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November 1999 TPC Workshop Summary

Web Support and Administration

About 20 of us showed up for the Web Support workshop under the tutelage of Jim Tittsler and Stuart Woodward. A variety of interests were represented from the web side of network support, to those interested in making a web presence for other organizations, to helping out the TPC.

This was quite a diverse topic with numerous permutations available for the workshop to follow. Jim allowed the members to set questions and elaborated from there which I believe worked out well for those involved.

Any technical misrepresentations, forgotten points or kludge-like explanations are my fault and not those of our fearless and competent webmasters. Below are highlights of the topics covered. We looked at building and maintaining a web presence as offering a variety of services, and it helped to think in terms of software services instead of server hardware.

For the workshop, major factors included:
Web/HTTP Servers (Apache in the case of the TPC),
News Servers (INN),
Mail Servers (Smartlist - via e-mail; Mailman - via web interface),
FTP Servers (daemon),
Security,
Domain Name Services.

In the case of the TPC, this all runs on a Linux Red Hat box. One reason Red Hat was chosen was for its automated security fix checking.

A feature of our Apache HTTP services is SSI (Server Side Includes), which allows some automation of consistent web styling and the automated distribution of information across a web site. As an example, using SSI, the core information on this page for the upcoming worshops such as the topic and date is automatically distributed to a least three points across the TPC site without the administrators having to do extra file administration.

Considering News services, our newsgroups can be accessed three ways - via the web, a news reader or mailing lists and this is a great example of inter-relating services and having them access each other.

Mail services are another point for consideration for a potential or growing web site as well as using a traditional service or web based interface.

Then there is the transfer of files. Linux comes with an FTP daemon, and third party services can be found. FTP is available on the TPC server, but more secure methods are recommended. Jim Tittsler uses SSH (Secure Shell) to create secure "tunnels" for transferring information.

As you can see from SSH, security interacts with other services and should come from a variety of means and levels - separating the hardware and software from the outside world using a router and a firewall, as well as using security features directly on a machine and as part of the services. One must weigh the trade-off between an acceptable level of security and accessibility. The more secure a web site is, the less user-friendly it will be.

DNS is a consideration related to the web site host. Options for naming, addressing and mapping your site are determined by deciding to use a provider such as your ISP, providing your own services over your own machine, or using a hybrid such as a preconfigured box that includes web services. Choosing on one of these above routes to made by evaluating your Web skills and goals.

In general, the level of control available and administration required, not just for DNS, but across the board, will be determined by the choice to do-it-yourself or to use some kind of host. Using a host will limit flexibility while maintaining your own services requires administering and/or learning about these services, security and backing up the system. Some virtual hosts such as pair.com offer a compromise, allowing more flexibility for naming a site and give the appearance of being a stand-alone operation but still do not offer the total flexibility of having your own server.

There is much more involved and many more details not covered in the above. As usual, the Web offers a variety of resources and information, much of it free. Some of it I have copied from the Webmasters' FAQ created by Jim Tittsler and Stuart Woodward:
Apache - http://www.apache.org, http://ring.ocn.ad.jp/archives/net/apache/httpd.html;
SSI - http://www.apache.org/docs/mod/mod_include.html;
PHP - http://www.php3.org;
Webnews (Python) - http://starship.python.net/crew/jwt;
Exim mail agent - http://www.exim.org;
Mailman - http://www.list.org;
SSH - http://www.ssh.org;
TeraTerm is a great free terminal emulator for Windows9x/NT http://hp.vector.co.jp/authors/VA002416/teraterm.html with an SSH add-on http://www.zip.com.au/~roca/ttssh.html;
Cedomir Igaly has also written freeware support for 16 and 32 bit Windows http://www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/Bay/1692/ssh-index.html.

Check out tpc.webmasters in the members newsgroups for more background on this topic and post inquiries for information on a specific topic. Thanks to Jim and Stuart and Sajjad at VCN for putting this together.

          James Gibbons


Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN