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AOL Updates Its Open Source Web Server

The open source AOLserver Web server project released a new update this week, enhancing the server that powers some of the most trafficked sites on the Internet today, including AOL.com.

Licensed under the Mozilla Public License, AOLserver is, according to its project page, a massively scalable and extensible Web server tuned for large scale, dynamic Web sites."

The AOLserver includes a dynamic page-scripting language, as well as complete database integration. The new release adds one API change and a pair of feature enhancements, including on-the-fly gzip encoding of HTTP responses.

While Apache's Web Server has long dominated the Web server space, AOLserver does have its own advantages. "AOLserver is multi-threaded and has been since 1995, compared to Apache 2, which only recently introduced multi-threading into its design," Dossy Shiobara, AOLserver project leader, told internetnews.com. "AOLserver tightly integrates the Tcl programming language as the primary vehicle for implementing server-side functionality."

According to Shiobara, the Tcl affords AOLserver a number of advantages. He explained that Tcl has "incredibly simple" syntax that makes it easy to learn. He also noted that it is relatively fast in comparison to other scripting languages.

"Tcl is one of the only [scripting] programming languages, which was intended to be embedded inside a larger application, unlike Perl, Python, Ruby, etc.," Shiobara commented. "For the most part, the entire Tcl core is thread-safe -- again, intended to be embedded, and embedded within multi-threaded applications."

The short-term goal of the AOLserver project is not necessarily to become a "major" Web server player and take share from Apache or Microsoft's IIS.

"In the endgame, that may eventually be the goal. However, we definitely see ourselves as a niche player," Shiobara said. "AOLserver's design and philosophy is all about solving specific problems, and solving them well. Specifically, Web server software, which is easy to scale, scales well both horizontally and vertically, and can eventually be scaled to serve the incredible volume of traffic that companies like AOL need to handle."

In Shiobara's view, the server should be considered by heavily trafficked sites -- the 5 percent of Web sites that serve 90 percent of total daily page views on the Internet.

AOLserver version 3.0 was released as open source software back in late 1999. Since then, community activity has been increasing slowly according to Shiobara.

"I'll say that the open source development model is very important, but yes, the project has always been primarily driven by AOL employees," Shiobara said. "I'm always thinking of ways to try and encourage more community involvement in the project, but it's not easy."

In fact growing the community in 2005 is one of Shiobara's goals for the project.

"For the project itself, I want to try and grow the community in 2005, get even more people actively involved in it and see if it makes sense for us to participate in larger activities -- OSCON 2005, etc. -- to bring AOLserver to a larger audience, and so on," he said.

AOLserver 4.0.10 is available for download from the project's SourceForge.net page.