capsule review

4D WebStar V 5.1

With the advent of 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 don't have to settle. 4D has completely rewritten its WebStar Web server and delivered WebStar V 5.1.1, which makes OS X Web-server 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 $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 X­only 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.

Setup and Configuration

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.

Options and More Options

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 V­specific plug-ins, version 5.1.1 supports standard CGI applications, including those written in AppleScript, Perl, or any other CGI-compatible scripting language. This version also includes FastCGI support, which can noticeably improve performance for CGI-type applications. (For example, WebStar V ships with a FastCGI rendition of the PHP dynamiccontent generation system.)

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 and FastCGI support easy, whereas giving Apache's stock configuration the same capabilities would require compiling and installing Apache modules--a nonintuitive task for many administrators.

It Just Works

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 V 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 installa-tion was enabling server-side includes to generate relatively simple dynamic Web pages.

We set up three test clients, each configured to generate eight connections, and had them request the files from a single Web server (a dual-1GHz Power Mac G4 with 512MB RAM) over a 100BaseT Ethernet network. Our test results showed that WebStar V's performance was almost indistinguishable from Apache's overall. In the two instances where one clearly outperformed the other, WebStar V was the winner.

Documentation

WebStar V may be easy to configure and maintain, but its documentation leaves much to be desired. 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. Instead, you'll either have to use up one of the 12 tech-support incidents that you're afforded in the first year or ask for help on the WebStar-talk e-mail list.

It was also disappointing that the technical reference explained the server's configuration options but failed to mention the server-side include directives that WebStar V supports. The manual also doesn't mention PHP, which WebStar supports; its installation is described in a file buried deep in the server's folder hierarchy.

Macworld's Buying Advice

WebStar V offers easy-to-use graphical server management from Mac OS X and Java-enabled Windows clients, and it's ideal for both seasoned administrators and Web-serving novices. Because WebStar V 5.1.1's performance is equivalent to Apache's (and in some instances, better), the choice between the two depends on whether you want to pay for ease of use or spend some time configuring a free product.

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