Webmaster in a Nutshell

Webmaster in a Nutshell

by Robert Eckstein, Stephen Spainhour

Individuals, organizations, and businesses are relying on their web pages to provide and collect information, manage processes, and interact with communities and customers. A reliable, informative, and responsive web site can reduce cost, increase visibility, and create a positive image for the owner of that site.Behind every successful web page is an overworked


Individuals, organizations, and businesses are relying on their web pages to provide and collect information, manage processes, and interact with communities and customers. A reliable, informative, and responsive web site can reduce cost, increase visibility, and create a positive image for the owner of that site.Behind every successful web page is an overworked and underappreciated webmaster.Webmasters make sure that the information on a site is accessible and usable; that the site is always available; that performance is good; that users can get the information that they need; and that the site can collect the information it needs to serve those users. These disparate tasks require many different tools and skills. Webmaster in a Nutshell pulls together in a single volume all the essential reference information for webmasters working on UNIX-based web servers.In this second edition of Webmaster in a Nutshell, we've updated our material to include the latest versions of HTML and Javascript, and also expanded the book to cover the newest technologies emerging on the Web. The book covers:

  • HTML 4.0, with special attention to forms, tables and frames
  • CSS (Cascading Style Sheets)
  • XML, the next-generation markup language for the Web
  • CGI, with a chapter dedicated to the Perl module CGI.pm
  • JavaScript 1.2
  • PHP, the HTML-embedded programming language
  • HTTP 1.1, the underlying protocol that drives the Web
  • Apache server administration, including Apache modules
  • mod_perl, the Apache module for enhancing CGI
  • performance and providing a Perl interface to the Apache API
Webmaster in a Nutshell, part of the bestselling O'Reilly series of reference books, makes it easy to find the information you want about the technologies you use. You'll keep your other books on the shelf; you'll keep Webmaster in a Nutshell next to your keyboard.

Editorial Reviews

Ray Duncan

Better the Nutshell than the Nuthouse

Back when the Earth was young, "PC" meant "personal computer" rather than "IBM compatible," and the World-Wide-Web was only a gleam in Tim Berners-Lee's eye, O'Reilly built its reputation by recruiting UNIX wizards and gurus to write thoughtful, carefully edited, highly structured "Nutshell" handbooks on complex, esoteric topics such as COFF, DNS, BIND, and sendmail. WebMaster in a Nutshell marks a return to those roots, but arrives in a less civilized age, when the pace of change is frantic, and the competition for shelf space and mind-share intense.

WebMaster in a Nutshell consists of 26 chapters divided into five sections: HTML, CGI, HTTP, JavaScript, and Server Configuration. Much of the material is based on, or adapted from, other Web-related O'Reilly books such as Musciano and Kennedy's HTML: The Definitive Guide, Flanagan's JavaScript: The Definitive Guide, and Gundavaram's CGI Programming on the World Wide Web. As with other O'Reilly handbooks, there's wildlife on the cover, but this time it's an spider instead of some obscure vertebrate, and a rather nasty-looking rascal at that.

The HTML section is the most valuable, covering all of the currently-used tags -- along with browser dependencies, tables of character entities, and reserved color names -- clearly and concisely. The CGI section is something of a mish-mosh of HTML form tags, CGI environment variables, server-side includes, and PERL operators and functions. PERL probably should have been given its own section and the material considerably fleshed out. The usefulness of the JavaScript section is, like JavaScript itself, unclear at this point.

I suppose the relevance of the remaining two sections depends largely on what O'Reilly sees as the audience for this book. Certainly most people who call themselves WebMasters these days would have little occasion to turn to the HTTP and Server Management sections; routine operation of a commercial Web server rarely brings one into intimate contact with HTTP protocol issues, and the Server Management discussion is limited to UNIX HTTP daemons and O'Reilly's WebSite product for Windows NT and Windows-95.

After putting WebMaster in a Nutshell to the test in my own work environment over the last couple of months, my impression is that the authors tried to cover too much ground. The overall concept is reasonable, and the book is definitely useful in its present form, but I hope that O'Reilly will rethink the contents and audience carefully before releasing the next edition.--Dr. Dobb's Electronic Review of Computer Books

Product Details

O'Reilly Media, Incorporated
Publication date:
In a Nutshell (O'Reilly) Series
Edition description:
Second Edition
Product dimensions:
6.11(w) x 9.06(h) x 1.19(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Introduction

This book is a compilation of some fairly diverse reference material. What links these topics is that they are crucial knowledge for today's webmaster in a Unix environment.

In this chapter, we give the world's quickest introduction to web technology and the role of the webmaster who breathes life into each web document. if you want to learn more about the history of the Web, how to make your web pages "cool," the social impact of the Internet, or how to make money online, this is the wrong book..

This is a book by impatient writers for impatient readers. We're less interested in the hype of the Web than we are in what makes it actually tick. We'll leave it to the pundits to predict the future of the Web or to declare today's technology already outdated. Too much analysis makes our heads spin; we just want to get our web sites online.

The Web in a Nutshell

We've organized this book in a roughly "outside-in" fashion-that is, with the outermost layer (HTML) first and the innermost layer (the server itself) last. But since it's a good idea for all readers to know how everything fits together, let's take a minute to breeze through a description of the Web from the inside-out: no history, no analysis, just the technology basics.

Clients and Servers

The tool most people use on the Web is a browser, such as Netscape Navigator, Internet Explorer, Opera, Mosaic, or Lynx. Web browsers work by connecting over the Internet to remote machines, requesting specific documents, and then formatting the documents they receive for viewing on the local machine.

The language, or protocol, used for web transactions is Hypertext Transfer Protocol, or HTTP. The remote machines containing the documents run HTTP servers that wait for requests from browsers and then return the specified document. The browsers themselves are technically HTTP clients.

Uniform Resource Locators (URLs)

One of the most important things to grasp when working on the Web is the format for URLs. A URL is basically an address on the Web, identifying each document uniquely (for example, http://www.oreilly.com/products.html). Since URLs are so fundamental to the Web, we discuss them here in a little detail. The simple syntax for a URL is:




The host to connect to-e.g., www.oreilly.com or www.altavista.com. (While many web servers run on hosts beginning with www, the www prefix is just a convention.)


The document requested on that server. This is not the same as the filesystem. path, as its root is defined by the server.

Most URLs you encounter follow this simple syntax. A more generalized syntax, however, is:




The protocol that connects to the site. For web sites, the scheme is http: for FTP the scheme is figs.

extra-path-info and query-info

Optional information used by CGI programs. See Chapter 12, CGI Overview, for more information.

HTML documents also often use a "shorthand" for linking to other documents on the same server, called a relative URL. An example of a relative URL is images/webnut.gif. The browser knows to translate this into complete URL syntax before sending the request. For example, if http:www.oreilly.com/books/webnut.html contains a reference to images/webnut.gif, the browser reconstructs the relative URL as a full (or absolute) URL, http://www.oreilly.com/books/images/webnut.gif and requests that document independently (if needed).

Often in this book, you'll see us refer to a URI, not a URL. A URI (Universal Resource identifier) is a superset of URL, in anticipation of different resource naming conventions being developed for the Web. For the time being, however, the only URI syntax in practice is URL; so while purists might complain, you can safely assume that "URI" is synonymous with "URL" and not go wrong (yet).

Web Content: HTML, XML, CGI, JavaScript, and PHP

While web documents can conceivably be in any format, the universal standard is Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), a language for creating formatted text interspersed with images, sounds, animation, and hypertext links to other documents anywhere on the Web. Chapter 2, HTML Overview, through Chapter 8, Color Names and Values, cover the most current version of HTML.

In 1996, a significant extension to HTML was developed in the form of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Cascading Style Sheets allow web site developers to associate a number of style-related characteristics (such as font, color, spacing, etc.) with a particular HTML tag. This enables HTML authors to create a consistent look and feel throughout a set of documents. Chapter 9, Cascading Style Sheets, provides an overview of and a reference to CSS.

While HTML remains the widespread choice for web site development, there is also an heir apparent called XML (Extensible Markup Language). XML is a metalanguage that allows you to define your own document tags. While XML's development remains highly volatile, Chapter 10, XML, gives you the basics.

When static documents aren't sufficient for a web site's needs, you can use tools such as CGI, JavaScript, and PHP. CGI is a way for the web server to call external programs instead of simply returning a static document. Chapter 12 through Chapter 15, Web Server Programming with mod_perl, are intended for CGI programmers using the Perl programming language. JavaScript and PHP are both programming languages embedded directly into HTML documents, but that's where the similarities end: JavaScript is used primarily for client-side scripting, and PHP is used primarily for database access. See Chapter 11, JavaScript, and Chapter 16, PHP.

The HTTP Protocol

In between clients and servers is the network, which uses TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) and IP (Internet Protocol) to transmit data and find servers and clients. On top of TCP/IP, clients and servers use the HTTP protocol to communicate. Chapter 17, HTTP, gives details on the HTTP protocol, which you must understand for writing CGI programs, server scripts, web administration, and just about any other part of working with a server.

Web Server

The runaway leader among Unix-based web servers is Apache. Chapter 18, Apache Configuration, deals with configuring Apache, while Chapter 19, Apache Modules, discusses the various Apache modules. Regardless of the type of server you're running, there are various measures you can take to maximize its efficiency. Chapter 20, Server Performance, describes a number of these server optimization techniques....

Meet the Author

Robert Eckstein, an editor at O'Reilly, works mostly on Java books (notably Java Swing) and is also responsible for the XML Pocket Reference and Webmaster in a Nutshell, 2nd Edition. In his spare time he has been known to provide online coverage for popular conferences. He also writes articles for JavaWorld magazine. Robert holds bachelor's degrees in computer science and communications from Trinity University. In the past, he has worked for the USAA insurance company and more recently spent four years with Motorola's cellular software division. He is the co-author of Using Samba.

Stephen Spainhour co-authored Webmaster in a Nutshell, Perl in a Nutshell, 1st Edition, and contributed to many other OReilly titles. He is an avid fan of professional tennis, and when hes not checking for tennis scores on the Web, he enjoys cooking, electronic music, troubleshooting his home-built PC, and watching too much television.

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