Can anyone tell me how to set up a net server? April 18, 2001 7:37 AM   Subscribe

So I Want To Set Up A Server. Since I trust the MeFiFolk, I'm asking this here: can anyone point me to a guide that tells me, a complete server hardware neophyte, what I need to get my own box on the net? Much obliged....
posted by hijinx to General Weblog-Related at 7:37 AM (28 comments total)

A Lot Of Money (okay, everything's relative), if you want to house the server at your home. Business DSL rates run over $100/month I think, which is probably your cheapest option.

A lot of web hosting services provide co-location services, which I'm not too familiar with, but I think it goes like this: you buy the server, configure it how you want (within certain guidelines RE operating systems, etc), then ship it to them, giving them admin access to make it work on their network. They plug it in, provide UPS and net access and occasional reboot services (probably not necessary if you get a UNIX-ish box), you do everything else remotely.

There are also hybrid colo services where the service provider will let you buy/lease an entire server from them with their default configuration which is then located in their facility. Pair provides this service (QuickServe, I think it's called), as does Rackspace (which has gotten great reviews from Michal Wallace who recently got an account with them.

I don't have the numbers (or the time to research them) but I would guesstimate that colocation or preconfig leases cost about the same, maybe a bit more, per month as buying a server yourself and housing it at your home/office, but you will get better connectivity etc from a colo service.
posted by daveadams at 8:39 AM on April 18, 2001

webmonkey: how to setup a linux box with apache
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:42 AM on April 18, 2001

You don't need business class DSL to run a server... Any dedicated net connection is just fine. According to most cable/DSL provider's terms of service agreements, you're not supposed to run any servers at all. But does anybody really pay attention to those?

At my old apartment, I had a DSL line. At my current apartment, I have cable. At both, I've run an FTP server, mail server, and web server 24/7. (And the occasional Quake server.) With a software firewall and some free software, you're set.

Hell, you don't even need to have a separate box running a flavor of Unix (though you'll feel hipper if you do). You can use your existing computer and your operating system of choice to run your web server. Ports of Apache, Perl, PHP, and MySQL exist for a variety of operating systems. All support Win32, most will compile on MacOS X, and some even support the regular Mac OS (though you'd be masochistic to try).

* It's slower than colo or business class DSL, but you get what you pay for. Most ISPs cap at 128k upstream, which should be fine for any low traffic site. (Some of my sites are pretty heavily trafficked, so I got a virtual server account with iServer, too.)
* It's less reliable, too. Cable/DSL connections might go down intermittently, but for the most part, I've had great luck with it.
posted by waxpancake at 12:27 PM on April 18, 2001

Caution: long.

I had a FreeBSD server running for about 6 months over my cable connection.

I eventually gave it up because my cable provider recycled my IP every 2 or 3 months (which meant reconfiguring my network), and the last time they did it I seriously screwed something up, got frustrated and was in the middle of what turned into a month-long crunch time at work. I've yet to get back to it, but mostly because I'm lazy.

Otherwise my connection was reasonably stable, and I never got any kind of warning. It's a great way to setup a hobby server, but if you're going to use it to make money, get a professional line. It's worth the money to avoid slow connections, headaches and cancelled service should your provider decide to cut you off.

FreeBSD was mildly tricky to get working properly for me. Saying I'm an intermediate level unix user (note that I'm not saying administrator) would probably be generous, but I did get it installed with apache, php, mySQL, perl and X (with gnome) in under 24 hours.

(though I've setup a couple of Slackware Linux boxes in my past, which was a good step up.)

Using a Linux distro may be somewhat easier, since there tends to be more howto material available, and they tend to have easier installs.

Mac OSX may have better GUIs to set it all up, if you're into Macs.

For your first server, Windows 2000 is really simple. Everything you need comes on the installation CD, and the interface is simple to use initially.

Eventually you may get sick of going through the interface to make changes (it really bugs me) at which point you'll want to definitely look into a unix.

More on hardware:

The kind of hardware you're going to need is seriously depending on what you're going to be serving. For pure HTML with the occasional server-side script (in whatever language) you need the minimum your operating system demands, they're pretty unintensive.

If you're running a database on the same box, you'll want to increase the RAM significantly and look into faster hard drives.

The best way to scale a web server (this goes for almost any computer) via hardware is to add RAM, then processor power, then hard drive speed then more processors then more boxes to handle the load.

Don't spend money on a video or sound card, they're fluff that places will gouge you for. You need 16-bit 256 colours and system beeps. Anything more is gravy, and 3D processing is pointless.
posted by cCranium at 1:43 PM on April 18, 2001

oh hijinx, if you want something quick and easy, you can do what I used to do.

If your home OS is NT 4 or win2k, run IIS or apache, edit files directly on your desktop, ftp to update from outside, etc. On windows, you can run PHP and mysql for cheap kicks. Heck you can even get all you need in one convenient package.

If you don't have a perm IP, get something like running. When I had a cable modem, my home box was always reachable at, regardless of where I was, or what the IP was currently. Now that I have perm IPs at home, I don't need to do this, but it worked great for me back then.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 2:24 PM on April 18, 2001

The people above have all given really good suggestions, but certainly a little more detail on your requirements would help.

Does the server need to be located at your house or is that not an option? Does it not matter? Are you going to use it to tinker with, or is this supposed to be a "real internet server" (i.e. few services, not used by and end-user)? Are you just trying to get more experienced technically or do you want more control than Geocities allows?

Defining the problem will help you get the best answers... :)
posted by fooljay at 2:27 PM on April 18, 2001

okay, i have a curious question:

Say someone like me was trying to set up a 'decent' and 'respectable' website. but, (as most youngins must agree) lack the funds to attain a personal and unique address ... like say waferbaby or kottke, but at the same time wishes to stray as far away as possible from the 'adbanner' filled freehosts that are out there.

is there any room or hope for that host-searching nomad of a web guy? i've tried ... with little luck.
posted by a11an at 7:02 PM on April 18, 2001

registering a domain name can be done for very little money, you know. i'm partial to 000domains ($13.50/year), but i've heard of others even cheaper than that. as for cheap hosting, i think there was this 123...kidding, folks. i've been very happy with at 9.95/month. search a bit - i've seen hosts as low as 4.95/month.
posted by judith at 7:25 PM on April 18, 2001

hm ... its good, but i need a free host :( ...

parents wont let me use money online for anything .. much less for 'personal' websites ...
posted by a11an at 8:21 PM on April 18, 2001

I've just done this over the last couple of days myself. I happened to have an extra Mac lying around, and I already had a domain name. I installed Mac OS X on the box, ordered a static IP from my high speed Internet provider, and installed PHP and MySQL on the box. Less than 24 hours from start to finish.

Starting completely from scratch, you may wish to start with a hosting account with a service that provides an infrastructure similar to the one you will wish to build at home, then migrate it when you are ready to have a full time server at a static address at your house.

Matt's suggestions above are really helpful as well. We can give you better advice with a little more detail about what you want to do and what platform you are most comfortable with.
posted by bump at 9:29 PM on April 18, 2001

a11an: and are both free servers with slightly less annoying URLs and no ads (for now), but they seem to be very slow at most times. If you build something very impressive on a free server, you might be able to show that to your parents and convince them it's worth it to pay for a real site.
posted by Jeanne at 4:42 AM on April 19, 2001

So far, I have been very impressed with the deluge of information here - thanks to all.

fooljay: For starters, I would imagine I'll set up one of my upcoming sites on this box and let it go; traffic will be low at first of course... but ramp up from there. Ultimately I'd love to just throw all my domains onto my own box and run it out of my place. Requirements, software wise, are simple: PHP, SSI, outside of the usual. Insofar as how technical I'll get... oh, I'll be happy to get my hands dirty.

As for OS, the jury is out. It depends on how things pan out with my current box; I plan on going Mac, and wouldn't mind making this one the server (it's certainly powerful enough.) I've used Windows since 3.0, though, so my familiarity there is pretty high.

The question came up because, by sheer coincidence, I've decided to start Yet Another Website, and while the hosting costs are reasonable, I'm curious if it's going to be cheaper to just do it myself instead.

More of my concerns have to do with the hardware, though: firewalls, routers, and switches. I'm guessing that this hardware would be overkill for my purposes, but for the longterm....
posted by hijinx at 4:50 AM on April 19, 2001

Hijinx, you don't really need firewalls routers and switches. Well, you'll want a firewall, but you won't have to concern yourself with routers and/or switches.

Those are really only necessary when you start worrying about subnetting and having multiple networks and whatnot. You may eventually want to look into a gateway/proxy server setup to share your connection, but that can all be very easily handled within any of the solutions mentioned above, so your server will also be your gateway.

In terms of firewalls, the easiest solution is to setup a simple software-based firewall that closes everything except port 80 (for people to access your site from) and 21 (because you need to ftp! :-).

Since almost every firewall in the world has opened port 80, almost every piece of internet software out there supports HTTP proxy.

Windows 2000 (all versions), Mac OSX and all the free unix-like OSes out there come with everything you need to run a web server. The only other stuff you'll want is an always-on internet connection and a static IP address.

(this parenthetical statement is to resuggest an type site.)
posted by cCranium at 6:47 AM on April 19, 2001

let me reiterate Matt's recommendation of PHPTriad if you're running Windows. Ten minutes and I was up and running with Apache, PHP, and MySQL.

So Easy To Use No Wonder It's Number One!
posted by Sapphireblue at 7:03 AM on April 19, 2001

Sometimes I like to draw on the sidewalk with colored chalk, and everyone can see what I have to say! This is as close as I'll ever get to a weblog.

:::Cough::: As a complete non-techie, these threads fascinate me. It's like you're speaking some very close variant of English. Terrifyingly cool to read, even when I don't have the vaguest idea of what you're talking about.

everything except port 80 (for people to access your site from) and 21 (because you need to ftp! :-).

Port 80? What was wrong with 1 through 79? I mean, except for number 21, which you obviously need to ftp (which I know means File Transfer Protocol, but I really don't have any idea what those words mean).

Keep it up. I [heart] jargon, even when it's more or less Yiddish, as far as I'm concerned.

Noise. This post is all about noise.
posted by Skot at 9:05 AM on April 19, 2001

Port 80? What was wrong with 1 through 79?

Skot, you cranky bastard, it's obvious that you have to use port 80 because you have to degauss your RS232 bus to get your SDRAM working properly with your HTTP/SSL server. I mean, USB, IEEE 1394, and UltraWide SCSI-3 are one thing, but if you're looking for more 4xAGP throughput, you need to adjust your DIP switches and pay attention to your IRQs. DMA over UltraATA-66 may not seem like it compares to MMX or SSE, but if you're using SOAP, CORBA, DCOM, EJB, or XSLT, you've got to connect your PCI to your MCA. NuBus and EISA just won't do.
posted by daveadams at 11:38 AM on April 19, 2001

daveadams, your conclusions are so wrong, it's difficult to know where to begin. I shall now post a terribly insulting pseudonymous message on slashdot deconstructing your misguided analysis, and you shall be humiliated. Especially since nowhere in that muddle did you ever even mention "standards," which, as far as I can tell, is a huge sin of omission these days. Taunt not the Cranky Bastard.
posted by Skot at 12:59 PM on April 19, 2001

My spleen hurts, dave.

The problems with ports 1-79, excluding 21, is, logically enough, that they were already used. There was already a whole bunch of stuff out there that used TCP/IP to communicate before HTTP came along. I think it's the first 256 (0-255) that are reserved for various technologies.
posted by cCranium at 2:16 PM on April 19, 2001

daveadams, considering the merits of Skot's reply, you may want to refresh yourself on this...
posted by fooljay at 4:57 PM on April 19, 2001

a11an, quick question: are you interested in setting up a full-fledged website, doing your own pages, etc. ... or just running a weblog? From blogspot to pitas to manila (heck, I'll be generous and throw in the insular livejournal, there are a number of free (and even ad-free) options out there where you just use their service and you have a zero-cost site with a perfectly respectable url.

But if you really want to play with web technology, e.g. running PHP and SQL, you're going to have to crack the wallet at some point, whether it's getting broadband and some megaflops into the house, or paying somebody(s) for a server and a domain name, like what we're talking about.
posted by dhartung at 6:53 PM on April 19, 2001

i was hoping to have a little more than just a weblog, which i have under pitas currently, i've just been running around for a while in search of a good free host that will let me dabble in various cgi or php stuff, but like you said ... im prolly gonna need to crack open the ol' wallet.

posted by a11an at 3:52 PM on April 21, 2001

a11an, if you just want to dabble with PHP, you can get an FTP-access account with Pair networks for $5/month. No CGI access, but I'm pretty sure that includes PHP, correct me if I'm wrong, guys.
posted by daveadams at 10:55 PM on April 21, 2001

a11an, if you just want to play with and learn PHP, seriously look into PHP triad. It's been linked all over the place here lately, and for a reason. It's an insanely quick setup (though I did have to hit their discussion boards to figure out some dll peculiarities) and you'll end up with a local webserver that can talk PHP so you can play around all you like.

When you come up with something you like you can then look to finding PHP server (Freedom2Surf is an acceptable freeserver that does PHP and MySQL, but it's a bit on the slow side and they don't offer domain hosting).

Trust me though, it's insanely easier to develop any web application when you've got local access to the files so you don't have to worry about ftp'ing them over every time you make a change, just to find out you forgot a freakin' semi-colon and have to fix and reupload again.
posted by cCranium at 7:29 AM on April 24, 2001

Gulp... dare I suggest.... MS Personal Web Server on Windows98/NT and ASP pages? Works for me at home to work/play on. Free. Or get NT and IIS for the complete experience.

VBScript is really very easy to learn, can even play with Access for database support. Got NT Server and IIS on the host when happy with the results. Some very cheap IIS hosts out there these days. We like Brinkster, if you don't need SQL Server.

Good ASP/IIS resources on the web include 4 Guys and ASP101.
posted by normy at 9:51 PM on April 24, 2001

I think I'm going to have to look into Personal Web Server. I need a local ASP development environment to test things with. Free is my kind of word! :-)
posted by cCranium at 8:50 AM on April 25, 2001

Gulp... dare I suggest.... MS Personal Web Server on Windows98/NT and ASP pages? .... Or get NT and IIS ....
VBScript .... Access .... NT Server and IIS ... IIS hosts ....
ASP/IIS resources ....
posted by jpoulos at 8:41 PM on June 28, 2001

As cCranium notes: OS X includes a full install of Apache, with PHP support built-in (but needing to be enabled) right out of the box. It's pretty easy to set up if you've ever used a command line, and easy to set up if you haven't. A slightly dated Webmonkey article helped me along the way, and in about an hour I had the whole thing up and live. The only thing to note is that there's a newer version of PHP available than the one in the article.

Alternately, if you don't need or want the latest versions of Apache or PHP, all you have to do is go into System Prefs: Sharing and click Start under Web Sharing. Nice.
posted by hijinx at 6:30 AM on July 11, 2001

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