Running Open Source Servers Within Windows

By Eric Geier (Send Email)
Posted Apr 13, 2010


Many of the popular servers are open source and usually are more widely supported for Linux and other Unix-like systems. However, most can be run right inside Windows. This is especially great for temporary solutions or for new or amateur administrators.

If you run a Windows shop, you may think Apache, FreeRADIUS and FreeNAS are off limits. Think again. With a few simple choices, any of these popular open source servers can be deployed in a snap.

This article will look at running the Apache HTTP, FreeRADIUS and FreeNAS servers. We'll review the process of installing and using each inside Windows. Let's get started!

Apache HTTP Server for Web Hosting

Typically, when you talk about Web servers it's Apache HTTP Server when running on Linux and Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS) when running Windows. However, if you aren't a Linux fan, you aren't stuck with IIS. Apache provides Win32 binaries. You can install Apache right onto Windows.

Before you download Apache, you might want to look at installing a software stack or package that also contains other servers that can come in handy. Most software stacks include Apache, MySQL, and PHP.

Apache2triad is the most popular of these, and it includes many different components. However, it is currently unmaintained, and it doesn't include the latest versions of the servers. Nevertheless, this might be okay for smaller sites and projects. Another option is EasyPHP, which includes fewer components but is more up-to-date.

If you install the original Apache HTTP Server, first notice the system tray icon in the lower right corner of Windows. Click it, hover over the Apache version, and you can Start, Stop or Restart the server. You can right-click the icon to launch the simple monitoring application. If you installed it as a service, you can also bring up Windows Services to edit the service settings.

You can then copy or drag your Web pages and files into the htdocs directory:

C:\Program Files\Apache Software Foundation\Apache2.2\htdocs

To customize or change the server settings you can edit the httpd.conf file:

C:\Program Files\Apache Software Foundation\Apache2.2\conf\httpd.conf

You'll also find a convenient shortcut for the httpd.conf file on the Start Menu: Start > All Programs > Apache HTTP Server > Configure Apache Server > Edit the Apache httpd.conf Configuration File.

From the Start Menu, you can bring up the access and error logs, configuration tester and documentation, in addition to monitoring and controlling the server.

If you installed Apache2triad, you can access everything from the Start Menu. You'll probably have to manually start Apache at first using the Apache2TriadManager. Then you can launch the Apache2TriadCP, which is a Web-based control panel where you can access and configure the different servers.

You can copy or drag your Web pages and files into the htdocs directory (C:\apache2triad\htdocs). You'll find the httpd.conf file in the C:\apache2triad\conf\ directory.

FreeRADIUS Server for Network Authentication, Authorization and Accounting

Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service (RADIUS) servers provide Authentication, Authorization, and Accounting (AAA) for all types of computer networks. The FreeRADIUS server is the most widely used RADIUS/AAA server in the world. It helps manage dial-up, DSL, Wi-Fi and numerous other types of network connections.

If you search and review any FreeRADIUS how-tos, they'll likely assume you're running it on Linux or another UNIX-like system. However, there is a Windows distribution available with MySQL support, called FreeRADIUS.net. It can come in handy if you aren't a Linux guru or run into installation issues in Linux, as it lets you concentrate more on the configuration of FreeRADIUS, which can also be challenging.

Before continuing with this Windows distribution, you should understand it's based off an old version of FreeRADIUS: 1.1.7, the second to last release in the 1.x versions. The 2.x versions are built better and have many enhancements. Be sure to also check out the release notes to see what you're missing.

The installation of FreeRADIUS.net is simple. Download and extract the zip, and then run the setup executable. If you check the option to run FreeRADIUS.net at the end of the installation, it will start automatically. Otherwise, open C:\FreeRADIUS.net\FreeRADIUS.exe. Then start the service: Right-click the icon and click Start FreeRADIUS.net Service.

You'll still have to familiarize yourself with the configuration files (accessible from the system tray icon) and set them according to your needs. From the icon you can also bring up the Demo Cert directory, which contains the self-signed CA certificates you might have to load onto clients. Another very useful shortcut is to open in debug mode, which you should use initially so you can see server and error messages.

FreeNAS for Network Serving and Sharing

Windows and other operating systems provide simple file and printer sharing for the network. However, you might consider using a network-attached storage (NAS) server. These servers provide centralized storage and sharing options.

FreeNAS is the most popular open source NAS server. Although based on the FreeBSD OS, you can run and install it using a LiveCD on pretty much any PC. This also includes virtual PCs or machines. Therefore, you can run FreeNAS right within Windows. You can use Microsoft's free solution in Windows 7 (called Windows Virtual PC) or in Windows Vista or XP (called Virtual PC 2007).

To get started, download the CD image (ISO) file of FreeNAS. If you're using a traditional 32-bit computer, download the i386 file (such as FreeNAS-i386-LiveCD-0.7.4919.iso). If you're using 64-bit machine, download the amd64 file (such as FreeNAS-amd64-LiveCD-0.7.4919.iso). Next, you must create a virtual machine and virtual hard drive using the wizards in Virtual PC.

When you're ready, you can mount the CD image (ISO) file to the virtual machine, so it simulates that the CD is in the drive. In Windows Virtual PC of Windows 7, you can select an image file for the simulated DVD drive via the virtual machine's Settings dialog. In Virtual PC 2007, you can do this via a shortcut on the top toolbar after running the virtual machine.

Once the CD boots, you can use the LiveCD mode or install it onto the virtual hard drive. Fo more details, consult the documentation.

Eric Geier is the Founder and CEO of NoWiresSecurity, which helps businesses easily protect their Wi-Fi with enterprise-level encryption by offering an outsourced RADIUS/802.1X authentication service. He is also the author of many networking and computing books for brands like For Dummies and Cisco Press.

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