This is going to be a rather technical post, coupled with a smattering of rants about Facebook so those of you uninterested in such things might just wanna skip this one.
As part of my work on my new company, I'm building a syncroniser for status updates between Twitter, Facebook, and our site. Eventually, it'll probably include additional services like Flickr, but for now, I'm just focusing on these two external systems.
A Special Case
Reading this far, you might think that this isn't really all that difficult for either Twitter or Facebook. After all, both have rather well-documented and heavily used APIs for pushing and pulling data to and from a user's stream, so why bother writing about it? Well for those with my special requirements, I found that Facebook has constructed a tiny, private hell, one in which I was trapped for four days over the Christmas break. In an effort to save others from this pain, I'm posting my experiences here. If you have questions regarding this setup, or feel that I've missed something, feel free to comment here and I'll see what I can do for you.
So, lets start with my special requirements. The first stumbler was the fact that my project is using Python, something not officially supported by Facebook. Instead, they've left the job to the community which has produced two separate libraries with different interfaces and feature sets.
Second, I wasn't trying to syncronise the user streams. Instead, I needed push/pull rights for the stream on a Facebook Page, like those created for companies, politicians, famous people, or products. Facebook claims full support for this, but in reality it's quite obvious that these features have been crowbared into the overall design, leaving gaping holes in the integration path.
What Not to Do
- Don't expect Facebook to do the right/smart thing. Everything in Facebookland can be done in one of 3 or 4 ways and none of them do exactly what you want. You must accept this.
- Don't try to hack Facebook into submission. It doesn't work. Facebook isn't doing that thing that makes sense because they forgot or didn't care to do it in the first place. Accept it and deal. If you try to compose elaborate tricks to force Facebook's hand, you'll only burn 8 hours, forget to eat or sleep in the process and it still won't work.
What to Do
Step 1: Your basic Facebook App
If you don't know how to create and setup a basic canvas page in Django, this post is not for you. Go read up on that and come back when you're ready.
You need a simple app so for starters get yourself a standard "Hello World" canvas page that requires a login. You can probably do this in minifb, but PyFacebook makes this easy since it comes with handy Django method decorators:
from django.http import HttpResponse, HttpResponseRedirect
return HttpResponse("Hello World")
Step 2: Ask the User to Grant Permissions
This will force the user to add your application before proceeding, which is all fine and good but that doesn't give you access to much of anything you want, so we'll change the view to use a template that asks the user to click on a link to continue:
from django.shortcuts import render_to_response
from django.template import RequestContext
Note what I mentioned above, that we're asking the user to click on a link rather than issuing a redirect. I fought with Facebook for a good few hours to get this to happen all without user-input and it worked... sometimes. My advice is to just go with the user-clickable link. That way seems fool-proof (so far).
Here's our template:
<!-- canvas.fbml -->
<p>To enable the syncronisation, you'll need to grant us permission to read/write to your Facebook stream. To do that, just <a href="http://www.facebook.com/connect/prompt_permissions.php?api_key=de33669a10a4219daecf0436ce829a2e&v=1.0&next=http://apps.facebook.com/myappname/granted/%3fxxRESULTTOKENxx&display=popup&ext_perm=read_stream,publish_stream,offline_access&enable_profile_selector=1">click here</a>.
See that big URL? It's option #5 (of 6) for granting extended permissions to a Facebook App for a user. It's the easiest to use and hasn't broken for me yet (Numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 all regularly complained about silly things like not having the app instaled when this was not the case, but your milage may vary). Basically, the user will be directed to a page asking her to grant read_stream, publish_stream, and offline_access to your app on whichever pages or users she selects from the list of pages she administers. Details for modifying this URL can be found in the Facebook Developer Wiki.
Step 3: Understanding Facebook's Hackery
So you see how in the previous section, adding enable_profile_selector=1 to the URL will tell Facebook to ask the user to specify which pages to which she'd like to grant these shiny new permissions? Well that's nifty and all, but they don't tell you which pages the user selected.
When the permission questions are finished, Facebook does a POST to the URL specified in next=. The post will include a bunch of cool stuff, including the all important infinite session key and the user id doing all of this, but it doesn't tell you anything about the choices made. You don't even know what page ids were in the list, let alone which ones were selected to have what permissions. Nice job there Facebook.
Step 4: The Workaround
My workaround for this isn't pretty, and worse, depends on a reasonably intelligent end-user (not always a healthy assumption), but after four days cursing Facebook for their API crowbarring, I could come up with nothing better. Basically, when the user returns to us from the permissioning steps, we capture that infinite session id, do a lookup for a complete list of pages our user maintains and then bounce them out of Facebook back to our site to complete the process by asking them to tell us what they just told Facebook. I'll start with the page defined in next=:
from cPickle import dumps as pickle
from urllib import quote as encode
from myproject.myapp.models import FbGetPageLookup
"redirect": "http://mysite.com/social/facebook/link/?session=%s&pages=%s" % (
def FbGetPageLookup(fb, uid):
page_id IN (
uid = %s
""" % uid)
The above code will fetch a list of page ids from Facebok using FQL, and coupling it with the shiny new infinite session key, bounce the user out of Facebook and back to your site where you'll use that info to re-ask the user about which page(s) you want them to link to Facebook.
Step 5: Capture That page_id
How you capture and store the page id is up to you. For me, I had to create a list of organisations we're storing locally and let the user compare that list of organisations to the list of Facebook Pages and make the links appropriately. Your process will probably be different. Regardless of how you do it, just make sure that for every page you wish to syncronise with Facebook, you have a session_key and page_id.
Step 6: Push & Pull
Because connectivity with Facebook (and Twitter) is notonoriously flakey, I don't recommend doing your syncronisation in real-time unless your use-case demands it. Instead, run the code via cron, or better yet as a daemon operating on a queue depending on the amount of data you're playing with. However you do it, the calls are the same:
# Setup your connection
fb = facebook.Facebook(settings.FACEBOOK_API_KEY, settings.FACEBOOK_SECRET_KEY)
infinitesessionkey = "your infinite session key from facebook"
pageid = "the page id the user picked"
# To push to Facebook:
# To pull from Facebook:
And that's it. It looks pretty complicated, and... well it is. For the most part, Facebook's documentation is pretty thorough, it's just that certain features like this page_id thing appear to have fallen off their radar. I'm sure that they'll change it in a few months though, which will make my brain hurt again :-(