By Jim Rapoza  |  Posted 2006-01-16 Print this article Print

Apache has been called the engine of the World Wide Web, and for good reason—it is the server that drives most Web sites today. It is also probably the most successful open-source application ever, boasting more than 70 percent market share, according to the most recent Web server survey by Netcraft Ltd. (Microsoft Corp.s Internet Information Services is a distant second, with 20 percent.)

But, in much the same way people dont tend to think too often about the alternator in their cars, people dont tend to think too much about Apache. This is partly because Apache is a back-end server service, but it is also due to the free Web servers quality, as it is rarely affected by bugs or security problems. It simply works, day in and day out.

Of course, even highly successful products need to evolve, and the latest edition of Apache—Version 2.2.0, released in December—shows the slow and steady progress that has been typical of the Web server. During tests, eWEEK Labs was impressed with Apache 2.2.0, which adds several new capabilities that will improve secure connections, aid in configuration and management, and ease integration.

However, Apache 2.2.0 does make a few core changes that may affect those running non-vanilla Web sites. We highly recommend running the upgrade in development mode for a while before porting an active site to the new version, especially if you use custom modules on your site.

A large number of Web sites—of the "if it aint broke, dont fix it" school of thought—havent even moved to the previous 2.0 version of Apache and are still using Apache 1.x versions. Version 2.2.0 may give these sites good reason to move, but, given that many companies tend to stay one version behind the cutting edge, the move may be a migration to 2.0 and not 2.2.0 (yet).

For simplicitys sake

At the time of our testing, Apache 2.2.0 was still available only in source code, with no official installation binaries available. This meant going back to the traditional Apache install process of config, make and make install commands. This shouldnt be a major problem, although it may cause upgrade issues if your previous Apache installation was part of a Linux operating system install and doesnt follow standard Apache configurations. In addition, Apache 2.2.0 requires new versions of the Apache Portable Runtime, which we had to compile at the same time as Apache.

This version of Apache, like others before it, does not provide a GUI. If you really want one, plenty of good third-party options are available. In past reviews of Apache, weve lamented the lack of an administration interface, but weve come to find the traditional method of configuration file editing the most efficient.

Apache 2.2.0 does take some steps to ease administration. Multiple configuration files are now standard in Apache for managing items such as virtual hosts, secure connections and standard server settings. This makes it easier to implement small changes. However, those who prefer to use Apaches monolithic httpd.conf file can continue to do so.

We also liked the addition of new command-line options, especially httpd –M, which will show all loaded modules in the server. This includes dynamically loaded modules, something the older httpd –l command couldnt show.

New modules for proxies and caching will increase flexibility and capability when it comes to load balancing servers and caching content. A new mod_dbd module provided direct database connectivity, although most sites will still do this through a dynamic application script. Apache 2.2.0 also supports very large file downloads—with the ability to handle files greater than 2GB in size.

Authentication for the Apache Web server has been greatly changed in this version, with new and altered modules for authentication and a module that supports LDAP authentication. Organizations that heavily use Apache-based authentication should test their sites before moving production to Version 2.2.0.

As always, Apache runs on every operating system under the sun; we tested it on Linux, FreeBSD and Windows.

Given Apaches history, performance shouldnt be a major concern for those using the Web server, and, typically, Web site performance is affected more by outside factors, such as hardware, application servers and application code.

We did run performance tests of Apache 2.2.0 versus the previous 2.0 version, and saw exactly the incremental improvement one would expect . We tested both Web servers on a Penguin Computing Inc. Altus 1300 server with a dual-core 64-bit processor from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and 2GB of memory using Quest Software Inc.s Benchmark Factory.

Both servers performed well in our tests, with Apache 2.2.0 showing about a 2 percent performance increase over Version 2.0.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.

Jim Rapoza, Chief Technology Analyst, eWEEK.For nearly fifteen years, Jim Rapoza has evaluated products and technologies in almost every technology category for eWEEK. Mr RapozaÔÇÖs current technology focus is on all categories of emerging information technology though he continues to focus on core technology areas that include: content management systems, portal applications, Web publishing tools and security. Mr. Rapoza has coordinated several evaluations at enterprise organizations, including USA Today and The Prudential, to measure the capability of products and services under real-world conditions and against real-world criteria. Jim Rapoza's award-winning weekly column, Tech Directions, delves into all areas of technologies and the challenges of managing and deploying technology today.

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