Managing users in FixMyStreet

Members of the public who just want to report a problem often don't expect or want to create an account. They choose confirmation-by-email instead of logging in. Nonetheless FixMyStreet does offer admin capability for managing your users.

Regular users or staff can benefit from having an account – they can set a password to make future visits to the site easier. But this is not mandatory.

How users are normally created

You do not need to create users before the system goes live. Public user accounts are created during normal operation. In fact, it’s common to never create a user in the admin because the FixMyStreet site takes care of it for you..

A new user record is created when an email confirmation link is clicked (unless, of course, the user already exists with that email address). This process is automatic and, unless the user subsequently sets a password, most people don’t consider their interaction with FixMyStreet as being account-based. For example, around 70% of the users who have reported a problem on the UK’s fixmystreet.com site did not use a password (this effectively means: they did not consider creating an account).

Manually creating a new account (in the admin)

Sometimes it’s helpful to manually create a new account for someone – typically this is for a staff user (see below).

Firstly if you don’t have admin access, you’ll want to run the bin/createsuperuser script to create a user that has access to the admin.

You can create a new user account explicitly using the admin. Go to admin/users and fill in the form. A confirmation email is not sent to the email address if you create a new account in this way.

Users’ passwords

If a user sets a password, they can use it to login on future visits (instead of using a confirmation link in an email). We don’t make this mandatory.

Setting or changing a password

Any user can set a password by going to /auth and entering a password. A confirmation link is emailed in the same way as usual. Clicking on the link sets the password for future use, and also confirms the current session.

Changing a password is the same as setting it. A confirmation link is sent to the email, which they must click on before the change is made. There’s no need for the user to enter their old password when changing an existing one, because the authorisation is still sent as an email confirmation link anyway.

You cannot change a user’s password within the admin pages.

Storing passwords

Passwords are hashed (one-way encryption) when they are stored in the database. You cannot recover a user’s password; if they forget it, they must set a new one.

Changing a user’s email address

You can change a user’s email address or name by finding their record at admin/users and changing the entry there. Email addresses must be unique.

When users misbehave

Occasionally a user repeatedly posts inappropriate or vexations posts. In our experience this is much less common than most people expect. However, it’s a problem that arises from time to time. As administrator of your installation, there are two actions you can take. Firstly, you can flag a user, which is just a way of marking them (in the admin) so you and other administrators know to keep an eye on them. Secondly, you can add their email address to the “abuse table”.

Flagging a user

Flagging a user has no practical effect, other than to mark the user as one whose actions need to be checked. You can see the flagged users by going to admin/flagged.

Blocking a user’s email address

If a user persistently abuses your installation, by repeatedly creating inappropriate or false reports, for example, you can ban them. If a user creates a report while they are banned, they are automatically hidden and not sent to the bodies (see how FixMyStreet sends reports).

To add a user to the ‘abuse table’, go to the admin pages and find any report they have created. Click on ban email address.

Users are not automatically notified that they have been banned.

How you know when a user is misbehaving

The default behaviour of FixMyStreet is not to moderate reports before they are displayed (although at least one cobrand does support this). Instead, every report displayed on the FixMyStreet site has a “report abuse” link, so anyone can notify you if inappropriate content has been posted. You can hide a report (go to /admin/reports to find it, and mark it as hidden) and optionally flag or ban its creator. On some installations, staff users can hide reports themselves. Hiding a report usually occurs after it’s already been sent to the body responsible (you’re simply hiding it from view on the FixMyStreet website).

Staff user accounts (associated with a body)

You can mark any FixMyStreet user as belonging to a body. This marks them as a “staff user” for that body. Staff users have extra privileges which only apply to problem reports under the jurisdiction of the body to which the use belongs. These permissions can be set on a per-user basis.

To set (or revoke) staff user status, choose Users in the admin, and enter the email or name. (It’s also possible to access a user via the reports they have made). Choose the appropriate body from the Body dropdown. Normal (not staff) users have no body associated. Then you can assign permissions to that user, depending upon what they require access to.

For full details of what staff accounts can do, please see the dedicated staff user page.

How FixMyStreet user sessions work

The following information about sessions is here in case you need to understand how it works. For normal operation, you don’t need to worry about it.

By default, FixMyStreet uses email confirmation links, text confirmation codes, or Facebook/Twitter login tokens, to check that the user is a genuine person, with access to the email address/phone number they have provided. Even if Facebook/Twitter are used, the site still performs email confirmation.

So FixMyStreet uses the email address or phone number as the key piece of information when identifying a user. For email authentication, it sends a confirmation link – with a unique token within it – to the specified email address when an unidentified user performs a task that requires authentication, such as submitting a report, or changing their password. For phone authentication, it sends a confirmation code by text.

Clicking on a valid email confirmation link, or entering a text confirmation code, not only confirms the action it was created for (for example, the report is marked as confirmed, or the password is changed), but also starts a user session. This means that, for the remainder of the session, other such actions do not trigger further email confirmations. This is an nonintrusive way of authenticating report submissions without explicitly using usernames, or accounts, and is a deliberate part of FixMyStreet’s design.

It is nonetheless possible to set a password, and log into FixMyStreet using the email address as the identifier. Regular users, of course, use this mechanism. When this happens, a user session is created when they log in.

A sign out link is shown on a user’s account page once a user session has begun. Clicking on it ends the session. User sessions are browser sessions: they automatically expire when the user’s browser shuts down.