Easily host your own web sites | part 1: hardware

Contents


Web serversThere is no shortage of cheap web hosting companies, offering packages from pennies per month. If you’re looking for more control and flexibility and you’re not planning to host a mission-critical eCommerce website though, self-hosting is quite rewarding and not as difficult as it sounds.

This is the first in a series of posts where I outline some options for becoming a small-time web host. In this article, I discuss the hardware you’re going to need.


You’re best off coming to terms with the idea that you’ll be leaving your new web server switched on 24 hours a day. Whether we admit it or not, ultimately we’re hoping that whatever websites we host will become popular and reach a worldwide audience. That means your server must theoretically be available and reachable round the clock. In my view, as a bare minimum you should have:

  • A computer. Doesn’t need to be fancy or modern. Preferably less than five years old, but it won’t be a deal breaker, if not. We’ll call this box “the server”. It won’t need a monitor, keyboard and mouse attached full-time. You’ll only need to borrow these for the initial setup. We’ll be connecting to the server remotely as soon as possible and from that point onwards, we can run this server “headless” (i.e. with nothing attached other than the UPS).
  • An uninterruptible power supply (UPS). Your UPS protects your server from the vagaries of your household power supply. It doesn’t do a server much good to lose power suddenly. A UPS is a battery backup which can enable your server to shut down gracefully in the event of a power cut. The better UPSes also clean the incoming power, protecting the server from “bucks” and “boosts”.
  • A router capable of port forwarding. Shouldn’t be too much of a problem – most routers can do this. I’m assuming here that you’re on some kind of “always on” internet connection like broadband or cable.

The server

Unless you’re hosting a lot of websites, getting a lot of traffic, or building very complex websites, this machine won’t need much power. And it doesn’t need to break the bank. You could consider using a Raspberry Pi for example (although that will be harder to set up than an ordinary PC). I’ve used second-hand computers, old laptops and all sorts to host web sites. Currently I have an old IBM xSeries tower server in my loft, but you probably don’t need that kind of power or resilience when you start out with web hosting. You could even just use a virtual machine on your home computer, if you’re happy to leave that switched on all the time. I’m going to assume that you’re using a dedicated machine though. I’m also going to assume that we’ll be using typical PC hardware; you can self-host with Mac hardware quite easily, but that’s not where the majority of my experience lies.

The UPS

We’re going to be running Linux on this server, so the primary requirement is that your UPS is supported by Linux. APC UPSes used to be supported under Linux by the apcupsd program (a so-called ‘daemon’, which runs continuously on the server). In recent years however, APC short-sightedly changed their UPS range so they could no longer communicate with apcupsd (to the considerable anguish of the Linux community). Your best bet is either to source an old APC UPS – you can still easily find the replacement batteries – or buy any Eaton UPS. Eaton UPSes are supported by the Network UPS Tools daemon and I know that Eaton is commercially committed to the Linux platform for the foreseeable future.

The router

As long as your router supports port forwarding, you’ll be okay. A lot of routers are capable of being upgraded with aftermarket “firmwares” to provide previously unavailable capabilities. This is a good way of obtaining a near enterprise-class router on the cheap. Probably the most famous of these firmwares is DD-WRT. Have a look on that website for a list of supported routers if you want to go down this route (ahem).


So that’s it for this post. Short and sweet. While you’re off sourcing your hardware, I’ll be hard at work thinking about part 2, in which we’ll start to set up your new server’s operating system and supporting applications. See you soon!

Servers image copyright © Widjaya Ivan, licensed under Creative Commons. Used with permission.

Rackspace API for CodeIgniter

Logo_lockup_version-2 SPOTRackspace is a great email hosting company, providing, amongst other things, a handy API for creating bespoke email solutions. The exercise of integrating that API into your application is of course left to the end user. I’ve spent some time working on a Rackspace API library for the PHP programming framework, CodeIgniter. This is no functionally complete – I have only implemented the interfaces that I needed – but it should provide a useful springboard for your own projects.

Configuration

In /system/application/config/RackspaceAPI.php:

<?php  if ( ! defined('BASEPATH')) exit('No direct script access allowed');

$config['user_key']   = 'your user key';
$config['secret_key']     = 'your secret key';
$config['user_agent']     = 'name of your app';
$config['api_version']    = 'v0'; // amend if necessary
$config['rackspace_host'] = 'api.emailsrvr.com'; // amend if necessary

/* End of file RackspaceAPI.php */
/* Location: ./system/application/config/RackspaceAPI.php */

Library

<?php  if ( ! defined('BASEPATH')) exit('No direct script access allowed');
/**
 * Uses curl and pecl_http
 */
class Rackspace_API {
    
  /**
   * Store recent http_message
   * @var object
   */
  protected $_http_message;
  
  /**
    * CI object
    * @var object
    */
  protected $_ci;

  /**
   * Rackspace config items
   */
  protected $_user_key;
  protected $_secret_key;
  protected $_user_agent;
  protected $_api_version;
  protected $_rackspace_host;
  
  function __construct() {
    $this->_ci =& get_instance();
    $this->_ci->config->load('RackspaceAPI', TRUE);
    $this->_user_key = $this->_ci->config->item('user_key', 'RackspaceAPI');
    $this->_secret_key = $this->_ci->config->item('secret_key', 'RackspaceAPI');
    $this->_user_agent = $this->_ci->config->item('user_agent', 'RackspaceAPI');
    $this->_api_version = $this->_ci->config->item('api_version', 'RackspaceAPI');
    $this->_rackspace_host = $this->_ci->config->item('rackspace_host', 'RackspaceAPI');
  }


  /**
   * Get info about a domain
   * @param string $domain
   * @return stdClass Object ( 'error'  => bool,
   *                           'result' => string (error message) | stdClass Object
   */
  public function getDomainInfo($domain) {
    return $this->genericGet('/customers/me/domains/'.$domain);
  }

  
  /**
   * Get all domain names
   * @return stdClass Object ( 'error'  => bool,
   *                           'result' => string (error message) | array (domains)
   */
  public function getDomains() {
    $obj = $this->genericGet('/customers/me/domains');
    if(!$obj->error){
      // Reformat into an array of domains
      foreach($obj->result->domains as $domain) {
        $domains[]=$domain->name;
      }
      $obj->result = $domains;
    }
    return $obj;
  }


  /**
   * Get info about a mailbox ($domain@$id)
   * @param string $domain
   * @param string $id
   * @return stdClass Object ( 'error'  => bool,
   *                           'result' => string (error message) | stdClass Object
   */
  public function getMailboxInfo($domain, $id) {
    return $this->genericGet('/customers/me/domains/'.$domain.'/rs/mailboxes/'.$id);
  }
   
 
  /**
   * Used by Get functions above - generalised use case
   * @param string $url - see the API; constructed by the calling function
   * @return stdClass Object ( 'error'  => bool,
   *                           'result' => string (error message) | stdClass Object
   */
  private function genericGet($url) {
    $this->get(
        $url,
        'application/json');
    if($this->_http_message->getResponseCode() == 200) {
      // Call worked.  JSON is missing enclosing brackets, apparently needed by json_decode
      $json = '['.$this->_http_message->getBody().']';
      if(is_string($json)) {
        $obj = json_decode($json);
        $result->error = false;
        $result->result = $obj[0];
      } else {
        // JSON failure
        $result->error = true;
        $result->result = 'Failed to parse JSON';
      }
    } else {
      // API call failed
      $result->error = true;
      $result->result = $this->_http_message->getHeader("x-error-message");
    }
    return $result;
  }
  

  /**
   * Create a mailbox ($domain@$id)
   * @param string $domain
   * @param string $id
   * @param string $first: First name
   * @param string $last: Last name
   * @param string $name: Display as
   * @param string $office: Name of office/profit centre
   * @param string $locno: Office/profit centre number
   * @param string $password
   * @param string $fwd: comma-separated forwarding address(es) - max 4 off domain
   * @param string $save: save forwarded email - 'true' or 'false'
   * saveForwardedEmail
   * @return stdClass Object ( 'error'  => bool,
   *                           'result' => string (error message) | stdClass Object
   */
  public function addMailbox($domain, $id, $first, $last, $name, $office,
          $locno, $password, $fwd, $save='true') {
    $fields = array(
        'password' => $password, 
        'emailForwardingAddresses' => $fwd,
        'firstName' => $first,
        'lastName' => $last,
        'displayName' => $name,
        'saveForwardedEmail' => $save,
        'organization' => $office,
        'organizationUnit' => $locno);
    return $this->genericPost( '/customers/me/domains/'.$domain.'/rs/mailboxes/'.$id, $fields);
  }


  /**
   * Used by Post functions above - generalised use case
   * Note: Rackspace API suggests use POST to add, PUT to edit
   * @param string $url - see the API; constructed by the calling function
   * @param array $fields - data to be POSTed
   * @return stdClass Object ( 'error'  => bool,
   *                           'result' => string (error message) | stdClass Object
   */
  private function genericPost($url, $fields) {
    $this->post(
        $url,
        $fields,
        'application/json');
    if($this->_http_message->getResponseCode() == 200) {
      $result->error = false;
      $result->result = $this->_http_message->getBody();
    } else {
      // API call failed
      $result->error = true;
      $result->result = $this->_http_message->getHeader("x-error-message");
    }
    return $result;
  }


  /**
   * Edit user's forwarding
   * @param string $domain
   * @param string $id
   * @param string $fwd: comma-separated forwarding address(es) - max 4 off domain
   * @return stdClass Object ( 'error'  => bool,
   *                           'result' => string (error message) | stdClass Object
   */
  public function changeForwarding($domain, $id, $fwd) {
    $fields = array(
        'emailForwardingAddresses' => $fwd
        );
    return $this->genericPut( '/customers/me/domains/'.$domain.'/rs/mailboxes/'.$id, $fields);
  }
  
    
  /**
   * Edit user's location
   * @param string $domain
   * @param string $id
   * @param string $office: Name of office/profit centre
   * @param string $locno: Office/profit centre number
   * @return stdClass Object ( 'error'  => bool,
   *                           'result' => string (error message) | stdClass Object
   */
  public function changeLocation($domain, $id, $office, $locno) {
    $fields = array(
        'organization' => $office,
        'organizationUnit' => $locno);
    return $this->genericPut( '/customers/me/domains/'.$domain.'/rs/mailboxes/'.$id, $fields);
  }
  
    
  /**
   * Edit user's name
   * @param string $domain
   * @param string $id
   * @param string $first: First name
   * @param string $last: Last name
   * @param string $name: Display as
   * @return stdClass Object ( 'error'  => bool,
   *                           'result' => string (error message) | stdClass Object
   */
  public function changeName($domain, $id, $first, $last, $name) {
    $fields = array(
        'firstName' => $first,
        'lastName' => $last,
        'displayName' => $name);
    return $this->genericPut( '/customers/me/domains/'.$domain.'/rs/mailboxes/'.$id, $fields);
  }
  
    
  /**
   * Edit user's password
   * @param string $domain
   * @param string $id
   * @param string $password
   * @return stdClass Object ( 'error'  => bool,
   *                           'result' => string (error message) | stdClass Object
   */
  public function changePassword($domain, $id, $password) {
    $fields = array(
        'password' => $password);
    return $this->genericPut( '/customers/me/domains/'.$domain.'/rs/mailboxes/'.$id, $fields);
  }
  
    
  /**
   * Used by Put functions above - generalised use case
   * Note: Rackspace API suggests use PUT to edit, POST to add
   * @param string $url - see the API; constructed by the calling function
   * @param array $fields - data to be PUT
   * @return stdClass Object ( 'error'  => bool,
   *                           'result' => string (error message) | stdClass Object
   */
  private function genericPut($url, $fields) {
    $this->put(
        $url,
        $fields);
    if($this->_http_message->getResponseCode() == 200) {
      $result->error = false;
      $result->result = $this->_http_message->getBody();
    } else {
      // API call failed
      $result->error = true;
      $result->result = $this->_http_message->getHeader("x-error-message");
    }
    return $result;
  }


  /**
   * Delete a mailbox
   * @param string $domain
   * @param string $id
   * @return stdClass Object ( 'error'  => bool,
   *                           'result' => string (error message) | stdClass Object
   */
  public function deleteMailbox($domain, $id) {
    return $this->genericDelete("/customers/me/domains/$domain/rs/mailboxes/$id");
  }
  
  
  /**
   * Used by Get functions above - generalised use case
   * @param string $url - see the API; constructed by the calling function
   * @return stdClass Object ( 'error'  => bool,
   *                           ['result' => string (error message)]
   */
  private function genericDelete($url) {
    $this->delete($url);
    if($this->_http_message->getResponseCode() == 200) {
      // Call worked.
      $result->error = false;
    } else {
      if($this->_http_message->getResponseCode() == 500) {
        // Internal server error
        $result->error = true;
        $result->result = 'An internal server error occurred deleting  object.  Url: '.$url;
      } else {
        // API call failed
        $result->error = true;
        $result->result = $this->_http_message->getHeader("x-error-message");
        
      }
    }
    return $result;
  }
  

  
  // The remainder of this file is mostly lifted from Rackspace's examples: http://api-wiki.apps.rackspace.com/api-wiki/index.php/PHP_Examples_(Rest_API)
  private function get($url_string, $format) {
      $headers = array("Accept: $format");
      $curl_session = self::construct_session($url_string, $headers);
      $this->_http_message = self::send_request($curl_session);
  }

  private function post($url_string, $fields, $format) {
      $headers = array("Accept: $format");
      $curl_session = self::construct_session($url_string, $headers);
      curl_setopt($curl_session, CURLOPT_POST, true);
      curl_setopt($curl_session, CURLOPT_POSTFIELDS, $fields);
      $this->_http_message = self::send_request($curl_session);
  }

  private function put($url_string, $fields) {
      $curl_session = self::construct_session($url_string, array());
      curl_setopt($curl_session, CURLOPT_CUSTOMREQUEST, 'PUT');
      curl_setopt($curl_session, CURLOPT_POSTFIELDS, $fields);
      $this->_http_message = self::send_request($curl_session);
  }
  
  private function delete($url_string) {
      $curl_session = self::construct_session($url_string, array());
      curl_setopt($curl_session, CURLOPT_CUSTOMREQUEST, 'DELETE');
      $this->_http_message = self::send_request($curl_session);
  }

  private function send_request($curl_session) {
      $response = curl_exec($curl_session);
      curl_close($curl_session);
      /* Reponse string may contain two HTTP sessions, if there was an initial
         "HTTP/1.1 100 Continue" response.  So strip that first response out.  Eg:
                  HTTP/1.1 100 Continue
                  Via: 1.1 [proxy]

                  HTTP/1.1 400 Bad Request
                  Via: 1.1 [proxy]
                  Connection: Keep-Alive
                  Proxy-Connection: Keep-Alive      
                  ...     
       * 
       */
      $response = preg_replace('|HTTP/1.1 100.*HTTP/1.1|isU', 'HTTP/1.1', $response);
      return new HttpMessage($response);
  }

  private function construct_session($url_string, $existing_headers) {
      $headers = array_merge(
              self::authorization_headers(), $existing_headers);
      $url = self::construct_uri($url_string);
      $curl_session = curl_init($url);
      curl_setopt($curl_session, CURLOPT_HEADER, true);
      curl_setopt($curl_session, CURLOPT_HTTPHEADER, $headers);
      curl_setopt($curl_session, CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER, true);
      return $curl_session;
  }

  private function authorization_headers() {
      $time_stamp = date('YmdHis');
      $data_to_sign = $this->_user_key . $this->_user_agent .
          $time_stamp. $this->_secret_key;
      $signature = base64_encode(sha1($data_to_sign, true));
      $headers = array();
      $headers[] = "User-Agent: " . $this->_user_agent;
      $headers[] = 'X-Api-Signature: ' .
          $this->_user_key . ":$time_stamp:$signature";
      return $headers;
  }

  private function construct_uri($url_string) {
      $url = 'http://' .  $this->_rackspace_host . '/' . $this->_api_version . $url_string;
      return $url;
  }
}

?>

Example

Example usage:

function testRackspace() {
    $this->load->library('Rackspace_API');
    $client = new Rackspace_API();
    $obj = $client->getMailboxInfo('somedomain.com', 'test.user');
    if($obj->error) {
      echo 'Error: '.$obj->result;
    } else {
      var_dump($obj);
    }
  }

Image copyright © Rackspace Ltd. All rights acknowledged.