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5.8 Upgrading a Live Server

When you're developing code on a development server, anything goes: modifying the configuration, adding or upgrading Perl modules without checking that they are syntactically correct, not checking that Perl modules don't collide with other modules, adding experimental new modules from CPAN, etc. If something goes wrong, configuration changes can be rolled back (assuming you're using some form of version control), modules can be uninstalled or reinstalled, and the server can be started and stopped as many times as required to get it working.

Of course, if there is more than one developer working on a development server, things can't be quite so carefree. Possible solutions for the problems that can arise when multiple developers share a development server will be discussed shortly.

The most difficult situation is transitioning changes to a live server. However much the changes have been tested on a development server, there is always the risk of breaking something when a change is made to the live server. Ideally, any changes should be made in a way that will go unnoticed by the users, except as new or improved functionality or better performance. No users should be exposed to even a single error message from the upgraded service—especially not the "database busy" or "database error" messages that some high-profile sites seem to consider acceptable.

Live services can be divided into two categories: servers that must be up 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, and servers that can be stopped during non-working hours. The latter generally applies to Intranets of companies with offices located more or less in the same time zone and not scattered around the world. Since the Intranet category is the easier case, let's talk about it first.

5.8.1 Upgrading Intranet Servers

An Intranet server generally serves the company's internal staff by allowing them to share and distribute internal information, read internal email, and perform other similar tasks. When all the staff is located in the same time zone, or when the time difference between sites does not exceed a few hours, there is often no need for the server to be up all the time. This doesn't necessarily mean that no one will need to access the Intranet server from home in the evenings, but it does mean that the server can probably be stopped for a few minutes when it is necessary to perform some maintenance work.

Even if the update of a live server occurs during working hours and goes wrong, the staff will generally tolerate the inconvenience unless the Intranet has become a really mission-critical tool. For servers that are mission critical, the following section will describe the least disruptive and safest upgrade approach.

If possible, any administration or upgrades of the company's Intranet server should be undertaken during non-working hours, or, if this is not possible, during the times of least activity (e.g., lunch time). Upgrades that are carried out while users are using the service should be done with a great deal of care.

In very large organizations, upgrades are often scheduled events and employees are notified ahead of time that the service might not be available. Some organizations deem these periods "at-risk" times, when employees are expected to use the service as little as possible and then only for noncritical work. Again, these major updates are generally scheduled during the weekends and late evening hours.

The next section deals with this issue for services that need to be available all the time.

5.8.2 Upgrading 24 x 7 Internet Servers

Internet servers are normally expected to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. E-commerce sites, global B2B (business-to-business) sites, and any other revenue-producing sites may be critical to the companies that run them, and their unavailability could prove to be very expensive. The approach taken to ensure that servers remain in service even when they are being upgraded depends on the type of server in use. There are two categories to consider: server clusters and single servers. The server cluster

When a service is very popular, a single machine probably will not be able to keep up with the number of requests the service has to handle. In this situation, the solution is to add more machines and to distribute the load amongst them. From the user's point of view, the use of multiple servers must be completely transparent; users must still have a single access point to the service (i.e., the same single URL) even though there may be many machines with different server names actually delivering the service. The requests must also be properly distributed across the machines: not simply by giving equal numbers of requests to each machine, but rather by giving each machine a load that reflects its actual capabilities, given that not all machines are built with identical hardware. This leads to the need for some smart load-balancing techniques.

All current load-balancing techniques are based on a central machine that dispatches all incoming requests to machines that do the real processing. Think of it as the only entrance into a building with a doorkeeper directing people into different rooms, all of which have identical contents but possibly a different number of clerks. Regardless of what room they're directed to, all people use the entrance door to enter and exit the building, and an observer located outside the building cannot tell what room people are visiting. The same thing happens with the cluster of servers—users send their browsers to URLs, and back come the pages they requested. They remain unaware of the particular machines from which their browsers collected their pages.

No matter what load-balancing technique is used, it should always be straightforward to be able to tell the central machine that a new machine is available or that some machine is not available any more.

How does this long introduction relate to the upgrade problem? Simple. When a particular machine requires upgrading, the dispatching server is told to stop sending requests to that machine. All the requests currently being executed must be left to complete, at which point whatever maintenance and upgrade work is to be done can be carried out. Once the work is complete and has been tested to ensure that everything works correctly, the central machine can be told that it can again send requests to the newly upgraded machine. At no point has there been any interruption of service or any indication to users that anything has occurred. Note that for some services, particularly ones to which users must log in, the wait for all the users to either log out or time out may be considerable. Thus, some sites stop requests to a machine at the end of the working day, in the hope that all requests will have completed or timed out by the morning.

How do we talk to the central machine? This depends on the load-balancing technology that is implemented and is beyond the scope of this book. The references section at the end of this chapter gives a list of relevant online resources. The single server

It's not uncommon for a popular web site to run on a single machine. It's also common for a web site to run on multiple machines, with one machine dedicated to serving static objects (such as images and static HTML files), another serving dynamically generated responses, and perhaps even a third machine that acts as a dedicated database server.

Therefore, the situation that must be addressed is where just one machine runs the service or where the service is spread over a few machines, with each performing a unique task, such that no machine can be shut down even for a single minute, and leaving the service unavailable for more than five seconds is unacceptable. In this case, two different tasks may be required: upgrading the software on the server (including the Apache server), and upgrading the code of the service itself (i.e., custom modules and scripts). Upgrading live server components by swapping machines

There are many things that you might need to update on a server, ranging from a major upgrade of the operating system to just an update of a single piece of software (such as the Apache server itself).

One simple approach to performing an upgrade painlessly is to have a backup machine, of similar capacity and identical configuration, that can replace the production machine while the upgrade is happening. It is a good idea to have such a machine handy and to use it whenever major upgrades are required. The two machines must be kept synchronized, of course. (For Unix/Linux users, tools such as rsync and mirror can be used for synchronization.)

However, it may not be necessary to have a special machine on standby as a backup. Unless the service is hosted elsewhere and you can't switch the machines easily, the development machine is probably the best choice for a backup—all the software and scripts are tested on the development machine as a matter of course, and it probably has a software setup identical to that of the production machine. The development machine might not be as powerful as the live server, but this may well be acceptable for a short period, especially if the upgrade is timed to happen when the site's traffic is fairly quiet. It's much better to have a slightly slower service than to close the doors completely. A web log analysis tool such as analog can be used to determine the hour of the day when the server is under the least load.

Switching between the two machines is very simple:

  1. Shut down the network on the backup machine.

  2. Configure the backup machine to use the same IP address and domain name as the live machine.

  3. Shut down the network on the live machine (do not shut down the machine itself!).

  4. Start up the network on the backup machine.

When you are certain that the backup server has successfully replaced the live server (that is, requests are being serviced, as revealed by the backup machine's access_log), it is safe to switch off the master machine or do any necessary upgrades.

Why bother waiting to check that everything is working correctly with the backup machine? If something goes wrong, the change can immediately be rolled back by putting the known working machine back online. With the service restored, there is time to analyze and fix the problem with the replacement machine before trying it again. Without the ability to roll back, the service may be out of operation for some time before the problem is solved, and users may become frustrated.

We recommend that you practice this technique with two unused machines before using the production boxes.

After the backup machine has been put into service and the original machine has been upgraded, test the original machine. Once the original machine has been passed as ready for service, the server replacement technique described above should be repeated in reverse. If the original machine does not work correctly once returned to service, the backup machine can immediately be brought online while the problems with the original are fixed.

You cannot have two machines configured to use the same IP address, so the first machine must release the IP address by shutting down the link using this IP before the second machine can enable its own link with the same IP address. This leads to a short downtime during the switch. You can use the heartbeat utility to automate this process and thus possibly shorten the downtime period. See the references section at the end of this chapter for more information about heartbeat. Upgrading a live server with port forwarding

Using more than one machine to perform an update may not be convenient, or even possible. An alternative solution is to use the port-forwarding capabilities of the host's operating system.

One approach is to configure the web server to listen on an unprivileged port, such as 8000, instead of 80. Then, using a firewalling tool such as iptables, ipchains, or ipfwadm, redirect all traffic coming for port 80 to port 8000. Keeping a rule like this enabled at all times on a production machine will not noticeably affect performance.

Once this rule is in place, it's a matter of getting the new code in place, adjusting the web server configuration to point to the new location, and picking a new unused port, such as 8001. This way, you can start the "new" server listening on that port and not affect the current setup.

To check that everything is working, you could test the server by accessing it directly by port number. However, this might break links and redirections. Instead, add another port forwarding rule before the first one, redirecting traffic for port 80 from your test machine or network to port 8001.

Once satisfied with the new server, publishing the change is just a matter of changing the port-forwarding rules one last time. You can then stop the now old server and everything is done.

Now you have your primary server listening on port 8001, answering requests coming in through port 80, and nobody will have noticed the change. Upgrading a live server with prepackaged components

Assuming that the testbed machine and the live server have an identical software installation, consider preparing an upgrade package with the components that must be upgraded. Test this package on the testbed machine, and when it is evident that the package gets installed flawlessly, install it on the live server. Do not build the software from scratch on the live server, because if a mistake is made, it could cause the live server to misbehave or even to fail.

For example, many Linux distributions use the Red Hat Package Manager (RPM) utility, rpm, to distribute source and binary packages. It is not necessary for a binary package to include any compiled code (for example, it can include Perl scripts, but it is still called a binary). A binary package allows the new or upgraded software to be used the moment you install it. The rpm utility is smart enough to make upgrades (i.e., remove previous installation files, preserve configuration files, and execute appropriate installation scripts).

If, for example, the mod_perl server needs to be upgraded, one approach is to prepare a package on a similarly configured machine. Once the package has been built, tested, and proved satisfactory, it can then be transferred to the live machine. The rpm utility can then be used to upgrade the mod_perl server. For example, if the package file is called mod_perl-1.26-10.i386.rpm, this command:

panic% rpm -Uvh mod_perl-1.26-10.i386.rpm

will remove the previous server (if any) and install the new one.

There's no problem upgrading software that doesn't break any dependencies in other packages, as in the above example. But what would happen if, for example, the Perl interpreter needs to be upgraded on the live machine?

If the mod_perl package described earlier was properly prepared, it would specify the packages on which it depends and their versions. So if Perl was upgraded using an RPM package, the rpm utility would detect that the upgrade would break a dependency, since the mod_perl package is supposed to work with the previous version of Perl. rpm will not allow the upgrade unless forced to.

This is a very important feature of RPM. Of course, it relies on the fact that the person who created the package has set all the dependencies correctly. Do not trust packages downloaded from the Web. If you have to use an RPM package prepared by someone else, get its source, read its specification file, and make doubly sure that it's what you want.

The Perl upgrade task is in fact a very easy problem to solve. Have two packages ready on the development machine: one for Perl and the other for mod_perl, the latter built using the Perl version that is going to be installed. Upload both of them to the live server and install them together. For example:

panic% rpm -Uvh mod_perl-1.26-10.i386.rpm perl-5.6.1-5.i386.rpm

This should be done as an atomic operation—i.e., as a single execution of the rpm program. If the installation of the packages is attempted with separate commands, they will both fail, because each of them will break some dependency.

If a mistake is made and checks reveal that a faulty package has been installed, it is easy to roll back. Just make sure that the previous version of the properly packaged software is available. The packages can be downgraded by using the —force option—and voilà, the previously working system is restored. For example:

panic% rpm -Uvh --force mod_perl-1.26-9.i386.rpm perl-5.6.1-4.i386.rpm

Although this example uses the rpm utility, other similar utilities exist for various operating systems and distributions. Creating packages provides a simple way of upgrading live systems (and downgrading them if need be). The packages used for any successful upgrade should be kept, because they will become the packages to downgrade to if a subsequent upgrade with a new package fails.

When using a cluster of machines with identical setups, there is another important benefit of prepackaged upgrades. Instead of doing all the upgrades by hand, which could potentially involve dozens or even hundreds of files, preparing a package can save lots of time and will minimize the possibility of error. If the packages are properly written and have been tested thoroughly, it is perfectly possible to make updates to machines that are running live services. (Note that not all operating systems permit the upgrading of running software. For example, Windows does not permit DLLs that are in active use to be updated.)

It should be noted that the packages referred to in this discussion are ones made locally, specifically for the systems to be upgraded, not generic packages downloaded from the Internet. Making local packages provides complete control over what is installed and upgraded and makes upgrades into atomic actions that can be rolled back if necessary. We do not recommend using third-party packaged binaries, as they will almost certainly have been built for a different environment and will not have been fine-tuned for your system. Upgrading a live server using symbolic links

Yet another alternative is to use symbolic links for upgrades. This concept is quite simple: install a package into some directory and symlink to it. So, if some software was expected in the directory /usr/local/foo, you could simply install the first version of the software in the directory /usr/local/foo-1.0 and point to it from the expected directory:

panic# ln -sf /usr/local/foo-1.0 /usr/local/foo

If later you want to install a second version of the software, install it into the directory /usr/local/foo-2.0 and change the symbolic link to this new directory:

panic# ln -sf /usr/local/foo-2.0 /usr/local/foo

Now if something goes wrong, you can always switch back with:

panic# ln -sf /usr/local/foo-1.0 /usr/local/foo

In reality, things aren't as simple as in this example. It works if you can place all the software components under a single directory, as with the default Apache installation. Everything is installed under a single directory, so you can have:


and use the symlink /usr/local/apache to switch between the two versions.

However, if you use a default installation of Perl, files are spread across multiple directories. In this case, it's not easy to use symlinks—you need several of them, and they're hard to keep track of. Unless you automate the symlinks with a script, it might take a while to do a switch, which might mean some downtime. Of course, you can install all the Perl components under a single root, just like the default Apache installation, which simplifies things.

Another complication with upgrading Perl is that you may need to recompile mod_perl and other Perl third-party modules that use XS extensions. Therefore, you probably want to build everything on some other machine, test it, and when ready, just untar everything at once on the production machine and adjust the symbolic links. Upgrading Perl code

Although new versions of mod_perl and Apache may not be released for months at a time and the need to upgrade them may not be pressing, the handlers and scripts being used at a site may need regular tweaks and changes, and new ones may be added quite frequently.

Of course, the safest and best option is to prepare an RPM (or equivalent) package that can be used to automatically upgrade the system, as explained in the previous section. Once an RPM specification file has been written (a task that might take some effort), future upgrades will be much less time consuming and have the advantage of being very easy to roll back.

But if the policy is to just overwrite files by hand, this section will explain how to do so as safely as possible.

All code should be thoroughly tested on a development machine before it is put on the live server, and both machines must have an identical software base (i.e., the same versions of the operating system, Apache, any software that Apache and mod_perl depend on, mod_perl itself, and all Perl modules). If the versions do not match, code that works perfectly on the development machine might not work on the live server.

For example, we have encountered a problem when the live and development servers were using different versions of the MySQL database server. The new code took advantage of new features added in the version installed on the development machine. The code was tested and shown to work correctly on the development machine, and when it was copied to the live server it seemed to work fine. Only by chance did we discover that scripts did not work correctly when the new features were used.

If the code hadn't worked at all, the problem would have been obvious and been detected and solved immediately, but the problem was subtle. Only after a thorough analysis did we understand that the problem was that we had an older version of the MySQL server on the live machine. This example reminded us that all modifications on the development machine should be logged and the live server updated with all of the modifications, not just the new version of the Perl code for a project.

We solved this particular problem by immediately reverting to the old code, upgrading the MySQL server on the live machine, and then successfully reapplying the new code. Moving files and restarting the server

Now let's discuss the techniques used to upgrade live server scripts and handlers.

The most common scenario is a live running service that needs to be upgraded with a new version of the code. The new code has been prepared and uploaded to the production server, and the server has been restarted. Unfortunately, the service does not work anymore. What could be worse than that? There is no way back, because the original code has been overwritten with the new but non-working code.

Another scenario is where a whole set of files is being transferred to the live server but some network problem has occurred in the middle, which has slowed things down or totally aborted the transfer. With some of the files old and some new, the service is most likely broken. Since some files were overwritten, you can't roll back to the previously working version of the service.

No matter what file transfer technique is used, be it FTP, NFS, or anything else, live running code should never be directly overwritten during file transfer. Instead, files should be transferred to a temporary directory on the live machine, ready to be moved when necessary. If the transfer fails, it can then be restarted safely.

Both scenarios can be made safer with two approaches. First, do not overwrite working files. Second, use a revision control system such as CVS so that changes to working code can easily be undone if the working code is accidentally overwritten. Revision control will be covered later in this chapter.

We recommend performing all updates on the live server in the following sequence. Assume for this example that the project's code directory is /home/httpd/perl/rel. When we're about to update the files, we create a new directory, /home/httpd/perl/test, into which we copy the new files. Then we do some final sanity checks: check that file permissions are readable and executable for the user the server is running under, and run perl -Tcw on the new modules to make sure there are no syntax errors in them.

To save some typing, we set up some aliases for some of the apachectl commands and for tailing the error_log file:

panic% alias graceful /home/httpd/httpd_perl/bin/apachectl graceful
panic% alias restart  /home/httpd/httpd_perl/bin/apachectl restart
panic% alias start    /home/httpd/httpd_perl/bin/apachectl start
panic% alias stop     /home/httpd/httpd_perl/bin/apachectl stop
panic% alias err      tail -f /home/httpd/httpd_perl/logs/error_log

Finally, when we think we are ready, we do:

panic% cd /home/httpd/perl
panic% mv rel old && mv test rel && stop && sleep 3 && restart && err

Note that all the commands are typed as a single line, joined by &&, and only at the end should the Enter key be pressed. The && ensures that if any command fails, the following commands will not be executed.

The elements of this command line are:

mv rel old &&

Backs up the working directory to old, so none of the original code is deleted or overwritten

mv test rel &&

Puts the new code in place of the original

stop &&

Stops the server

sleep 3 &&

Allows the server a few seconds to shut down (it might need a longer sleep)

restart &&

Restarts the server


tails the error_log file to make sure that everything is OK

If mv is overriden by a global alias mv -i, which requires confirming every action, you will need to call mv -f to override the -i option.

When updating code on a remote machine, it's a good idea to prepend nohup to the beginning of the command line:

panic% nohup mv rel old && mv test rel && stop && sleep 3 && restart && err

This approach ensures that if the connection is suddenly dropped, the server will not stay down if the last command that executes is stop.

apachectl generates its status messages a little too early. For example, when we execute apachectl stop, a message saying that the server has been stopped is displayed, when in fact the server is still running. Similarly, when we execute apachectl start, a message is displayed saying that the server has been started, while it is possible that it hasn't yet. In both cases, this happens because these status messages are not generated by Apache itself. Do not rely on them. Rely on the error_log file instead, where the running Apache server indicates its real status.

Also note that we use restart and not just start. This is because of Apache's potentially long stopping times if it has to run lots of destruction and cleanup code on exit. If start is used and Apache has not yet released the port it is listening to, the start will fail and the error_log will report that the port is in use. For example:

Address already in use: make_sock: could not bind to port 8000

However, if restart is used, apachectl will wait for the server to quit and unbind the port and will then cleanly restart it.

Now, what happens if the new modules are broken and the newly restarted server reports problems or refuses to start at all?

The aliased err command executes tail -f on the error_log, so that the failed restart or any other problems will be immediately apparent. The situation can quickly and easily be rectified by returning the system to its pre-upgrade state with this command:

panic% mv rel bad && mv old rel && stop && sleep 3 && restart && err

This command line moves the new code to the directory bad, moves the original code back into the runtime directory rel, then stops and restarts the server. Once the server is back up and running, you can analyze the cause of the problem, fix it, and repeat the upgrade again. Usually everything will be fine if the code has been extensively tested on the development server. When upgrades go smoothly, the downtime should be only about 5-10 seconds, and most users will not even notice anything has happened. Using CVS for code upgrades

The Concurrent Versions System (CVS) is an open source version-control system that allows multiple developers to work on code or configuration in a central repository while tracking any changes made. We use it because it's the dominant open source tool, but it's not the only possibility: commercial tools such as Perforce would also work for these purposes.

If you aren't familiar with CVS, you can learn about it from the resources provided at the end of this chapter. CVS is too broad a topic to be covered in this book. Instead, we will concentrate on the CVS techniques that are relevant to our purpose.

Things are much simpler when using CVS for server updates, especially since it allows you to tag each production release. By tagging files, we mean having a group of files under CVS control share a common label. Like RCS and other revision-control systems, CVS gives each file its own version number, which allows us to manipulate different versions of this file. But if we want to operate on a group of many files, chances are that they will have different version numbers. Suppose we want to take snapshots of the whole project so we can refer to these snapshots some time in the future, after the files have been modified and their respective version numbers have been changed. We can do this using tags.

To tag the project whose module name is myproject, execute the following from any directory on any machine:

panic% cvs -rtag PRODUCTION_1_20 myproject

Now when the time comes to update the online version, go to the directory on the live machine that needs to be updated and execute:

panic% cvs update -dP -r PRODUCTION_1_20

The -P option to cvs prunes empty directories and deleted files, the -d option brings in new directories and files (like cvs checkout does), and -r PRODUCTION_1_20 tells CVS to update the current directory recursively to the PRODUCTION_1_20 CVS version of the project.

Suppose that after a while, we have more code updated and we need to make a new release. The currently running version has the tag PRODUCTION_1_20, and the new version has the tag PRODUCTION_1_21. First we tag the files in the current state with a new tag:

panic% cvs -rtag PRODUCTION_1_21 myproject

and update the live machine:

panic% cvs update -dP -r PRODUCTION_1_21

Now if there is a problem, we can go back to the previous working version very easily. If we want to get back to version PRODUCTION_1_20, we can run the command:

panic% cvs update -dP -r PRODUCTION_1_20

As before, the update brings in new files and directories not already present in the local directory (because of the -dP options).

Remember that when you use CVS to update the live server, you should avoid making any minor changes to the code on this server. That's because of potential collisions that might happen during the CVS update. If you modify a single line in a single file and then do cvs update, and someone else modifies the same line at the same time and commits it just before you do, CVS will try to merge the changes. If they are different, it will see a conflict and insert both versions into the file. CVS leaves it to you to resolve the conflict. If this file is Perl code, it won't compile and it will cause temporal troubles until the conflict is resolved. Therefore, the best approach is to think of live server files as being read-only.

Updating the live code directory should be done only if the update is atomic—i.e., if all files are updated in a very short period of time, and when no network problems can occur that might delay the completion of the file update.

The safest approach is to use CVS in conjunction with the safe code update technique presented previously, by working with CVS in a separate directory. When all files are extracted, move them to the directory the live server uses. Better yet, use symbolic links, as described earlier in this chapter: when you update the code, prepare everything in a new directory and, when you're ready, just change the symlink to point to this new directory. This approach will prevent cases where only a partial update happens because of a network or other problem.

The use of CVS needn't apply exclusively to code. It can be of great benefit for configuration management, too. Just as you want your mod_perl programs to be identical between the development and production servers, you probably also want to keep your httpd.conf files in sync. CVS is well suited for this task too, and the same methods apply.

5.8.3 Disabling Scripts and Handlers on a Live Server

Perl programs running on the mod_perl server may be dependent on resources that can become temporarily unavailable when they are being upgraded or maintained. For example, once in a while a database server (and possibly its corresponding DBD module) may need to be upgraded, rendering it unusable for a short period of time.

Using the development server as a temporary replacement is probably the best way to continue to provide service during the upgrade. But if you can't, the service will be unavailable for a while.

Since none of the code that relies on the temporarily unavailable resource will work, users trying to access the mod_perl server will see either the ugly gray "An Error has occurred" message or a customized error message (if code has been added to trap errors and customize the error-reporting facility). In any case, it's not a good idea to let users see these errors, as they will make your web site seem amateurish.

A friendlier approach is to confess to the users that some maintenance work is being undertaken and plead for patience, promising that the service will become fully functional in a few minutes (or however long the scheduled downtime is expected to be).

It is a good idea to be honest and report the real duration of the maintenance operation, not just "we will be back in 10 minutes." Think of a user (or journalist) coming back 20 minutes later and still seeing the same message! Make sure that if the time of resumption of service is given, it is not the system's local time, since users will be visiting the site from different time zones. Instead, we suggest using Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Most users have some idea of the time difference between their location and GMT, or can find out easily enough. Although GMT is known by programmers as Universal Coordinated Time (UTC), end users may not know what UTC is, so using the older acronym is probably best. Disabling code running under Apache::Registry

If just a few scripts need to be disabled temporarily, and if they are running under the Apache::Registry handler, a maintenance message can be displayed without messing with the server. Prepare a little script in /home/httpd/perl/

#!/usr/bin/perl -Tw

use strict;
print "Content-type: text/plain\n\n",
  qq{We regret that the service is temporarily 
     unavailable while essential maintenance is undertaken.
     It is expected to be back online from 12:20 GMT.
     Please, bear with us. Thank you!};

Let's say you now want to disable the /home/httpd/perl/ script. Just do this:

panic% mv /home/httpd/perl/ /home/httpd/perl/
panic% ln -s /home/httpd/perl/ /home/httpd/perl/

Of course, the server configuration must allow symbolic links for this trick to work. Make sure that the directive:

Options FollowSymLinks

is in the <Location> or <Directory> section of httpd.conf.

Alternatively, you can just back up the real script and then copy the file over it:

panic% cp /home/httpd/perl/ /home/httpd/perl/
panic% cp /home/httpd/perl/ /home/httpd/perl/

Once the maintenance work has been completed, restoring the previous setup is easy. Simply overwrite the symbolic link or the file:

panic% mv /home/httpd/perl/ /home/httpd/perl/

Now make sure that the script has the current timestamp:

panic% touch /home/httpd/perl/

Apache::Registry will automatically detect the change and use the new script from now on.

This scenario is possible because Apache::Registry checks the modification time of the script before each invocation. If the script's file is more recent than the version already loaded in memory, Apache::Registry reloads the script from disk. Disabling code running under other handlers

Under non-Apache::Registry handlers, you need to modify the configuration. You must either point all requests to a new location or replace the handler with one that will serve the requests during the maintenance period.

Example 5-2 illustrates a maintenance handler.

Example 5-2. Book/
package Book::Maintenance;

use strict;
use Apache::Constants qw(:common);

sub handler {
  my $r = shift;
  print qq{We regret that the service is temporarily
           unavailable while essential maintenance is undertaken.
           It is expected to be back online from 12:20 GMT.
           Please be patient. Thank you!};
  return OK;

In practice, the maintenance script may well read the "back online" time from a variable set with a PerlSetVar directive in httpd.conf, so the script itself need never be changed.

Edit httpd.conf and change the handler line from:

<Location /perl>
    SetHandler perl-script
    PerlHandler Book::Handler


<Location /perl>
    SetHandler perl-script
    #PerlHandler Book::Handler
    PerlHandler Book::Maintenance

Now restart the server. Users will be happy to read their email for 10 minutes, knowing that they will return to a much improved service. Disabling services with help from the frontend server

Many sites use a more complicated setup in which a "light" Apache frontend server serves static content but proxies all requests for dynamic content to the "heavy" mod_perl backend server (see Chapter 12). Those sites can use a third solution to temporarily disable scripts.

Since the frontend machine rewrites all incoming requests to appropriate requests for the backend machine, a change to the RewriteRule is sufficient to take handlers out of service. Just change the directives to rewrite all incoming requests (or a subgroup of them) to a single URI. This URI simply tells users that the service is not available during the maintenance period.

For example, the following RewriteRule rewrites all URIs starting with /perl to the maintenance URI /control/maintain on the mod_perl server:

RewriteRule ^/perl/(.*)$ http://localhost:8000/control/maintain [P,L]

The Book::Maintenance handler from the previous section can be used to generate the response to the URI /control/maintain.

Make sure that this rule is placed before all the other RewriteRules so that none of the other rules need to be commented out. Once the change has been made, check that the configuration is not broken and restart the server so that the new configuration takes effect. Now the database server can be shut down, the upgrade can be performed, and the database server can be restarted. The RewriteRule that has just been added can be commented out and the Apache server stopped and restarted. If the changes lead to any problems, the maintenance RewriteRule can simply be uncommented while you sort them out.

Of course, all this is error-prone, especially when the maintenance is urgent. Therefore, it can be a good idea to prepare all the required configurations ahead of time, by having different configuration sections and enabling the right one with the help of the IfDefine directive during server startup.

The following configuration will make this approach clear:

RewriteEngine On

<IfDefine maintain>
    RewriteRule /perl/  http://localhost:8000/control/maintain [P,L]

<IfDefine !maintain>
   RewriteRule ^/perl/(.*)$ http://localhost:8000/$1 [P,L]
   # more directives

Now enable the maintenance section by starting the server with:

panic% httpd -Dmaintain

Request URIs starting with /perl/ will be processed by the /control/maintain handler or script on the mod_perl side.

If the -Dmaintain option is not passed, the "normal" configuration will take effect and each URI will be remapped to the mod_perl server as usual.

Of course, if apachectl or any other script is used for server control, this new mode should be added so that it will be easy to make the correct change without making any mistakes. When you're in a rush, the less typing you have to do, the better. Ideally, all you'd have to type is:

panic% apachectl maintain

Which will both shut down the server (if it is running) and start it with the -Dmaintain option. Alternatively, you could use:

panic% apachectl start_maintain

to start the server in maintenance mode. apachectl graceful will stop the server and restart it in normal mode.

5.8.4 Scheduled Routine Maintenance

If maintenance tasks can be scheduled when no one is using the server, you can write a simple PerlAccessHandler that will automatically disable the server and return a page stating that the server is under maintenance and will be back online at a specified time. When using this approach, you don't need to worry about fiddling with the server configuration when the maintenance hour comes. However, all maintenance must be completed within the given time frame, because once the time is up, the service will resume.

The Apache::DayLimit module from is a good example of such a module. It provides options for specifying which day server maintenance occurs. For example, if Sundays are used for maintenance, the configuration for Apache::DayLimit is as follows:

<Location /perl>
    PerlSetVar ReqDay Sunday
    PerlAccessHandler Apache::DayLimit

It is very easy to adapt this module to do more advanced filtering. For example, to specify both a day and a time, use a configuration similar to this:

<Location /perl>
    PerlSetVar ReqDay    Sunday
    PerlSetVar StartHour 09:00
    PerlSetVar EndHour   11:00
    PerlAccessHandler Apache::DayTimeLimit
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