AOLserver: Entry-level/mid-range server for Unix, Windows NT platforms

By ServerWatch Staff (Send Email)
Posted Jun 19, 2002

AOLpress and AOLserver, formerly known as GNNPress and GNNServer (and before that NaviPress and NaviServer), make up an impressive Web authoring tool and Web server combination from America Online. Together, the WYSIWYG HTML editor and Web server represent the core of AOL's complete Web development service, PrimeHost. PrimeHost presents users with an editor for easily developing and maintaining Web pages (AOLpress) and a server for hosting these pages (AOLserver) and then takes the process one step farther by giving users the ability to bypass the expense and rigorous effort of serving their own pages. Joining the PrimeHost service will allow you to receive your own domain name, a Web site with 20 MBs or more of space, counter programs, SSL support, and CGI capabilities.

PrimeHost will set up your own account for you with moderately inexpensive monthly rates (varies whether you choose to use the service as an individual, commercial, or dedicated user). While this may not be the cheapest route for creating your own Web pages, it likely will be the most efficient -- if you use AOLpress with the PrimeHost service (or any service using the AOLserver software), any time you save a page in AOLpress, it is automatically saved at the Web site. This cuts out the often extremely time-consuming step of saving your files locally, FTPing them to the remote server, and then typically having to make additional changes thereafter. For anyone currently without a Web site and looking for an efficient way to get up and running with one, PrimeHost is likely to be one of your best bets. AOLpress and AOLserver, formerly known as GNNPress and GNNServer (and before that NaviPress and NaviServer), make up an impressive Web authoring tool and Web server combination from America Online.

As a Web server, AOLserver makes a respectable showing for a mid-level solution, but it's not quite in the same league as Apache, Netscape Enterprise and FastTrack, and WebStar Pro. In addition to seamless integration with the AOLpress client, AOLserver offers Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) support (40-bit encryption), multithreading and multihoming capabilities with the ability to configure hundreds of virtual servers in a single process, an integrated search engine, hierarchical access control (for restricting access to parts of your Web site), built-in Tcl scripting language capabilities (for quickly building custom Web applications), internal image map support, SQL database services, and a complete C API for writing your own custom functions, drivers, and applications. AOLserver also offers native support for server-side includes, CGI, HTML-forms based configuration, remote site and page administration, custom error responses, page trailers, and more.

The latest releases of AOLserver have upped the ante with important new features like support for AOLserver Dynamic Pages (ADPs) which make it easier to create dynamic content, an integrated nsftp module (a fully-functioning FTP server that uses the AOLserver's permission system), support for server-parsed HTML, HTML caching (allows pages to be served more efficiently), and an nsvhost module for virtual hosting (non-SSL only). Unfortunately, to go along with the new additions there have been a couple of critical subtractions. Most notably, AOLserver ended its support for the Windows NT platform with the 2.1 release of the server. The server also dropped its support for 128-bit SSL technology in response to continued export regulations. Overall though, AOLserver is a solid solution for serving everything from personal home pages to corporate Web sites. And when used with AOLpress and the PrimeHost Web-hosting service, it makes for an even better choice.

Pros: 7 Freeware (without the PrimeHost service), 7 Seamless integration with AOLpress, 7 Relatively easy to setup and use, 7 Built-in Tcl scripting language, 7 Integrated database services, 7 Module extensions, 7 Multithreading and multihoming capabilities, 7 Support for AOLserver Dynamic Pages (ADPs)

Cons: 7 Windows NT no longer supported, 7 SSL 128-bit encryption technology no longer supported, 7 Limited technical support (for non-members of the PrimeHost service), 7 Lacks some of the more advanced features of high-end servers, 7 Support for server-side includes is minimal

New: 7 Servlets support via the nsservlet module, 7 SkipLocks configuration parameter, 7 Support for AOLserver Dynamic Pages (ADPs), 7 Virtual hosting via the nsvhost module, 7 Static file caching, 7 Integrated FTP server via the nsftp module, 7 Server-parsed HTML

New in v2.3.3: Support for the HP/UX 11 platform, external database drivers are no longer limited to a maximum element size of 32 KB, numerous bug fixes and minor enhancements

New in v3.0 Beta 1: Intended to have a smaller memory footprint, run faster, crash less (or not at all) and be much more secure. New Access Control system: Users, groups, and permissions are now defined through a group of editable files. Many items have been removed: The NS/Admin forms interface for administering the server is no longer supported, the new Administration interface is via telnet control port. You can no longer administer AOLserver through AOLpress. CGI support is now an optional module. FTP, Java Servlet API, and Server-side includes are no longer supported
Upgrade Meter: 2

New in v3.0 Beta 3: Support for Tcl 8.2b2 has been added, new C API functions, bug fixes
Upgrade Meter: 2

New in v3.0 Beta 5: Tcl 8.2 code upgraded to release 8.2.3; allows ns_share to work without the extensive modifications of the Tcl core; new "nsv" command interface included as a preferred method of sharing data between threads in Tcl; ns_adp_parse command was made to operate as it did with AOLserver 2.x, supporting both the -string and -file options; ADP returns the mime type in the HTTP Content-type header based on the filename extension as with ordinary static files; various bug fixes
Upgrade Meter: 2

New in v3.0 Beta 6.1: Added the -u command line flag to nsd to specify the user name or uid at start up; added the -g command line flag was to specify the group/gid to setgid after start up; copies Tcl 8.2 namespace procs and variables from the initial interp; .tcl dynamic page format support from 2.x has returned via the tcl/file.tcl init script; several nsdb utilities from 2.x have returned in tcl/nsdb.tcl; directory listings can be generated by configuring an ADP file or or configure an ns_register_proc style
Upgrade Meter: 2

New in v3.0 Release Candidate 1: New build process that tries to be more self-contained and straightforward; threading model that is built is based on the -DUSE_threadmodel variable; target dependencies are checked; .tcl dynamic page format support from 2.x has returned via the tcl/file.tcl init script; several nsdb utilities from 2.x have returned in tcl/nsdb.tcl; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 3

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Version Reviewed: 2.3.3
Date of Review: 2/9/99
Listing updated 10/19/01
Reviewed by: Forrest Stroud