Adding Linux to Your Web Development Arsenal

If you're a web developer or designer, chances are you've come in contact with the Linux operating system - most likely at the web server level. My first experience with Linux was in 1998 when I worked at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where our sys admins built web servers using this cool open source OS. What's not cool about a free operating system?

Anyway, it's a good idea to run a server out of your office or home just to get familiar with how it works and what it can do. That's what I finally set up this week and now my web development arsenal is pretty complete with a Windows laptop and desktop, Apple G4, and Ubuntu Linux on an old Pentium 3.

What will I do with my Linux box? Plans are to run PHP and Perl server applications off of it that are too memory intensive for a shared host web server. I've been getting more into running php and perl programs from the command line interface, and want to move that development to Linux.

So how do you get it?

First of all you need a decent computer, and I think the Pentium 3 with 512 MB of RAM that I have is about the slowest thing you're going to want to run it on (I got it for free). However, if you are just running a web server that won't get a lot of use, then a slower computer is not all that bad. It's when you get into running the various desktop apps (KDE or Gnome) that you need at least 1GB of memory.

The flavor of Linux I chose is Ubuntu and I picked it because it came with an easy web server install. You can pick whatever flavor you want but the most popular ones seem to be Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, and SUSE. There are lots of comparison sites (here and here)out there on the net, just Google it.

Once you get your distribution downloaded, installing it is usually pretty easy. They've really come a long way to make the process of installing Linux easier for everyone and if your hardware is common then you shouldn't have a problem. I have to admit that I had a bit of a problem because I decided to remove the DVD drive before installing and messed up the Master/Slave drive hierarchy. I don't know a lot about putting computers together, but now I know about that :) Live and learn.

What to do once it is installed?

So if you get Linux installed, what the heck do you do with it? If you've installed a 'normal' version with a GUI then you can pretty much use it like any other computer. Linux is a great, cheap alternative to purchasing an OS if you need an extra computer for basic tasks like word processing or browsing the web.

If you are like me and installed a web server, then it doesn't come with a GUI. Get ready to type some command line instructions. Really though, once I installed the Ubuntu web server it was ready to go with Apache, PHP, Perl, and mySQL and I didn't have to configure anything special to start using it right away. Any programmer can use this setup to start building web spiders and other fun stuff, and deploy it right out their home office like I do (just don't do anything too spammy or your ISP might shut you down).

I know this hasn't been a tutorial on the specifics of how to set up Linux but you can find those on the distribution site that you download from. That is the best place to find that kind of information along with support if you run into trouble. If you end up setting up Linux or already have it set up, post a comment and tell us how you use it in your development arsenal.