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Apache2 Pocket Reference

Andrew Ford
Published by O'Reilly Media
ISBN: 978-0-596-51888-2
208 pages
£ 8.99
Published: 24th October 2008
reviewed by Andy Thomas
   in the December 2008 issue (pdf), (html)

Somewhat thicker (and heavier!) than most other titles in the O'Reilly Pocket Reference series, this book certainly has come a long way from the single Desktop Reference card by the same author that used to accompany the second edition of Ben and Peter Laurie's Apache: The Definitive Guide as an insert inside the front cover.

Organised into eleven chapters, the book is logically laid out and covers the main tasks an Apache server administrator would be faced with. Rather simply filling the book with an alphabetically-ordered and tedious list of configuration directives, the author has chosen to group these into distinct topics and devotes a chapter to each — URL mapping, access control, filtering and so on and it is easy to find all the directives related to a given task. Each chapter is then broken down into sub-sections each containing a concise description of that sub-topic with additional information where necessary. This makes the pocket book very readable and interesting even — I found myself reading it on my daily commute, especially the section on filters (where I found some new features that crept into Apache 2.2 that I was completely unaware of).

Topics covered in chapter 1 include basic configuration and starting and stopping the apache server while following chapters describe the server environment, access controls, URL mapping, the SSL/TLS subsystem and logging. Less common aspects of Apache operation such as document meta-information, content handlers, caching, proxying and filtering are given equal weight as the popular topics - nothing is skimped or glossed over. One thing this book does not cover is installation; this is probably well outside the remit of this title and even full-sized books generally avoid this area as the documentation accompanying the Apache source covers this adequately while installing a pre-built Apache package will usually be just the same as installing any other package for that operating system version. The assumption is that the reader has access to an already-installed and usable apache server.

Rounding off the book is a comprehensive index that includes every Apache 2.x configuration directive followed by some useful appendices containing some additional HTTP reference material; I was surprised to find a detailed description of the C language strftime() format in one of the appendices — not the sort of information that would concern many apache administrators but it does add interest to what could have been a very sparse pocket booklet and gives it a feeling of completeness.

Summing up, this pocket reference lives up to the usual high standard we have come to expect from O'Reilly and this Apache old-timer was not at all disappointed. For those well-versed in earlier versions of Apache such as 1.3, there is enough material here even to make the jump to Apache 2.x — this pocket book together with an earlier edition of the full-size Apache reference are in most cases all you would need to cover all versions of Apache. It does exactly what it says on the tin (i.e. the rear cover) and whilst it is neither a getting-started tutorial nor a definitive reference tome, experienced Apache administrators will find this a very useful addition to their bookshelf (or more likely, their backpack). And at the amazingly low asking price, it's a no-brainer!

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