Preface

© 1997 by Prentice Hall PTR

If you have decided it is time to serve some information, either to the whole Internet community or to a single organization, small or large (i.e., via an Intranet), this may be the book for you. My first job is to turn the may into a yes or a no. If you have been in a bookstore and seen shelves upon shelves of Internet-related books, you will likely appreciate this direct approach. If you want a succinct (i.e., short and inexpensive) guide to establishing a network-based information server on a UNIX® system, read on. If you want a pseudo-novel where the details of serving information are buried amid a mass of anecdotes and personal tales of woe, then put this back before you get the cover dirty.

Scope

Let us begin by making sure you understand the scope of the material that is presented within these pages.

Emphasis on information servers, not clients. Going out onto the Internet and (for example) downloading a file with ftp, sending mail, or reading someone's home page are client activities and are initiated using client software resident on the local computer. Setting up a secure ftp environment, redistributing an incoming mail message to members of a mailing list, or writing and making available a Web home page are server activities and require special software resident on the server. The majority of Internet-related books deal ONLY with the client aspect of Internet information access. This is NOT a book about using Web browsers like Mosaic, Netscape, and HotJava, nor is it a book that attempts to be a dictionary of servers to go and visit. This IS a book about designing and maintaining a server to support anonymous and enhanced ftp, Listservers, and Web-based access. Having said that, one chapter (Chapter Five) is devoted to obtaining and configuring client software, since it is required (1) to get the server software you need, and (2) to review the information on your own server as it is added.

Emphasis on the organization of the information. What makes a good server is not necessarily fancy presentation, but the quality and organization of the information. This book cannot help you with the quality of your information; however, it can make it easier to navigate and find the information.

Establishing an information server on a UNIX system. While many of the principles are the same, irrespective of whether the operating system is a UNIX variant, Microsoft Windows 3.1®, Microsoft Windows 95®, Microsoft Windows NT®, Apple Macintosh® operating system, etc., I have chosen to restrict the discussion to all versions of UNIX to remain more focused. Windows and possibly Macintosh-specific versions of this book will be available in the future.

Prerequisites

Degree of UNIX administrative experience required. You have to have root access to the system (either yourself or working with the UNIX system administrator) and understand the rudimentary aspects of file system layout, UNIX security, script programming, daemons and so on. It would also help to be familiar with writing code using the Perl interpretive language. In short, the intended audience is most likely folks who look after their own UNIX workstations or servers, but that task is only a prerequisite for getting your real job done. Now your real job involves, in addition, providing information to remote network clients. This could be as simple as providing your own demographic information for an electronic directory maintained by your organization, to providing teaching materials, to providing a complex front-end supporting iterative query of an underlying information resource.

Internet access assumed. There is not a detailed technical discussion in this book for getting connected to the Internet. That is, getting physically connected, getting an Internet address and being able to resolve addresses. I will show you how to determine whether you have met all the prerequisites for being connected, and if not, where to go for more information on types of connectivity, Internet providers, etc.

Format

If you are still reading, either you are lucky enough to have too much time on your hands, or you have met the prerequisites and belong to the intended audience. The next question to ask yourself is whether the format of this book is going to be helpful to you? To answer this question, consider my motivation in writing the book.

Over the past couple of years, I have been responsible for establishing and supporting information and information servers on UNIX platforms. What frustrated me in the beginning was the lack of a good overview of what software I should be installing, where I could get it, and how I could organize my information to make its presentation most effective. I would be misleading you if I said sources, either online or printed, were not available today to help. In fact, the opposite is true. The problem is that there is so much information, it is hard to know where to start.

My goal is to make this cookbook that place to start. You decide with my help what to cook and then gather a set of ingredients - software obtained free from the Internet, optional commercial software, and of course, the information itself. You put these ingredients together using the right utensils, and follow steps a through z. The result should be an Internet feast for a world of information consumers

This cookbook goes one step further in that it contains a global recipe - a recipe of recipes - to get you to all the other recipes. You can also think of the global recipe as a roadmap. With a traditional map, you begin with something that covers a large area (the introduction in this book) and gradually homes in on where you need to go (individual chapters and sections).

Choosing the route raises questions. Do I go on the Interstate? Do I take the scenic route? The analogy with the Information Superhighway (no pun intended) leads to questions like: Should I provide support for video clips? Is gopher support still necessary? Which is the most secure of the World Wide Web (WWW) servers? Should I support a WWW forms interface? Should I support Java applets for access from Java-ready browsers?

Beyond answering the global questions, each chapter takes pieces of the global recipe, provides a list of software ingredients and where you can get them, and describes in a step-by-step fashion how to put them together to get the job done.

Getting the software installed is the beginning, not the end of the process. This book details how to organize your information for effective access by the various tools, create meaningful links between items of data, and effectively use graphics, frames and clickable maps to facilitate navigation and convey the information. Information access on the Internet started as a passive process - reading of static text and images. It is now possible to engage in an active dialog, enter queries and get a response that can be subsequently refined as part of a more explicit query. Further, this whole process can involve sight, sound, and animation.

I devote a significant portion of this book discussing how you can support all these features. How sophisticated you want your server to be depends on how much you want to learn about such tools as Perl, HTML frames, and Java. People learn best from examples, so I include several scenarios, real and imaginary, to illustrate what can be achieved. For the real ones, code can be downloaded from the information server associated with this book and used as a template for your own exciting and innovative information servers.

If you are still undecided about whether this book meets your needs, look at the Global Recipe and its description and the Table of Contents (which is the more traditional form for presenting this recipe) and possibly the Introduction. You can do this either by further reading this book, or by visiting the information server.

Your Obligation

Setting up an information server can be fun and rewarding if accessed by lots of folks or by the few people you really want to access it. Remember, however, that how the information is presented is a minor issue compared to the question of what information is presented. Just as I have an obligation to write the best possible book I can so that I am not taking your money under false pretenses, I also have an obligation to serve up the best information on my Internet server so as not to waste anyone's time. The community at large has, so far, fulfilled this obligation admirably.

Share the Excitement

These are exciting times, in some ways reminiscent of a gold rush. We make up rules as we go, and what appears as a rich area of inquiry one day, with many people staking a claim, is forgotten the next. The end result of a gold rush, when the dust finally settled - or more correctly ran out - was an infrastructure of towns and cities that spurred economic development and social accomplishment. When the dust begins to settle on the Internet we will have a similar, albeit virtual infrastructure, that places a significant part of the total body of human knowledge at our fingertips. Who knows what we can achieve with such a resource? I am proud to help you become an active contributor to that resource.

Philip E. Bourne, San Diego, September 1996