Using Wikis and Blogs to Ease Administration

This tutorial on TWiki and WordPress shows how wikis and blogs can be useful for system administration and documentation.
WordPress

There are a lot of blog software packages out there today, but here we cover WordPress. WordPress is fast and has a nice plugin and skin interface to allow you to customize it to your heart's content. The only requirements for running WordPress are Apache, MySQL and PHP. I don't go into how to install WordPress, because the on-line documentation is very clear and easy to follow. Instead, I start where the installation leaves off and introduce some useful plugins. I suggest starting with WordPress v1.5.2 even though v2.0 is currently out. There have been some problems with the initial 2.0 release that warrant waiting for v2.0.1. Also, many of the plugins have not had a chance to update to the new system.

The first thing you should do after installing WordPress is log in as the admin user. Once logged in, you are presented with the Dashboard. At the top of the page is a menu of options named Write, Manage, Links and so on. You should first create an account for yourself by clicking on the Users option. Once that has loaded, two tabs labeled Your Profile and Authors & Users are available under the main menu. Click on Authors & Users, and scroll down to the Add New User section and fill in the text fields. Once your user has been added, it appears in the Registered Users section above. There are several columns of data, and one is Promote, which you should click on. Promoting a user makes that user an author and also allows that user to have more privileges based on its level. Once your user has been promoted, it will have a level of one. There are plus and minus signs on either side of the level to use to increase your user's level. Increase it to nine, which is the highest level a non-admin user can be. Should you ever need to delete users that have been promoted to authors, all you need to do is decrease their level below one and then delete them. I have included a link to a more in-depth description of the privileges of each user level in the on-line Resources.

There are a few other options you might consider changing. In General Options, there are check boxes to allow anyone to register to become a blog user and to require users to be logged in to add comments. You may or may not want these options enabled, depending on your security concerns and the openness of your blog. At our site, users cannot register themselves, though anyone can post comments without being logged in. You should explore all the menus and all their options to tweak them for your site.

WordPress Plugins

WordPress has a very modular plugin system, and a lot of people have written many plugins. WordPress also has a notion of categories. Categories can have many uses, but one might be to create mini-blogs for different communities of users or to group posts about a specific aspect of the infrastructure. But, you might not want all users to be able to see every category. The Userextra plugin, in conjunction with the Usermeta plugin, allows you to control exactly this sort of thing. Once you have followed these plugins' installation instructions, two more menus are available under Options and one more under Manage that allow you to refine access.

Another plugin you may find useful is the HTTP Authentication plugin. This plugin lets you use an external authentication mechanism, such as Apache's BasicAuth, as a means to authenticate to WordPress. This is great if you already have an LDAP directory or Kerberos realm that you use for authentication and you have mod_auth_ldap or mod_auth_kerb up and running.

Many more plugins are available for WordPress from the WordPress Codex and the WordPress Plugin DB. If you feel some functionality is missing, there are plenty of examples and documentation available from the WordPress Web site, and these plugin repositories can help you write your own plugin.

Wrapping Up

I hope that after this whirlwind tour of wikis and blogs you have come to see how they can be beneficial to help your shop run a smoother ship and provide your users with all the information they might want. Just as there are many different sails to keep your ship sailing, there are many different wiki and blog software packages out there. The right package for you is the one that keeps your users happy and you productive.

Resources for this article: /article/8832.

Ti Leggett (ti@daleggetts.com) is a full-time system administrator. When he's not working, he might be found playing his Gibson B-25 or doing some home improvements or wood working.

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I would like to appreciate

backgammon's picture

I would like to appreciate your efforts in for writing this useful article. I am sure it will make the difference You are truly my inspiration. You, see when i first log in to google to i did not think that i could find such a interesting direction, which would really help me in a positive manner. May God bless you that you will keep doing the nice work always.

Thanks

CSS Forum's picture

very informative

The company I work for uses

Anonymous's picture

The company I work for uses MediaWiki as an internal know-how database.

http.conf problems

tony.cureington's picture

I had problems with graphics showing up using NatSkin, but I suspect it would be in all ather skins as well.

Long story short:
I looked in /var/log/httpd/ssl_error_log and found errors

Edited /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf and changed
Alias /wiki "/var/www/localhost/wiki"
to
Alias /wiki "/var/www/wiki"

Restarted httpd and it worked....

The "localhost" seems to cause things not to work, at least for me.

Cheers,
Tc

Article on Performance Tuning of Twiki

Anonymous's picture

There is an article on twiki performance tuning in the April 2006 issue of Sysadmin Magazine: http://www.samag.com/current/

The author is able to boost twiki installations by factor 20 for read access.

The method presented can be used for other wikis too.

Wrong title for the article

WhyofcourseMe's picture

The article title suggests that it will discuss using Wiki's and Blog's for documentation. It does start out with a short "why" on Wiki's, it does not addresses "why blogs" at all. I would have liked more information on why and how. Examples are key for me, personally.
My companies documentation is a bit of a mess. We are using a UML tool to document everything which means:
1) It was a lot of work work to put togther and just as much work to maintain (which means that a week later, it was already out of date).
2) Impossible to get a report out of it. I'm no expert in the tool, but I should not have to be to extract information I put in.
3) As pointed out above, too much overhead to learn. I spend enough of my free time reading articles and books on subjects that I am paid to do (and enjoy doing). I'm not going to spend an evening reading the manual of a tool I don't think fits the job.

Sorry - a little off track but I got a little frustrated reading an article on how to install software when I expected to read why I would want to.

Correction to permissions above & SpeedyCGI help

Marcus's picture

Those examples above won't work. Instead of
(space)(space)(space)Set BLAHBLAH = something
you need a TWiki bullet point:
(space)(space)(space)*(space)Set BLAHBLAH = something.

URL for help with SpeedyCGI:
http://twiki.org/cgi-bin/view/Codev/SpeedyCGI

Cheers.

More about using blogs as administration document tool

daFool's picture

I have two blogs at work. One is called "The life of the machines" where each machine has it's own category. All entries are short descriptions about things that I or someone else inside the company have done to the machines.

Another one is called "The laboratory" and it is personal but mostly open to anybody inside our company. I use it to document things I have experimented with, things I have done during the day and things that are still open for the next day or for the near future. It also serves as a store for ideas to experiment with etc. I have categories for several projects and also use the blog to track time spent in projects with a plugin I have written for the task. I even use tracked time as basis of intra corporation billing. I have also integrated my blog as a datasource for the company reporting system. I can run reports against my blog and see where my time has gone in a nice pie chart.

Of course I write official documentation based on my blog entries to the company wiki. ;-)

My company uses wiki, too

mangoo's picture

The company I work for uses MediaWiki as an internal know-how database.

It's working like a charm.

A friend of me is also using

Steff's picture

A friend of me is also using MediaWiki as an external database. I think it's a great idea and hope to have the time to test it on my own soon.

Latest stable TWiki release

Michael Daum's picture

Actually, TWiki-4.0 (codename dakar) has been released on 1 Feb 2006 already. There's even a first maintenance release, TWiki-4.0.1 available. The patch described above isn't necessary anymore.

The previous release (TWiki20040904) was available on 28 Feb 2005.

I recommend to run TWiki by using SpeedyCGI, not FastCGI or mod_perl.

Michael, any tips on

Anonymous's picture

Michael, any tips on setting it up with SpeedyCGI?

easiest speedy setup is to

Anonymous's picture

easiest speedy setup is to use the cgi, not the apache mod, and just replace the perl shebang line with the path to speedy e.g. "#!/path/to/speedy". Don't accelerate all the scripts, just bin/view is sufficient. more at http://twiki.org/cgi-bin/view/Codev/SpeedyCGI

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