At the Forge - Blosxom
Weblogs, or blogs, have grown dramatically in popularity over the past few years. Only a few people wrote blogs in the mid- and late 1990s, but now the blogging phenomenon is an overwhelming trend. Indeed, blogging is becoming so widespread that the New York Times Magazine published an article about it earlier this year—concentrating on high-school students who write their own blogs.
For example, as I write this, the Democratic primaries currently are in high gear, and every candidate has at least one official Weblog. Professional and armchair political commentators have set up their own blogs to analyze and counter claims the candidates make in their blogs and elsewhere.
Last month, we looked at COREBlog, a Zope product that makes it easy to create your own Weblog. Of course, COREBlog requires that you have a copy of Zope at your disposal and that you can install and modify products. Not everyone has this luxury, whereas almost every Web hosting provider makes it possible to run CGI programs written in Perl on your Web site. For this reason, many of the most popular blogging packages are small programs that do not raise the ire of an ISP.
This month, we look at Blosxom (pronounced blossom), a Weblog package written in Perl and designed to be run as a CGI program on a Web site. Blosxom was written by Rael Dornfest, a programmer at O'Reilly and Associates. I initially wrote off Blosxom as an unrealistic tool for blogging, assuming that its small size was indicative of its abilities. But Blosxom's power is not only in its strong feature set but in the way it allows us to mix and match functionalities.
Installing Blosxom should be a piece of cake for anyone with experience working with a Web server. It consists of a single CGI program written in Perl. In my case, all I had to do was copy the file, blosxom.cgi, to /usr/local/apache/cgi-bin, and I was up and running.
Of course, every piece of software requires at least a bit of configuration, and Blosxom is no exception. All of the configuration is handled by a few Perl variables at the top of the program. Comments make the purpose of each variable relatively clear. To configure Blosxom for my system, for example, I changed the following variables:
$blog_title: the title of the Weblog as it appears to users and in the RSS syndication feed.
$blog_description: blog description that appears on the front page and in the RSS feed.
$datadir: each entry in a Blosxom Weblog actually is a text file on disk somewhere; $datadir defines where those files should reside.
I tested Blosxom by creating a simple text file in $datadir, introduction.txt:
This is a test entry. <p>Hello!</p>
As Weblog entries go, this one was pretty boring. But it was interesting to see how this entry appears in my Weblog, preceded by a date, followed by a timestamp and a permanent link and with the first line boldfaced, as if it were a headline or title.
In other words, you can add entries to a Blosxom Weblog simply by creating new text files in the data directory. Any file ending with the value of $file_extension, which is txt by default, is considered a Weblog entry. This way, Emacs backup files, which end with ~, never are considered entries. But, if you are like me and have the habit of saving often while writing, you might be surprised to discover that your Weblog is being updated as you write it, live and for the whole world to see. If you want to work in the background, simply leave the .txt extension off the filename until you're ready to publish it.
On my workstation, where I installed Blosxom in the main cgi-bin directory, I can see my Blosxom blog as http://localhost/cgi-bin/blosxom.cgi.
Blosxom assigns a date and time to an entry based on the timestamp of the file that was created. Because I created the file on February 11, at 4PM, the Weblog entry was timestamped with that time. This means you can change the timestamp of a file retroactively with the touch command, as in:
touch -t 200401011500 testing.txt
The above command modifies the date of the file testing.txt to 3PM on January 1, 2004. (If testing.txt does not exist already, it is created.) Although this might go against the etiquette of the Weblog universe, it certainly is possible.
More interestingly, you can modify the time of a Weblog entry to be in the future, using the same touch command on the command line. If the $show_future_entries configuration variable is set to 1, entries with such future dates are displayed all of the time. But in the default configuration, entries are displayed only when their date matches the current date. This means you can time-bomb your entries to be displayed on a particular time and date.
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