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Preface

Preface

Apache: The Definitive Guide, Third Edition, is principally about the Apache web-server software. We explain what a web server is and how it works, but our assumption is that most of our readers have used the World Wide Web and understand in practical terms how it works, and that they are now thinking about running their own servers and sites.

This book takes the reader through the process of acquiring, compiling, installing, configuring, and modifying Apache. We exercise most of the package's functions by showing a set of example sites that take a reasonably typical web business — in our case, a postcard publisher — through a process of development and increasing complexity. However, we have deliberately tried to make each site as simple as possible, focusing on the particular feature being described. Each site is pretty well self-contained, so that the reader can refer to it while following the text without having to disentangle the meat from extraneous vegetables. If desired, it is possible to install and run each site on a suitable system.

Perhaps it is worth saying what this book is not. It is not a manual, in the sense of formally documenting every command — such a manual exists on the Apache site and has been much improved with Versions 1.3 and 2.0; we assume that if you want to use Apache, you will download it and keep it at hand. Rather, if the manual is a road map that tells you how to get somewhere, this book tries to be a tourist guide that tells you why you might want to make the journey.

In passing, we do reproduce some sections of the web site manual simply to save the reader the trouble of looking up the formal definitions as she follows the argument. Occasionally, we found the manual text hard to follow and in those cases we have changed the wording slightly. We have also interspersed comments as seemed useful at the time.

This is not a book about HTML or creating web pages, or one about web security or even about running a web site. These are all complex subjects that should be either treated thoroughly or left alone. As a result, a webmaster's library might include books on the following topics:

  • The Web and how it works

  • HTML — formal definitions, what you can do with it

  • How to decide what sort of web site you want, how to organize it, and how to protect it

  • How to implement the site you want using one of the available servers (for instance, Apache)

  • Handbooks on Java, Perl, and other languages

  • Security

Apache: The Definitive Guide is just one of the six or so possible titles in the fourth category.

Apache is a versatile package and is becoming more versatile every day, so we have not tried to illustrate every possible combination of commands; that would require a book of a million pages or so. Rather, we have tried to suggest lines of development that a typical webmaster could follow once an understanding of the basic concepts is achieved.

We realized from our own experience that the hardest stage of learning how to use Apache in a real-life context is right at the beginning, where the novice webmaster often has to get Apache, a scripting language, and a database manager to collaborate. This can be very puzzling. In this new edition we have therefore included a good deal of new material which tries to take the reader up these conceptual precipices. Once the collaboration is working, development is much easier. These new chapters are not intended to be an experts' account of, say, the interaction between Apache, Perl, and MySQL — but a simple beginners' guide, explaining how to make these things work with Apache. In the process we make some comments, from our own experience, on the merits of the various software products from which the user has to choose.

As with the first and second editions, writing the book was something of a race with Apache's developers. We wanted to be ready as soon as Version 2 was stable, but not before the developers had finished adding new features.

In many of the examples that follow, the motivation for what we make Apache do is simple enough and requires little explanation (for example, the different index formats in Chapter 7). Elsewhere, we feel that the webmaster needs to be aware of wider issues (for instance, the security issues discussed in Chapter 11) before making sensible decisions about his site's configuration, and we have not hesitated to branch out to deal with them.

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