if at first you don’t succeed, blow it up

I’m on build #28.

28 times that I’ve blown up and re-imaged my server slice with a fresh Ubuntu install. I sit down to the command line with the intent of building a stable install, and I’ll get to the point where something goes way left, blow up the server, start over. I haven’t found a way to back things up cleanly, to uninstall a package, revert config files to their defaults, and remove the files and folders associated with it. I get very nervous knowing that some package has left trash all over my server. So, I blow up and start over.

  • Install apache2, install php5, install webmin, try to enable WebDAV on a virtual host, webmin hangs on a perl module and won’t budge. Blow up, start over.
  • Install apache2, install php5, install phpmyadmin, try to use it to setup a new privileged user and database, but phpmyadmin refuses to stay logged in. uninstall, reinstall, uninstall, reinstall, blow it up, start over.
  • Install Lighttpd, install ruby, install gems, install mongrel, realize that you’re accidentally following a tutorial for a ruby on rails application instead of a LAMP server, blow it up, start over.

Repeat, 28 times, with different problems and configurations.

It’s not lost time, really. I’m actually enjoying it. There’s something very zen about knowing you can always erase your mistakes and start over. I feel like each time, I’m narrowing in on the right setup, learning new things, starting to get a sense of how Ubuntu organizes data. My goals is to be able to setup a server without having to follow a tutorial; to know what the available options are at each stage in the setup, and to make an informed choice for each one.

It’s not enough to just build a server, I want to know how to build a server.

11 thoughts on “if at first you don’t succeed, blow it up

  1. I would give you a piece of advice, my very first dabbling in Linux, was with Smoothwall Express, a firewall distro, which worked very well. but after that I needed a server distro, that was easy to startup and configure until my feet was a little more wet.

    Well, then I used Clarkconnect. it’s all done and ready for you, all you have to do is install it, and poof, 95% of what you need is there, and the forums are quite friendly, if not on the bustling side.

    anyways, just giving my 2 cents

    Good luck!

  2. Try using the purge command to completely remove all files that a package installed (including all the config files that remove leaves). I do not think this works with apt-get, you probably have to use something smarter like aptitude or wajig (wajig is a great little tool that combines all the apt commands into one program, + a few extras).

    e.g. aptitude purge examplepackage

  3. good on ya Stuart. I was annoyed that removing apache left my conf files. Don’t they know the whole reason I’m scrubbing it is because I need a new clean conf file and didn’t make a backup of the originals? Newb lesson 101. Newbs back-up nothing!

  4. You can always take advantage of slicehost’s backup services and take a snapshot before you do anything dangerous – then you can restore the snapshot if it goes south on you.

  5. I’m dabbling with Linux too, and can readily identify with what you’re saying. It’s also a very enjoyable read – looking forward to the next instalment :-D

  6. With all the testing you are doing, I would recommend doing it in a VM. That way you can create a basic OS install, create a snapshot, and then, when it blows up, revert to the snapshot. It only takes 30 seconds to a minute to revert to a minute to revert, rather than rebuilding an OS. You can get VMWare Server free, and it is very powerful and flexible. I use it for testing a number of test scenarios, as long as the hardware is not important.

  7. I can feel your pain. I’m on my 12th slice rebuild. I keep reading tutorials. Dozens, all different. And then I try to set it up with different settings and it blows up. I’m past the Apache 2.2 compiling thing, but I haven’t figured out how to set up an FTP server and I don’t know if I need to set up a firewall or something. It’s so much easier on the Mac!!
    But, I did make an amazing discovery today: setting up DNSs! And I have one domain actually working. And I’m reading about Google Aps, to use Gmail as a mail interface. Spares me time setting up procmail or postfix (or whatever).
    Keep posting your findings. I’m actually writing down every baby step with comments. I can share that with you, if you want.

  8. Hahahahaha.

    By the time I had gotten to the end of your first paragraph, I realized that’s exactly what I’m going through right now.

    I’m currently trying to get postfix set up properly.

  9. Couldn’t agree more with the Zen-like attributes that starting over and over and over have. Sometimes I just think I’m a sick fuck with too much time on his hands that likes initiating processes which never come to fruition. A good time on a Saturday night? Try erasing your iTunes library template and re-entering all the artwork, ratings, lyrics, and so on for 15,000 tunes! So stimulating. Ok, I’m sick . . .

  10. Posting comments many months after the last post. Thats just silly.

    As mentioned VMWare can help you by using snapshots. Even better you can make a base install of an OS with minimum resources requirements. Use that as your base OS. Copy it 30 times. Install ONE service (or the minimum to get one task done) and you’ll have a lot less problems. Also with the VMWare appliances (see the VMWare website) you can download reconfigured operating systems through bit torrent (most are bit torrent but some are ftp or http).

    additionally your zen feeling can be filled to your hearts content with xen (open source competition to vmware, both have free versions). check it out. http://www.citrixxenserver.com/products/Pages/myproducts.aspx

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