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Roxen WebServer: Serving the basis for the application-driven Roxen Platform

By ServerWatch Staff (Send Email)
Posted Jan 25, 1998


With Roxen Challenger, the boundaries between Web server and application server are blurred, even more so than usual. In this case, intent is the issue. Sure, Roxen Challenger is distributed as open source by Idonex under the terms of the GNU GPL, and you could use Roxen as a pure Web server a la Apache. In fact, Roxen Challenger goes one step further and adds some potential security functionality via SSL. It's scalable -- running on both UNIX and Windows NT platforms -- and based on our limited tests, it appears to be as speedy as Apache in responding to elaborate queries.

Beware, however, the commercial company that comes bearing free gifts. In the case of Idonex (the developers of Roxen Challenger), the point isn't really to get you to commit to an open-source Web server, rather it's to sell you the tools that go along with the open-source Web server -- namely, the commercial development tools sold under the name of Roxen Platform, which includes advanced workgroup-development tools and connectivity to commercial databases. With Roxen Challenger, the boundaries between Web server and application server are blurred, even more so than usual. In this case, intent is the issue.

Roxen Platform closely resembles an application server, beginning with Roxen SiteBuilder (a tool for creating dynamic and advanced Web workgroup sites) and ending with the Roxen Database API Pro, which is used to create Web-based database applications, including connections to Oracle, Informix, ODBC, Mimer, mSQL, MySQL, Postgres, SQL, and legacy databases. (Notably missing is JDBC connectivity.) In a magnanimous move, the Roxen Challenger developers make available free of charge the modules that connect to freely available (as opposed to commerce) UNIX database-management tools: mSQL, MySQL and Postgres. Currently the Roxen Database API Pro is supported on UNIX platforms, although an upcoming release will incorporate Windows NT support. The Roxen Challenger documentation explicitly touts the application-server capabilities of the Roxen Platform, pointing out that it can be used to create database applications like online catalogs.

The Web Server

We're getting ahead of ourselves here; the focus of this review is the Roxen Challenger Web server, which actually encompasses a secure Web server, an FTP server (allowing both anonymous and restricted access), a proxy server, and a mirror server. Like all good UNIX Web servers, Roxen Challenger is multithreaded and inherently scalable - just install it on a bigger machine as needed. It also supports virtual servers, with an extended log format that provides a high level of detail about your visitors' actions. (Sadly, there's no real-time log capabilities - you'll need to purchase Roxen Platform for that.) However, with the exceptions of CGI, FastCGI, and Microsoft FrontPage Extensions support, when you get away from Idonex-specific tools (which we'll discuss several times in the remainder of this review), you're not going to find a lot of additional support for other Web standards.

If you're used to working with Apache modules, you'll find the modules used by Roxen to be similar, although Roxen modules can be added on the fly (as opposed to the Apache modules). It's theoretically possible to develop your own modules, but the preferred development tool for Roxen modules is Pike, an interpreted object-oriented programming language that is said to be similar to C. And, naturally, it's a proprietary tool developed by Idonex. (Roxen Challenger is also written in Pike.) We did not spend a lot of time examining Pike as a tool for developing modules; we'd prefer that open standards be followed when developing modules for Web servers, a la the more open API found with Apache modules. Why commit to an open-source Web server if you're going to be forced into using proprietary tools?

Security in Roxen Challenger

The security in Roxen Challenger is 126/128-bit encryption via the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) 3, but it probably will do you little good unless you're in Sweden. If you're not in Sweden, you'll need to apply to the Swedish authorities for an export license. This can be done online. You might end up walking into a huge morass by trying to import this technology - the documentation warns that encryption technology is currently being reviewed by the Swedish government, and that encryption capabilities are not being exported to the United States at this time. (Also, for those purists out there, be warned that you're leaving the open-source world with this encryption technology, since it uses RSA technology in violation of the GPL.)

However, you can freely download Roxen Challenger without the encryption, which we did for this review - looking at both Roxen Challenger 1.2 downloaded in UNIX tar format and a beta copy of Roxen Challenger 1.3 for Windows NT. Once you get away from the encryption, you're also looking at a Web server with unimpressive security features. Authentication is done against an internal database managed by a module; there's no direct RADIUS or Windows NT user database support.

One unique aspect to Roxen Challenger is its graphics management, which can be based on antialiased images. These graphics can be changed dynamically across a Web site. It's rather simple to administer: you create and edit headers like any other text, and the text attributes (size, font, color, et al) can be changed dynamically. In addition, you can dynamically generate charts based on databases found elsewhere on the network.

Administration in Roxen Challenger

Roxen Challenger is administered via a Web-based graphical user interface. You can perform all administrative functions from anywhere on the network, as well as configure multiple servers and manage Roxen modules. The Roxen Challenger documentation claims that your Web site can be administered to optimize a site to handle all browser types and versions running on any platform. We did not test this capability, and this capability may be more conceptually pleasing that practical: most Web users are either Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer users using Windows (sorry, Opera and Arena fans), and chances are pretty good that you don't want to spend a lot of time making sure that all those Netscape Navigator for FreeBSD are well-served.

The technical support for Roxen Challenger is weak. There's no local documentation in a Challenger installation, and the online documentation is middling at best. There is phone support for registered commercial users of Roxen Platform, and Idonex does support some mailing lists for users. However, there's no Usenet newsgroup devoted to Roxen Challenger. If you're a Challenger user, you can send e-mail and hope for the best.

Roxen Platform

Looking at the application-server part of the equation, it's clear that the Roxen Platform compares poorly to other enterprise-level application servers. There's no load-balancing or failover features in the Roxen Platform, and these features are rapidly becoming check-list items in the application-server field. There are no sophisticated tools for managing clusters, and the pricing plan for Roxen Platform actually discourages distributed application servers on a network. The listed price for a one-server license, which includes 10 SiteEditor licenses, is $8,895, while each additional server license is $1,895.

Be warned that when you commit to Roxen Challenger for anything more than basic Web serving, you are committing yourself to the entire Roxen platform. The preferred scripting language in Roxen Challenger is the Roxen Macro Language (RXML), which is used a la Perl to create dynamic Web pages. (Don't be confused by the RXML - there's no link between XML and RXML.) This language serves mainly as a bridge between RXML tags embedded in Web pages and Challenger modules invoked by the tags. These tags and the RXML language are also part of the Database API Pro. We didn't spend a lot of time examining RXML - our preference is more for open standards like Perl or Java, and you'll want to think twice about committing to the proprietary RXML language instead of Java or C, especially for larger multiyear projects. (We should, however, make it clear that we're not evaluating the pros and cons of the Database API Pro, as we did not test it. It could very well be that your needs are well-served with the Roxen Platform.)

Summary

If you're looking for a total development system a la an enterprise-level application server, you may want to look for an application server that's more closely aligned to the needs of your shop (for instance, Oracle shops will want to look at Oracle Application Server, while Java developers will want to look at one of the many Java-based application servers). However, if you're looking for a fast, easy-to-administer open-source Web server and for whatever reason don't want to commit to Apache, you could do worse than install Roxen Challenger -- and ignore the other offerings that are part of the Roxen Platform.

Pros: 7 Browser-based administration, 7 Great text support, 7 Distributed under GPL, 7 Microsoft FrontPage Extenstions support

Cons: 7 No Perl or Java support, 7 No NSAPI or ISAPI support, 7 Too much emphasis on proprietary tools like Pike and RXML, 7 Touted security tools may be not available, 7 Poor documentation

Version Reviewed: 1.3
Date of Review: 1/25/98
Last Updated: 1/15/02
Reviewed by: Kevin Reichard

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