Web server software on Linux

So there has always been a multiplicity of web server software for Unix/Linux.

It certainly feels like I have, at some point or another, played with all of them. And I keep coming back to apache, which I’ve been using since 1995, when I first became responsible for running a web server (this site, if you care).

Incidentally: Holy crap, 14 years.

Anyway, as I stare around the unix landscape, I see four general-purpose web servers with some mind-share: apache, lighttpd, cherokee and nginx. Yes, there are others, but they are niche players, or they are not general purpose. So here’s my issues:

lighttpd

For the last couple of years I’ve run wiki.mallet-assembly.org on a box that was running lighttpd. And, honestly, I’ve not really had anything to complain about; it was stable, it was fast enough, etc. But if I wanted to run fastcgi programs as some user other than www-data (better for security), I had to run them as their own daemons. This isn’t the end of the world. What ultimately made me decide against it was that lighttpd has spent much of the last two years in perpetual rewrite mode.

cherokee

I’ve been paying attention to Cherokee for the last year or so. It was looking like an interesting alternative to lighttpd. And then I tried it. Just as was always the case with the Netscape Enterprise Server/iPlanet software that I hated when I was at Dorado, the only documented interface for configuration was web-based. This isn’t the end of the world. But when it mysteriously broke comments for no discernable reason–and we’re using straight CGI, the simplest possible option for it–that got it the boot. And it’s error log? Useless.

nginx

Nginx is great at what it does. Seriously. Couldn’t live without it. But really, it’s a proxy that happens to have also been taught how to speak FastCGI (and IMAP and SMTP and various other things–it really is great), and as a consequence it doesn’t so some important things like, well, CGI. I am using it for wiki.mallet-assembly.org right now, because it’s ultra-light and I’m running mediawiki under FastCGI there, so it all works out, but I’m probably going to move it to apache before too long because…well, who wants to have to keep track of two different packages.

apache

Big. Complicated, with too many options to keep track of. One of the more annoying configuration syntaxes around (Fake html tags to denote sections? Really?). But dammit, it works, even when you ask it to take care of spawning fastcgi processes as another user. And it’s not that baroque. And even when it is (mod_rewrite, I’m looking at you), it’s still better documented than any of the other options. And most of the unix-oriented web software just pretty much assumes you’re going to be using it.

There’s really just not any competition.

Now don’t get me wrong–I would be disappointed if suddenly everyone abandoned all of their other systems. An Apache monoculture would benefit no one. To those working on the other systems, well, I’m gonna keep looking at them and seeing how they evolve. If nginx sprouted simple CGI support (none of this “write your own FastCGI server process that would proxy the CGI scripts” stuff), I would almost certainly move to that.

But for the moment, Apache it is.

Filing-cabinet Zero?

Well, my experiment with Inbox Zero is going swimmingly (even if I am only five days in).

I was spurred by comments to look at ways to try and use the same strategies for paper–which, I have to say, is an even more oppressive burden than email. We have a big filing cabinet full of stuff that’s organized in rather idiosyncratic ways, and Anne’s and my idiosyncracies don’t always match up exactly to boot.

The specific suggestions that were made don’t necessarily apply–most solutions presume Windows. Still, it got me thinking.

Now it just so happens that the gigantic multi-function device Anne purchased (because she’s on research leave this semester, and expected to do a lot of printing, which meant our little ink-jet MFD wasn’t going to cut it, but I wasn’t going to have two devices taking up space in my office, so we specc’ed a high-speed color laser printer with fax and scanner. Total cost? <$800. Really) not only has an auto-feed scanner, but it will dump the scans to a network share in PDF format.

I spent some time last Friday setting up samba and doing some occasional cursing (some of the configuration you have to do is not well documented–some of the terms they used do not mean the same thing to everyone) but I got it working.

And this morning, I was able to take a couple of nice-to-retain but not vitally important things, shove them in the feeder, scan ’em the shred ’em.

It was very satisfying. Thanks, Dave, for suggesting it.

It’s nice to know The Daily Show isn’t in the tank for Obama

It would be easy for people of a certain mindset to assume, given the last 8 years, that The Daily Show is simply a liberal outlet, happy to roll over and play dead now that there’s a Democrat in the White House.

The very evening of the Inauguration, they went to work to dispel that, neatly skewering Obama’s speech and it’s use of language that sounds, in many instances, reminiscent of Bush’s speeches:

I find this heartening for a couple of reasons. First, I am allergic to sycophants, so I would have to stop watching the show. Second, this suggests that what The Daily Show is for is good government. That is something that will always need watchdogs, even after disposing of the heedless incompetence of the Bush administration.

Handling email differently

I’ve started experimenting with Inbox Zero as a way to handle the email I get.

The idea is simple enough–when you get an email, you deal with it in whatever way it needs to be dealt with–read and reply, delete, otherwise act upon it–and you get it out of your inbox.

Oh, and all those emails currently in your inbox? Well, you can do what I did–browse through them and guess that they were all archiveable–or you can do the “DMZ” folder that they talk about above, or whatever.

But the idea is to get you out of a position where you feel so behind that it’s harder to act.

I’m only about 36 hours into it, but I’m finding it easy to maintain so far, and it’s very freeing. In fact, I want to put this in place with paper mail, too–tuff comes in, it gets read and archived, trashed or acted upon.

I’m actually waiting to be able to watch it all in retrospect.

Yeah, so the new BSG episode maybe didn’t have the impact on me that it was intended to because it’s been so goddamned long since the last episode.

In fact, I’m looking forward to BSG being over so I can go back and start at the beginning and watch it all start to finish–to date, I’ve watched each episode as it came out, and I while discussion with Chet suggests that this makes some of the less-wonderful episodes from Season 3 a little less glaringly bad, it means that after each break, I don’t remember all the nuances of the story so far.

So, once it’s over, after a reasonable break, I’ll go back to it.