If you ever wanted to explore the latest content management, wiki, or microblogging products without the headache of setting them up, a free solution from the BitNami Project is just what you need.
One of the benefits of free and open source software is the ability to download world-class software and implement it gratis on your systems. At times, though, there is a big difference between theory and action. Complex server systems, like Ruby on Rails, Tomcat, Joomla!, or even a straight-up LAMP stack can be difficult to install and properly configure on a Linux system, particularly for admins with a little-less-than-expert rating on Linux.
Normally, this would not be a huge concern, since less-than-expert system admins aren't typically going around setting up application stacks. Lately, however, the ease of use of many content management, microblogging, and other Web applications have made such systems very attractive to content creators who have the know-how to use these systems, but not necessarily the know-how to set them up.
This is where the BitNami Project can help. Using BitNami's pre-configured application stacks, services like LAMP, Tomcat, Coppermine, or Moodle can be launched as virtual machines, within cloud services like Amazon's EC2, or even as completely self-contained native stacks.
BitNami's native Web application stacks can be installed on Windows, Linux, OS X, and Solaris systems, thus gaining an advantage over the typical performance issues that happen when running virtual and cloud-based instances.
The BitNami Project is the brainchild of BitRock, which -- according to its press release -- launched BitNami in 2007 "to help spread the adoption of freely available, high quality open source web applications." BitNami also serves as a nice showcase for what the talent at BitRock can do with commercial offerings, such as BitRock InstallBuilder and its Custom Stacks and Virtual Appliances service.
Looking at the BitNami offerings, it's clear the BitRock folks know their stuff. The Native Installers are particularly intriguing, because not only is the installation managed with a single executable that contains a user-friendly wizard, but each install is self-contained from the rest of the operating system.
This means that any dependencies and existing installs will be completely unaffected by the presence of the newly installed Web application. Users can install complete from-the-ground-up stacks, or tack modules onto existing stacks like LAMP or WAMP.
Configuring a BitNami WordPress stack
To give you an idea of how simple these stacks are to install, let's walk through the setup for a native WordPress stack on a Linux machine.
To start, you need to visit the BitNami stack download page. Here, you'll find a number of stacks you can try out (39 in all). Twenty-eight of these stacks are application stacks, and the remaining 11 are classified as infrastructure stacks (such as WAMP, LAMP, RubyStack, or Django). BitNami is always adding stacks per user requests, so check back from time to time to see what they have.
The WordPress app stack comes in the three flavors mentioned earlier. For the cloud, there are the Amazon EC2- or GoGrid-ready stacks. Virtual machine users can get preconfigured VMware stacks that run atop either the openSUSE 11.1 or Ubuntu 10.04 platform.
And, as described, there are the native stacks, which can run on Windows, Linux, Mac x86, and Mac PPC. These native stacks come in two flavors: standalone installations that will install WordPress, Apache, and MySQL on your system, or modules that will install on any system that already has Apache and MySQL installed.
It's important to note that even if you already have the Apache/MySQL combo installed and running on your current system, you can go ahead and install the complete package. When BitNami natively installs, it groups all the binaries, libraries, and dependencies into one self-contained location on your system. This means BitNami application stacks won't interfere with existing application-stack components.
Once the WordPress native installer is downloaded, starting it in Linux is done from the command line. First, however, you must change the permissions of the downloaded binary file so you can run it. From a command line, navigate to the directory in which you saved the WordPress binary file and enter:
chmod a+x bitnami-wordpress-3.0-0-linux-installer.bin
This will launch the cleverly named BitNami WordPress Stack Setup Wizard dialog box. Click "Forward" to proceed past the intro screen.
In the Select Components screen, you can choose the components to install. In this case, the options of WordPress and PHPMyAdmin are given. Obviously, WordPress stays. PHPMyAdmin is a Web interface for administering MySQL. Unless you are a hard-core MySQL genius, or already have PHPMyAdmin installed that you can point at your new BitNami-installed instance of MySQL, I would leave this option checked too, and click "Forward" to move to the Installation folder screen.
Select a location to save the WordPress installation. By default, BitNami likes a subdirectory in your Linux home folder, which I recommend you keep, if only because no other instance of this application stack's components will ever be found in the home folder so there's little chance you'll get your stack instances confused.
Click "Forward" to move to the Create Admin account page. Enter your desired username and password information. If there is any chance this stack will face the public, be sure to go strong with the password. Click "Forward" again to view the WordPress configuration screen.
Enter a name for your new blog and hostname URL for the current computer. Click "Forward" (twice) to complete the wizard and begin the installation. After a couple of minutes, the stack will be installed and you can click "Finish" to shut down the wizard.
If you happened to deselect the "Launch WordPress stack now option," starting the stack is easy. Just open your browser and point it to port 8080 of the hostname URL you entered in the wizard configuration. For example, using the default options given in the wizard, you could surf to
to reach the local BitNami home page or just go straight to
to view the initial WordPress page.
From start to finish, this entire operation should take no more than 5-10 minutes, depending on the size of your download pipe (the WordPress stack weighs in at 55 Mb) and the speed of your machine. This is a big savings on time and energy, particularly for users who want to play with an application stack locally to learn the ropes.
BitNami has some tradeoffs
There is a drawback, though, for advanced users to consider: Any deep customization of these components will have to contend with the BitNami way of installing these native stacks, not the "normal" installation paths. That goes for developers building applications or add-ons for any of these stacks.
But for users who just need to explore an application stack, particularly for training and certification, a BitNami native stack is just the express ticket they need.
Brian Proffitt is a Linux and Open Source expert who writes for a number of publications. Formerly the Community Manager for Linux.com and the Linux Foundation, he is the author of 19 Linux and Open Source works, including co-authoring The Joy of Linux.