With the advent of Mac OS X, Mac users have access to a wealth of server software that has already proved its mettle in the Unix world. For example, Apache, which is included with OS X, is the world’s most widely used Web server. It offers seemingly unlimited features, excellent performance, and reliability; however, its text-based configuration and maintenance are byzantine by Mac standards.
But Mac users deserve better. 4D has completely rewritten its WebStar Web server and delivered WebStar 5.1.1, which makes OS X Web-server’s configuration much more palatable – for experienced administrators and novices alike.
This full-featured package provides an easy-to-use interface without sacrificing server performance; it’s also a viable alternative – along with Tenon’s (www.tenon.com) $299 iTools 6.5 (which claims to let you configure Apache through a Web-based interface) – to configuring Apache the old-fashioned way. The only downside to the package’s rewrite for OS X is that existing WebStar plug-ins, such as FireSite and NetCloak, must be rewritten to work with WebStar V; these plug-ins simply won’t work with the OS X-only WebStar V.
Despite its easy configuration, the WebStar V package isn’t short on substance; it includes Web and FTP servers, myriad plug-ins that extend the core Web server’s capabilities, and Java-based administration software for OS X and Windows – but not OS 9.
Installing WebStar V is straightforward: for security reasons, create a new user named “webstar” on your OS X system and then run the installer. Launching the server for the first time also launches WebStar Admin Client, which allows remote and local maintenance and configuration of a WebStar V server via an interface that, while slightly awkward due to its Java roots, will be familiar to WebStar 4 users.
Above and beyond setting up server-wide preferences, WebStar V allows the server administrator to delegate virtual host-specific configuration settings. For example, if you have a building-wide Web server, the administrator can allow each department to have control over only those settings that are specific to its site, without relinquishing control of the entire server configuration. This feature can considerably lighten a server administrator’s workload, and make control of sites easier for each department.
Although WebStar V doesn’t support the many available Apache modules, 4D’s out-of-the-box additions to the program’s core feature set will handily address the needs of most users. In addition to WebStar V-specific plug-ins, version 5.1.1 supports standard CGI applications, including those written in AppleScript, Perl, or any other CGI-compatible scripting language.
Other built-in WebStar V options include a content-indexing and search engine, WebDAV support, Java-servlet support via the Apache project’s Tomcat technology, and connectivity with 4D’s flagship database. Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) support is also integrated, for those who want to encrypt Web traffic to and from their servers. And easy-to-use tools are provided for getting your server’s certificate.
WebStar V makes enabling features such as SSL easy, whereas giving Apache’s stock configuration the same capabilities would require compiling and installing Apache modules – a non-intuitive task.
Apache is well known for its excellent performance, so our main goal was to find out, in a simple test, whether WebStar could match it. So Macworld Lab pitted WebStar 5.1.1 against Apache 1.3.23, using a set of tests based on the ApacheBench testing tool, and a mix of file types and sizes that closely represent the types of pages both products would serve. The only configuration change we made to Apple’s stock Apache installation was enabling server-side includes to generate relatively simple dynamic Web pages.
Our test results showed that WebStar V’s performance was almost indistinguishable from Apache’s overall. In the two instances where one outperformed the other, WebStar V won.
WebStar V is easy to configure and maintain, but its documentation is poor. The installation guide provides a good walk-through of the steps required, but if you encounter a problem, you won’t find troubleshooting information there.
WebStar V offers easy-to-use graphical server management from Mac OS X and Java-enabled Windows clients, and it’s ideal for seasoned administrators and Web-serving novices. Because WebStar 5.1.1’s performance is equivalent to Apache’s, the choice between the two depends on whether you want to pay for ease of use, or spend time configuring a free product.