Of course, there are many, many ways to set up a web server, but every Mac with OS X comes ready to do the work. Even the lowly eMac makes a very good web server for personal, even small business use.
Sure, it’d be great to have a whoppin’ fast Xserve, and Xserve RAID, and a T-3 connection to serve your daily web log, family photos, or iMovie movies. Let me stick to the low end for now to show you that it doesn’t take much to make a solid, dependable web server you can run from home.
Let’s assume you have (or can get) a broadband connection to your house or apartment. It’ll work with dial up but your web site visitors won’t like standing in line waiting for pages and images to load. DSL from the local phone company works great. So does cable Internet access from the local cable company.
I bring this up because broadband Internet access has now surpassed dial up in the US.
Either way, if you can go broadband for your Internet connection at home, you’re halfway there. You’re already paying for broadband access. Now you can use that connection for a web server. Setting up your Mac to be a full-fledged web server with a domain name is probably less than $7 a month.
I’ll focus on the basics. You can scale this whole process to whatever you can dream up, but serving from home works, and works well.
First, I’m starting with an eMac. $799 will get you a dependable eMac with OS X included. OS X comes with nearly everything you need to make a web server with just a few extra clicks.
Yes, you can get fancy and install the popular PHP scripting language (it’s free) or move up to a database server with MySQL (also free) but you’ll need more than a Mac Web Site for Dummies book.
The $799 eMac performs fine as a web server on the Internet and can serve web pages fast enough to saturate whatever line the cable company or phone company gives you for $30 to $40 a month. Spend another $90 and get an additional 512 megs of RAM for the eMac. RAM is good. That’s all you’ll need for now.
The Internet connection is the same connection you’d use to surf the net. It’s a connection to the Internet just like those used by ISPs, server farms, web sites anywhere. Except it comes to your house or apartment.
Second, since you’re starting with an eMac (any newer Mac with OS X will do) to keep the cost down, I’ll only mention other things you can add (later). There’s a lot of horsepower under that eMac’s hood.
OK, plug in the ethernet connection (from the DSL modem or cable modem) and start up the Mac. In System Preferences, open Sharing, then click Services. Click “on” Personal Web Sharing.
That starts up the Apache web server which is included in Mac OS X. You’re now ready to serve web pages. Almost.
You’ll need a domain name for your web site. For simplicity’s sake, I recommend that you for Network Solutions. Search for a domain name, find one you like, get it. That’s about $35 for one year, or around $3 a month.
That domain name needs to be assigned to a static IP address. Usually, the phone company that gives you the DSL line won’t give you a static IP address. Ditto for the cable company’s broadband Internet circuit.
They’ll both (usually) provide you with a dynamically allocated IP address (DHCP) which will change from time to time (hum bug but good for security, too).
Network Solutions also has a way to take your domain name, work some magic with their domain name servers, and let you use a dynamically generated IP address with a domain name. That’s about $25 a year, or less than $2.50 per month. Total additional cost, besides the DSL or cable connection, less than $6.00 a month.
Click Here to get Network Solutions’ No-IP service. There’s also service for email, if you want that to go along with your domain name. Network Solutions will give you a small application that sits on your Mac web server. It communicates with Network Solutions domain name servers and tells them whenever your DSL or cable modem IP address changes. Once you set it up it just works.
You’ve got your connection to the Internet, a domain name, and the No-IP service to route web surfers to your Mac web server.
What else do you need? Not much. By now your Mac is a web server connected to the Internet and serving web pages.
Uh oh. Web pages. In Mac OS X’s “Library/WebServer/Documents” folder is where you’ll put your web pages. Yes, you or someone needs to build the web pages. Fortunately, it’s not too difficult and the web has resources like you wouldn’t believe.
To get started, I recommend that you Click Here to download the popular JAlbum photo gallery application. JAlbum is free and will take photos from iPhoto and convert them to attractive photo galleries. Save the gallery folder in the “Library/WebServer/Documents” folder and your gallery is instantly available on the web.
Total cost so far? $799 for the eMac, $90 for additional RAM, $35 for the domain name, $25 for the dynamic IP service—$959.
Can you do it for less with a cheapo Windows machine or a super cheap box and Linux? Yes. But why? Neither of those options will run Mac OS X or any iLife application.
Your lowly eMac (or any recent Mac) is now a full-fledged web server. And it will scale wonderfully. You can add email services, PHP scripting, MySQL database and all it will cost you is some time and a couple of downloads.
How about security? A firewall would be nice. Mac OS X comes with a software firewall which will work OK. Remember, there’s hundreds of ways to do this—make your Mac a web server. There are a few ways to do it wrong, too. This will get you started.
In an additional installment, I’ll take you to the next level. We started with a very lowly iMac on a DSL circuit which served simple, static web pages. Then, we moved to an eMac with a database, a content management system (using PHP and MySQL), email, and much more.
It’s not a lot of money. It IS a lot of capability. And, yes, it’s MUCH easier on a Mac than on Windows or on Linux.