Apache Cookbook

This was originally printed in the March 2008 edition of the UKUUG newsletter, which is now defunct.

Title: Apache Cookbook (2nd edition)
Authors: Rich Bowen, Ken Coar
ISBN: 9780596529949

As someone responsible for Apache installations on Windows, Linux and OS X, a book which claims to include hundreds of solutions to problems which I’m likely to face with this particular piece of server software certainly piques my interest.

Although the table of contents lists a wide array of topics, the most useful chapter in this book, at least in my opinion, is the one concerning aliases and URL rewriting. This is by far and away the most common problem which I experience with Apache, and judging by the number of questions related to it on forums and mailing lists I’m not alone. Fortunately, this chapter covers a lot of the common questions which people come across when trying to get to grips with mod_alias and mod_rewrite. My only minor complaint with this chapter is its size – twenty pages for one of the most difficult topics is insufficient. On the plus side, the chapter on security is fairly comprehensive, but then the separate Apache Security book has already covered that base.

My main concern about Apache Cookbook, however, is its usefulness to the average Apache administrator. Most people will be running a fairly standard Apache installation, perhaps with a few modules enabled, and so the vast majority of the recipes presented within the book will never be consulted. I myself run Apache on the three major operating systems and for different purposes, but the configuration is very similar on each one. Unless you are responsible for a web farm running Apache in a complex environment or have particularly exotic requirements, this book is unlikely to solve many of your problems.

The lack of a recipe for installing and configuring Ruby on Rails to work under Apache also felt like a bit of a let down to me. Admittedly the authors cannot cover every scenario, but the sheer number of Ruby on Rails books out there (many published by O’Reilly), coupled with the fact that there are not many UK web hosts offering this functionality, meant that the complete omission of Ruby was both a surprise and a disappointment.

Finally, most of the recipes found in this book can also be obtained for free following a quick search on Google or by consulting the Apache documentation files. Having all the answers in one book can be useful, but I’m not convinced that this makes up for the fact that the pace of software development means that some recipes may well be out of date by the time the book leaves the printers.

Overall, I wasn’t impressed by this book. Too many of the recipes cover trivial problems (e.g. how to log the browser’s user agent or installing Apache on Windows), others are covered in the documentation already supplied with Apache. Were this a first edition, I could almost forgive some of these mistakes, but not in a book which has already been through that phase. There’s some useful material in here, but not enough to justify the cover price – especially when you can get a lot of the information from a quick search on Google. As such, it only scores 4/10 from me.


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