Developing with your new Linux server

Now that you've taken your PC apart, created a network from scratch, and wandered the desert of UNIX for tortuous hours, you want to see the promised land, right? I'm still looking for it, but that's only because I've taken time out to write this. (I started this project about a month ago, and I've reinstalled it once on top of that.) It's not that far off, promise. Web site development isn't that hard to move into. Because you are the system administrator, you're free to develop projects as you want without the same security concerns slowing you down. (Keep in mind, of course, that once your project leaves the 'lab' of your private system, it'll still have to contend with security issues.

CGI scripting was the main reason I set up this system. The Common Gateway Interface, or CGI, is what lets your server pass on material it received from a browser to other programs that can interpret, store, or return a response to it. The NCSA server is especially good for this, letting you put any CGI program you in the /cgi-bin folder. It also comes with several key sample programs, most importantly the imagemap program that lets you create clickable maps. If the provided examples get dull (and except for imagemap, that's pretty likely) you can start creating your own scripts with Perl. Perl is up to version 5 now, though 4.0.36 is what came with my most Slackware distribution. Perl is kind of like C, kind of like grep, and really on a planet of its own. If you want to manipulate forms information, and work easily with text, Perl is for you. It's the primary language currently used for scripting, and libraries for tasks like form handling and database management are readily available.

There are also all kinds of strange things you can do when you control the server, like server-side includes. Say you have a document with several parts that change occasionally. You can create a master file with instructions for what files should be "included" into it, and those files will automatically be incorporated by the server when it gets the files. It can slow down a large server painfully, but these ".shtml" files can be pretty entertaining and under some circumstances much easier to work with than CGI scripts that would do the same thing.

The most important thing about your newly created server is just that: it's yours. You can do anything you want on this box. Go ahead an develop whatever seems like fun, try tocome up with the most interactive systems you can imagine. You now have a development environment that will let you do anything you're willing to learn.

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Copyright 1995 by Simon St.Laurent. All rights reserved. You may print this document for yourself or others at no charge, but commercial distribution without permission is prohibited.

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