Web Development with Apache and Perl, by Theo Petersen, (Paperback, 410 pages); ISBN 1-930110-06-5

Reviewed by: Songmuh Jong, send e-mail
Published by: Manning Publications Co., go to the web site
Requires: Apache Web Server and Perl
MSRP: $44.95

Web development is a multi-disciplined effort which includes software and hardware setup. The software part can also be divided into basic web server setup and the development of applications running on top of the web server software. Even the basic web server setup involves the operating system and its management. On the other hand, web servers are usually separated from database servers. This book focuses on the basic web server setup without touching the operating system, but it does include a database server discussion.

The choice of web server software is limited to a few candidates, but they can be largely divided into either the open source or commercial choices. The author of Web Development with Apache and Perl is a proponent of the open source choices. The first chapter is fully dedicated to a discussion of the reasons to select open source software and the licensing issues.

Chapter 2 discusses the installation and security setup for the Apache web server. Although it doesn't detail the steps and it doesn't discuss the sources of the security holes announced in the news and provides some useful guidance. Developers interested in setting up the Apache server will find it useful to read every word in this chapter. Chapter 6 expands the security discussion and selects mod_ssl as the software to install on top of Apache. It also discusses authentication, certificates and user logins.

Chapter 3 talks about the famous Common Gateway Interface (CGI) scripts and Perl, provides some examples for setting up CGI and Perl and provides the Hello Web and login web pages. Chapter 5 discusses mod_perl as a replacement for regular Perl and CGI for better performance.

The choice of database server is discussed in chapter 4. It compares MySQL and PostgreSQL in detail and finally settles on MySQL. This is the best discussion of this subject I have ever read. Most other discussions either select or abandon a particular piece of software without going into great detail.

Chapter 7 discusses how Perl can be enhanced to generate dynamic HTML, including the mod_include, mod_perl, Apache:ASP, and HTML:EmbPerl. The author eventually settles on HTML:Mason and Template Toolkit as his personal preference. The last paragraph touches lightly on XML and the future.

The next few chapters provides quick discussion of setting up sample sites, including a virtual community for news, forum, chats, an intranet server and a commerce site that provides shopping carts, order taking, tracking, and credit card processing. The last two chapters discuss site management in terms of content management and performance management.

Both chapters 2 (web server) and 6 (security and user) are available online for free (go to the sample chapters link on the book's Web site - see below). Some source codes are combined into one zip (or tar.gz) file for downloading (see below). Most of them are on the CGI and Mason examples.

Overall, this books does a good job of selecting software for readers out of the wide variety of open source products. For developers who wish to jump into the Web server domain, this book focuses on the essentials and will help fend off all the noise.

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