Delan Azabani

Adventures of comssa.org.au, part 3

At last, the new website is alive, the internal wiki has been painstakingly migrated by hand and the imageboard is ready for posting. Hang on, there were some other services on the old host too? Not to worry, I've got it all covered.

I decided that finding a good script to port over a wiki with under fifty pages wasn't worth it, and dug straight into the job myself. It was a brilliant opportunity to spot and correct outdated information along the way, of which there was a fair bit. Understandable, given that it's been around for over seven years. That was the least of my troubles, though.

The website was quite enjoyable to create, and I learned a couple of things about responsive design along the way. Granted, the extent of my "responsive" layout was ensuring that small viewports get a vertical navigation and no floating images, but hey. One thing that tripped me up is that I needed to add a <meta> for the viewport, otherwise mobiles will try to emulate a desktop browser's large viewport, defeating my efforts.

<meta name="viewport" content=
"width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0, maximum-scale=1.0, user-scalable=no">

It was then that I realised that we had an email service with our old host, providing nice addresses like president@comssa and so on. My past experiences setting up MTAs like qmail and sendmail instilled a great fear that was difficult to shake. Debian's version of Exim was extremely easy to set up though, almost too easy. A working mail server was a quick dpkg-reconfigure exim4-config and a small handful of questions away.

It turns out that from there, it's all smooth sailing. Local mailbox aliases go in /etc/aliases and external targets are supported, which means I don't need to create a whole shell account for mere mail forwarding. Shell account users can also manually forward by editing ~/.forward and adding their target address. When UCC said that the ~/.forward system was magic, they were right in a sense, but it requires no incantations on the wizard's part.

$ cat /etc/aliases
...
root: delan
president: callum
club: comssa@lists.curtin.edu.au

Here's where things get ugly. A certain commitee member, who will remain anonymous, decided it would be a great idea to run our own mailing list, instead of a torturous, masochistic idea. So mailman was installed. The pain enters where I try to get the traditional CGI web interface working. Now, Nginx doesn't support CGI directly, so we'll need to get a bit more creative by proxying either over HTTP or FastCGI.

In the space of three hours, I tried and failed to configure mailman with thttpd (removed from Debian), mini-httpd (doesn't appear to execute CGI), lighttpd (HTTP 400 everywhere), and then far too late, I found fcgiwrap. This thinly wraps CGI scripts in a FastCGI server interface. Sounds great? It is, although it took me much longer than it should have to get everything connected.

The most frequent errors I encountered were fcgiwrap failing to chdir() into the script itself (which is obviously invalid) or the wrapper returning no output to Nginx. It turns out that misconfiguration of Nginx was the cause, specifically surrounding the script filename and path info, but I didn't get on track until I found Cameron Miller's post on the subject.

Still, Miller's solution has a few shortcomings. A minor one is that there are no aliases for the mailman icons or the archives, which is easily fixable. The broader issue is that he chose to eliminate /cgi-bin/ from the resultant paths, which requires a change to DEFAULT_URL_PATTERN in /etc/mailman/mm_cfg.py.

The crux of the problem is that mailman doesn't consistently use that variable; in some places /cgi-bin/ is hardcoded such as the links in the list of lists. Do yourself a favour and accept that /cgi-bin/mailman/ will be part of every mailman URL. For a bit of fun and relaxation after I figured that out, I made shell accounts have static web hosting in ~/.www/ with a much more straightforward configuration.

Most of today's toil went into nginx.conf, which you can find among many other scripts and configuration files in the omniscient ComSSA server repository on GitHub. It looks like we're at the end of this thrilling ride. Long live ComSSA!