Merecat - another stray kitten?

This post is about my adoption, refactor, and rebranding of thttpd as Merecat.

I code for recreation as well as work. Most of the time I tinker around with my various projects simply to learn and sometimes these little projects turn into something useful for other people as well, which is great!

Recently I discovered my method to get started: refactoring, or just simple code cleanup. You see I've got this crazy idea that all simple things are correct. Although things usually tend to require a certain balance — not all things can be simplified, and not all simple things are correct.

When I recently had to migrate my personal blog, FTP, and GIT server, I set out to run everything from an old RasPi2. This put my private life in just about the same niche as my work life, embedded. On a resource constrained platform like that running Apache is not the best idea. So I set out to (re-)discover the web servers of my past, the late 90’s, I had almost forgotten:

Come to think of it, they are probably one of the many reasons that I started my career in embedded in the first place!

With all the warm feels and fuzzy memories I had of thttpd I decided to give it a whirl. And with my usual lack of insight (of how much time this would consume) I started fixing bugs and issues that nagged me.

Ten patches in I hesitated and set out on another archaeological expedition, surely I couldn’t have seen all these problems myself? I visited the usual burial grounds for ancient software: *BSD, Debian, Gentoo, SourceForge, Internet Archive … and that’s when I found sthttpd by Anthony G. Basile.

Anthony had left sthttpd in great shape! Not only had he merged all Gentoo fixes, he had also converted the build system to GNU configure and automake. So I started rebasing my patches on sthttpd and then I simply couldn’t stop. The refactoring machine in my head was on fire, I simpy had to let it all out!

The goal I had was a simple to use, good looking by default, bare bones web server. My use-case was simple: serve gitweb, HTTP gateway for my FTP, serve my resumé, and possibly even my Jekyll blog. So I basically just needed to get virtual hosts and dir listings working.

In the process, however, I had done a lot more. Lots of half baked ideas and barely working code. But it worked for me, so I tagged the first release of Merecat, v2.30, and went on my merry way.

Until the RasPi server crashed. I thought it might be heat and maybe overclocking issues, so I moved it to my server room and downclocked it. A few weeks passed and everything seemed to work just fine, then bam! Another crash, and now it only stayed up a few hours at a time between crashes.

Heartbroken (well not really) I decided it was time to move to the cloud like everyone else. So a droplet was created (clear of US influence I hope) and data was being moved to the new location. This time I wanted the setup to be as clean as possible, so only Debian packages and proper systemd integration. Fortunately I had a well timed week off from work to do all this.

I had just barely started digging in, when I got a bug report by email from Gaetan Bisson who had found lots of issues with Merecat. The bugs he reported overlapped nicely with the work I planned to do anyway \o/

The resulting v2.31 release of Merecat has a lot of fixes and new features, these are the ones I can remember (and are in the GitHub changelog):

Changes

  • Sort directories first in dir listings
  • Include systemd unit file
  • Add debian/ packaging, easy to rebuild and replace for others
  • Add --enable-public-html to enable ~user/public_html dirs
  • Support for shared WEBROOT/cgi-bin as fallback for vhosts
  • Update default landing page

Fixes

  • Add missing CSS and jpeg files to install
  • Fix dependency tracking when reconfiguring
  • Fix .conf file parser bugs reported by Gaetan Bisson
  • Fix missing HAVE_LIBCONFUSE #define causing .conf file support to not be built, reported by Gaetan Bisson
  • Fix malplaced call to cfg_free() in .conf file parser, reported by Gaetan Bisson
  • Update man page and other documentation with missing quotes around CGI pattern, issue reported by Gaetan Bisson
  • Fix syslog warning: bind 0.0.0.0: Address already in use

Download the release from my FTP, or the GitHub release page, which also has a pre-built .deb for Ubuntu 16.04. For those who want to build the .deb themselves:

cd merecat/
dpkg-buildpackage -uc -us -B -d

Then simply:

sudo dpkg -i ../merecat_2.31-3_amd64.deb

Note: For use with GitWeb, remember to install libcgi-pm-perl

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank a couple of friends who helped out with the auditing and layout testing of the new default landing page. Thank you Anders Bornäs and Martin Olsson :-)