Linkfest Friday…

Let’s start things off with some links. Web development’s been on my mind the last few days. There’s a whole other world I’ve been wanting to explore for a couple of years, and I’ve finally collected the information that’ll let me do it.
Redirecting virus attacks — Your neighbor’s got Nimda? Here’s how to get his IIS server to quit harassing your Apache server. (Suggests redirecting to a bogus address; I’m inclined to redirect either to 127.0.0.1 or www.microsoft.com, personally.)

DJG’s help setting up MySQL. Apache, MySQL and PHP are a fabulous combination, but bootstrapping it can be a painful process. People talk about writing a sendmail.cf file as their loss of innocence, but I’ve written one of those and I’ve tried to set up the LAMP quartet. The sendmail.cf file was easier because there’s a whole lot more written about it.

Short version: Use Debian. Forget all the other distributions, because they’ll install the pieces, but rarely do they put the conduits in place for the three pieces to talk. It’s much easier to just download and compile the source. If that doesn’t sound like fun to you, use Debian and save some heartache. If you’re stuck with the distro you have, download ApacheToolbox and use it. You’ll probably have to configure your C/C++ compiler and development libraries. That’s not as bad as it sounds, but I’m biased. I’ve compiled entire distributions by hand–to the point that I’ve taken Linux From Scratch, decided I didn’t like some of the components they used because they were too bloated for me, and replaced them with slimmer alternatives. (The result mostly worked. Mostly.) You’ve gotta be a bit of a gearhead to take that approach.

Debian’s easier. Let’s follow that. Use this command sequence:

apt-get install apache
apt-get install php4-mysql
apt-get install mysql-server

Next, edit /etc/apache/httpd.conf. There’s a commented-out line in there that loads the php4 module. Uncomment that. Just search for php. It’ll be the third or fourth instance. Also, search for index.html. To that line, add the argument index.php. If you make index.php the first argument, access to PHP pages will be slightly faster. Pull out any filetypes you’re not using–if you’ll never make an index page called anything but index.html or index.php, pull the others and Apache will perform better.

Got that? Apache’s configured. Yes, the php installation could make those changes for you. It doesn’t. I’m not sure why. But trust me, this is a whole lot less painful than it is under Red Hat.

But you’re not ready to go just yet. If you try to go now, MySQL will just deny everything. Read this to get you the rest of the way.

Once you’ve got that in place, there are literally thousands of PHP and PHP/MySQL apps and applets out there. If you can imagine it, you can build it. If HTML is a 2D world, PHP and MySQL are the third and fourth dimension.

Am I going to be playing in that world? You’d better believe it. How soon? It depends on how quickly I can get my content whipped into shape for importing.

This is the holy grail. My first editing job was doing markup for the Digital Missourian, which the faculty at the University of Missouri School of Journalism believe was the first electronic newspaper (it came into being in 1986 or so). By the time I was working there in the late summer of 1995, it had been on the ‘Net for several years. About eight of us sat in a room that was originally a big storage closet, hunched in front of 486s, pulling stories off the copydesk, adding HTML markup, and FTPing them to a big Unix cluster on the MU campus. We ran a programmable word processor called DeScribe, and we worked out some macros to help speed along the markup.

No big operation works that way anymore. There aren’t enough college students in the world. You feed your content to a database, be it Oracle or IBM DB2 or Microsoft SQL Server or MySQL or PostgresSQL. Rather than coding in straight HTML, you use a scripting language–be it PHP or ASP–that queries the database, pulls the content, applies a template, and generates the HTML on the fly. The story goes from the copy editor’s desk to the Web with no human intervention.

There are distinct advantages to this approach even for a small-time operation like me. Putting the content in a database gives you much more versatility. Some people want overdesigned Web sites. Some want something middle-ground, like this one. Others want black text on a gray background like we had in 1994. You can offer selectable formats to them. You can offer printer-friendly pages. You can even generate PDFs on the fly if you want–something some sites are doing now in an effort to gain revenue. If you have content from various sources, you can slice and dice and combine it in any imaginable way.

I can’t wait.

3 thoughts on “Linkfest Friday…

  • February 15, 2002 at 3:36 am
    Permalink

    Heh…

  • February 15, 2002 at 1:02 pm
    Permalink

    My vote goes to "dan" for "Best Comment Ever" award. 😉

    Great article, Dave. So when are you going to start writing for a Linux journal?

  • February 15, 2002 at 3:03 pm
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    When I have something worth sharing. I’ve kicked around the idea of doing a Linux Gazette article or two and maybe writing a HOWTO just to get my name out. But I want to have actually done a little more production-level Linux before I start taking money for my blather. Ivory tower talk isn’t worth anything.

    But thanks for the encouragement.

    As for Dan’s comment, who knows which part he found amusing. I was talking to him over e-mail as I was learning most of this junk yesterday, so he probably guessed in advance what I’d be talking about.

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