The pain of using third party software
Ace of Spodes Bulky, slow, inefficient, the rest
By Andrew "Spode" Miller: 星期五 09 四月 2004, 07:52
I HAVE MANY REASONS for doing all the PHP on my site instead of out-sourcing it, or using a pre-built “make a web site in 10 minutes and start blagging free kit” package like phpNuke. Partly, it is that most of these packages are bulky, slow, insecure, limiting, samey and inefficient - using far too much bandwidth and more CPU cycles than are really necessary. But mainly, by doing my own coding I take full control and also increase reliability. And everyone loves reliability.
What the bulk of this boils down to, is my lack of trust in things I haven’t made myself. Unless it is a very small, simple script that I can pick apart, understand and then verify, I won’t use it. If I understand everything about the coding, when something goes wrong, it’s a quick job to fix as I know exactly where everything is. I haven’t got to spend hours learning how the thing works before I can fix it. This increases reliability, and in the long run, productivity.
Recently, I let my guard down and installed a third party add-on to PhpBB that lets you display the latest threads anywhere on site. I stupidly did this at the same time as a few other modifications to my own coding. So when the server crashed, I didn’t really have a clue where to start. After a lot of fiddling and checking log files, I realised it was this 3rd party code. Once removed, the server ceased to randomly crash. A 20 minute coding session later, I had created the equivalent module, yet smaller, quicker and more customisable to my needs.
Some people think my mistrust is a little extreme. And in a lot of ways they are right, as one can’t be expected to do everything by themselves. But when I see the level of programming “skill” that many university students possess, coming out with degrees that qualify them in that area, it simply scares me.
Another area where third party add-ons tend to cause a head ache, is Linux server control panels. I use Plesk at the moment and they have done a fairly good job of it, but it can be very problematic. The issue resides more so in Linux than the scripting though. To get a lot of packages to work in a virtual host environment requires custom scripts, wrappers and unusual file locations to get it to work. A solution like this is all well and good, until you want to upgrade a package. Often this causes problems with the previous scripts and you have a broken server. Perhaps this is one reason a lot of servers end up with insecure software installed, as they think there is more risk in updating than there is in being hacked.
Annoyingly, especially for me, if something goes wrong, I can’t just get a local Linux expert to take a look. What you need, is a Plesk expert. It has taken me quite a while to learn how the system really ticks mainly from when things go wrong and I’ve had to spend literally days fixing it, and I wouldn’t call myself an expert.
The best system I have used, Is the Cobalt Raq. Because they control both the software and hardware, they can just release a package to be installed, knowing that everything will be in the right place. This makes updating just as easy as doing a Windows Update is now. This takes a lot of the head aches out of server administration.
If someone could create a decent Control Panel that wasn’t so make-shift, server admins would be able to keep more up to date, perhaps using a system like up2date, without the worry of things going wrong. Linux may be flexible, but it is also more problematic. μ
Andrew "Spode" Miller is editor of UK site Spode's Abode