Book Review: LINUX Web Server Toolkit

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A review of the LINUX Web Server Toolkit, a book that takes the reader completely through the procedure of building a web server.
  • Author: Nicholas Wells

  • Publishers: IDG Books Worldwide, Inc.

  • URL: http://www.idgbooks.com/

  • Price: $39.99 US

  • ISBN: 0-7645-3167-0

  • Reviewer: Keith P. de Solla

The LINUX Web Server Toolkit takes the reader completely through the procedure of building a web server, from planning to disaster recovery. The book comes with a CD containing Linux, Apache and a multitude of scripts and programs. The copy I received came with Caldera OpenLinux Lite, but I have seen bookstore copies with Red Hat Linux. This book provides a reasonable overview of all issues involved with setting up a web server. It cannot, of course, cover topics in the same level of detail as books such as O'Reilly's Apache, but it was not meant to do so.

The author assumes the reader has access to a computer, but does not assume detailed knowledge of Linux, web servers or the Internet. A novice should be able to use the information in this book to set up a web server, and an experienced user will also find information of value.

The 21 chapters are grouped into four parts: planning, installation, maintenance and adding advanced features to your web server.

Part I: Planning Your Web Site

Chapters 1 and 2 discuss non-technical issues related to creating a web site for a business and provide some background technical information for novices. Chapter 3 sells Linux as the choice platform for a web server, followed by a discussion of UNIX and Internet terminology in Chapter 4. Part I can be skimmed (or skipped) by more advanced users.

Part II: Installing Your Web Server

Chapter 5 reviews hardware requirements, then takes the reader through the steps of installing Linux. As I had no need to install an older version of Linux, I did not install anything from the CD. The book is not a replacement for a detailed installation guide, but does provide sufficient information so that a novice can install the software. While sparse (nine pages), the section on configuring XFree86 is quite well-written and should get most people through the “fun” of creating an XF86Config file. However, it does not provide a troubleshooting guide, so users with non-standard or “problem” hardware will need to read the HOWTOs and Release Notes. One important item missing is a warning that probing the video hardware may hang the computer. Novices need to know this, especially after learning that driving the monitor at too high a frequency can damage it. A brief discussion on network configuration follows.

Chapter 6 takes the user through installation and setup of both Apache and Netscape FastTrack web servers. FastTrack is a commercial product not included on the CD. Finally, Chapter 7 builds on the basic terminology of Chapter 3 and looks at connecting to the Internet in more detail. Over 90 pages cover everything from “what being connected means” to setting up DNS. The emphasis is on the requirements and available options for setting up a commercial web server.

Part III: Maintaining Your Site from Day to Day

Business issues such as advertising, search engines and gathering data are discussed briefly in Chapter 8; readers setting up personal web sites can skip it. Basic HTML is covered in Chapter 9, but not in any great depth. URLs are provided for HTML authoring tools and other information, but enough detail exists to allow a novice to create basic pages with tables, links and graphics. This information is expanded in Chapter 10 to include web site scripts and forms.

The rest of Part III (Chapters 11 to 14) covers configuration of the web server, additional services and collecting statistics. Chapter 11 is specific to Apache and provides a thorough overview, but the material is rather dated. (Apache v1.1.1 is included on the CD.) If you intend to set up a web server, I advise purchasing the O'Reilly book on Apache and visiting these web sites: http://www.apache.org/ and http:/www.apacheweek.com/.

As most people seem to be using Apache, I skipped Chapter 12 which describes configuring Netscape's Fastrack server. Chapter 13 discusses the pros and cons of web site statistics and provides URLs for web server statistical tools. Finally, Chapter 14 covers additional services such as FTP, e-mail, gopher and WAIS.

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