eWEEK at 30: The Lamp Stack Switches on Large-Scale Web Development

By Sean Michael Kerner  |  Posted 2014-02-25

eWEEK at 30: The Lamp Stack Switches on Large-Scale Web Development

For much of computing history, application delivery came by way of proprietary, vertically integrated application stacks that were designed and engineered by IT vendors. In the late 1990s that changed.

The Linux open-source operating system emerged in the early 1990s just in time to serve as an important tool that would drive the nascent Internet. But an operating system alone isn't enough to define a platform. What was needed was the ability to deliver applications especially Web applications and services that would support the rapid growth of the Internet. That's how the LAMP stack came to be.

LAMP is an acronym that stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP, though the 'P' can also stand for Perl or Python as well. LAMP is one of the defining success stories for Web application development, Linux and the open-source movement that eWEEK has covered since the rise of the Internet.

Linux is the foundational bare-metal operating system on which the stack runs. The Apache web server first came on the scene in 1995 just as global Web use was starting to grow explosively, tracing its roots back to the very first NSCA HTTPd webserver. From April 1996 to the present day, the open-source Apache HTTP Server has held the enviable distinction of being the most widely deployed Web server on the planet.

Initially, Apache was only available on Linux and other Unix variants, though it has been available for Windows since 1997. Installing Apache on Linux-based servers is the most typical deployment.

A Web server alone is only enough for static Web page delivery and that's where the other pieces of the LAMP stack come into play. The MySQL database also first debuted in 1995 providing an open-source database that was able to run on top of Linux and connect with the Apache Web server.

The final piece of the LAMP puzzle initially came in the form of the open-source PHP programming language. As is the case with both Apache and MySQL, PHP's roots date to 1995, though it was with the PHP 3 release in 1997 that the language began to gain real traction. Once PHP could be integrated directly with Apache to run together a Linux operating system server, the LAMP stack was born as the serendipitous confluence of developer needs and technology.

"Just as Linus Torvalds (creator of Linux) didn’t set out to create a kernel that would run on multiple architectures and power everything from cell phones to stock exchanges, no one set out to create an open source stack that would revolutionize the software industry," Amanda McPherson, vice president of marketing and developer programs at the Linux Foundation told eWEEK.

McPherson added that it just made sense for developers and companies to build infrastructure with a fully open-source stack, allowing for innovations, reduced cost and faster development.

"As more people saw how the stack worked together and used it together, it just kept on getting better and more integrated," McPherson said.

While the initial LAMP stack was a natural evolution, there were and still are commercial vendors that benefit commercially from helping to build and extend the stack. One of those vendors is Red Hat, which Markets Red Hat Linux and related products. Marty Wesley is a senior principal product marketing manager at Red Hat and was with the company during its early days, seeing first-hand the importance of LAMP to Red Hat's growth.

Wesley told eWEEK that the LAMP stack was something that really evolved naturally as developers determined what tools they needed to build their applications.

"But once it became clear that [LAMP] was a popular solution, the commercial vendors moved to standardize and enhance the stack in various ways," Wesley said.

eWEEK at 30: The Lamp Stack Switches on Large Scale Web Development

In 2014, Red Hat is a billion dollar software company and it owes some of its early success to the LAMP stack. Wesley noted that LAMP in the early days helped spur the growth of Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

"We were one of the first companies that recognized the demand from customers for a stable, reliable platform for application development and deployment and we delivered that in Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which included a complete LAMP stack," Wesley said. "That helped drive customer adoption and further reinforced Red Hat's focus on improving the LAMP offering in the product."

LAMP's success was something that eWEEK reported on in the early 2000s and was something that Microsoft noticed as well. In 2002, eWEEK published a story titled, "Microsoft Steps Up Its War on LAMP," which reported on an effort to offer developers a Windows-based alternative to LAMP that never truly matured into a strong competitive threat.

"Is Microsoft at last conceding that the open-source world may have some new tricks to teach the old dogs in Redmond? Or is the Redmond software giant simply using new tactics to infiltrate the Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP (LAMP) camp?" eWEEK wrote at the time.

A decade later and Microsoft's market position against LAMP is relatively unchanged statistically. In 2014, Microsoft has still not made any significant share gains against LAMP or Apache specifically. According to Netcraft's February 2014 web server survey, Microsoft now holds a 29 percent share of all Websites. In contrast, Apache holds a 42 percent market share.

In 2002, Microsoft also only had a 29 percent share, though Apache's share at the time stood at 58 percent. In recent years, the open-source Nginx Web server has made significant inroads, some of it at the expense of Apache's share.

Overall, even now in 2014, the LAMP stack remains a dominant force on the Web landscape. Wesley said that Linux is the dominant operating system platform for Web application deployments and the vast majority of these deployments use the Apache Web server.

"MySQL, or derivatives of it like MariaDB, are widely used for database storage and the 'P' languages—PHP, Python, and to a lesser extent, Perl—continue to be the tools of choice for both small projects and large scale web services," Wesley added. "So I would say that the LAMP stack continues to play an important role on the web today."

The importance of LAMP is echoed by the Linux Foundation's McPherson. She commented that the LAMP stack helped bring enterprise-level attention to using a fully open-source suite of components to build and run technologies better and faster.

"Linux and open source software run most of modern day technology infrastructure, including the majority of the web (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Twitter and more) and the major cloud services," McPherson said. "I know quite a few software-as-a-service start ups and they all either use cloud-based services or run the LAMP stack along with automation tools in their own environments."

The idea of an open-source based set of software components all pieced together to form a software stack was a new one in the late 1990s but it's one that still continues to evolve today. Whether it's the use of Nginx for the Web server, different databases like MariaDB or different programming models like node.js, the open source stack concept continues to drive Web innovation forward.

"The interesting thing is to witness the evolution of the stack concept, bringing in alternative database technologies or new languages, but still modeled on the original LAMP concept," Wesley said. "I think that speaks to the power of the original solution, it's ability to stand the test of time while adapting to new environments."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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