Most developers already have machines that act as World Wide Web clients, running Mosaic, Netscape, or another browser, connecting to servers via phone lines or other connections. The main point of setting up a micro-network for Web development is to have control of a server, the machine that stores, transmits, and processes documents. Servers run programs that wait for user requests and fill their demands. For the Web, it's usually one form or another of HTTPD, the Web 'daemon' program that monitors the network for requests and sends out HTML documents and graphics and processes incoming information. The protocol runs similarly on a wide variety of machines, but the details are always different.
The server is a conduit for information and not much more. You can use it for other projects, and run more than just Web projects on it, but I don't recommend using your server as a regular work machine. Runnning Microsoft Word and QuarkXPress and Photoshop on a machine that's also trying to manage HTML documents is asking for a crash. I'm writing this now on the machine I use as a server, but it's not in use as a server at all at the moment. Doubling up this way can save you a lot of money, but try to think of your server as a machine you'll use only through other computers as much as possible.
Before we look at specific servers, here are some general guidelines:
There are several platforms you can use for Web servers, each with its own quirks, advantages, and disadvantages:
While you can use any of these platforms for a Web server if necessary, I really only recommend the first two for serious Web server development. Windows and Macintosh computers are great - but as clients and platforms for acquiring data, not as servers..
- Try to make your server as similar as possible to the server you'll finally post your projects on. If the final project will be set up on a UNIX machine, make your server a UNIX machine. You don't have to follow this rule absolutely - many developers use MacHTTP or a Windows server for testing, but writing complex interactive scripts and using server includes often requires you to develop on the same kind of machine you'll be posting it on.
- You don't need to spend thousands of dollars on a high-powered server. Just because you use a high-powered machine on the Internet doesn't mean you need a Cray for your testing. The price of UNIX has declined dramatically since you can now run Linux on PCs, and Windows NT can also run on fairly small-scale systems. You may need to invest in memory or drive space, but a server that's only handling one or two requests at a time doesn't need to be a million-dollar machine. Using available materials can save you money.
- On the other hand, don't cheapskate yourself into a useless setup. Although it's possible to take an old 386 PC running Windows and force it to become a Web server, you may not enjoy the results.
- The machine you use for a server doesn't have to be the friendliest machine available. As wonderful as graphical interfaces are, they don't make a lot of difference to the data flowing through the box. You can always use a prickly but efficient operating system for your server and do most of your work on the client anyway. If you take this really seriously, you may not even need a monitor for your server - you can often control the server from the client.
- If you're really lucky, you may be able to use the machine you're developing on as a server on the Net for real use. It may not make sense to devote the entire machine to life as a server for one project, but if you didn't have your own server before you now have the experience and the machine you need for at least certain kinds of live projects. Take care of your server and treat it wisely.
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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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