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Want to simplify your Blogcfc (or other Lyla-based) captcha? Here's the XML file.

Want to simplify your BlogCFC (or other Lyla-based) captcha? Just grab this updated xml file:

right-click and save this updated xml file

If you're using BlogCFC, you can just drop it into your /blog/client/includes directory (saving your old one to restore if needed, and you may need run the query string option "?reinit=1" to reload blogCFC settings.)

This will instantly your captcha will change from this:

to this:

I've confirmed that the original captcha.xml is the same between releases 5.005 and 5.5 beta 1, where Ray is now including the changed XML file himself in the product itself.

For those curious about what I mean by "simplifying", a few weeks ago I wrote an entry explaining how you could simply your Captcha to just a couple of letters, with a much easier read background and format. I also proposed why I think it's ok. We bloggers don't need to keep out really determined hackers (with a double-keyed deadbolt lock), we just need to keep out the annoying pests (with a screen door).

Since that post, many bloggers have indeed taken up the suggestion, but I have seen blogs where some commenters have pointed our my older entry, with the blogger's saying, "I do plan to get to it". That other entry offered the specific steps to change the captcha.xml file, but if you haven't changed it yourself since implementing BlogCFC, just drop this in. Of course, if you want to do a comparison to make sure, there are lots of good compare tools. My favorite is BeyondCompare.

Simplifying the captcha graphic in Lyla Captcha (and BlogCFC)

Wish you could simplify your captcha's? If you use Peter Farrell's Lyla Captcha, as I do because it's embedded in Ray's BlogCFC, I'll show a few quick changes you can make that will make them much easier for your users to read.

Sound counter-intuitive? Aren't captcha's supposed to be difficult to read, to hamper spammers? In my last entry, I made a call for simplifying captchas and why they aren't all bad. As a blog owner who uses them to weed out the random spambots who would otherwise clog my comments and feedback mechanisms, I like captchas, and I'm grateful for the work Peter's done.

That said, I have to admit that as I've encountered them in the blogs of others, I've grown a tad weary of their complexity. They require the user to type several characters and have several swirly ovals, random lines, and a wavy background. Frankly they're quite hard to read, and it would be a shame to lose commenters for that reason.

hard captcha

Again, the intent is to make it hard for some spammer to scan the captcha request somehow and figure out what's being requested so as to automate around it. Fair enough, but as I said in my last entry I'm really not that concerned about protecting my site from determined break-ins. I'm not a bank. I just want to keep out the automated pests.

With just a couple of changes to Lyla's captcha.xml file, you'll have a much simplified captcha, if you want one.

hard captcha

Lyla is highly customizable

On a lark, I decided to try to find out if Lyla might just be modifiable to dial down the intensity. Turns out it is, by simple changes in the lyla captcha.xml file, as documented in this PDF. Thanks again, Peter! :-)

After a few simple tweaks, I reduced my captcha to just asking for 3 characters, all lowercase, without all the swirly ovals, lines, and wavy background.

Changing Lyla's captcha.xml

In BlogCFC, the captcha.xml file is located in blog\client\includes (or just \includes if you've installed the blog client directory as your webroot.)

To effect the change I wanted, I ended up with the following values for the following entries. Again, see the docs for more info:

<config name="randStrType" value="alphaLcase"/>
<config name="randStrLen" value="3"/>
<config name="fontColor" value="dark"/>
<config name="backgroundColor" value="light"/>
<config name="useGradientBackground" value="false"/>
<config name="backgroundColorUseCyclic" value="false"/>
<config name="useOvals" value="false"/>
<config name="useBackgroundLines" value="false"/>
<config name="useForegroundLines" value="false"/>

You can change them to suit your taste. Note that if you do change the randStrLen, the value selected represents the "average" length of the string that users will be asked to enter, and may vary by +/- 1 from that.

Make the changes, and check 'em out for yourself. Note that with Ray's BlogCFC, you need to reinitialize the blog (add ?reinit=1 to your blog URL) to see the changes. What I did was had one browser page open to do that, and another sitting on a blog comment form. After running the reinit, I could then just reload the comment page to see the impact. (If there's a still-simpler way to test changes to the captcha.xml, let me know.)

If you don't use BlogCFC, then you have to re-instantiate the captcha object after making changes to the XML file. If you've stored it in a shared scope (like application), you need to run some code that reloads it. Of course, restarting ColdFusion will also reload the CFC in whatever scope you stored it in.

Conclusion

Making these changes won't solve the accessibility problems some have with captchas, and it certainly could increase the risk of a determined spammer more easily breaking your captcha. As I said in the last entry, I doubt that's a real concern for most of us. If it proves to be so, then you can dial the intensity back up.

I just want to keep from annoying my readers, and I hope others will consider these changes to keep from annoying us all. :-)

PS: I do realize that one could skip the captcha graphic entirely and just go to prompting the user for a random string. That may just a bit "too" easy for a spambot to get around. To each his own.

Thanking Peter

One last note: while Peter certainly appreciates your kind comments (and do share them, as I'm sure many don't bother), those who REALLY appreciate his work should note that he gratefully accepts contributions by way of his Amazon Wishlist or you may may make a donation with PayPal, using his address, pjf@maestropublishing.com.

Captchas: making them simpler, and dialing down the angst against them

Most by now understand what captchas are. Some love 'em, some hate 'em. I want to dial down the rhetoric some with this perspective: as a blog owner fighting frequent spam in comments and trackbacks, captchas (in some form, not necessarily a graphic) have their place to keep out spambots, and they can indeed be simplified (even the graphics ones) and at no loss of benefit. My bottom line: I don't use them as a double-key deadbolt lock to keep out intruders, I just use them as a screendoor to keep out random pests.

If you use Peter Farrell's Lyla Captcha, which I use because it's embedded in Ray's BlogCFC, in the next entry I'll show a few quick changes you could make in the Lyla captcha.xml file to make them much easier to read, going from this
hard captcha
to this
simple captcha.

Before that, I just want to expand on those thoughts above on the general angst against captcha's, and why I think it's ok to make them easier to read.

The Haters

I realize that some have gone to great lengths to decry captchas primarily because they are not "accessible" (to those using screenreaders), though audio ones help solve that.

Others simply hate them because they're too darned difficult to read. I've surely seen that, even in the ones created by default in Lyla (thus my next entry on addressing that).

Now, while most use a graphic that a user must read, it's not the only approach. As the previous link discusses, other approaches include simpler approaches like asking the reader to add some numbers or answer a question (that only a human could reasonably do).

But the other complaint is that they give those who use them a false sense of security, because they can be easily broken, even the graphic ones.

But my Blog is Not a Bank

Here's the thing: my blog is not a bank. While the difficulty in breaking a captcha may be important to a bank or commercial site trying to use them for authentication, I just want to make it hard for an automated spambot to post crap in my blog comments and trackback forms. If you have any similar king of input form on a publicly accessible site, you may suffer similar problems.

I really can't believe anyone would go to the lengths of scanning and breaking the captcha on my site (random as it is) to get a crap spam comment into my lil' ol' blog. And some of the comments are just nonsense; it's not like they're trying to drive traffic to another site or something--so the popularity of my (or your) site isn't the issue. It's just the annoyance factor (both to me as I get notified of comments and to readers who would have to sift through them if I didn't delete them as I do now).

Having made the case for why a simpler captcha may suffice for some purposes, in the next entry I'll show how to control the degree of difficulty in reading them for captchas built using Lyla Captcha.

BlogCFC was created by Raymond Camden. This blog is running version 5.005. (Want to validate the html in this page?)

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