Setting up a UNIX Server

Most of the Internet runs on UNIX, or at least imitates it. Although UNIX is thorny, indecipherable, and often frustrating, it's popular for several very good reasons. It's stable, it's powerful, it doesn't mind doing thirty things at once, and it's extremely flexible. It was originally designed to run a Space War game, but has since become the standard for large-scale enterprise and academic computing. Software is either free and available over the Internet or extremely expensive and designed for complex applications. Fortunately the software for Web servers is (mostly) free.

Unless you're working for an academic institution or a company that has leftover workstations, you're not likely to be able to find a cheap UNIX box to turn into your own private server. If you can get it, great, but if not, don't despair. An ordinary PC (386 or better, preferably a 486 or Pentium) can be used for UNIX, with either SCO UNIX from the Santa Cruz Operation or Linux, a freeware UNIX-workalike operating system widely available on the Internet and in bookstores. Bookstores? It's a popular topic, and several books on Linux include a copy on CD-ROM.

Any of these systems can run Web server software as well as other Internet services like FTP, Telnet, and Gopher. TCP/IP networking software is built into UNIX, though setup may vary from one release of UNIX to another. The X Window system lets you use graphical interfaces on a UNIX machine, though I wouldn't call it as user-friendly as the Mac or even Windows. Perhaps the best X application for Web purposes is, of course, Mosaic - you can browse your files from your UNIX server if necessary using X. Netscape and Mosaic are both available for X.

There are several Web servers available for UNIX, which is still the main platform for Web server development:

My best advice on this decision: choose whichever server you'll be using to distribute your pages in the end. If you work with a different server, it's much harder to guarantee that your scripts will work and that any neat tricks you may have done with server-side tools will perform as you expect. Most net servers are still public domain, so this shouldn't be so difficult.

One last option

They're much more expensive, but if you're already buying a Netra server from Sun, you might want to set it up as a small local network and then later plug the box into your whole system - giving your web site a grand opening that might be blah or buggy otherwise. Just a possibility.

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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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