A Home Server

By Vince Barnes

You have a computer.  You have a nice high-speed broadband connection to the Internet.  You have the latest and greatest Windows XP operating system in place, fully patched, latest Service Pack installed. fully secured, anti-virused, firewalled, anti-spywared, locked down nice and tight!  Your toolbox seems complete, so why on Earth can you not host your own web site?

There are a slew of problems facing the would-be home hoster, and at one time or another we've addressed them all here at HTML Goodies.  Trouble is, not everybody saw all the bits and pieces as they flew by.  With that in mind, I've decided to gather the picture together and present to you the soup to nuts of hosting a web site at home on your own PC.

Let's start with a list of things that you have to have in place first.  The first four are covered in this part, the next three are covered in part two, and the last two are in part three:

Needy, aren't you?!!  It's not as bad as it might look, though.  Let's take it step by step

You need a computer.

This might seem obvious, bet there are a couple of things to consider.  If your computer is a little older, such, for example, as a Pentium II or earlier machine, then you will be quite severely limited as to the Operating System you could run.  If this is the case, I would suggest either Linux or FreeBSD.  Best of luck!  (They both will work really well, but your life is going to be a little more complicated.)  For the purposes of this piece I'm going to assume you're running Microsoft Windows XP Home edition, which is the most common in-home operating system at this point in time.

You need an Internet Connection.

Ah-huh!  You also probably need a head attached to your neck, and an arm to hold your hand in place!  Sorry if it seems a little obvious -- again!  But, once again, there are a few considerations.  This time, however, they may be a little more serious.  Consider this, which is extracted from Goodies To Go! Newsletter # 276:

"Many of us enjoy higher speed connections than the good old dial-up on a modem. Broadband shows up in cable, DSL, wireless and sometimes other types of connections. Basically, "broadband" means "faster than dial-up"! It is all those of us that enjoy our broadband connections that have another opportunity for hosting their website -- namely, to host it at home on your own PC. In theory, it could be possible to host a very small website on a dial-up connection. It would require an automatic dial back in case of disconnect mechanism, and it would certainly require a cooperative (or perhaps inattentive!) ISP. The rest of this discussion has the broadband user in mind, though it would also apply to the dial-up user.

Broadband provides ample speed and capability for hosting small websites. There are, however, some pitfalls. First, you should note that almost all broadband services provide full speed in only one direction. This means that as you surf the web or download files, for example, you enjoy these things coming at you at full speed. Send stuff out, however, and it is considerably slower. This asymmetry is deliberate. The majority of the traffic that a service provides sees is going to the subscriber, not coming from, so that's where the put the beef. Consequently your ability to host a speedy website is limited. As I said before, though, it should be plenty for a small site. (56K modems work the same way, incidentally, allowing 56k downloads but only half that in the other direction."

OK!  But that's not all, as we shall soon see.

You need a Website.

Man!  Will I ever stop with the absolutely obvious?!!  Maybe!  But, please consider these two things (click the links, please!)  Go ahead and build your pages.

You need a webserver.

Now here's the first real problem.  The trouble is that Microsoft, in their infinite wisdom (?) decided to leave the Internet Information Server (or Services) (IIS) out of the "Home" edition package.  Not only that, but it's not offered as an add-on either.  I can sort-of understand their thinking, but I wonder if it was really a good idea in the end.  They used to have this thing called the "Personal Web Server" that did something of the same job for the likes of a home user, but they decided that IIS was not applicable to the home user.  As a result, they have forced all home users to look at (and become more familiar with) other web servers.  Call me stupid, but I believe that even System Administrators frequently go home at night! Ah well!  I guess if you're big enough, you can take the hits.

So what to use instead?  The most obvious choice is the most widely deployed web server in the world; Apache.  Here's a quote from Goodies To Go! Newsletter #277:

"The second web server for windows to be mentioned is, of course, Apache. Version 2.0 of Apache is available at http://httpd.apache.org/download.cgi  -- you'll want the "Win32 Binary (MSI Installer)" version.

Apache is very easy to install - just double click the msi after you download it. Apache is a full featured web server - one of the best! With it you will be able to configure and run a web server just like the professionals do. There is, however, a little learning involved. Don't let that put you off though. It is not too daunting a task, and there are plenty of helpful people out there who are very familiar with it and will be very willing to help you, if you need it.

Apache - which is an open source project, producing software of such high quality it's hard to believe it's free -- is very well documented. Check out http://httpd.apache.org/docs-2.0/ and for Windows specific notes there's also http://httpd.apache.org/docs-2.0/platform/windows.html "

Oh yes, it's the most widely used, best known web server of them all; but didn't he just say "the second"????  Uh-Huh! the first was:

"Don't let the small size of this one fool you! The Abyss web server, which is put out by Aprelium Technologies in Tunis, Tunisia, is a very capable and stable server. For ease of use, however, it is very hard to beat. If you have never configured a server before, this one will take you minutes to set up and use! (If you've set up lots of servers before, it won't make much difference - this one is easy!)

Aprelium says "Abyss Web Server X1 is a free personal web server available for Windows, MacOS X, Linux, and FreeBSD operating systems. Despite its tiny footprint (for example, the executable file size of the Windows version is less than 112 KB); it supports HTTP/1.1, dynamic content generation through CGI/1.1 scripts, Server Side Includes (SSI), custom error pages, and user access control (HTTP authentication/password protected files)."

And... it has a web based management interface. Life is good! Cruise on over to http://www.aprelium.com/abyssws/  and get yourself a copy. Did you notice that price? "Free" -- I know you can afford that!"

There you go!  A choice of alternate web servers; both free!  If you'd like to become familiar with the most widely deployed platform, use Apache.  If, on the other hand, you lie small size, powerful and easy to use, ....  well what can I say?!!!

Whichever webserver you choose, by the time you have it set up, it will be obvious to you where you put your pages.  You are now well on your way.


(Continued in Part 2)


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