Tag Archives: web

Why Do Web Applications Stink So Badly?

So today, I happen to be looking at wikis for two small to mid-sized public proojects (MoinMoin and DokuWiki look like frontrunners right now — any suggestions?) Recently, I’ve also looked at blog and CMS software, and a host of other web apps. It’s as if these people have learned nothing about good software practices over the last 20 years.

Warning: Rant Ahead

So how many of you have been here before? You download WebApp X. It tells you to cd to your DocumentRoot and unzip/untar it there. At this point, most of them will tell you to chmod -R 777 the install directory. Some of the better ones, such as WordPress, will tell you to chmod it 777, or if that makes you nervous, to instead chown it to the user that your webserver runs as.

It is at this point that you realize that the Java-based programs ship with their own webserver that takes 2 minutes to load and uses 2GB of RAM, while the PHP-based programs want you to give them 32MB RAM per process, and probably modify your global PHP settings in a way that breaks some other PHP web app you’re already using.

As if that isn’t enough to scare you off, generally speaking, config files — including passwords to databases — are stored in the same directory, along with .htaccess files. Many of these programs are also downloading and updating plugins over the Internet, usually without any kind of cryptographic authentication, and overwriting their own program files in the process.

Oh, and this is a class of app that is notorious for security problems to start with, and makes your server known to billions of people via search engines.

Absolutely no opportunity for trouble here, of course! That sentence was dripping with sarcasm, in case you didn’t get it.

It also makes it almost impossible for people such as Debian maintainers to package up some webapps (such as just about every single one that uses Ruby on Rails) because there is just no sane way to make it behave with respect to the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard.

I’d love to see web app developers do a few simple things:

  1. Separate code from data
  2. Separate code from configuration
  3. Separate all of the above from the DocumentRoot to the greatest extent possible

I realize that some of this is purportedly to make things easier to install when you have FTP access only. But to me it seems just really poor design. I’ve written webapps, and it’s not that hard to do this part right.

Plus, doing the above right means that I no longer have to do something like use git on my WordPress installations because it’s too much of a hassle to apply security and plugin updates on all three separate ones otherwise.