The Quick Road to an Intranet Web Server

Apache and Linux make the task simple.

On a recent project, I was busily working on my Linux workstation while a nearby coworker was attempting to install a well-known web server on a popular operating system. As the day wore on, his frustration grew. By the end of the day, he had most of the web server functioning, but was still experiencing difficulty with configuring certain portions of it.

Here was a man of proven technical abilities fighting to set up an Intranet web server for a project. It obviously wasn't a simple task. Through dogged determination, my friend eventually prevailed, but not without gaining a few gray hairs in the process.

I began to reflect on my own experience with web servers. The unobtrusive Linux workstation I was using (a 486/66 with 16 MB of memory and a 0.5 GB SCSI drive) was equipped with the Apache web server. Six months earlier, I had built this system from unused parts lying around our lab and installed Red Hat 4.2 on it. When I built the machine, it was my hope to demonstrate to my coworkers how impressive and substantial Linux had become.

What I hadn't expected was to find myself even more impressed with Linux and Apache as a result of my friend's experience.

When I installed Red Hat 4.2 on the machine, I simply specified that I wanted the Apache web server installed along with the other packages I selected. When the installation was complete, I simply aimed a browser at the newly installed machine and found a friendly little Red Hat-supplied web page staring at me, telling me which file to edit to begin loading content into my new web site.

No fussing with parameters or complex configuration was needed. I just began editing the default HTML file, and soon had a neat web site exemplifying the benefits of Linux.

Why an Intranet Web Server?

As corporations worldwide try to catch the Internet wave, more and more companies realize the need to build a decent Intranet in order to share information within their organization. Traditional paper documents, such as policy manuals, software documentation, design specifications, press releases and corporate announcements, are suddenly more accessible within the organization via an Intranet web server. New capabilities such as support discussions, document searches and audio and video archives are creating opportunities to increase the availability of information and to add to an organization's competitive advantage.

At the center of many of these technologies is the need for a robust and efficient Intranet web server. Yet even a casual glance at the commercial software solutions employed for developing an effective server will reveal that constructing one can be an expensive proposition.

Here is a place where Linux and Apache shine! The combination of the robust Linux operating system with the industry-leading Apache web server (see Resources) creates a flexible foundation for a low-cost, highly functional Intranet web site. Using Linux to solve a business problem is one of the best methods of convincing people that this operating system can hold its own in the corporate arena.

Of course, Linux and Apache can also be configured as a highly effective Internet web server. An Internet server requires all the elements of a good Intranet server, plus a good deal more. In particular, security and performance are usually much more critical in an Internet scenario. However, the issue of installing a web server into a less hostile internal network can be handled with ease, especially if you are using a Linux distribution which does most of the work for you.

What if your Linux distribution doesn't come with Apache preconfigured? The good news is that it doesn't take much to install Apache on most any Linux machine. It is possible to set up a working web server on your Intranet in just a few minutes without having to be a technical wizard.

How to Install

Installation of Apache is a snap using Red Hat 4.2, Debian 1.3.1, or OpenLinux Base 1.x. The Debian distribution goes through a short configuration dialogue (if in doubt, just press the ENTER key a few times), while the Red Hat and OpenLinux distributions have a more or less preconfigured installation. In all three distributions, the process of creating a working Intranet server takes neither experience nor a significant amount of time.

If your distribution doesn't have an Apache package, you can always obtain a source kit from http://www.apache.org/. Here's an example (using Apache 1.2.5) of the commands used to quickly unpack and build the program:

tar xzf apache_1.2.5.tar.gz
cd apache_1.2.5/src/
./Configure

If you have a different location to store the configuration files other than the default location of /usr/local/etc/apache/conf/, simply change the following line in src/httpd.h:

#define HTTPD_ROOT "/etc/httpd"
Note that the definition of HTTPD_ROOT does not include a closing slash. If you don't make the change in the file, but still want to move the configuration files, you will be able to specify the location of httpd.conf at startup time by using the -f option on the httpd command line.

Regardless of whether or not you decide to make the change above, the final step is to compile the web server. Just type make and the httpd executable will be created in the /src subdirectory. The source kit contains additional instructions in README and src/INSTALL should you wish to do anything fancy. A vanilla compile should work just fine for most situations.

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The Quick Road to an Intranet Web Server

Anonymous's picture

Thanks Russell. The help is appreciated.

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