
    Thanks so much for all the quick help! I was able to get InfoCentral up and running without too much trouble. I do have to get all my data I want to import into CSV format, but no biggie there. A question for CJT: were you thinking of postgresql just for your choice of developing? Or were you thinking of it as the engine for InfoCentral? I used to use Informix SQL & 4GL, but it got way too expensive, and I had to focus my real attention and study on the main part of the pastorate. I have found mysql 4.1.1-alpha to be very stable, and it has had all the features I’ve wanted or needed to use so far. If I were developing the church software, maybe it would be a good switch to postgresql. I’ll post more later, once I start manipulating data, how I like InfoCentral, but it’s really looking good right now. One thing I didn’t see is a way to track attendance. I know it’s carnal. And I know that it was satan tempting David to number the fighting men of Israel, but Headquarters keeps expecting us to turn in averages!

    You all have a great day in Jesus!

    pastor john

  7. Brothers and sisters,
    Thanks so much for all the quick help! I was able to get InfoCentral up and running without too much trouble. I do have to get all my data I want to import into CSV format, but no biggie there. A question for CJT: were you thinking of postgresql just for your choice of developing? Or were you thinking of it as the engine for InfoCentral? I used to use Informix SQL & 4GL, but it got way too expensive, and I had to focus my real attention and study on the main part of the pastorate. I have found mysql 4.1.1-alpha to be very stable, and it has had all the features I’ve wanted or needed to use so far. If I were developing the church software, maybe it would be a good switch to postgresql. I’ll post more later, once I start manipulating data, how I like InfoCentral, but it’s really looking good right now. One thing I didn’t see is a way to track attendance. I know it’s carnal. And I know that it was satan tempting David to number the fighting men of Israel, but Headquarters keeps expecting us to turn in averages!

    You all have a great day in Jesus!

    pastor john

  8. Hi all. I’m the project leader of InfoCentral and just wanted to post a followup to some of the posts here regarding our choice to go J2EE. First of all, we are dividing into two subprojects. The PHP version is going to become InfoCentral Lite and the J2EE version will become InfoCentral Pro. (Both still free and GPL of course!) There is a team now preparing to re-write the PHP version using a more modern MVC and OO design. We are continuing the PHP version for now to meet the needs of small churches who often set it up on a cheap hosting provider. (which I really can’t recommend, but it’s their choice..)

    As for J2EE, there is plenty reason why this needs to be the direction for future development of InfoCentral and, in fact, all other Open Source enterprise software. PHP simply does not scale and does not offer the richness of development tools that J2EE does through the many open source projects implementing and surrounding it. There are a lot of misconceptions about J2EE that abound because many people/companies misuse/misunderstand it. It is not difficult/expensive to set up, it is not harder to develop for (past the learning curve), and it is certainly not slow (in fact, performance is one reason we are moving away from PHP’s limiting CGI-like architecture).

    PHP is only good for simple, lightweight web apps. J2EE is good for professional enterprise-class applications, which is what InfoCentral is going to become. In the end, InfoCentral development is going to become faster and far more professional and the software itself is going to become far more reliable, extensible and sophisticated.

  9. This is all very fascinating for me. You see, I wrote InfoCentral in the first place, back in…geez, 1999, I think.

    I open-sourced it, then handed it off to Chris in…2002, I think.

    You wanna know the irony here? My very own church doesn’t use it anymore. Why? They couldn’t print labels from it through AppleWorks.

    Sometimes it’s the little things that get you.