Documentation for new server setup

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#1 Sat, 02/04/2006 - 12:08

Documentation for new server setup

I'm a newbie. I have used Linux for years, but never had to manage a web server before. I've been using CPanel/WHM to manage my websites but I am now setting up my own server using Virtualmin Pro.

One thing I haven't found is good documentation that describes the steps necessary to set up and configure a new webserver that is going to run websites like a CPanel server does.

I have reviewed all the documentation including the two books written by Jamie and Joe. The documentation is very complete in detailing all the modules/options for a huge number of services.

But, what I haven't found is a straight forward guide that tells me what I should do to set up my server and the steps I should go through. I don't want this guide to go into details about every module and all the different configuration options. It can simply refer to the books on the subject.

For example, I installed CentOS 4.2, installed Virtualmin Pro, created a new server for a domain, and then tried to browse to it.

Well, Apache wasn't started, so I found that and started it. But, then I had to reboot, and Apache didn't come back up. I looked around and found the Boot and Startup module (although I wasn't successful at getting it to start Apache on boot).

Similarly, when I went to create and access a MySQL database, I found that service wasn't running. I also found that phpMyAdmin hadn't been installed (it really should be!). When I found the Scripts Install module, I tried to install phpMyAdmin, but the result doesn't load (says "Cannot load mysql extension)".

Anyway, I could go on and on.

But, my point is that I think I am probably a typical user in just wanting to set up a server to server a bunch of domains that use PHP/MySQL, have mail for those domains, and manage a nameserver for those domains.

I kind of feel like Virtualmin/Webmin is all powerful and the documentation is comprehensive, but I don't really know the exact steps I should take to properly set up a secure webserver. There are just way too many options to deal with. I'm kind of wandering around the interface trying different things and skimming over the documentation, but I feel this isn't the most efficient way or a path that will result in a robust secure server being set up.

So, consider this a feature request for a comprehensive guide for setting up a typical webserver that doesn't go into all the details of exactly what all the options are and what they do. Rather, a guide that tells you to install Virtualmin, which services to configure, how to get them set so they start on reboot, etc.

I don't really care whether the guide tells me to use Postfix or QMail or whatever. Just tell me the one that most users will want to use if they had the time to read up on the differences between the choices. My point is that there is too much documentation and too many choices that I just want a guide that tells me how to set up a LAMP webserver.

Sat, 02/04/2006 - 12:15

BTW, if anyone wants to write such a guide, I'll volunteer to be the guide reviewer. As a new user of Virtualmin that is coming from a CPanel/WHM managed server environment, I might be able to provide feedback from the perspective of user that doesn't have much experience with all this but just wants to configure and manage a typical webserver.

Note I am a programmer with over 20 years of using and programming Unix apps.

Sat, 02/04/2006 - 13:37
Joe's picture

Hey Kevin,

You're absolutely right. The documentation needs a lot of work. As you've mentioned, it is copious--two books, loads of online information all over the place about Webmin and Virtualmin, and a few other bits and pieces here and there--but doesn't cover, with simplicity, the needs of a hosting provider.

The good news is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and I don't think it is a train. I'm in the midst of upgrading our devel server to the latest version of OpenACS (which means that as soon as the issues are resolved, will be upgraded), and that will make it possible to provide a really slick Wiki-like document management system with a rich WYSIWYG editor (it's called xoWiki and is really quite slick: ). I will import all of the docs into that system, and then Jamie and I can really dig in and start updating the documentation without the hassle of processing docbook or asciidoc or whatever. And, more importantly, you and everyone else with a account will be able to comment, edit, and add to the documentation. You can insert questions inline so that we'll know where things need work, for example.

Hopefully, this will be online by next weekend. I will, as a goodwill gesture, also spend at least one afternoon between now and then doing nothing but writing documentation so that we'll all have something look at, comment on, and think about, when the wiki goes live.


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Wed, 04/04/2007 - 04:50 (Reply to #3)

Can OpenACS be provided as a script install so that I can provide this to clients. Also, any other document management systems out there that can be added?

For example is an open source version of their commercial product.

I'm looking for something that's not too heavyweight with other features, not a project management system, etc.

Wed, 04/04/2007 - 05:15 (Reply to #4)
Joe's picture

<i>Can OpenACS be provided as a script install so that I can provide this to clients. Also, any other document management systems out there that can be added?</i>

Even if it could, you don't want it. ;-)

I've been complaining about OACS for at least a year now, and a few months ago decided to migrate to something else...I eventually settled on Joomla, which is reasonably good, despite being written in a rather haphazard style (in PHP, to boot). We're within days of flipping the switch (I've actually been threatening to flip it for a couple of months now...but thins keep coming up that I want to do with the product, and the website always suffers).

The good news is that everything OpenACS can do, Joomla can do better. Both are quite heavy weight, but OpenACS brings with it incredibly stupid dependencies (AOLServer, PostgreSQL plus numerous third party PostgreSQL add-ons, a custom built TCL, plus a half dozen other nasty little bits and pieces). If I'd known OACS wasn't actually all that good I would have skipped the pain of setting it all up--but once I was in deep enough to know its serious limitations it was too late (Virtualmin is still two guys, we don't have time to futz around with content management systems, forums, shopping carts, etc.). The incredibly smart people who work on OACS fooled me into thinking what they were working on must be awesome because they're all so smart. ;-)

So, OpenACS is out--it's just not possible to package the bastard in any reasonable way. The dependency list is too long.

Knowledge Tree might be a contender (I can't get their page to load right now, but I'll look into it). I'm not opposed to adding a document management system or two to the Install Scripts. Though I don't actually know what a document management system does different from a CMS (which is kinda what I thought OpenACS was, but it does have numerous other modules and types of deployment beyond what we're doing with it). ;-)


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Wed, 04/04/2007 - 04:55 (Reply to #5)

Also, I found this review page of some technologies: and following google search phrase returns more than I can process... [[+&quot;Document Storage&quot; +&quot;open source&quot;[[]]

Sun, 02/05/2006 - 10:31

Sounds good. I like the way allows users to comment on any of the pages in the documentation as I often find good tricks or workarounds from real world users. Your wikki sounds like it is the way to go. Hopefully, I can contribute some when it comes online.

Wed, 04/04/2007 - 09:13

&lt;Em&gt;We're within days of flipping the switch&lt;/Em&gt;

Hey Joe,

I know you've been planning this switch for a while, and I'm sure it will be a major improvement when you do. My only concern is, what will happen to all the stuff on the existing web site? There is a lot of great information in the forums, bug tracker and ticket tracker that I hope will still be accessible. I imagine it would be extremely difficult to migrate all of this content in any sensible way to the new site, so the only reasonable alternative I can think of is to keep the old site up and running for a long time (maybe a year or so), until the old information is not as relevant. Is this what you're planning to do, or do you have something else in mind?


Wed, 04/04/2007 - 15:07 (Reply to #8)
Joe's picture

Hey Alan,

Oh, ye of little faith. ;-)

That's a big part of what's taking so long! Installing Joomla (with Virtualmin, of course!) only takes 30 seconds. Getting it looking clean and getting all of our ~4000 users, hundreds of forum posts and bugs and issues, dozens of FAQs, and a hundred pages or so of documentation, all moved over has proven a herculean task. But the new site will rock when all is said and done.

There's only one problem with the migration that I'm aware of at this point: User accounts are incompatible across the two systems in two unfixable ways. Account naming conventions on Joomla are stricter (you have to have a &quot;Username&quot;...OACS politely allows you to be &quot;Alan Dobkin&quot; or use your rapper name &quot;ADog&quot;) and the password format is incompatible (OACS uses the more secure SHA-1, while Joomla uses MD5...see what I mean about the smart guys running the OACS show fooling me? I see bits like this and think, &quot;Why am I moving to Joomla when OACS on any given feature seems better thought out?&quot;). So, when the move happens I'll send out a mass email to every address we have with new random passwords, and arbitrary usernames (constructed from your real name here on the current site). You can then reset either or both items (in this regard Joomla is solid).

That reminds me, I need to post a notice in news to let folks know that we're migrating and they need to make sure their email address is correct so we can tell them their new password.


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Wed, 04/04/2007 - 15:33 (Reply to #9)

Wow, that is definitely an impressive task! I figured you would migrate the users somehow, but did not expect there would be a reasonable way to migrate the forum posts, etc. To keep this current, I imagine you will have to freeze the Virtualmin site at some point to make a clean cut to the new site.

BTW, how did you know my rapper name is ADog? ;-)

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