ISPs probably cannot let users run scripts under mod_perl on the main
server. There are many reasons for this:
Scripts might leak memory, due to sloppy programming. There will not
be enough memory to run as many servers as required, and clients will
be not satisfied with the service because it will be slower.
The question of file permissions is a very important issue: any user
who is allowed to write and run a CGI script can at least read (if not
write) any other files that belong to the same user and/or group the
web server is running as. Note that it's impossible to run
cgiwrap extensions under mod_perl.
Another issue is the security of the database connections. If you use
Apache::DBI, by hacking the
Apache::DBI code you can pick a
connection from the pool of cached connections even if it was opened
by someone else and your scripts are running on the same web server.
There are many more things to be aware of so at this time you have to
Of course as an ISP you can run mod_perl internally, without allowing
your users to map their scripts so that they will run under mod_perl.
If as a part of your service you provide scripts such as guest books,
counters etc. which are not available for user modification, you can
still can have these scripts running very fast.
But, hey why can't I let my users run their own servers, so I can wash
my hands of them and don't have to worry about how dirty and sloppy
their code is (assuming that the users are running their servers under
their own user names, to prevent them from stealing code and data from
This option is fine as long as you are not concerned about your new
systems resource requirements. If you have even very limited
experience with mod_perl, you know that mod_perl enabled Apache
servers while freeing up your CPU and allowing you to run scripts very
much faster, have huge memory demands (5-20 times that of plain
The size depends on the code length, the sloppiness of the
programming, possible memory leaks the code might have and all that
multiplied by the number of children each server spawns. A very
simple example: a server, serving an average number of scripts,
demanding 10MB of memory which spawns 10 children, already raises your
memory requirements by 100MB (the real requirement is actually much
smaller if your OS allows code sharing between processes and
programmers exploit these features in their code). Now multiply the
average required size by the number of server users you intend to have
and you will get the total memory requirement.
Since ISPs never say No, you'd better take the inverse approach -
think of the largest memory size you can afford then divide it by one
user's requirements as I have shown in this example, and you will know
how many mod_perl users you can afford :)
But you cannot tell how much memory your users may use? Their
requirements from a single server can be very modest, but do you know
how many servers they will run? After all, they have full control of
httpd.conf - and it has to be this way, since this is essential for
the user running mod_perl.
All this rumbling about memory leads to a single question: is it
possible to prevent users from using more than X memory? Or another
variation of the question: assuming you have as much memory as you
want, can you charge users for their average memory usage?
If the answer to either of the above questions is Yes, you are all
set and your clients will prize your name for letting them run
mod_perl! There are tools to restrict resource usage (see for example
the man pages for
sysconf(3), the last three have the corresponding Perl modules:
If you have chosen this option, you have to provide your client with:
Shutdown and startup scripts installed together with the rest of your
daemon startup scripts (e.g /etc/rc.d directory), so that when you
reboot your machine the user's server will be correctly shutdown and
will be back online the moment your system starts up. Also make sure
to start each server under the user name the server belongs to, or you
are going to be in big trouble!
Proxy services (in forward or httpd accelerator mode) for the user's
virtual host. Since the user will have to run their server on an
unprivileged port (>1024), you will have to forward all requests from
user.given.virtual.hostname:80 (which is
user.given.virtual.hostname without the default port 80) to
your.machine.ip:port_assigned_to_user . You will also have to tell
the users to code their scripts so that any self referencing URLs are
of the form
Letting the user run a mod_perl server immediately adds a requirement
for the user to be able to restart and configure their own server.
Only root can bind to port 80, this is why your users have to use port
numbers greater than 1024.
Another solution would be to use a setuid startup script, but think
twice before you go with it, since if users can modify the scripts
sometimes they will get a root access.
Another problem you will have to solve is how to assign ports between
users. Since users can pick any port above 1024 to run their server,
you will have to lay down some rules here so that multiple servers do
A simple example will demonstrate the importance of this problem: I am
a malicious user or I am just a rival of some fellow who runs his
server on your ISP. All I need to do is to find out what port my
rival's server is listening to (e.g. using
configure my own server to listen on the same port. Although I am
unable to bind to this port, imagine what will happen when you reboot
your system and my startup script happens to be run before my rivals!
I get the port first, now all requests will be redirected to my
server. I'll leave to your imagination what nasty things might happen
Of course the ugly things will quickly be revealed, but not before the
damage has been done.
Basically you can preassign each user a port, without them having to
worry about finding a free one, as well as enforce
similar values by implementing the following scenario:
For each user have two configuration files, the main file,
httpd.conf (non-writable by user) and the user's file,
username.httpd.conf where they can specify their own configuration
parameters and override the ones defined in httpd.conf. Here is
what the main configuration file looks like:
# Global/default settings, the user may override some of these
# Included so that user can set his own configuration
# User-specific settings which will override any potentially
# dangerous configuration directives in username.httpd.conf
# Settings that your user would like to add/override, like
# <Location> and PerlModule directives, etc.
Apache reads the global/default settings first. Then it reads the
Include'd username.httpd.conf file with whatever settings the
user has chosen, and finally it reads the user-specific settings that
we don't want the user to override, such as the port number. Even if
the user changes the port number in his username.httpd.conf file,
Apache reads our settings last, so they take precedence. Note that
you can use <
Perl> sections to make the configuration much