What are we doing here?

This blog includes a series of videos and references to help new users or enthusiasts better understand how to use open source and free technology tools. The quick links includes more information for accessing many of the tools covered along with other references to learn more for taking advantage of these tools.

LAMP stack in Docker

This video goes over setting up a LAMP (Linux + Apache + MySQL + PHP) stack in Docker using Docker Compose. 

The video doesn't cover the installation of Docker, but here are the related links. 

Docker-Compose Linux install - Once Docker is setup on Ubuntu just type 'sudo apt install docker-compose'

Generally it's easier to setup the LAMP stack or most stacks for development using Docker since pre-configured images can be pulled from Docker Hub and downloaded quickly without having to know all the packages, and then configuring the packages. That said, our Alpine VM did end up taking up less space, and roughly took the same amount of time to setup - partly my being too talkative, partly just download speed. 

Overall, Docker is a great tool. Its ability to leverage and re-purpose existing images to create new containers, and relative easy install on Windows and MacOS, makes it a go to choice for developers. The mount-bind which we show in the video - ./LAMPcontained:/var/www/html - is amazing as a VM would need the user to upload files using FTP or create another SMB service to share files to in order to upload changes to the VM, whereas Docker can just allow changes from the host to appear in the container using that command. For these reasons, and the relative ease vs setting up a VM environment, Docker is a great choice for developers, and also highly robust in a production / server environment as well. 

I also want to highlight that the original docker-compose.yml file is a modified version I found in the book The Joy of PHP by Alan Forbes which is a great set of example code to get started using PHP and HTML to interact with databases and create interactive websites. I used it to learn PHP and found it very helpful.

Hope this was helpful, more to come. Thank you as always.

LAMP stack setup on Alpine Linux

This video covers setting up a LAMP stack (Linux+Apache+MySQL(Maria)+PHP) in Alpine Linux. Alpine is a super lightweight distro popular with developers using Docker, but also a valid choice for VM work or standalone implementation. 

This video walks through the process of setting up the various components of LAMP, though omits the Alpine install (it takes minutes if you know what you want and what your doing - select sys). Overall I'm quite impressed with Alpine, though there would certainly be conveniences just running Ubuntu Server, Alpine does the job with a fraction of the CPU/memory/capacity/cruft so if you can figure out how it can work for you, I think its worth a look.

Here are the steps shown in the video:
Alpine LAMP deployment

apk add apache2

apk add mariadb mariadb-client

rc-service start apache2

Check the homepage at the machine's IP, confirm you see 'It works'

Saource files are located in /var/www/localhost/htdocs#

Ensure repositories are added - /etc/apk/repositories  <- uncomment commmunity and edge

apk add php7 php7-mysqli phpmyadmin php7-apache2

service restart apache2

Create php test doc - nano phpinfo.php

service mariadb start

Setup Maria

Error message appears, need to first run the /etc/init.d/mariadb setup

Re-run service mariadb start

Then we change the password for mariadb root user (this gets created on the system by the mariadb-client).
Run mysql_secure_installation

Walk through the prompts to set a root user password

Setup phpmyadmin

chmod -R 777 /usr/share/webapps/phpmyadmin
chmod 755 /etc/phpmyadmin/config.inc.php
ln -s /usr/share/webapps/phpmyadmin/ /var/www/localhost/htdocs/phpmyadmin

Setup phpmyadmin user in MariaDB
mysql -u root -p
 - enter password

>CREATE USER 'pmauser'@'%' IDENTIFIED BY '<password of choice>';

open page server IP/phpmyadmin

enter the pmauser and given password.

Now phpmyadmin can be used to manage the mariadb and create new databases

<missed this in the video>
To ensure services start on boot need to run 
rc-update add <service name>

The last line are steps to ensure apache2 and mariadb are started if the system reboots, an 'auto-restart' or 'start on boot' behavior. 

References I found helpful for setting this up are below:

I do understand that this stack isn't necessarily the best in terms of performance or security, its simply the 'bare-minimum' to start developing. For optimization I'd suggest reading more on general Apache or NGINX settings, as well as looking to additional 3rd party sources about the various ways to integrate PHP with a web server. 

Setting a Samba (SMB / CIFS) share in Ubuntu

This video is designed to run through the steps for setting up an SMB share in Ubuntu. All steps are shown as based on the Ubuntu tutorial blog, but I wanted to explain some of the steps - like adding a user who can act as the dedicated SMB login account.

The process of using the command line to interact with a remote system is very important for more advanced Linux usage, and we spend a lot of time in the command line using SSH, and that can be setup when first installing Ubuntu Server. Of course with Linux everything can be done, undone, and redone using the command line, so important to get your feet wet if you really want to delve into Linux.

Previously, I ran through similar steps using FreeNAS which has a useful GUI for setting up the share. FreeNAS with its ZFS file system is definitely useful for robust data protection which may or may not apply depending on how the underlying Ubuntu install is set up. FreeNAS is also very useful for advanced shares like NFS, iSCSI, S3, AFP, and SMB. Essentially it saves users from having to install services and config files for each type of share.

Where this is useful is for creating file shares on systems not designed for FreeNAS. For example in a virtual machine, on smaller systems like the Raspberry Pi, or even an old laptop which only has 1 hard drive where FreeNAS typically will need at least 2~3 drives (one for boot and another 2 for data with mirroring).

Beyond setting an SMB share itself, the end of the video mentions additional steps to help protect data. Personally I have a simple SMB share on an old notebook sharing a folder/directory on the boot drive, then to protect that I backup the files to an external drive using over a USB cable. In Ubuntu, a USB drive gets mounted under the system folder /media and users can schedule a nightly backup using a cron job.

In the terminal, run crontab -e.

The file will open and scroll to the bottom. The first five spaces represent: 
  • m - minute
  • h - hour
  • dom - day of month
  • mon - month
  • dow - day of the week (0-6, 1-7 - 0 & 7 both are Sunday)

The picture is an example that runs the copy command, cp -uR, at midnight and 12 noon everyday with the * symbol representing 'any'.

Note there are many other commands and ways to back up using cron jobs, just cp -uR is likely one of the easiest and is quite performant.

Use other distros?
I also recently in reading up on Docker, stumbled upon a very lightweight distro called AlpineLinux. It can be set to host an SMB share and a host of other things just like Ubuntu - steps are largely the same.

TIP: In AlpineLinux, ensure when running 'apk add samba' you also add the samba-common-tools, which are needed to run smbpasswd. 

What Alpine is useful for is just being small. To compare, Ubuntu desktop .iso is around 2.1~2.5 GB in size now; Ubuntu server that doesn't have the desktop runtime and graphical elements - is around 800 MB; Alpine is only around 120 MB. Of course, Ubuntu has things like firewall ufw and other features baked in out-of-the-box to make it quick and easy to get up and running, but I like Alpine for portability and makes a good test environment for running in a VM, on a Raspberry Pi, or something else.

Finally, I wanted to say THANK YOU to the Ubuntu Podcast who were kind enough to mention this blog in a recent episode. I hope these tutorials are useful, and while I am having trouble keeping a regular cadence, I hope the blog itself helps to consolidate the material so its available anytime for anyone. 

Thank you for reading this far. Hope to have some more on creating a web server and basic PHP tips soon.

Introduction virtualization to containers

This is an introduction to virtualization - hypervisors, virtual machines (VMs), and also containers. Virtualization has become a transformative technology for several reasons highlighted in the video, both in terms of cost savings, but also flexibility in deployment and application usage. Containers - essentially Linux name spaces - build upon the same idea of virtualization with a mix of benefits (low resource usage per deployment, fast to deploy) and limitations (their primarily Linux based and confined). I'm including several links for reference that I've found helpful and hope you can as well.

I think virtualization is pretty straightforward beyond the inner workings of a hypervisor itself. Install a hypervisor, figure out how to create and access VMs and away you go. Containers - though I don't touch on much in the video are interesting, but complex in how to deploy, manage, and use. I attribute a lot of this to the maturity difference between the the technologies, and the underlying complexity of running sandboxed services on a single kernel vs just creating an environment to install wholly independent systems on. 

Ideally when deploying an IT backend, both technologies would and do get used where needed. Having an understanding of both is important for those looking to get into IT or infrastructure workloads for the foreseeable future. 

Hope it helps, leave a comment if you have any suggestions, questions, or comments.

"How wealth has changed" - Motivation for More Open Source

Listening to the news this past week, one good or interesting podcast was about "How wealth has changed" on the Indicator from Planet Money  of NPR.

It struck me, though not really pointed out directly in the 9 minute show, that it was essentially a call for open source. In the episode, the host and guest were discussing how for much of human history the economic prosperity of a country was tied to land - its size, its resources, its ability to be used for farmland and crops, precious metals, etc. Countries in need of or desiring more resources would then start wars, make colonies, and generally squabble for the finite amount of resources available. Come to the Enlightenment and then the Industrial Revolution, there was a new shift for manufacturing with skilled or knowledge-based workers became valuable. The shift has continued to this day with technology now being synonymous with computers and IT, though can really permeate all facets of life and work. What is also more intriguing is that now that ideas and knowledge are able to help drive economic growth, and in many ways are more valuable than raw resources, value growth is accelerated like never before seen in human history. While land and natural resources are finite, knowledge is not, and essentially sharing ideas increases growth potential.

The show also touched upon a few topics of the trade war and patent infringement, but largely argued for better sharing of ideas without mentioning open source. Open source, in the computer science world is essentially the real-world manifestation of this idea. The code, the "how to do something", is put out for the world to see and use. Open source enables technology and know-how to be shared on the Internet, making it available for billions to use, millions to implement, and thousands to even help maintain and improve so that ideas are not only shared, they can be refined at scale.

Outside the scope of the discussion, but underlying the idea is the Solow Growth model which essentially states that technology (either tools, computers, processes, legal systems, governance, etc.) is the true driver of growth in modern society.

Open source technology, the sharing of ideas and know how freely in an open way, can be linked to global economic growth and development. Knowing how to use these tools, and taking an interest in them is absolutely critical, and I was happy to see that idea be recognized by mainstream media.

Intro for Google Forms and Scripts

This is an introduction and walk through of using Google Forms, reacting to data as it comes in, and also setting a custom script to forward the contents of the request to a specific mail address. This is a feature that is very useful for doing things like surveys and basic initial user/customer engagement.

For internal use it should be more than fine. When embedding in a website there are issues about user privacy which need to be considered and managed. As of this writing, though Google itself does comply with the laws of the land (GDPR in the EU, FCC & FTC in the US, and other regulations in other countries), things like right to be forgotten should be practiced - i.e. a company should be able to either script or manually delete a user entry from someone who requests to do so.

Here are some more references I found helpful when setting up this script.

I am not a privacy lawyer, but I want to make the information available about how useful the forms tool is and can be. The alternative to using something like forms requires a larger amount of code, the ability to setup a database of some sort, employing proper SSL certificates on the server, the server itself and likely storage of said server, another server or software set to send and receive emails, and a manager to run all of that infrastructure and backend. For anything which might not warrant all of that overhead, Google Forms is a great tool for collecting, managing and reacting to feedback.

What is a server?

This blog and video aim to introduce and explain servers.

From 1 GB of RAM to 3 TB of RAM, there is a slew of servers for a wide variety of usage cases. I try to break it down by the services running on any given box, explain a little bit of the hardware differences and then go into more depth using the open source operating system, FreeNAS, as an example of a home server. 

I know a lot of concepts covered in the video weren't covered before, and per your interest those could be critical or just details. I'm linking some more information about the concepts covered below.

Off-the-bat - the FreeNAS instance I'm running is not production/persistent. If you want to install and setup FreeNAS be sure to follow the recommended hardware specifications from iXsystems.

More information about the technologies discussed are below.

  -  I talk more about this in the below video as well
  -  Very general here I'll try to cover the topic more in depth in a future video

Remember, while there is always more to know, most of the basics just build upon one another. Day-by-day, week-by-week, you will gradually learn the importance and competence of all these details. It takes time.

Essentially there is a multitude of ways to split up tasks and data running on a server, and also share said data between devices. FreeNAS offers a nice UI for interacting and setting up common services that have immediate value for home / small office users. Its services can help with data backup, file sharing, redundancy, cloud sync, and, with plugins and jails, has the ability to add more services as needed. 

One more video I hope to share is a short one. In the first video, I used the most open way to create a share on FreeNAS 11.3. However, a better practice is to ensure a specific user is set to the owner of that share, and then let users login using that account name and password.

Networking introduction

This video is a quick introduction about networking on computers. It covers some high-level concepts, such as packets, TCP/IP, IP addresses, DNS, DHCP, as well as some useful commands. Again since this is a Linux based video a lot of the commands are shown using Linux, though Windows equivalents (ipconfig, arp -a, and ping) are also covered.

This is truly just an introduction of key concepts, and omits more complex topics of setting static IPs, bringing up a network on a Linux server, and complex routing or detailed firewall permissions, etc. These are all important for IT administrator work and I am linking some more useful links below. 

Networking is an important part of using computers and tech, and having a basic understanding is really critical to starting on more advanced projects. Like with the other concepts covered in this blog, I hope this is a good starting point.

Overview of operating systems - Linux compared

This is an overview of Windows, macOS, and Linux operating systems from a usage perspective. While the other videos have been using Linux for various tutorials, this video attempts to just offer more background about how Linux is crafted and why it has so many distributions. The ugly term is Fragmentation, which is true, but one could also look at that as choice and options.

Since this is only focusing primarily on the desktop, desktop user interfaces (UI) are also explained a bit, as well as highlighting useful features/commands for installing applications on Linux.

This is not an in-depth comparison as there are many many differences in terms of how the architectures, permissions, and code bases differ between each OS. I hope this at least offers some background as to how the flexibility of Linux can lead to some complexity, and how that complexity can be managed.

Some more sources for images and market share are largely taken from Wikipedia:
(Note: there is a bit of variance in the numbers I show and the raw desktop numbers from NetMarketShare data, but there is a constant variance. Windows is still king of desktops, Linux rules in the server space and, through Android, the mobile markets as well.)

Introduction to Programming: Python, Java and Javascript

This is an overview of writing a basic converter program in 3 different languages, Python, Java, and JavaScript. I personally have used this as an exercise to learn new languages particularly the process of getting variables, manipulating them, and returning an output. These concepts will help with almost any program that you want to make in the future.

The video took a little longer to talk through than I anticipated, but 15 mins per language is hopefully acceptable. Again just something I hope can help people get started.

Source code:
Links to more information:
A few books and other sites that are helpful - Intro to Python, Learn Java in 8 hours, W3 schools, and more. Here are a few links. There are also countless tips and tricks just by Googling and searching through https://stackoverflow.com/.
Here as well is a quick video about how to setup the OpenJDK package in Linux. Alternatively, Windows, MacOS, and RedHat Distros can install from Oracle directly or at the above link.