Joomla! Rescue: Backend login is gone!

I never know what I”m headed for when I receive contact from a client. Most times it’s just about something simple that they forgot how to do, but other times, I am truly amazed by the predicament that they have created. In this instance, we are examining Jane Doe’s site Number One. (The real names have been changed to protect the innocent.)   I was contacted by Jane because she was having trouble with her Joomla! site.  She described the problem as “not being able to login.”  So I open my browser, go to her site.  Everything appeared normal so far.  To be thorough,  I clicked on the administrator link even though she didn’t say anything about the backend.  I immediately understood her concern; there appeared nothing on the administrator login page, except the black and green bar in the header.  (It’s a bit difficult to login if there’s no form.)  My first step to solving a problem I did not create is to try to recreate it.  Wow.  Could I do that if I tried?  I examined the site files first, and everything was there, and appeared to be in an untampered state.  I tried a different browser to no avail.  Then I contacted the client for more information.  Seems she was in the back end, but only remembers editing articles.  That wasn’t going to help much and the thought of rebuilding the site was not a good one.  When the going gets rough, you have to get your hands dirty.  So I took a peek at the database.  First instincts are usually accurate, so I went with the users table first.  Hm, that’s odd.  Is it actually possible to have no administrator for a site?  Even the extra-special-super-top-secret login I created for emergencies was gone.   In fact, all her registered users were gone except herself, and she was assigned an access level of registered.  So I manually inserted a super admin and tried the admin login page again, after emptying my cache, of course.  Same.  If that was only part of the problem, then the next place to look would be in sessions.  I deleted the one session I found.  Tried the admin login again and success!  When I asked her if she had been editing users, she said, “Yes.  I didn’t want all those people using my site, and how did they get to be so high up?”  8| Explanation:  To the best of what I can guess,  this client saw the users manager and decided to go investigate.  She did not understand that a registered user is a visitor that has signed up to the site and that the access levels are not arranged highest to lowest in the dropdown list. She believed that all those registered users were a) able to edit the site and b) had more access because ”registered” appeared at the top of the access level list. So she deleted them, then busted herself down to registered, leaving no admin.   But she used that ”previously admin” account to login in the backend in the first place, so when the account access level changed form admin to registered, and she was already in the backend where registered can’t go, it created a paradox of sorts. I have yet to recreate this on a test site, but look forward to it! Ever have a similar situation? Any further insights would be welcomed.

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