Designing Web Services at BigBiz

(this page last revised on Sunday August 18, 2002)

This is a guide to designing web services at BigBiz. It is intended for users that have web accounts at BigBiz.

We will not discuss general HTML or CGI design, nor teach any programming languages like C, Perl, or Java. There are many sources on the web and in various publications that you can refer to, written by people that really know their stuff. For example WebSmith's Links, and The World Wide Web FAQ. We will assume readers of this document are already experienced web designers. If you need more introductory material, please refer to the above link.

Also check out the great index at YAHOO for useful information for beginners through experts. BOOKMARK THIS.

What we will discuss are specifics of designing your web presence with the services at BigBiz, security issues, software available at BigBiz, local "enhancements" you can take advantage of, and other special topics applicable especially to BigBiz web designers. Check this page often, as we will update it as new services become avaiable to our users.

If you are a web designer and you have some tips or tricks to share with our other users, send a note and we will include it (and of course give proper attribution).

We are also collecting questions and answers for a FAQ. If there is something at BigBiz which is confusing, please e-mail, we can answer your question and include it in the FAQ for others.
The BigBiz Web Design Team

Table of Contents

Mailing Lists

We maintain 2 low traffic mailing lists: webmasters and notify.

The mailing list is used to discuss web design issues affecting BigBiz customers. We would announce new software available, changes, design tips, etc... Anyone can subscribe by sending email to with the word "subscribe" in the message body. It is highly recommended you subscribe, since announcements of changes which could affect you comes over this channel. If you know other designers that would like to participate, they are also welcome to subscribe.

The mailing list will be used to communicate information about the server: scheduled outages, hardware upgrades, network changes, etc.... You may want to subscribe to this list if you are interested in such matters. To subscribe, send an e-mail message to with word "subscribe" in the message body.

BigBiz web server information

The BigBiz servers are high-end Intel Pentium II based, with high speed SCSI Disks and Tape. The network interfaces are connected to diverse redundant networks with T3 (45 Mbits/sec), OC-3 (155 Mbits/sec), and OC-12 (622 Mbits/sec) fibers directly connected to Internet Backbone Providers (Sprint, UUNET, MCI, etc...), and exchange points (Mae-West, Mae-East, PA-IX, etc...). You can read more about our network setup:

We run Linux UNIX operating system. The web server software is Stronghold Apache SSL. BigBiz has a SSL certificate for secure transactions. We also run wu-ftpd configured for multi-home use, ie. each domain has a virtual ftp server. All users have an anonymous ftp directory you can place public files into.

We have made special changes to the operating system and the server software for extra security - enabling us to offer more services to our users with little or no restrictions as compared to other web-hosting companies. This gives our users significant advantages in placing their web sites at bigbiz.

UNIX Manual

We run Linux UNIX operating system. Most users would not need to know how to use UNIX, just uploading your web files to the server is good enough. However more sophisticated users (especially users doing custom CGI scripts) may want to reference the UNIX Manual pages online. Just go to this URL:

Your Web account

When you sign up for a web account at BigBiz you should receive a main login user-id and password. You will use this account for logging in for ftp to access your files. This account can also be used for your web publishing software, like Netscape Gold.

You will also be assigned an Administrative userid. This is used to go into some of our web-based site administration pages. The password is the same as your account password, but you can change it.

You may also receive other user-id's and passwords for accessing other features of our system, like electronic mail and databases.

Your directories

Your home directory contains several subdirectories. Of special note are: You may create additional directories under your home directory, there are no restrictions. However, those directories and the files they contain would only be accessable from your own cgi programs.

How to upload/download your files

It is recommended that you design your web pages using your own facilities. You can edit and test your pages there. It is more efficient than designing your pages online at BigBiz.

When you are ready to publish your pages to the web, you can upload the files to your account using ftp. Simply login to bigbiz and upload your files to your web directory (html). A sample session follows, your ftp program may differ.

Sample: we will login to our web account acmewidget (, and place our web page (index.html) and graphics (logo.gif, SalesTeam.gif) to the html subdirectory. Bold indicates something you type.

% ftp
Connected to
220 web01 FTP server (Version wu-2.4(6) Sun Dec 8 13:19:42 PST 1996) ready.
Name ( acmewidget
331 Password required for acmewidget.
Password: enter your password here Welcome acmewidget from SHELL.NETCOM.COM !  You are user 3 of unlimited.
230-This is an experimental FTP server.  If have any unusual problems,
230-please report them via e-mail to .
230-If you do have problems, please try using a dash (-) as the first
230-character of your password -- this will turn off the continuation
230-messages that may be confusing your ftp client.
230 User acmewidget logged in.
Remote system type is UNIX.
Using binary mode to transfer files.
ftp> cd html
250 CWD command successful.
ftp> dir
200 PORT command successful.
150 Opening ASCII mode data connection for /bin/ls.
total 2
drwxr-x---   2 acmewidget    acmewidget        1024 Jun  4 22:46 .
drwxr-x---   3 acmewidget    acmewidget        1024 Jun  1 14:57 ..
226 Transfer complete.
ftp> put index.html
local: index.html remote: index.html
200 PORT command successful.
150 Opening BINARY mode data connection for index.html.
226 Transfer complete.
10269 bytes sent in 0.00 seconds (8003.45 Kbytes/s)
ftp> put logo.gif
local: logo.gif remote: logo.gif
200 PORT command successful.
150 Opening BINARY mode data connection for logo.gif.
226 Transfer complete.
1424 bytes sent in 0.00 seconds (2439.69 Kbytes/s)
ftp> put SalesTeam.gif
local: SalesTeam.gif remote: SalesTeam.gif
200 PORT command successful.
150 Opening BINARY mode data connection for SalesTeam.gif.
226 Transfer complete.
32805 bytes sent in 0.14 seconds (222.95 Kbytes/s)
ftp> dir
200 PORT command successful.
150 Opening ASCII mode data connection for /bin/ls.
total 49
drwxr-x---   2 acmewidget    acmewidget        1024 Jun  4 22:47 .
drwxr-x---   3 acmewidget    acmewidget        1024 Jun  1 14:57 ..
-rw-r-----   1 acmewidget    acmewidget       32805 Jun  4 22:47 SalesTeam.gif
-rw-r-----   1 acmewidget    acmewidget       10269 Jun  4 22:46 index.html
-rw-r-----   1 acmewidget    acmewidget        1424 Jun  4 22:46 logo.gif
226 Transfer complete.
ftp> quit
221 Goodbye.

You may also publish your web pages directly from your design software (example Netscape Gold), if it has an ftp interface. Here is how you can configure Netscape Gold for BigBiz.

Example: our web account is acmewidget ( We will place the web design into the html subdirectory (note the /./html in the ftp address).

When you do a "Publish", set the Publising location as follows:

User name: acmewidget
Password: enter your password here

We are working on a web-based website maintenance program, more details to come.

We also feature the Microsoft® FrontPage® 2000 extensions on our server, allowing you the option to design your web site using Frontpage 2000 and Frontpage 98. Read more about it. Please check there for support and design tips on using FrontPage with our servers.

Security Considerdations for your files

You are responsible for making your files and directories secure on BigBiz. The server machine is shared by many users, you should take precautions to protect your files from being damaged or destroyed by another user. For sensitive files (ie. holds credit card numbers or other private information), you would also need to take additional precautions so the files are not even accessable by other users. Failure to set the correct modes for your files may open them to be (accidently or maliciously) erased or overwritten.

The unix security model based on user-id is used. The modes on the files should be set for different protections. The group permissions pertain to the http server. We recommend the following modes.

The CHMOD command can be used to set the file modes. PC and Mac users may not be used to the unix conventions, please consult with a Unix guru to make sure your files are protected. The protect program can be run to help identify security problems with your files and fix them. Type "protect" by itself to get a description on its command line options.

When your directories are properly protected, other users will be unable to read or write to your files.

The .htaccess file may be used to further protect selected web directories, example: requiring a valid userid/password before access is permitted. See the .htaccess topic for further information.

Stronghold / Apache HTTP server (web server)

We are currently running Stronghold 1.3.4 webserver. We plan to track the Stronghold releases as new updates become available.

Information about Stronghold and Apache can be found on bigbiz, go to the URL Additional information can be found on the Stronghold Home Page and on the Apache home page. There is a lot of information there, a good understanding of the server allows you to take full advantage of its features.

In particular we have:

Note: these features are generally NOT available at other web hosting services.

Secure Web Server

The Stronghold server has built in SSL protocol support. SSL is recognized by many web browsers including Netscape and Internet Explorer. These browsers go into secure mode and all communications are encrypted making it extremely difficult for a network snooper to eavesdrop on the transmissions.

Merchants wanting to do on-line commerce transactions on the internet, like accepting credit cards, should use SSL to make sure nobody can steal the credit card information. Access to the secure web server is included with the domain account, and gives users the tools necessary to build a storefront.

BigBiz has a SSL certificate for Domain based users are welcome to share the bigbiz certificate, your secure web site are accessed with the secure server at

Domain users may prefer to have their own secure site ( You can apply for your own certificate and we will install it for you. You may want to check the Verisign Home Page for additional information. We can help you with this process.

To obtain status / configuration on the secure server, visit this link:

FTP server

The FTP server we run is wu-ftpd version 2.4. With a web account, you have your own directory where you can place files for anonymous ftp access. There should be a link in your home directory named pub. You may place files there. Make sure you make the directories mode 755 (readable by everyone), and files mode 644 so that anonymous users can download your file.

Your files are available for ftp access at the host, directory /pub. The FTP directory can also be reached using the URL There is a welcome message in /home/anonymous/ that you can edit to suit your needs.

If you are a non-domain user, your public ftp files are accessable on the host, directory /users/your_username. The FTP directory can also be reached using the URL

You can read additional information about the FTP server on the man page wu-ftpd(8).

CGI Scripting

BigBiz web server will run your CGI scripts in your directory. We DO NOT require you place your cgi scripts in special restricted directories, nor do we make you submit your scripts for inspection like other web hosting services. We have taken special measures with our software and operating system to protect against the kinds of problems that plague other providers which force them to take those restrictive actions. For example, to reference a script in the same directory as your html form:
   <FORM METHOD="POST" ACTION="myscript.cgi">

The most important thing you should know is that CGI scripts run with your own user-id. Your scripts can read and write files owned by you, but most importantly: Other users scripts cannot read or write your files! (if you are careful about file permissions).

If you have a file which is accessed by your own scripts, you can set the file mode to 600 so that only you (and your scripts) can read and write the file. Nobody else on the system, nor their scripts, will be able to access your file. This is very important if your files contain sensitive information, like credit card numbers.

BigBiz provides a variety of scripting languages for your use: Perl, Tcl, and Python. In addition you can compose scripts using standard unix scripting languages like sh, csh, awk, etc... You can even run binary programs, like compiled C programs.

The web server configuration will automatically invoke your cgi script if the filename extension is .cgi, .pl, or .tcl, AND your file has execute permissions (mode 750 is recommended for best protection).

Some users prefer to place all CGI scripts in one place. If you like, you can create a subdirectory within ~/html named cgi-bin and place all your scripts there. You can reference your scripts within your html using /cgi-bin, for example (form):

   <FORM METHOD="POST" ACTION="/cgi-bin/myscript.cgi">

Go here to see some example scripts.

PHP/FI scripting

As an alternative to CGI scripting, we offer PHP/FI scripting. PHP/FI is built directly into the webserver and so will run much faster than a normal CGI script. It has MANY features which make it the language of choice for many webmasters, including native support for accessing database systems. This is definitely worth your effort to learn.

A PHP/FI script can be simply an html file. Scripting commands are embedded within your html. BigBiz webserver will automatically interpret the file as PHP/FI if the extension is .phtml or .php.

BigBiz has made some enhancements to the language we feel would benefit our users.

SSI (server side includes)

The webserver will run server side include commands in any file with the extension .shtml. You can read about these commands HERE.

This feature is mainly available for users that have existing scripts. We beleive that PHP/FI offers a much more attractive alternative for new designs.

Public CGI scripts

The /usr/local/apache/cgi-bin ( directory contains some cgi-scripts which anyone can access. If you want a program installed into the public cgi directory, please contact Feel free to copy anything there to your own directory and modify for your own use.

This is a cgi counter program which generates a nice graphical hit counter for your pages. Additional information is available at

An example would be to embed a link into your web page like this

Which would look something like this:

Please read the documents before using the counter - there are lots of very cool options available. To keep users from clobbering each other's data files, name your datafile something so it will be unique. Prefixing your domain name is recommended, ie. df=mydomain_mycounter.dat

If you have any questions or want me to install some fonts for you, please email

Forms handling script - does mailback, save results, confirmation, secure (encryption), credit card checking, order processing, and much more. Works with FrontPage too. Read all about it HERE.

Netscape "file upload"

There is some advanced information we put together on using Netscape's file upload feature. Check netscape_file_uploads_with_perl.txt.

PHP/FI scripting also has built in file-upload support. Check the PHP/FI docs for additional details.

Database services

Domain based users have access to the Postgres and MySQL database servers. Both are ANSI SQL-92 compliant database engines, each has its strong points. You can use PHP/FI scripts to connect to the servers and make queries. Use of a database opens up new territories for your web designs.

Documentation for MySQL can be found at

Documentation for Postgres may be found at There are several examples of pages on BigBiz that use Postgres

Other pages are in the works. BigBiz is also actively researching other RDBMS systems we can offer in addition.

Access logging and statistics

The web server generates access log files. These are kept in the directory /usr/local/apache/logs. Log files are in the NCSA standard format.

The file names are and

At the end of each month, the log files are archived into subdirectories (YEARMM) and gzipped. Example, the January 1997 log files are in the subdirectory 199701. These archives will be kept for 2 months, after that they may be deleted. If you need the raw log files, please download them to your own system before the 2 month limit.

The information in the log files can provide some important information about who is accessing your pages, which pages, how often, etc..., and can be used for influencing the design of your web site. BigBiz generates up-to-date statistics from the log files for your use.

We run analog 2.0 to analyze the log files. For example, the reports can be loaded from We provide 2 reports:

Statistics for your domain

If you have a subdirectory in your html directory called Stats (eg. /home/yourdomain/html/Stats), and it is group writeable, then we will deposit daily summaries of your access statistics there. If you dont want statistics, delete the Stats directory.

You are welcome to run the analog program yourself to get specific information you may be interested in, please read the readme file to see the many options it has.

Or if you want to do more heavy duty analysis of the log files, you should copy them to your own computer and run whatever analysis programs you desire. Also note there is currently no plans to summarize the error log files, you should take a look at these occasionally to see if there are any problems with your web site.

Note: analog only summarizes http requests, it doesnt summarize any file transfers using ftp or e-mail. Secure requests using the shared certificate ( are included in the bigbiz reports. If you have your own site certificate, your secure logfiles are in /usr/local/apache/logs/ssl.

Graphics Programming

Script writers can take advantage of the GD library to generate dynamic graphics for their website. Information and example code.

Pointers to design aids

There are hundreds of great sites on the web that help you design web pages. We mention just a few.

Icon Collections

We have collected a couple of icon sets which are loaded on BigBiz for your use. Check HERE for details. A great resource for icons is Yahoo.

Animated GIF files contains a comprehensive description on the tools available to design animated GIF files, plus a nice collection too. contains a pretty large collection of animated GIFs.


What better place to look for Java information than JavaSoft Home Page. You can place your compiled Java applets for download by any Java-compatible browser. No special configuration is needed at BigBiz.


Netscape is the home of JavaScript. All you need to know is there.


Yahoo has a Huge Index of sites that help you design backgrounds that make your pages stand out.

Image Maps

Check HERE for Image Map editors.

Site Checking

Web Site Garage, with an easy-to-use cartoon interface Web Site Garage provides Web site owners with online diagnostic tools to better service their Web sites through promotion and maintenance. By "parking" their URL in the Web Site Garage a seven point diagnostic check will be run on your home page including an analysis of load time, browser compatibility, dead links, link popularity, spelling, HTML design, and several other design areas. The resulting report, presented in just seconds by the wisecracking Web Site Garage mechanic, analyzes and rates the site, providing suggestions for improvement.

Web Site Garage also offers additional services like graphics optimization, and search engine registration.

Making your web page known to the world

Once you've completed your web site, how do you tell the world that it is available? One effective way is to get your site listed on the major search engines on the internet. There are many services that do just that for you, for a small fee they will list your web site. However, it is possible to "do it yourself" for free, and get listed in most of the major search indexes.

These 2 web sites will step you through the process and put you on places like Lycos, Webcrawler, Altavista, Yahoo, and more. Check around, you may find other ways to announce/advertise/promote your web site. And please, make sure you place your web address on your business cards, brochures, advertisements, giveaway T-shirts, etc.... Remember: more exposure is a good thing. has a URL submitter to 500 search engines (thats what they advertise). They do charge $49 for this service. We registered with them as a reseller, so if you place your order using this URL: then we get a $9.80 commission. We really dont care much about this income so if you place your order we will credit the $9.80 back to you.* *assuming they are true to their word and mail us a check.

Submit-It has a similar deal, they charge $60 to submit 2 URLs to 400 search engines. We also get a commision that we will credit to your account, so it will only cost you $51. Click here: Submit It!.

Note: we have not used any of those services ourselves and are providing these links only for your convienience.

Restricting your web information from the world

There are web crawling robots out there whose job is to automatically surf the web and index what it finds. Many of the popular search engines, like Alta Vista and Lycos, use this technology to create searchable databases of everything it can find on the web. Normally this is a good thing, it makes your site and its contents easier to find. But sometimes you may want to restrict such wide disemmenation of your information. Some reasons may be To prevent these robots from accessing some or all of your site, you can create a at the top of your web site (ie. in the html/ directory), called robots.txt, with special instructions for robots. Well-behaved robots first look in this file to see if it should avoid some or all of your site. This degenerate example:
User-agent: *
Disallow: /
will keep all robots off your entire site. The robots.txt syntax allows you to only restrict a portion of your site, or to name which robots to restrict. Read al about it at The Robots Page.

Password Protection for your web site

Our server fully supports password protection for part or all of your web site. The machanism uses password files and a .htaccess file in the directory you want to protect. When a user enters a password protected URL, then their browser will popup a dialog box requesting a valid user name and password. Until a valid password is entered, their browser will be denied access to the contents of the directory (and any subdirectories below it)

If you are using FrontPage to design your web site, there are built in features to create password protected sub-webs... we will not discuss this. We discuss how a non-Frontpage user can do it (and in fact, FrontPage simply automates the procedure below).

You will need to create a password database, it can be simply a text file listing usernames and encoded passwords, or it can be a DBM database. We recommend using the DBM database since lookups are much quicker, especially if there are many users. In addition you need to create (or edit) a file named .htaccess in the directory you want to protect and add some lines to it which point to the password file.

First, we create the password file, you need to telnet to the server and go to your directory. (If you do not have a telnet program, you can download one from, search for telnet.

Suppose in your html dir there is a subdir named 'private', which you only allow passworded users to go there (and any directories below there). Lets pretend there are 2 users, jim and joe.

We create a password file, lets call it "users":

        cd ~
           - will ask for database name, enter users
           - command, enter A to add a new user
           - enter the users name, jim
           - enter the password, example: rock345
          now jim is in the password file, repeat from the A command to
          enter joe

           - type Q to quit
In your home directory there should be a database file now called users.dir and users.pag. (The two files users.dir and users.pag together are the password database, we refer to this database by the common name users.) You can use the dbmpasswd command to add/delete users in the future.

Now create or edit the .htaccess file (note the filename begins with a dot) in the private directory. Make sure you place this file at the directory you want protected (in this example ~/html/private). You can create this file on your own system then upload it if you like. If there is already a .htaccess file there, edit it so you dont destroy anything else in that file (normally there isnt one but FrontPage users may have one which is created automatically br FrontPage). Add (or edit) these entries

        AuthType Basic
        AuthName MyPrivateArea
        AuthDBMUserFile /home/yourlogin/users
        require valid-user
explanation of each line: Now you can test your password site by going to the URL , you should get a password request, enter 'jim' and 'rock345'.

Check the apache docs for additional details and options on this feature., goto html docs, apache, runtime directives.

A useful script is in /usr/src/local/txt2pw, the script takes a file of username,password lines (see the example txt2pw.txt) and creates a password database from it. If you have such a list of passwords that you want to use then you can run it through the script to create or update a password file. Feel free to copy the script and modify it for your own requirements.


BigBiz backs up data on a daily basis. We maintain approx 2-3 weeks worth of backups. However we cannot be held responsible for losses or damages resulting from the deletion or loss of online data for any reason. For your own protection, you should keep your own offline backup.

BigBiz does keep redundant hardware so we can do hardware swaps in case of failure.