configuration hell

Posted in Hacking at 5:02 pm by ducky

I spent all day yesterday working on configuration, and I’m probably going to do the same again today.

I am learning PHP with a hobby project, and my research group is heavily involved in Eclipse. (Mylar came out of my group, for example.) I thus wanted to try out the PHP plug-in for Eclipse. Simple, right?


That meant that I needed PHP4 and MySQL4. (I wanted PHP4 because that’s what my ISP has and what I’d started using. At one point, I upgraded on webfoot.com to PHP5, and everything broke. I didn’t want to try to troubleshoot that while I’m still learning PHP, so I just reverted to PHP4 on webfoot.com, and wanted to match that locally. I wanted MySQL4 because that’s what happened to be installed on webfoot.com for WordPress.)

Addendum: I have since learned of xampp, which has Apache/MySQL/PHP5 already configured together, and MAMP, which is similar (but only for MacOS). I can see why that would be useful. I’m tempted to blow away my entire installation and just download xampp. *Sigh*


Downloading PHP4 was simple, since I use Ubuntu. I just used Synaptic, a nice GUI front-end to apt-get, to grab both php4 and php4-cli. The documentation seemed to say that there were only two lines that I really needed to add:

AddType application/x-httpd-php .php .php3 .php4 .phtml
AddType application/x-httpd-php-source .phps

plus I needed to verify that index.php was already in my DirectoryIndex. No problem. I edited /etc/apache2 and off I went. Uh, no go. I searched and searched and searched… and finally noticed that I was editing apache2, but that I also had apache1.3 installed, and apache1.3 was running, not apache2. Editing the config file for apache2 did me no good at getting PHP4 working with apache1.3.

I thought about it for a bit, and decided that it really was time to fully upgrade to apache2. I had stalled on it because twiki used to have some issues with apache2, but those seem resolved. So now I had to configure apache2.


Fortunately, I’ve been configuring httpd and its children since 1994, so that went pretty quickly.


I then turned my focus to MySQL. I used Synaptics to get the mysql-client-4.1 and mysql-server-4.1 packages. I was a good little girl and tried to follow along in the official docs. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice that the first doc I started reading was the MySQL5 manual, not the MySQL4 manual. (That didn’t take too long to figure out.) Next, I got very confused and worried because the manual talked about what the file layout looked like, and mine looked very different. I finally decided that I shouldn’t worry too much, because the Ubuntu way of doing things is sometimes different. However, when it started saying that I could check the installation by running the scripts in run-bench, then I got really perplexed.


My slocate db didn’t have all the files that I just downloaded, so I decided to take a diversion and figure out how to update it. It took a little while to figure it out and do the update, but it was straightforward.
The magic incantation is:

sudo updatedb

Back to MySQL

Unfortunately, after updating the db, run-bench was still nowhere to be found. Somewhat troubled by this, I decided to continue.

I was pretty much dead in the water, however. When I had run mysql_install_db, it had printed out some instructions about setting a password, which I, like a good little girl, dutifully followed. However, the official docs assumed that I had NOT set a password, and so I was unable to follow. They also didn’t tell me how to specify a password (since I didn’t need one since they hadn’t told me to set one), and so what I had been trying was wrong. (Hint: use the -p option and it will prompt you for a password.)

I finally blew away the data directory, then ran mysql_install_db again, and everything worked much better. I could now run mysql and manipulate the databases directly. Yay! However, PHP was still not able to connect to MySQL. Boo!

I did some sleuthing and found some very rude but helpful forum postings that led me to believe that I needed to put mysql.so in the PHP extensions directory. (To find the PHP extensions directory, run phpinfo() in a PHP script, then examine the output for the extensions directory.) Fortunately, slocate found two versions of mysql.so. Unfortunately, they were in a Perl subdirectory and a Python subdirectory — probably not what I wanted. On a whim, I tried making a symbolic link from one of those to the PHP extensions directory. I was just as successful as I expected I’d be — namely not at all.

I took a break, searched the Web, took another break, had some chocolate, and then thought to look through the packages on Synaptic again. There was one called php4-mysql. Bingo! I downloaded it, and MySQL and PHP were now talking to each other.

PHPEclipse plugin

Off to download the PHP Eclipse plugin. Fortunately, all I had to do was go to Help->Software Updates->Find and Install->new->New Remote Site and enter the update URL, http://phpeclipse.sourceforge.net/update/releases. Unfortunately, it wanted Eclipse 3.1. I was hoping that it meant 3.1 or higher, but no, I found out that they really meant Eclipse 3.1, so I had to download 3.1 and try again.

Eclipse 3.1

The 3.1 version of Eclipse is slightly hidden because it is so old, but I was able to find it pretty quickly and download it. I have been downloading and configuring Eclipse a lot lately because of my research lab’s involvement with it, so it was painless for me.

PHPEclipse again

There is a nice step-by-step guide to installing PHPEclipse that informed me that I would need DBG, the PHP Debugger.


I downloaded the tarball for the dbg modules,then copied the right version (4.4.2) over to the PHP extensions directory.

PHP again

I did a bunch of configuring in PHPEclipse, but got stuck on a configuration page that insisted on knowing my PHP interpreter. I didn’t seem to have one.

Fortunately, I do sometimes learn from my tribulations, and thought to look at Synaptic again. Lo and behold, there was a package php4-cli. I downloaded that, and PHPEclipse running PHP scripts! Hallelujah!

PHPEclipse again

Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to pass the QUERY_STRING to the scripts I was running under Eclipse. I couldn’t figure out how to get them into $_GET, $_POST, or $_REQUEST, try as I might. Eventually, I did a hacky workaround: I wrote a function that first tried $_REQUEST, and if that didn’t work, pulled the variables out of $_ENV. To get them into $_ENV, I set them (one varible and value per line) in Run->Run…->(configuration)->Environment. Note that I had to have the radio button set to “Append environment to native environment”.

So now PHP, MySQL, Apache, PHPEclipse, and DBG are all working together. They might not be in perfect harmony, but they are all at least singing the same song. Yay!

Addendum: not done, back to PHP4

Hah. I thought I was done, but it turns out that the PHP4 that I downloaded via Synaptic didn’t have curl compiled in, which I needed for one of my scripts. Downloading php4-curl made everything happy.

Why is this so hard?

There is a lot of documentation out on the Web on how to configure stuff, but a lot of it is for Windows and the Linux docs tend to assume you are downloading tarballs or RPMs. For example, the alert reader might still be wondering where run-bench got to. The docs finally told me (about three pages later, arg!) that you’d only see run-bench if you downloaded the source, that run-bench wasn’t in the binaries. Arg!

Part of the reason that this was hard is that PHP, MySQL, and Apache are each very complex packages that can be used in several different modes. All three of them can be run entirely independently. PHP can be run with or without curl as well, and probably sixteen other modes that I don’t know about.

Apache, MySQL, and Eclipse are complex enough that they have a fair amount of configuration that they need even if they are being run stand-alone.

More fundamentally, documentation isn’t sexy. 🙁 People don’t write a whole lot of documentation; a lot of my troubleshooting was aided not by formal docs but by blog postings and forum discussions. (That’s why I’m posting this — so the next poor schmoe doesn’t have to spend as long as I did.)

Finally, it’s hard enough to get one project documented well, and I was trying to make FIVE different open source software packages play together. It was actually surprising that I didn’t get caught by holes around the edges more often.


  1. ducky said,

    May 14, 2007 at 4:27 pm

    If you are starting completely from scratch, here are instructions for how to install ALL of Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP at once:

  2. Best Webfoot Forward » hobby project blues said,

    May 21, 2007 at 10:09 pm

    […] Installation hell. It didn’t have to be that bad, but I didn’t know about the xampp project. […]

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