In many cases, web site owners need not know or care what technology stack their web hosting provider is using, any more than you should care about the underlying protocols that make your cell phone work. We web developers may need to know, so that they can tailor their development, if needed, to the stack that is being used. Web site owners need to be concerned about technology stacks when they are planning an expansion in scope or functionality of their web sites; then, it’s important to measure the capabilities and costs of each stack to determine the right one for the anticipated application.
So, although you may not need to know what web technology stack your site is using, it doesn’t hurt to peek behind the curtain and find out.
Technology Stacks: Not Your Grandpa’s Tool Collection
The term “technology stack” does not refer to the growing pile of nonworking or obsolete PCs, laptops, phones, monitors, media players, and game consoles collecting dust in the garage or basement. Rather, it describes a collection of technologies that are brought together and configured to make a working system. In the world of Web design and development, it specifically refers to the architecture of the web server environment.
The idea of technology stacks is important because the commonly used ones are tried and true; there is a good deal of expertise and documentation available on how to set them up properly to ensure security and high performance. For some technology stacks, the pieces are specifically designed to work together. The further you go from common technology stacks, the more likely it is that the pieces will not play together nicely, and the more you need to be careful about thorough configuration and testing. Certain situations, of course, may call for a faster or more robust database, for example, or there may be contractual or regulatory requirements for certain types of hardware, operating systems, and server software. These cases are rare, and most web sites do quite well on standard technology stacks.
The three most common web technology stacks are LAMP, WISA, and Java.
Shining a LAMP on the Stack
LAMP stands for “Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP.”
- Linux is the server operating system (OS). It resembles the older UNIX.
- Apache is the web server software, which fields requests from users’ browsers and responds with the requested content.
- MySQL is a database management system that relies on the standard Structured Query Language (SQL) for creating, reading, writing, and searching in databases.
- PHP is a programming language that is used to code interactive web applications.
What these pieces have in common is that they are all open-source, and none of them carry any licensing costs. (This may explain the popularity of the LAMP stack.)
WISA, It’s Everything Your Site Wants to Be
WISA is a Microsoft-centric stack; the term stands for “Windows, IIS, SQL Server, ASP.NET.”
- Windows, specifically Windows Server, is Microsoft’s server operating system.
- Internet Information System (IIS) is Microsoft’s web server software.
- SQL Server is Microsoft’s DBMS.
- Active Server Pages (ASP) is Microsoft’s scripting engine for dynamic web pages, and .NET Framework is Microsoft software that enables programmers to control ASP with any of several supported programming languages.
Because all of the pieces come from the same provider, they have the advantage of being designed to work together. WISA is more commonly used in enterprise-level systems to drive complex and robust interactive web sites.
Java: Good for People, Good for Your Site
Java, by itself, is a programming language and nothing more. However, there are numerous web technology stacks that rely heavily on Java-based pieces. A typical Java-based web technology stack includes:
- Linux or Solaris (a variant of UNIX)
- Tomcat, a Java-based web server
- MySQL or PostgreSQL DBMS
- Java Server Pages (JSP), a framework for programming dynamic pages similar to ASP.
Regardless of which technology stack your hosting provider uses for your site, it should be appropriate for your needs and always kept current with the latest security updates. Especially if you are planning a major change in the capabilities of your site, you ought to ask your hosting provider about these issues. Work with your web developer if you don’t know all the right questions to ask.