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Chapter 12. Server Setup Strategies

Since the first day mod_perl was available, users have adopted various techniques that make the best of mod_perl by deploying it in combination with other modules and tools. This chapter presents the theory behind these useful techniques, their pros and cons, and of course detailed installation and configuration notes so you can easily reproduce the presented setups.

This chapter will explore various ways to use mod_perl, running it in parallel with other web servers as well as coexisting with proxy servers.

12.1. mod_perl Deployment Overview

There are several different ways to build, configure, and deploy your mod_perl-enabled server. Some of them are:

  1. One big binary (for mod_perl) and one configuration file.

  2. Two binaries (one big one for mod_perl and one small one for static objects, such as images) and two configuration files.

  3. One DSO-style Apache binary and two configuration files. The first configuration file is used for the plain Apache server (equivalent to a static build of Apache); the second configuration file is used for the heavy mod_perl server, by loading the mod_perl DSO loadable object using the same binary.

  4. Any of the above plus a reverse proxy server in httpd accelerator mode.

If you are new to mod_perl and just want to set up your development server quickly, we recommend that you start with the first option and work on getting your feet wet with Apache and mod_perl. Later, you can decide whether to move to the second option, which allows better tuning at the expense of more complicated administration, to the third option (the more state-of-the-art DSO system), or to the fourth option, which gives you even more power and flexibility. Here are some of the things to consider.

  1. The first option will kill your production site if you serve a lot of static data from large (4-15 MB) web server processes. On the other hand, while testing you will have no other server interaction to mask or add to your errors.

  2. The second option allows you to tune the two servers individually, for maximum performance. However, you need to choose whether to run the two servers on multiple ports, multiple IPs, etc., and you have the burden of administering more than one server. You also have to deal with proxying or complicated links to keep the two servers synchronized.

  3. With DSO, modules can be added and removed without recompiling the server, and their code is even shared among multiple servers.

    You can compile just once and yet have more than one binary, by using different configuration files to load different sets of modules. The different Apache servers loaded in this way can run simultaneously to give a setup such as that described in the second option above.

    The downside is that you are dealing with a solution that has weak documentation, is still subject to change, and, even worse, might cause some subtle bugs. It is still somewhat platform-specific, and your mileage may vary.

    Also, the DSO module (mod_so) adds size and complexity to your binaries.

  4. The fourth option (proxy in httpd accelerator mode), once correctly configured and tuned, improves the performance of any of the above three options by caching and buffering page results. This should be used once you have mastered the second or third option, and is generally the preferred way to deploy a mod_perl server in a production environment.

If you are going to run two web servers, you have the following options:

Two machines
Serve the static content from one machine and the dynamic content from another. You will have to adjust all the links in the generated HTML pages: you cannot use relative references (e.g., /images/foo.gif) for static objects when the page is generated by the dynamic-content machine, and conversely you can't use relative references to dynamic objects in pages served by the static server. In these cases, fully qualified URIs are required.

Later we will explore a frontend/backend strategy that solves this problem.

The drawback is that you must maintain two machines, and this can get expensive. Still, for extremely large projects, this is the best way to go. When the load is high, it can be distributed across more than two machines.

One machine and two IP addresses
If you have only one machine but two IP addresses, you may tell each server to bind to a different IP address, with the help of the BindAddress directive in httpd.conf. You still have the problem of relative links here (solutions to which will be presented later in this chapter). As we will show later, you can use the 127.0.0.1 address for the backend server if the backend connections are proxied through the frontend.

One machine, one IP address, and two ports
Finally, the most widely used approach uses only one machine and one NIC, but binds the two servers to two different ports. Usually the static server listens on the default port 80, and the dynamic server listens on some other, nonstandard port.

Even here the problem of relative links is still relevant, since while the same IP address is used, the port designators are different, which prevents you from using relative links for both contents. For example, a URL to the static server could be http://www.example.com/images/nav.png, while the dynamic page might reside at http://www.example.com:8000/perl/script.pl. Once again, the solutions are around the corner.



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