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Understanding LAMP and Its Effect on Web Development

If you're at all familiar with open source software or Web development, chances are you've heard the phrase "LAMP stack" at some point. You may even know what it stands for. But do you know what LAMP actually is?

Short for Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP, LAMP is an open-source Web development platform that uses Linux as the operating system, Apache as the Web server, MySQL as the RDBMS and PHP as the object-oriented scripting language. Perl or Python is often substituted for PHP.

LAMP technology can drive Web applications, and although it is powerful, is also comparatively simple and easy to use.

Individually, Linux, Apache Web server, MySQL database, Perl, Python or PHP are each a powerful component in its own right. The key to the idea behind LAMP, a term originally coined by Michael Kunze in the German magazine c't in 1998, is the use of these items together. Although not actually designed to work together, these open source software alternatives are readily and freely available. This has lead to them often being used together. In the past few years, their compatibility and use together has grown and been extended. Certain extensions have even been created specifically to improve the cooperation between different components.

Today, the products that make up the LAMP stack are included by default in nearly all Linux distributions, and together they make a powerful Web application platform.

Benefits of the FOSS Approach

Each of the components in the LAMP stack is an example of Free or Open Source Software (FOSS). The benefit of the FOSS approach is three-fold. First, the nature of FOSS software means applications are available for free download, making them readily available to a wide range of people without payment. That makes the software incredibly attractive to a wide range of users who would otherwise have to pay for "professional" commercial tools, which is often an expensive step in producing a Web site.

Second, licenses are open and thus have few restrictions on their use and the deployment of applications based on the FOSS technology. It is possible to develop and deploy LAMP-based projects without paying any license fees for distributing the software, and this, again, makes it popular for both hobbyists and professionals alike.

Third, and a major reason for the growth and use of FOSS technology (including LAMP), is that because users have access to the source it is much easier to fix faults and improve the applications. In combination with the open license, this simplifies the development process for many enterprises and gives them flexibility that simply isn't available within the confines of a proprietary or commercial-based product.

LAMP Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

The Apache server running on Linux is an easy way of building a simple Web server, but the information provided by the Apache server will be "static" — that is, basic pages of information that the you must build and type yourself.

Adding interactive or dynamic components requires the use of a programming language, like Perl or PHP. These allow you to work with forms. For example, they let your users send you an e-mail or randomly select a page to visit.

For truly interactive and dynamic Web sites, however, what you need is a way of building pages composed of information in a database. For example, imagine you want to create an online store along the lines of Amazon. You could do it using static pages. You could even use dynamic elements to let people add products to their basket and send their order to you, but as the number of products to be sold increases, the management overhead to control everything will become a nightmare. Furthermore, providing advanced functionality for customers, such as the capability to view past orders, can be impossible.

This is where the power of the LAMP stack shines. By combining a Web server (Apache), dynamic components (using Perl, Python or PHP), and a database (MySQL) you can create a truly database-driven and dynamic Web site that is easy to update and provides rich functionality to support users.

The easiest way to see the power and functionality of the LAMP stack in action is to take a look at some of the pre-packaged applications available that use LAMP technology. A well-known example of this is the WordPress blogging system. WordPress uses PHP to interface with a MySQL database and can be hosted on an Apache/Linux server.

This functionality is possible within other Web application environments, but the key is how simply all of the LAMP components work together. The WordPress code, for example, is surprisingly simple and straightforward. The code is easily customized and extended, and formatting can be altered to meet individual needs.

Using the LAMP Stack in Your Business

Choosing to use LAMP in your business is not about cost — although many enterprises will be attracted to the low-cost required for both development and deployment. Instead, choosing LAMP for your organization is about the benefits it provides, as summarized below.

  • Flexibility: There are no limits to what you can do with the LAMP stack, either technically or because of licensing restrictions. This allows you the flexibility to build and deploy applications in a method that suits you, not the supplier of the technology you are using.

  • Customization: Because LAMP components are open source, they have built up a huge array of additional components and modules that provide additional functionality. The open source approach enables you to do the same, customizing components and functionality to suit your needs.

  • Ease of Development: You can write powerful applications using LAMP technology in relatively few lines of code. Often the code is straightforward enough that even nonprogrammers can modify or extend the application.

  • Ease of Deployment: With neither licensing issues nor the need to compile applications, deployment is often as easy as copying an application to a new host. Most hosting services provide LAMP-based environments as standard, or they can be deployed using a Linux distribution, such as Fedora or Debian.

  • Security: With many eyes developing the software and years of use by a wide range of users and community groups, LAMP technology is secure and stable. Problems are normally fixed very quickly, and without the need for a costly support contract.

  • Community and Support: A wide and experienced group of people is willing to provide help and support during the development and deployment of LAMP-based applications.

Related Acronyms

The original LAMP acronym has spawned a number of other, related acronyms that capitalize on the main focus of the original combination of technologies to provide feature rich Web sites. Although many alternatives are out there, the most prominent are the following:

  • LAPP - Linux, Apache, PostGreSQL, Perl/Python/PHP

  • WAMP - Windows, Apache, MySQL, Perl/Python/PHP

  • MAMP - Macintosh, Apache, MySQL, Perl/Python/PHP

  • BAMP - BSD, Apache, MySQL, Perl/Python/PHP

  • WIMP - Windows, IIS, MySQL, Perl/Python/PHP

  • AMP - Which allows the omission of the operating system

They are all based around similar principles, with the most common item being the languages. To be fair, the operating system is not as important as the server, database and language options, because AMP is also an effective combination on other platforms, including Windows. It is, however, more common to use an entirely open source solution, and the support that comes with Linux distributions for easily installable versions is an obvious bonus.

Did You Know...

Wikipedia uses PHP, MySQL, and Apache HTTPD to provide an online encyclopedia with thousands of entries in multiple languages. All of this is served by Linux servers running the WikiMedia application.
(Source: ServerWatch)

Key Terms To Understanding  LAMP:

(L) Linux
A freely distributed open source operating system that runs on a number of hardware platforms.

(A) Apache Web server
Often referred to as simply Apache, a public-domain open source Web server developed by a loosely knit group of programmers.

MySQL is an open source RDBMS that relies on SQL for processing the data in the database.

Self-referentially short for PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor, an open source, server-side, HTML embedded scripting language used to create dynamic Web pages.

Martin Brown is a frequent contributor to ServerWatch.com, an Internet.com site

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