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Going Lean and Mean With Xitami

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Xitami: Multiplatform and multithreaded open-source Web server

If you’re looking for fast, functional, and free, Xitami is a Web server worthy of consideration. Although it lacks many of the bells and whistles of open-source rival and leader, Apache, Xitami offers a small memory footprint and fast raw speed.

Xitami (pronounced Shi-tami or Ksi-tami, with emphasis on the second syllable in either case) is a Web server. It is free. For some organizations, this is enough information because for some applications, free is good enough. Of course, the Apache Web server, the veritable torch-bearer of the open-source software movement, is also free. Apache is also much more popular.

Two Web servers dominate much of the wild Web today — the free, open-source Apache, which according to the monthly Netcraft survey has a fairly constant 65-plus-percent share, and the nonfree Microsoft IIS, which captures about 20 percent of the market according to Netcraft. Sure, there are other Web servers living out there in the forest, and you occasionally even run across one of them, like you might a possum, but Apache and IIS clearly have the lion’s share of installations.

To break it down further, ServerWatch is powered by Apache. Fleet Bank is powered by IIS. In general, organizations run by individuals wearing neckties run IIS, whereas organizations run by individuals who don’t own neckties run Apache. Port80 Software, an IIS tools vendor, conducts a monthly survey, the results of which support these assumptions. The latest study found almost 54 percent Fortune 1000 Web servers running IIS and a scant 15 percent running Apache.

The world of Web servers is divided along free and commercial lines for good reasons. If you run a commercial Web server, such as IIS, you probably do so because it integrates with an existing infrastructure, and your support relationships and expenses are mature and entrenched. So, in all honesty, organizations that have already gone the commercial Web server route as part of a complex commercial infrastructure will have no interest in Xitami. If you fit that description, you can even stop reading here and save some precious time.

So Xitami is clearly an underdog in the free Web server space. Apache is the uncontested leader. The material question for those considering a free, multiplatform Web server is, in the face of overwhelming dominance by Apache, why consider Xitami?

Simply put, Apache is the Swiss army knife of Web servers. It has grown over the years into a complex beast — extremely capable, widely deployed but with a steep learning curve. Xitami is a friendlier, less ambitious alternative. But don’t confuse “less ambitious” as a sign of weakness — the number one rule of thumb in system administration should always be to choose the right tool for the job, not necessarily the most powerful. As Monty Python proved, you don’t always need to kill mosquitoes with rocket-fueled missiles.

Xitami is available for nearly every modern platform. We tested the Windows version. It was less than 2 MB to download and 4 MB installed. One notable point about installing Xitami, is that it does not include a typical Windows installer. You simply unzip the download into your preferred folder and launch the administration tool.

Out of the box, Xitami is ready and eager to serve pages placed into its default Web folder. To access the Web-based administration interface, you must first manually edit a configuration file to create a password. As with most free software, prying open Xitami requires a willingness to get some dirt under the nails. With the administration interface enabled, Xitami can be configured via a series of Web pages. On the one hand, the administration pages are rudimentary and bare-bones; on the other hand, configuring Apache typically requires an afternoon of wading through obtuse text files.

This easy configurability is one reason Xitami has won a small but loyal fan base.

Xitami supports all of the basic Web serving protocols, such as HTTP/1.0, CGI/1.1, FTP, SSI, image maps, persistent connections, and basic FTP server functions. It compiles standard Web logs that can be analyzed with other applications (such as Analog).

Where Xitami truly shines though is its small memory footprint and raw speed. Xitami’s multithreaded engine delivers faster performance with fewer resources than comparative Apache installations. Apache, as of version 2.0, is multithreaded, but it’s still a larger, slower beast compared to nimble Xitami. Thus, at its heart, Xitami is a basic, very fast and efficient Web server.

Note that, Xitami’s Web-based configuration does not work with the Opera browser, although it does work with Netscape 7/Mozilla 1.4 and Internet Explorer 6.

Documentation and support for Xitami is thorough but nowhere near that of Apache. Xitami can be extended into more complex Web serving arrangements, and several add-ons are available for integrating with scripting languages, such as PHP and Perl. A “Pro” version of Xitami with secure SSL support is available for the decidedly nonfree price of $99. But for the most part, these kinds of sophistication are really the strength of Apache.

In many respects, one could say that Xitami is a motorcycle to Apache’s luxury sports sedan.

Pros: Fast deployment of Web pages; Simple Web-based configuration and administration; Fast and resource friendly engine
Cons: Not for the absolute novice; Limited support community, Less sophisticated than Apache

Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss
Original Review Date: 12/4/2003
Original Review Version: 2.5

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