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Enrolment: SHEBanG

enrol_shebang
This enrollment plugin provides a way to consume Banner® messages generated from Luminis Message Broker (LMB). This module is not an Ellucian product, and is neither endorsed nor supported by Ellucian.
Maintained by: Fred Fred Woolard

SHEBanG enrolment plugin/module for Banner(r) data import.

The SHEBanG enrolment plugin is designed to import Luminis Message Broker (LMB) messages containing data sent from a Banner installation. The messages are POSTed by LMB to a specified URL; that URL should end up resolving to enrol/shebang/secure/post.php either by means of direct address, symbolic link, or Apache server configuration (e.g. alias). An alternate method of import is the file upload feature.

There already is an enrolment plugin, LMB, developed by Eric Merrill that processes Banner data, and has many more configuration options and features. We had used Eric's plugin for several years at Appalachian State with only a few basic alterations.

So why write a new one? Why reinvent?

There were a few reasons:

  • In our particular installtion of Banner/LMB, we kept getting several essentially identical messages which resulted in duplicate rows in one of the staging tables. Normally not a big problem, but eventually the staging table becomes bloated with duplicates.
  • We also wanted to log each of the XML messages received, but not in the database. Putting them in a text file is more practical for us.
  • Messages sent by the LMB are logged to the file-system in the Moodle data directory rather than the database; this message log file is locked while the message is being processed in order to serialize message processing.
  • In the case where additional data from the XML message was needed, a regular expression had to be added--most often this is simple enough given an existing pattern from which to start, but in some instances where the message format changes ever so slightly (e.g. recstatus), it makes more sense to use DOMXPath queries to extract message data. XMLParser is used to break up the input, whether from file or posted XML, into the principle elements we want (person, group, and membership), and from that point use the DOMDocument and DOMXPath to query for the needed values.

Some other differences:

  • Messages imported from a file are not logged since there's already a source file.
  • A cross-list course parent is created only when the first message for that cross-list arrives, and then it will be created by making a copy of the child course.
  • An option to populate the Moodle user's idnumber column with the SCTID/Banner userid, rather than the Luminis sourcedid/id.
  • The only cron activity is the monitor for last message arrival time. Some Moodle sites may have a very frequent cron activity (5-10 min) so it didn't seem practical to put dir/file check tasks in a common script--rather use a dedicated cron task, if needed at all, for the Banner extract/batch-file imports.

INSTALLATION

Place the shebang directory in the site's enrol directory. Access the notifications page (Admin block->Notifications) to initiate database setup, then access the Plugins administration menu (Site Administration->Plugins-Enrolments) to first configure and then enable the plugin.

Configure your Banner/LMB to POST messages to the URL corresponding to the enrol/shebang/secure/post.php file, for example: http://moodle.someuniversity.edu/enrol/shebang/secure/post.php

* * * * * * * * * I M P O R T A N T * * * * * * * * *

THIS URL NEEDS TO BE SECURED IN SOME FASHION TO PREVENT UNAUTHORIZED USERS FROM INJECTING ERRANT DATA INTO YOUR DATABASE. THE METHODS FOR SECURING THIS URL INCLUDE, BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO, APACHE HTTP AUTH CONFIGURED--IDEALLY WITH SSL--AT THE SERVER/VHOST/DIRECTORY LEVEL OR WITH AN .htaccess FILE. ANOTHER OPTION, IS TO USE THE AUTHENTICATION FEATURE IN THE MODULE, BUT AGAIN IT IS STRONGLY RECOMMENDED TO USE A SECURE SOCKET CONNECTION IN ADDITION TO HTTP BASIC OR DIGEST AUTHENTICATION SINCE EITHER THE USERID/PWD INFORMATION WILL BE EXPOSED WHEN SENT IN CLEAR-TEXT (BASIC) OR THE (DIGEST) HASH WILL BE EXPOSED. There is no Moodle authentication protection in the post.php since it is intended that only Banner LMB will be accessing this URL and a separate userid/password will be configured by the Moodle server admin and shared with the Luminis admins.

CONSIDERATIONS FOR BLOCKING ISSUES

Because SHEBanG serializes message processing using a file lock, it is possible, in some cases likely, that a blocking bottleneck will take place when a large number of messages are sent by Banner/LMB at or near the same time. To mitigate the risk of the all the Apache worker processes being occupied and blocked, and thus freezing out the application end-users, consider setting up another Apache daemon to handle LMB messages exclusively on an alternate port such as 8080. In this way you can tailor the configured number of initial, max-min spare worker processes, etc., and if these processes should become consumed, the end-users will not be impacted.

HOW ENTITIES ARE ASSOCIATED AND REFERENCED

Courses

A staging record in the [mdl_enrol_shebang_section] table is inserted or updated, using the message's sourcedid value (the CRN) as the alternate key. This same value is placed in the [mdl_course](idnumber) column so that table can be queried directory. The course's (idnumber) value can not be changed after that or the association will be lost.

Users

Moodle 1.9
A staging record in the [mdl_enrol_shebang_person] table is inserted or updated, using the value (the Luminis Id for that Banner identity, distinct from the Banner identity value). Susbsequent messages for this person will use this so we need to use this as an alternate identifying key value. A message also contains the value, the Banner identity, and it's this value that is placed in the [mdl_user] (idnumber) column.

So, upon arrival of a message, and after the staging record is handled, the [mdl_user] table is queried on the (idnumber) column for the SCTID value. If no record is found, then an attempt is made to insert one, otherwise the found record is updated.

Because other columns in the [mdl_user] table are unique (enforced either by the application or the database), a collision on email or username will prevent the insert. In such cases, manual inspection of the existing user account should be done to determine if it can be deleted (no access, no enrolments, etc.) or if it should be associated with the corresponding [mdl_enrol_shebang_person] row by placing the appropriate Banner identity value in the user's (idnumber) column.

Until any such collision is resolved, course enrollments for that person/user will fail since no association exists between the person entity and the user entity.

Moodle 2.x
A new option was added for the 2.x version to allow selection of what is placed in the [mdl_user](idnumber) column--either the SCTID value, or the Luminis Id value. The referenced [mdl_user](id) column value is now placed in the [enrol_shebang_person] table.

Contributors

Fred
Fred Woolard (Lead maintainer)
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Comments RSS

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  • Picture of Justin Litalien
    Fri, Mar 14, 2014, 4:06 AM
    Hi Fred, we recently upgraded to your latest 2.5 build (20131008) and noticing some different behavior regarding non-payment users. These users are being identified in course Gradebooks as "suspended" and greyed out. This has just started happening to us so we wonder if something in the latest build has changed? Normally, we'd expect the user to simply be removed. Any thoughts?
  • Fred
    Thu, Mar 20, 2014, 2:24 AM
    Justin,

    First, apologies for the delay in responding.

    Yes, there is a little different behavior in the latest version. The plugin now differentiates between an enrollment that has been removed vs. an enrollment that is suspended/inactive.

    IMS/LMB messages support that distinction, so I thought the plugin ought to as well. On our campus the registrar would suspend a student's enrollments temporarily while administrative issues had to be resolved--but they most always reinstate the student. In this manner, It gives the instructor a more accurate status of enrollments rather than to remove the student.

    I've also updated the plugin so the capability to remove the enrollment can be granted to the instructor.

    Please, let me know if there is anything else I can do to help.
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