Topic: AOLserver

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AOLserver is a darned good free HTTP server acquired by AOL and used on AOL's sites. But it is freely available from the AOLserver home site, too. I've been using it for years (see for an example of a large site based entirely on AOLserver/Tcl.) And now that it's open-source (as of v3.0) I feel a lot more secure about keeping it in my repertoire.

AOLserver's features may be summarized as follows:

  • Scripting
    AOLserver is based on the idea of scripting. URLs or URL trees may be associated with C functions or Tcl functions (Tcl is a scripting language; more on that below.) Scripts run in threads instead of in processes; this means that they run much more quickly, with much lower server overhead. Apache can be made to do this, too, with things like mod_perl and FastCGI, but AOLserver was written from the ground up with scripting in mind. It's easy to extend and has a good, well-thought-out API.
  • Database access
    AOLserver defines an excellent database API. Drivers for new databases are easy to write, and the API is well-integrated with Tcl. Furthermore, AOLserver manages connection pools to the database. This is another time and resource saving, because much of the overhead associated with CGI database access is simply the creation of a database connection and its destruction after the CGI runs. AOLserver's complete database interface is just icing on the cake; it's a set of quick tools for setting up and populating tables, very convenient during development.
  • Open source
    Woo-hoo! As of version 3.0 AOLserver is not only free, but free! And you know, since it's been open (it's not even out of beta yet) the community has been getting much more vital. I'm seeing more original development and getting more questions about AOLserver.

AOLserver is an ideal implementation framework for any database-backed website. It's stable (once you've learned a couple of pitfalls), runs on Unix, it's efficient because it doesn't start up lots of processes and because it maintains pools of connections to the database, thus avoiding the need to connect to the database for each hit, and what's more, you can hire Vivtek to work on it for you or, of course, you can find other people to do so.

  • AOLserver home page
    Here you can download AOLserver, read the documentation online (very nice), and find out what's happening with AOLserver in general. You can also subscribe to their mailing list.
  • Tcl Information at SCO
    A good page of Tcl links provided by the Santa Cruz Operation. Note that AOLserver runs Tcl 7.4, which is hard to find documented elsewhere. While does document the entire Tcl language for you, it doesn't document the Tcl C API...
  • Man pages for the Tcl 7.4 C API.
    And gee. Look where it is -- at the Santa Cruz Operation. Essential if you're serious about extending AOLserver.
  • Database-Backed Websites: the Thinking Person's Guide to Web Publishing
    Philip Greenspun, Que, 1997. ISBN 1-56-276530-2
    This book is just chock full of good ideas and philosophies about web site design on the active level, i.e. interactive websites that make sense. You won't find much about layout or graphics in this book, but you will find out about how to make the Internet work for you. And Greenspun is heavily influenced by AOLserver. So for a good idea of what you want to do with AOLserver, take a look at this book; it's well worth the $25 or so that it costs right now.
    Check it out at
    Barnes and Noble
  • Practical Programming in Tcl and Tk
    Brent B. Welch, Prentice-Hall, 1995. ISBN 0-13-182007-9
    This is the reference book that we use here at Vivtek. Obviously, the Tk part isn't going to help you a lot, but Welch provides solid documentation of how to use Tcl, and there aren't all that many Tcl books out there.
    Check it out at
    Barnes and Noble

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