Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

Setting up a test web server on Ubuntu

1st November 2007

Installing all of the bits and pieces is painless enough so long as you know what’s what; Synaptic does make it thus. Interestingly, Ubuntu’s default installation is a lightweight affair with the addition of any additional components involving downloading the packages from the web. The whole process is all very well integrated and doesn’t make you sweat every time you to install additional software. In fact, it resolves any dependencies for you so that those packages can be put in place too; it lists them, you select them and Synaptic does the rest.

Returning to the job in hand, my shopping list included Apache, Perl, PHP and MySQL, the usual suspects in other words. Perl was already there as it is on many UNIX systems so installing the appropriate Apache module was all that was needed. PHP needed the base installation as well as the additional Apache module. MySQL needed the full treatment too, though its being split up into different pieces confounded things a little for my tired mind. Then, there were the MySQL modules for PHP to be set in place too.

The addition of Apache preceded all of these but I have left it until now to describe its configuration, something that took longer than for the others; the installation itself was as easy as it was for the others. However, what surprised me were the differences in its configuration set up when compared with Windows. Same software, different operating system and they have set up the configuration files differently. I have no idea why they did this and it makes no sense at all to me; we are only talking about text files after all. The first difference is that the main configuration file is called apache2.conf in Ubuntu rather than httpd.conf as in Windows. Like its Windows counterpart, Ubuntu’s Apache does uses subsidiary configuration files. However, there is an additional layer of configurability added courtesy of a standard feature of UNIX operating systems: symbolic links. Rather than having a single folder with the all configuration files stored therein, there are two pairs of folders, one pair for module configuration and another for site settings: mods-available/mods-enabled and sites-available/sites-enabled, respectively. In each pair, there is a folder with all of the files and another containing symbolic links. It is the presence of a symbolic link for a given configuration file in the latter that activates it. I learned all this when trying to get mod_rewrite going and changing the web server folder from the default to somewhere less susceptible to wrecking during a re-installation or, heaven forbid, a destructive system crash. It’s unusual but it does work, even if it takes that little bit longer to get things sorted out when you first meet up with it.

Apart from the Apache set up and finding the right things to install, getting a test web server up and running was a fairly uneventful process. All’s working well now and I’ll be taking things forward from here; making website Perl scripts compatible with their new world will be one of the next things that need to be done.

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