TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Jun 99 Factory Floor

Volume Number: 15 (1999)
Issue Number: 6
Column Tag: From The Factory Floor

A Conversation with Chuck Shotton

by Chuck Shotton and Dave Mark, ©1999 by Metrowerks, Inc., all rights reserved.

This month's Factory Floor interview is with Chuck Shotton, known by many as the father of Macintosh web servers. Chuck was the author of MacHTTP, the first Macintosh web server, which later became WebStar. Chuck took time out from his latest groundbreaking progamming project to give us his side of the story.

At various times, Chuck Shotton has toiled in the salt mines of defense contracting, under the yoke of academia, and in the trenches of private enterprise. His latest exercise in humility is as CEO of BIAP Systems, Inc. where he, along with a cast of thousands, alternates between groveling before mighty VCs and flogging lowly C compilers to do his bidding in a quest to create the Next Killer App (tm) for the Internet. Coming soon to a CRT near you!

Dave: How did you get started with Mac Programming?

Chuck: In one of my previous lives, I worked for a defense contractor in the Washington, DC area. One of the few bright spots in that otherwise Dilbert-esque landscape came along in late 1984 when we got our first Macs to play with. Turns out that most of the guys in my department were old Apple ][ fans and a little arm-twisting resulted in some screaming 8 mHz, dual floppy 128k Macs. We were supposed to port a large chunk of code from a Vax 11/780 to these Macs (which actually had more RAM than the Vax!) for a process management system used by the Navy. At that time, "Inside Mac" wasn't really available and the total extent of the Mac programming documentation available to me consisted of back issues of MacTutor magazine and the Consulair C Compiler's instruction manual. So basically, I learned Mac programming at taxpayer expense on a contract for the Navy by sitting around all day reading old magazines and disassembler output.

My first real dose of uninhibited (read that "unclassified") Mac programming didn't come until 1986 when I started working on a contract in my spare time for Simutronics, which developed most of the popular on-line games for the GEnie on-line service. I built the graphical front end for Mac players of the "Orb Wars" game. I think that was the one and only time I ever got to work on game software for money and it's been down hill ever since.

Dave: What can you tell me about the early days of MacHTTP?

Chuck: MacHTTP was one of those life altering events that you don't really know whether it was good or bad until a long time afterwards (turns out it was good - mostly). In late 1992, rumors of this World Wide Web thing were floating around in the scientific community. Most people involved in academic information systems at the time (I was working at the U. of Texas in Houston then) were drooling over Gopher, Archie, and other text-based interfaces to existing Internet services. I decided to give the Web a try and began corresponding with the guys at CERN in Switzerland. Because almost everything was Unix-based at the time, I wanted to work on a Mac Web browser. Tim Berners-Lee wrote back that CERN had a great Mac browser in the works (anyone remember the CERN web browser?) and maybe I should look into writing a server for the Mac instead.

So MacHTTP sprang into being in early '93 after an all night coding session. In its original incarnation, it handled exactly one connection at a time, had this Byzantine event loop that split its time between babysitting the MacTCP driver and looking for the user to type command-Q, and served anything on your hard disk. I still had to test it with a Unix browser until NCSA released the first Mac version of Mosaic, but the Mac OS was now the proud host of the second Web server on the planet after the Unix one created by the guys at CERN.

Another 6 months of tweaking, fiddling, tuning, and very little interaction with sunlight resulted in the first shareware version of MacHTTP. By the middle of '94, MacHTTP had become the proverbial self-eating watermelon. Developing, testing, supporting, and selling a software product by yourself can get to be a herculean task. Even with my wife and I working at it (she was a C coding geek as well, though a reformed Ada zealot now), it was too much to do as a part time effort. We ended up flipping the baby, the bathwater, and my day job over the fence to StarNine Technologies in April of '95 and WebSTAR was born.

Dave: What lessons did you learn in bringing MacHTTP to market?

Chuck: Take cash!. If you can grow a product into something that gets on peoples' radar scopes, someone will offer to make your life easier by taking it off your hands. Take cash! Seriously though, I think the biggest lessons learned had to do with understanding how big companies (like Apple and Quarterdeck) do business and what technology-driven individuals have to do to survive in that commercial environment. Being able to build a community of users and developers around a product and stay with it from start to finish is a luxury that few people get to experience. Finding good people to work with (the DTS guys at Apple, StarNine's management team, etc.) made my life a lot easier.

Dave: As MacHTTP evolved, Apple was spinning their own Open Transport TCP/IP technology. How did you deal with this?

Chuck: Open Transport was probably one of the most painful O/S transitions Apple has ever inflicted on its developer community. Just at the point that MacTCP was becoming well-understood in the developer community, widely distributed, and pretty much universally supported, along comes OT. As with most examples of not-invented-here syndrome, OT was based on the mostly unsupported STREAMS interface instead of the nearly universally supported Berkeley Sockets interface. So not only did developers have to rewrite all their code to use the new APIs, but they had to learn something from scratch that most of them had never seen before and didn't really work for the first 3 releases.

OT was definitely a case where it didn't pay to be an early adopter. In fact, it was unusable for server applications until its third release due to memory leaks, odd timing errors with large file transfers, and premature connection terminations. We managed to accomodate it pretty easily once it was debugged because WebSTAR was built to our own TCP/IP APIs and not the lower level O/S specific APIs for MacTCP, OT, or BSD. That's not to say we had our own TCP/IP stack, just that we chose to wrap the low level stuff in some easier to use code. That philosophy was used throughout much of WebSTAR and it made it a lot easier to accomodate changes in the O/S than other code that was written to the native O/S APIs.

Dave: What did you have to do to create a real high performance server on the Mac OS?

Chuck: Most well-written servers turn out to be I/O bound applications. They spend most of their time shoving data from point A to point B and very little time actually doing anything to the data itself. For all the rocks that get thrown at it, the Mac O/S can still outperform servers running on other platforms like Linux if the code is well-written. One of the biggest fallacies is that the Mac's tasking model is bad (not preemptive) and the file system is slow. I won't argue the latter point, but the former is totally bogus.

The Thread Manager is actually a server developer's best friend if you use it right. Operating systems like Unix (prior to standard implementations of lightweight threads) have to run parallel threads of execution as separate processes. That means heavy-duty context switches and a very crude control over task priorities and how control is relinquished. That generally equates to poor performance in a multi-threaded application with lots of context switches (like a Web server). On the Mac, the Thread Manager allows for really quick context switches that are completely under the control of the application. If you know it's time to handle a new incoming connection, your code can yield directly to the code responsible. Or if you know you're waiting on a remote client to disconnect, you can pass control to another thread that is in the middle of a massive file transfer. Being your own scheduler is a good thing if you have a well-understood process that you are implementing. Relying on a generic O/S-level scheduler results in pretty lame performance compared to a highly-tuned, application-specific scheduler built on a threading environment like the Thread Manager.

There were two other major areas of optimization that helped tune MacHTTP and WebSTAR to the Mac O/S. The first was data caching. Since it's costly to find a file in the Mac O/S (either to read data from it or to find file system attributes like the creation date), caching this information for future use provided one of the biggest performance increases. In-memory databases are all the rage now and they are basically fancy caching mechanisms much like the ones these Web servers used. If you can come up with a good algorithm for managing cache hits, you can end up with a large majority of your data requests coming out of memory instead of ratting through B-Trees on disk trying to locate Finder info.

Accomodating the idiosyncracies of the Mac's networking code provided the final big performance boost. Simple things like double-buffering your data output so that one write operation is always awaiting the completion of its predecessor ensures that the network connection is always fully utilized. Reading data into buffers larger than the default sizes makes sure that you don't waste a lot of CPU cycles processing small amounts of data lots of times. Too many context switches between threads can occur if you don't have the right balance between I/O time and calculation/processing time. Spend more time reading or writing data since that takes a lot more time to perform than the calculations the server has to perform on the data. A lot of this stuff is just common sense, but it's amazing how many developers don't bother to tune their code for best performance after they have the basic functionality up and running.

Dave: How does an app developer deal with the rich mix of connection types and speeds (e.g., slow dial-ups to high bandwidth direct connect)?

Chuck: That's a big challenge for the next generation of Internet apps. The current crop of Web browsers and servers typify the one-size-fits-all approach to network software development. Application performance is metered by the user's patience level and is in direct proportion to the available network bandwith. This results in adequate performance if you have a large network pipe and painfully slow performance if you're sucking data through a 28.8 soda straw.

Ideally, the data and application performance should scale with the performance of the network. A user with a 28.8 dial-up connection should have application performance just as perky as someone using an ADSL connection. The way to accomodate this is to write smarter software that can select data appropriate for the connection speed and adjust dynamically to changing CPU and network loads. Intelligent caching, back-side information sharing on the LAN, and distilled content (e.g., discarding banners, eye candy, and other non-informational content) can get just as much useful data through a dial-up line as currently flows over a T1, from a user's perspective.

We're working on a new generation of desktop network applications (super secret codename, "Gossip", for the terminally curious) that takes a shot at implementing some of these concepts. We have to very carefully monitor the user's available bandwidth, their usage patterns, the types of data they are interested in, and adjust the clients' interaction with the net accordingly. It's hard to write smart software. I think that's the next big hurdle for developers trying to develop apps for the Internet. All the niches for dumb products are filled with stuff from Microsoft, Sun, AOL, and other NASDAQ luminaries. If you want a piece of this market now, your software better do something smart for a change.

Dave: What advantage do I have as a Mac Develper dealing with the web and the internet?

Chuck: The Mac's singular advantage over every other platform centers around AppleEvents and scripting. And unfortunately, it's one of its most underutilized and underadvertised features. Apple birthed a phenomenal technology with AppleEvents. I've advocated a cross-platform version of AppleEvents since the day after I read that chapter in Inside Mac. But until then, the ease with which complicated Web-based applications can be put together on the Mac is unrivaled. Sure, you can muck around with active server pages, glom together some Perl scripts, or hack out some custom CGIs. But nothing available on any other O/S rivals the ease with which you can hook two distributed applications together via AppleEvents. I wish Apple would revisit this technology and consider a cross-platform version that runs over TCP/IP. Until then, Mac developers can smugly take advantage of a feature that doesn't really exist on any other platform.

Dave: What are you focused on these days?

Chuck: I'm back at the helm of BIAP Systems, Inc. We just finished relocating the company's main offices from Houston, TX to Leesburg, VA and are busily at work on the Next Big Thing (tm). Much of last year was spent raising money for this exercise and we're finally getting to roll up our sleeves and sling some code again. We're primarily focused on software that creates communities. That's an outgrowth of some of the personal server concepts we kicked around with MacHTTP and WebSTAR as well as the chat server development we did last year at BIAP. It's all cross-platform stuff this time and we're torturing ourselves with the prospect of getting the same chunks of code running on the Mac, Windows, and Linux. If you know anybody that wants to help, give us a holler.
 
AAPL
$112.65
Apple Inc.
+3.24
MSFT
$47.52
Microsoft Corpora
+1.78
GOOG
$511.10
Google Inc.
+6.21

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Mellel 3.3.7 - Powerful word processor w...
Mellel is the leading word processor for OS X and has been widely considered the industry standard since its inception. Mellel focuses on writers and scholars for technical writing and multilingual... Read more
ScreenFlow 5.0.1 - Create screen recordi...
Save 10% with the exclusive MacUpdate coupon code: AFMacUpdate10 Buy now! ScreenFlow is powerful, easy-to-use screencasting software for the Mac. With ScreenFlow you can record the contents of your... Read more
Simon 4.0 - Monitor changes and crashes...
Simon monitors websites and alerts you of crashes and changes. Select pages to monitor, choose your alert options, and customize your settings. Simon does the rest. Keep a watchful eye on your... Read more
BBEdit 11.0.2 - Powerful text and HTML e...
BBEdit is the leading professional HTML and text editor for the Mac. Specifically crafted in response to the needs of Web authors and software developers, this award-winning product provides a... Read more
ExpanDrive 4.2.1 - Access cloud storage...
ExpanDrive builds cloud storage in every application, acts just like a USB drive plugged into your Mac. With ExpanDrive, you can securely access any remote file server directly from the Finder or... Read more
Adobe After Effects CC 2014 13.2 - Creat...
After Effects CC 2014 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous After Effects customer). After Effects CS6 is still available... Read more
Command-C 1.1.7 - Clipboard sharing tool...
Command-C is a revolutionary app which makes easy to share your clipboard between iOS and OS X using your local WiFi network, even if the app is not currently opened. Copy anything (text, pictures,... Read more
Tidy Up 4.0.2 - Find duplicate files and...
Tidy Up is a complete duplicate finder and disk-tidiness utility. With Tidy Up you can search for duplicate files and packages by the owner application, content, type, creator, extension, time... Read more
Typinator 6.3 - Speedy and reliable text...
Typinator turbo-charges your typing productivity. Type a little. Typinator does the rest. We've all faced projects that require repetitive typing tasks. With Typinator, you can store commonly used... Read more
GraphicConverter 9.5 - Graphics editor w...
GraphicConverter is an all-purpose image-editing program that can import 200 different graphic-based formats, edit the image, and export it to any of 80 available file formats. The high-end editing... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Shift - Photo Filters Designed By You (...
Shift - Photo Filters Designed By You 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Photography Price: $.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Elastic Drums (Music)
Elastic Drums 1.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Music Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: *** Introduction price 3,99$ instead of 7,99$ *** Elastic Drums is a music app with 6 channels of synthesized drum sounds, a step... | Read more »
Fireworks Simulator (Games)
Fireworks Simulator 1.0.8 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 1.0.8 (iTunes) Description: *** 50% discount – For a short time only *** You can play Fireworks Simulator on these devices: - iPhone 5, 5s, 5c, 6,... | Read more »
Nicky's Gift (Games)
Nicky's Gift 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Everybody! Merry Christmas! There's 48 levels in the game. Let's go! Nicky's Gift | Read more »
The Hit List — Simply Powerful Tasks, To...
The Hit List — Simply Powerful Tasks, To-Dos, Projects, & Reminders 2.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Productivity Price: $9.99, Version: 2.0 (iTunes) Description: >> LAUNCH SPECIAL: The Hit List 2 for iPhone is ONLY $9.99... | Read more »
Mahjong Journey Review
Mahjong Journey Review By Jennifer Allen on December 18th, 2014 Our Rating: :: STEADY MATCHINGiPad Only App - Designed for the iPad Aimed at the more laid back gamer, Mahjong Journey isn’t for everyone, but those looking for some... | Read more »
Emoji Type - custom keyboard with predic...
Emoji Type - custom keyboard with predictive emojis 0.4.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Utilities Price: $.99, Version: 0.4.0 (iTunes) Description: Emoji Type is custom keyboard for iOS 8 that auto suggests emojis as you type. ABOUT... | Read more »
Game of the Year 2014 – 148Apps Staff Pi...
The end of 2014 is almost here, which can only mean one thing. Okay it can mean a lot of things, but in this specific context it means Game of the Year lists! Which is why the 148Apps staff have all picked their favorites from the past year. And why... | Read more »
UponPixels Review
UponPixels Review By Jennifer Allen on December 18th, 2014 Our Rating: :: CREATIVE TYPOGRAPHYUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Add cool typography and objects to your photos with the easy to use UponPixels.   | Read more »
The Vikings are Coming! CastleStorm’s Ne...
The Vikings are Coming! CastleStorm’s New Update Adds a Survival Mode Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 18th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Save up to $400 on MacBooks with Apple Certif...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs available for up to $400 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and... Read more
Save up to $300 on Macs, $30 on iPads with Ap...
Purchase a new Mac or iPad at The Apple Store for Education and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free,... Read more
iOS and Android OS Targeted by Man-in-the-Mid...
Cloud services security provider Akamai Technologies, Inc. has released, through the company’s Prolexic Security Engineering & Research Team (PLXsert), a new cybersecurity threat advisory. The... Read more
KMI MIDI K-Board Great Gift for Amateur &...
The K-Board is a MIDI Nano keyboard for music creation for iPad, Android, And computers; the easiest way to make music with iPads & Android tablets, and Mac, Windows, or Linux computers. Ultra-... Read more
Amazon offers 15-inch 2.2GHz Retina MacBook P...
 Amazon.com has the 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for $1699 including free shipping. Their price is $300 off MSRP. Stock is limited, so act now if you’re interested. Read more
Holiday sales continue: MacBook Pros for up t...
 B&H Photo has new MacBook Pros on sale for up to $300 off MSRP as part of their Holiday pricing. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $1699... Read more
Holiday sale: Mac minis available for up to $...
 B&H Photo has new 2014 Mac minis on sale for up to $80 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $459 $40 off MSRP - 2.6GHz Mac mini: $629 $70 off... Read more
Google Search App For iOS Gets A Major Makeov...
Google has given iOS users an early Christmas present with a substantial update of it’s not-very-often-upgraded Google Search app. Google Search has been my go-to tool for Web searches since it was... Read more
ShopKeep Apple Pay And Chip Card Reader Avail...
ShopKeep, a cloud-based technology provider to more than 10,000 small business owners to manage retail shops and restaurants with iPads, has released its new Apple Pay and chip card reader. This... Read more
Holiday sale! 27-inch 5K iMac for $2299, save...
 B&H Photo has the 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMac in stock today and on sale for $2299 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $200 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for... Read more

Jobs Board

Project Manager, *Apple* Financial Services...
**Job Summary** Apple Financial Services (AFS) offers consumers, businesses and educational institutions ways to finance Apple purchases. We work with national and Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.