Other posts related to web-development

 | September 21, 2011 7:57 pm

For the past year and a half, I’ve been using DreamHost, a company based out of California, to host this website. In most ways, it’s been a fantastic experience. The customer service is prompt and knowledgeable [1], they go out of their way to use renewable energy, and they give you all sorts of additional goodies when you sign up for an account [2].

But even though the experience has been mostly fantastic, I have one serious gripe: the actual hosting experience is terrible.

Let me see if I can explain why. With my previous host, Brinkster, it was rare to have a website outage. Things, for the most part, Just Worked ™. The website was up and people came to read it. That’s generally all you can ask from a hosting company. (To be clear, the hosting experience with Brinkster was great, everything else was middling to awful.)

With DreamHost, though, it’s another story. If you’ve come to this site lately (especially in the mornings or late evenings) it will be unresponsive. At other times, you might see a strange message in your browser, saying “Error 500: Internal Server Error.”

As the person paying for the hosting space, this is somewhat frightening.  HTTP errors (of which 500 is one) can be cryptic, and figuring out why your website (which was working five minutes ago and costing you money) is broken problem can require some serious time.

Wait, I've Almost Got It

500 Errors in General

The 500 error, in particular, is a true terror. It means that the web server encountered an unexpected condition and can’t return the web page to you. It’s a sort of catch-all error that gets generated when nothing more detailed is available. If you want additional information (something which might actually be helpful to fix the problem), you have to work your way through cryptic error logs and pray that some divinity is listening to your pleas. It’s not fun.

When hosting with Brinkster, I never had 500 errors. Not once. Occasionally there would be an outage, but these were repaired quickly and with little fuss. WIth Dreamhost, though, 500 errors happen all the time: at least daily, and sometimes hourly. They crop up when trying to do administrative tasks, when making posts, when trying to load the home page for the website, or when uploading files. The errors can be intermittent, or they might last for hours. It’s all very frustrating.

Lately, they’ve been so bad that I had essentially convinced myself to move away from DreamHost to another provider. Something I consider a true shame. It would mean giving up the goodies [3], probably paying more money, and losing shell access to the server. So, before I decided to move away forever, I decided to get in touch with DreamHost support (again) and work out the problems with my website.

Happily, after a protracted email message thread and a great deal of searching online, I’ve I’ve learned a few things about optimizing websites for DreamHost. I’ve also found a strategy (I think) for solving the dreaded “Internal server error” problem.

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 | June 15, 2011 6:28 pm

The following video is from an intensive (albeit introductory) course that I’ve been teaching on web technologies — XML, XHTML and CSS. It discusses how to validate the structure of an XML file using DocType definitions (DTDs).

DocType definitions are sets of instructions that tell a document parser whether a particular document is well formed or not. This allows for the parser to recognize potential errors.

I’m posting the video here in the hope that it will be helpful to a larger audience than just those in the course.  After all, DocTypes are an extremely useful tool.

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