Portable Webmaster

Please note that this was published in 2010. You should have no expectations that the content is current. Notably, TrueCrypt is a thing of the past (though you should look at VeraCrypt and/or hardware-encrypted USB sticks, both of which I’m currently using in 2017 to do what I was using Truecrypt for before). Also, I’m sure the hosting suggestions are too old to be useful.


That said, enjoy …

Instructions for setting up Free Webhosting

Software we’ll be using

Useful Websites

And if you’re really serious …

The following is a list of programs which (combined with those above) will give you a pretty complete web development platform that you can carry around with you on a USB stick. There are a lot of advantages to this, not least being the ability to test-drive your PHP-based sites to make sure they’re actually working before uploading them to your “real” host. The second advantage is always having your settings, bookmarks, and so on, with you wherever you (and your USB stick) are. If this is appealing, you might want to look into the portable version of Open Office, and just give up on desktop-installed software alltogether.

Truecrypt isn’t web development related, exactly, but it has two important functions. First of all, it allows you to create an encrypted virtual hard drive; basically, it’s a big file that you can “mount” as a disk drive on whatever computer you’re using. So, this allows you to keep backups of site passwords, database tables, and so on on your usb stick without having to worry about them being read by someone, even if you lose the stick. That’s a big deal. Secondly, though, and just as important, Truecrypt allows you to choose which drive letter to mount the virtual drive on. Both of the portable servers below rely on their files (and yours, for that matter) being in the same place (on the same drive) all the time, which isn’t possible using a usb stick (without manually changing the drive letters). Using the Truecrypt volume, though, you can mount it on drive W when you install the server, and mount it on drive W every time after that, and everything will work out swimmingly. So, between the encryption and the portable-but-still-the-same-drive features, Truecrypt is well worth having.

Both of these servers work really well for testing purposes. The idea is that you run your own server that only you can see (no real “internet” access) so that you can test your PHP code out before deploying it for real. In the inc/variables.php file you will note that the code decides whether or not it’s on the localhost, and sets up file locations accordingly. This way, the same code runs both on my own machine and publically.

Each server sets up a folder that will contain all of your actual “website” material. Usually, it’s called htdocs, or www, or something like that (sorry I can’t be more exact, but I’ve fiddled with my setup fairly extensively). This folder is the one that the server delivers to your web browser when you surf to http://localhost/ . So, you could put a folder in there called “portfolio”, for example, and then browse to http://localhost/portfolio and see your website up and running for testing purposes (assuming you’ve set variables.php to the correct values for the local host – just put in w:/mowesportable/www/portfolio or whatever for the thisRoot, and http://localhost/portfolio for the thisURL and you should be OK). Then, when all is well, just upload the contents of that folder (the portfolio one) to your portfolio hosting site, making sure that you’re set to overwrite if the source is newer. Much less risky than editing in real time as we did during the seminar.

Both of these servers offer PHP, MySQL and Apache, which parallels what your free host offers, and what any paid host will as well. Beyond that (imagemagic support, for example), you would have to check with your specific host. By all means, do that before building something that relies on a particular module, only to find out that your host doesn’t offer it. It’s very possible that your own portable server will have some capabilities (or things enabled) that your real-world host does not.

One of the painful tasks that comes up from time to time is changing something in a whole bunch of files. There are a lot of programs that can change one line or one string of text, but not many that can change a whole block of text (several lines). This one can, and it’s free.

Free Commander is a dual-panel file manager with built-in zipping abilities. Great for copying stuff from one place to another, and since it’s portable you can get it to start up in two folders on your usb drive or truecrypt volume.

SQLYog isn’t a “portable” installation, but once you install it to C:\Program Files\SQLYog\ (or wherever), you can copy that SQLYog folder to your USB stick (or wherever) and the program will run just fine.

We didn’t deal with MySQL this year, but depending on demand we may do so next time around. There are two main reasons we didn’t. First of all, once you add MySQL to your website, you might as well go the whole distance and serve the page content, menus and so on from MySQL as well. The resulting page code would have been, I though, too complicated for the time we had to look it over. On the other hand, people would have been able to edit the website through a secure section of the site itself, and MySQL would have allowed for blogs and forums and all that fun stuff. Anyhow, for this year, SQLYog is a great supplement to PHPMyAdmin (a web-based MySQL manager) which comes with both the portable servers mentioned above. PHPMyAdmin is also provided by most web hosts, so it’s used a fair bit. I just like having a program interface (which SQLYog provides), and the backup/dump/copying features of SQLYog are very handy.

Finally, hardware being what it is, I would strongly suggest that you keep a backup copy of the complete contents of your USB stick, or your secure drive if you go the Truecrypt route. This is easily accomplished by syncing the whole thing to your desktop or laptop or whatever, and maybe occasionally burning the whole thing off onto a DVD or copying it to an external hard drive. Paranoia is only laughable until you’re the one whose USB stick dies, sending your thesis or websites or whatever into the void. Pathsync works very well, and is free, but there are a lot of syncing programs out there. You mainly need to be careful about what you want the program to do. A “sync” is usually bi-directional, whereas what I usually want to do is make one location (my backup) exactly like the other (my stick). That way, when I delete something on the stick, it gets deleted on the backup as well. Usually, the programs have setting to handle things one way or the other.

Places to go for more Portable Software

Please note that all of the programs I have recommended, and the sites I suggest, lead to open-source or publicly released software. At the same time, depending on where you go looking, there are “portable” versions of commercial software available. Be aware of where you’re getting this stuff, and whether it’s really freeware or not.


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One thought on “Portable Webmaster

  • Sure, but I think that’s probably the case for most people. This set of apps was initially prepared for a seminar dealing with professional portfolios … I don’t expect them to get hammered, but rather to be available for people checking CVs and so on. People who are serious about building traffic would eventually have to move over to a better hosting platform. And, of course, people have complaints about all the cheap hosts as well.

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