Webstar 4.3, by 4D Inc
Posted: 17-Apr-2001

3 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: 4D Inc Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: INTERNET

Webstar 4.3 is a commercial grade web server which also acts as an FTP server, and includes several other functions based upon a plug-in architecture. The server package comes with the basic Webstar server application, the Webstar Administration program for adjusting the settings of your server, a bunch of plug-ins for expanding the capabilities of your server, and a host of support files and documentation.

For basic web serving, Webstar is very simple to set up. It's not quite as simple as Apple's Web Sharing which comes free with Mac OS 9, but it includes quite a few more features than Web Sharing and handles web serving much faster. I've always found accessing servers using Web Sharing as somewhat sluggish, whereas Webstar feels pretty zippy. The admin program provides a host of settings to help customize and control your server, including remote administration. Some of the settings include:

  • Setting the server name and default HTML names (e.g., index.html)
  • Including pre-processors and post-processors
  • Setting connections attributes, such as max connections and timeout period
  • Caching
  • Virtual hosts
  • Suffix matching table
  • User account information
  • Auto binhexing
  • Form mail
  • Directory indexing
  • much more...

Some of these features, such as auto binhexing and directory indexing, are not standard, but comes in the form of additional plug-ins (you need to grab the plug-in files from the CD and store them in the Plug-in folder to activate them). The amount of nifty features seems endless, and for standard web serving, you may never need some of them. On the other hand, it's nice to know they are they if you do need them. Overall, I found the web server to be quite versatile and powerful, but stumbled upon a couple of very disappointing setbacks.

Webstar does not provide the simplicity that Apple's Web Sharing provides for establishing the root folder. By default, the Webstar root folder is the folder containing the server software. I found this extremely frustrating, as the server was so robust and feature-rich, yet it lacked something which seemed so basic. There was a work around presented to me which involved creating a virtual host. With a virtual host, you can specify an IP address and/or a host name, and specify a root folder that is used for that virtual host. By specifying both the IP and host name as ANY, you are basically allowed to set the root folder to some other folder, although it was not clear what the limits were. I ran into further problems attempting to implement this work around.

First of all, the documentation states that the root folder must start from within the folder which contains the server (i.e., not a folder outside of the server folder, nor on another volume). I didn't want to be limited to the root folder; in fact, I wanted to specify a completely different volume. Adding to my frustration was Webstar's home-grown file dialog. There is a "Choose..." button which you can use to specify a root folder for your virtual host, but the file dialog is not what a Mac user would expect to see. There is no Desktop selection, but instead there is a Root button which almost does the same thing. The only names which show up in the dialog list are folder names, but not aliases to folders. I found it very un-Mac-like to not support aliases, not to mention that it foiled my plan of using an alias to accomplish the task of having the web root folder point to a different volume. By the way, the Webstar root (the folder which contains the Webstar server) is not the same root referenced in the file dialog (which is actually the Desktop).

Although the documentation specified that the root folder must start within the server folder, I discovered that the home grown file dialog allowed me to choose outside of it, so I did. I've got all the parameters set and verified, but it just did not seem to work. Even with the help of Webstar support, I was never able to resolve the confusion with virtual hosting, and I was not able to get it to behave the way I needed. As a last resort, I gave in and just used the web server folder as my root folder (the default).

Another feature of Apple's Web Sharing that I missed in Webstar was viewing a directory. Using Web Sharing, if you select a folder path in a URL, and there is no index.html in the folder, it automatically displays the files in the folder in a nice column format. It also makes the column headings links, such that if you click on any of them, the file list gets sorted by that column (such as name, size, or date). In Webstar, you get an File Not Found error by default. You can, however, add the Directory Indexing plug-in. Unfortunately, to get this to work, you have to put a file called ".message" into each and every folder you want a file list to be displayed. For the ones that a ".message" does not exist in, you will receive the File Not Found error. Additionally, the lists do not support the column sorting that Web Sharing provides.

Although I was troubled by the drawbacks of the web server, I found life with Webstar's FTP server to be a completely different story. There were not as many settings (only 3 categories), and the simplicity was a welcome change after fighting the feature bloat of the web server. You could change the connection settings, set the root folders for users, including anonymous for default users, and set the logging options. Granted, it still used the home grown dialog window when I went to set the root folders amd still refused to recognize aliases. Oddly, if you typed in the alias manually instead of using the file dialog, the Webstar program would recognize it. In any case, it was not a problem as I was able to choose the root folder on a separate volume without the need of aliases, and the FTP server had no problems using whatever path I assigned. I found no flaws in the FTP server.

The other two primary capabilities of Webstar are the Proxy server for setting up security, and the mail server for POP and IMAP mail accounts. I had no need for using the Proxy server, but it appears to be simple and concise like the FTP server. I did activate the mail server and setup a few accounts to parallel some of the POP accounts I setup on EIMS (Eudora Internet Mail Server). Standard mail seemed to work just fine, but I found the interface on EIMS simpler and more user-friendly than Webstar. Additionally, EIMS provides functionality that Webstar does not currently support for maintaining mailing lists. For example, the Autoshare Listserver application depends upon a mail server to be able to redirect mail to specific folders and files. It works with the mail server to ensure that e-mail directed to a mailing list is properly distributed. Three accounts need to be setup, one representing the mailing list which redirects to a folder that Autoshare reads, and the other two set to mailing list files (files containing a list of the e-mail addresses for normal and digest subscribers). I was unable to run the mailing lists using Webstar.

As much as I hungered for the robustness of the Webstar server engine, there were too many drawbacks for me to recommend the web server. Apple's Web Sharing provides simplicity and functionality, albeit sluggishly, at no cost. Webstar's FTP server, on the other hand, is a 5-star product which I strongly recommend. The mail server supports standard POP and IMAP accounts just fine, but does not support mailing lists. If the Webstar FTP server were to be offered separately for a shareware fee, it would get my full recommendation. As a package deal, however, Webstar hints at providing a BMW quality driving experience, but appears to have been released from the assembly line before it was completed. I would love to see a more polished version of this software in the future.

Pros

  • Robust engine serving FTP and Web pages with good speed
  • Flexible plug-in architecture
  • Remote server administration
  • POP and IMAP mail support
  • Proxy server support

Cons

  • Pieces of the interface lacked Mac functionality and ease-of-use (such as the home grown file dialog)
  • Alias handling inconsistent (file dialog does not recognize them, but the Webstar server does)
  • Virtual hosting is very confusing, if not slightly buggy
  • Getting web folders to display file listings was cumbersome, and did not provide column sorting
  • The mail server lacked mailing list support functionality


Rating

3 out of 5 Mice